Silent hearts

Six times a week when I commute from my home to the Ziauddin Keemari hospital, I pass by the majestic buildings mapping the Saddar town of this vibrant city. They’re very enchanting, very mysterious. “What secrets are you guarding?” Old family feuds, tragic heartbreaks, black money, political conspiracies? Tell me!

They stand silently, these buildings. Like silent hearts. They’ve seen the worst of their beloved – this Karachi – and borne it all. And now every time they see a nameless young lad stealing a few pears from the fruit vendor, their silence deepens. Every time they see an unmasked man use a small, black pistol to rob a young father of his infant’s milk money, their silence booms. Every time they see a young girl hurrying home from the vultures’ eyes, their silence shrieks. Every time the political strikes eat up the city’s economy, they go silent. Every time Power spills the innocent blood, its silence turns into a cacophony. It deepens and deepens until you can no longer take comfort in the bustling signs of life around you because that-which-is-felt-but-not-said is booming very loudly. It’s pretty much like hearts that go silent after going out into the battlefield – hoping to win – but returning as a Ghazi, with arrows piercing its fragile epicentre. And then they no longer want to know what letters, and words, and phrases, and sentences mean. Or how bitterness is different from the sweet sweetness. Or how patience and longing are a match made in Heaven.

It’s a strange city, with stranger people.

Just don’t ever say, “I hate you!”

 

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the tying together of these heartstrings after they have lived an eternity away from each other

You know very well what heartstrings are, don’t you? They hold together those bits and pieces of your soul that are supposed to be yours. They loosen up if they grow weak. But they also tear apart ruthlessly if they are too strong. Rather like this old city of yours where sunsets are enjoyed in the background of ghazals, the salty sea is an angry witness to your follies, and regrets ride away in rickshaws candescent with simple urdu poetry.

So how does that happen?

In all the ways that you can imagine plus one.

Sometimes, it’s that annoying screeching of nails across the smooth surface of the blackboard. At other times, it’s the sound of the delicate, expensive vase breaking and then the sight of your bleeding finger as you try to pick up the broken pieces of the shreds of the glass and also those of your soul. It’s also a little like the old, torn newspaper that soaks up the oil as the deep fried pakoras are laid on it. It’s the slow movement of the fan that doesn’t cool the air but is therapeutic to watch. It’s the sound of the hungry baby wailing for it’s milk. It’s the desperation in a helpless prayer, the hopelessness in the defeated trudge back home from another jobless day. It’s the slap across the face for daring to pursue the silenced dreams. It’s the disgust with which you try to shoo away the flies from your evening tea’s cake. It’s also the pause before the yes and the sundial moving ahead after the no.

But you know what’s so incredible? It’s also – surprisingly – the tying together of these heartstrings after they have lived an eternity away from each other. It’s how they painstakingly glue it together with wax, or try to put the lapis lazuli back in the ring it fell from. Or trying to stitch together the burnt silk. It’s also the patience of old sincerity, the silence of fresh pain; much like the old and yellowed British buildings standing on the old, dusty streets of Saddar.

Hush! Don’t pull them too hard.

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Real life

A dry wind blows lazily as you sit with the emptiness, watching your pieces scatter away. You have no idea where they’re headed. They just don’t belong to you anymore. They call out to you and their screams echo in your ears long after you are dead. You savour the moment so that you can then know what the opposite will feel like. You read stories of warriors who have survived the Possible but the Unimaginable, on Facebook pages like The Humans of Pakistan. Your heart shakes hands with those of strangers who know what real life looks like. Yes, ‘real life’. That of difficult decisions, battles of solitude, struggles with your own self, confrontations with your heart, the disdain of insincerity. That’s real life. These strangers have a strange look. It’s not scary. It’s just comforting, and a little bit overwhelming. Because you feel understood, you ask yourself, “So there is someone out of everyone who knows what it is!” And as you stealthily walk away from your shadow, the black image on the ground seems to get ahead of you. You don’t want anyone to get ahead of you! But it does and you scramble after it until you fall and hurt yourself and cry like a baby and look around for your mom. Then you’re okay – just a little – and then you remember that there are things like biryani, and chai, and fish-n-chips, and chapli kabab, and Alfredo pasta, and pizza, and then you feel alright again.
You feel all okay again.
Yeah? Yeah.

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The few seconds before happiness

If you ever see a mother holding her newborn for the first time – or if you are one, think back to the time when you held your first born – pay attention to her face, the love in her eyes. You’ll see so much love – all of it unconditional because she bore all that pain, all those marks on her body for her child – that it’ll overwhelm you. When I first saw that fierce, loyal love in a mother’s eyes, I could not but help think that God loves us more than 70 such mothers, the ferocity multiplied by infinity. If the human form of that love is so utterly, so incredibly gorgeous, then the Divine is just pure magic capable of turning our fragile lives into miracles to be sung as ballads for centuries to come. Because He promises that everything will not be okay, everything will be beautiful! Then look closely at the baby in this mother’s warm embrace. With eyes full of innocence, this little human will feel safe in the home that the mother will have created within herself. Isn’t this kind of blind trust enviable? Don’t you want that back?

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You were due to catch that flight but you missed it because of the nauseating traffic. Ugghh, no? No. That flight crashed later. Or you were meant to enrol in ABC university but you couldn’t because you were sick and you couldn’t turn up at the interview so now you’re in XYZ university where you met friends who became family, who helped build your character, who became an essential part of your narrative. You see, it’s in these little magical moments that we humans call ‘coincidences’ that you realise how gorgeously and tenderly your God is taking care of you. That only being grateful to your Lord for all the hardships isn’t enough! You may have to stop calling it ‘the worst time of your life’ and start seeing it, feeling it as ‘the most beautiful time of your life’. That simply being grateful and patient during hardships may not be enough for you! Maybe your God wants more from you.

To pray – out of exhaustion from these trials – for Him to test you with happiness so that you can remember him in times when His other beings don’t usually is a very difficult thing to do. But before you can do that, you need to see what was apparently the worst time of your life – yes, it’s worth being repeated – as the most beautiful time of your life. It’s similar to asking Him to test you with happiness. Like a mother celebrating the labour pains that bring her child into this world. Like trying to imagine the very incredible mechanism of how the soul was blown into a clot of blood into a woman’s womb; a different soul for a different clot for a different woman.

This time that you’re going through is not going to come back. That’s a fact. So what do you do? You use it in the best possible way and cherish this for times to come, or you let circumstances win. And you can’t lose, you just can not.

Aren’t you marvelled by how much you’re growing! Look how many light years you’ve travelled in seconds! There are so many out there struggling with this growth every day! And it’s so hard to grow up! If it’s coming to you so quickly, then why not take it happily? Or at least without complaining?

Why do we grow? Why are we promoted from one grade to the next? Because eventually, we’ll graduate and then there’s work to be done. Maybe that’s why you’re growing so fast because there’s work to be done. Work that He wants only you to do.

The few seconds before happiness are always the roughest, the toughest. You’re oscillating between two extremes, the pendulum swinging to and fro, counting the number of times your heart goes numb, the number of times your tongue spills out an apology to yourself. It’s all pretty confusing, isn’t it? The trials, the empty people. Human beings are monuments in themselves. They are monuments standing to a deaf world that only sees how marvellous the architecture is.

These few seconds before happiness seem to last for an eternity, don’t they? Every second carries in itself a million seconds, time-marked by people. Every second carries in itself a million unsaid words, open wounds. Every second before happiness can just feel so, so heavy. And you sit there wondering what you should wonder about. The jigsaw puzzle is yet to be solved. But when you find that last missing piece – the perfect piece – you won’t be around to climb on the podium and scream into the microphone to announce to the world, “Yes! I’ve found it!”

Raindrops

Every time the raindrops fall on the dirt-laden ground, one hears – on listening intently – one of the most beautiful musical notes composed by Nature. It’s like the hurried meeting of water and ground silencing the dissonance within, the heavenly petrichor erasing the question marks, and the rain watering barren hearts with a joyful urgency that carries you off to a mystical era of overwhelming love awaiting your joyful twirls.

So the next time Nature plays a concert, pay attention and enjoy: listen to the pitter patter breaking the ground, dance to the song of water, live the rain. And as you do that, turn around and ask your ol’ heart who are those who make you smile. And then…smile!

 

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Photo credits: https://www.instagram.com/ax2mir/

 

Ranjha

Two broken pieces of a mirror lay on the muddy earth, side by side. He walked past these two neighbours and saw his face — split into half — laugh back at him.

“Are you Ranjha?”

“Yes. I suppose so!”

“Why are you here?”

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Photo credits: https://www.instagram.com/ax2mir/

“I don’t know. Looking for something, I guess”.

“What is this something?”

“I don’t know”.

“What do you even know then?”

“I don’t know”.

“You won’t find it here”.

“How do you know that?”

“I can see it in the way your eyes are blinking and your lips are moving and your ears are twitching”.

“But you can’t feel it in the irregularity of my heartbeat!”

“Why should I do that? That’s not for me to feel!”

“What’s wrong with me?”

“Nothing. Except that you’re in search of something that you won’t find in the imbalance of this dunya”.

“But why not? Why the eff not?”

“Because this is a glass world that you’re living in. It’ll break if you hold it too tightly and then the broken pieces will wound you”.

“Maybe that’s best. Maybe I’m supposed to be wounded”.

“You’re not a god-damned prince that you’d be so special. You’re a beggar looking for peace”.

“But where do I find it? Where?”

“Look up at the sky. Then imagine the cosmic bodies circumambulating around the fiery sun. Then think this: there’s some being that made me. But why? Out of all the big things in the big universe, why me — a mere clot of blood whose existence began with dependence on another but who is taught not to depend on another. Think this, then look down. Kiss the earth with your forehead. That’s all!”

“That’s all?”

“No, not really. But it’s the beginning of the end”.

“But I’m used to this…this music and these colours!”

“And they’ve given you peace, haven’t they?”

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Photo credits: https://www.instagram.com/lemonandscotch/

“You’re right. They haven’t”.

“You’re not a river in a desert. You’re a turbulent ocean”.

“Where did I began? Where do I end?”

“You began with the sound of the broken pot. You end with the memory of forgotten memories.”

“But I can’t feel it!”

“Because you’re looking for answers in the tangible colour palette of this world. The chords of the happy men and women that you want to dance to, but you’ve forgotten the steps. You want to learn but you can’t focus. And that makes you want to get out”.

“Yea. Yea, I guess”.

“Yeah.”

“So what do I do?”

“Smile with your heart instead.”

“What?”

“Everyone is a Ranjha. In their own way, though”.

“But in a crowd of Ranjhas, I’m still lost”.

“Because if you weren’t, you wouldn’t seek yourself and Yourself”.

The broken mirror still lay on the muddy earth, but he looked up. He looked up at the sky, his heartstrings tugging at each other, trying to see if his call would be answered if this moment on the clocks of the earth would be the second before peace.
No bird chirped. The wind was quiet.
He set out.

What internal medicine taught me

Internal medicine is supposed to be an intense rotation; it’s a little — neigh, a big chunk — of everything. Some gastrology, some pulmonology, some neurology. As students, when you are keenly learning how to perform various physical examinations on their patients and are keeping an eye out for findings leading to a correct diagnosis, you realise — again — what a miracle life really is, what a miracle our imperfect bodies are. From palpable livers that point towards hepatomegaly — a term used to describe an enlarged liver — to negative reflexes that make you think of neurological lesions. Add these up and you can not but help think of the million other ways a physical mishap could have wrecked your life. Does a realisation of gratitude hit you then? In another episode of an existential crisis, you also conclude that life is pretty funny, and pretty crazy, because amongst all the emotional turmoil that you ride through, behind all the sleepless nights spent tossing and turning in bed with a deep sense of loss giving you some good ol’ chest pain, there definitely is some grand Plan running your machinery – a Plan so complex and so perfect that a feeble mortal like you can not comprehend even though you’ve given the next couple of generations some incredible physics theories and mathematics formulae. What an amazing terabyte of intelligence and intellect we have, isn’t it?

 

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Ziauddin University Hospital, KDLB

 

 

The hazy sun

Have you heard of the hazy sun? It’s when your eyes are bathing in tears of words not spoken, regrets not lived, unforgiven selves, hearts bursting with the first taste of Divine love.

So what does it really look like?

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Photo credits: https://www.instagram.com/lemonandscotch/

It’s this huge space body that looks like a small orange ball standing fiercely against the blue and white of the sky, peeking at you from amongst the trees or from behind the clouds, trying to shy you away, almost daring you to look at it straight in the eye and question it’s purpose of existence so that it can snap back at you with a “Why are you here?” It’s at that exact moment of eternity that all those wicked moments of your life corner you – like you’re in the boxing ring and your opponent has punched you right in the nose – and every mistake that you’ve ever made, every piece of yourself that you’ve lost in the circus of  pretentiousness, every minute that you’ve wasted mocking others, every thought you’ve invested in planning your own loss, slaps you right across your face. It’s more like letting loose a hungry lion from its cage. What happens when you’re slapped? It hurts. So you hurt. Except that it’s not your cheek that cries out to the pain-receptors, it’s your heart. And then the tear glands do their magic and your eyes become misty and beautiful – they become misty and the sun becomes hazy and you can not see the light at the end of the tunnel; they become beautiful because that’s what grief does,  and because black and white are royal and because sometimes, you just need to let your heart breathe. And then out of nowhere, you receive the hug from God that reminds you that you exist – that on this day, of this month, of this year, you have mattered to the Lord of those who think they are lords. As you recognise that realisation coming at you, your eyes become even mistier and even more beautiful. And the sun becomes even hazier. It’s a gorgeous sight, though, and a feeling to be treasured forever. Because “Among His Signs are the Night and the Day, and the Sun and the Moon”.  (41:37 – Surah Fussilat) The night and the day, and the sun and the moon. Really, why do we need them?

Why Sufism? (II)

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Spiritual stories don’t really have beginnings and I think that’s good because that lends it an aura of genuineness and sincerity that makes it all the more magical.
We’re all spiritual beings, we all chose our paths – took advantage of the Free Will – and hence, wherever we will be when we breathe our last, we will have chosen it for ourselves, but by His Will. It’s like the workings of a car – how you put in the key, start the ignition and the engine starts working, you pull the hand-break and the gear and turn the steering wheel and the car goes in motion. You’re doing these acts because that’s how this car is supposed to work, otherwise, it won’t move forward and you’ll be stuck in the same place. Forever. Who would want that? A motorcycle, however, will have a different mechanism. So, that’s us. Different. Individuals.
We carry out these actions to propel forward and that is our free will.
The fact that this is how we’re supposed to act because otherwise, we won’t be we –individuals with our own spheres – is Destiny. And I guess that’s it.

A revolution may not necessarily be about taking up firearms. It’s about revolutionising our own life – for in the words of the beloved Carl Sagan, “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” And hence, we hold gorgeous universes within ourselves, don’t we? So why not revolutionalise this universe first? It is about revolutionalising our own lives in a way that forces people to see Him clearly, through us, to know that every cloud really does have a silver lining, that there really is light at the end of every tunnel, that despite all the unfairness and the cruelty, there are still good people with big, loving hearts. We can’t preach these things. We need to show them and when we do that, we are challenged and we are mocked. History is laden with examples explaining this. Talking about spirituality, and Sufism, and religion are merely reinforcements of armchair philosophy and that will only bring us temporary spiritual relief and make us feel good about ourselves. Sitting in a cave, meditating, thinking about the universe is all so romantic but at the end of it all, when He asks me what I did with the intelligence, the opportunities that He blessed me with, what will I say? We hate to disappoint the people who are dear to us, we don’t want to be responsible for hurting them, so what about the Being that created you? He who loves us more than 70 mothers? In fact, His Existence is an example in itself, isn’t it? Not just through the attributes of Mercy, Forgiveness, etc, but let’s just look at His love, the love that has been compared to that of a mother’s love. Our moms are so protective of us, aren’t they? They want to be around us 24/7, be there always so they can watch out for us. They are the first ones to rush to us and tend to us if we fall down and hurt ourselves. And then look at God: He knows that we need to learn to get up ourselves, that unless we fall, we won’t know what ‘pain’ is and if we don’t know ‘pain’ we won’t know what ‘relief’ and ‘joy’ are and if we don’t know those, we won’t be able to ease things for others because then why should we? I guess He really does want us to learn how to fish so we are self-sufficient, He doesn’t only want to feed us. We get furious when we feel our prayers going unanswered. But He wants us to learn through experiences because when He did tell us and when He gave us the manual – the Book – did we make use of it, did we learn from it? A relevant example that one can relate to is regarding the laws of inheritance. How many of us follow it as we should? Hardly. And then there are bloody disputes over tangible, temporary things like property, and they go on for generations after generations and relationships are lost and a myriad of other crappiness happens. Why? Because when we didn’t follow the Manual He gave us, He made us experience it because come on, we practically asked for it! So, He’s teaching us parenting, too; hold a child’s hands when you cross the road, but don’t hold it so hard that it starts hurting the child.

So again, when He asks me what I did with the intelligence, the opportunities that He blessed me with, what will I say? Aren’t I supposed to make use of it to help His people? But that, too, I can only do when I’m strong enough myself! And it is to reach that position of strength that we’re supposed to bring about these lifestyle changes, what we call the ‘outward change’. Because sometimes, in doing that, you wage a war on your nafs and on your lower self, and only when we overcome that can we hope to move forward because trust me when I say, dear you, that breaking your nafs is truly the biggest battle you’ll ever fight. It could be anything – fasting, waking up early in the morning, headcover, giving up anger or miserliness or greed or exorbitance, almost anything – but it’ll teach you what words can’t describe. And this is how outward change works. Just like how I must practically live like a revolutionary to be a real drop in this ocean of social and economic inequity, and inspire others to do the same, I must also practically live my spirituality to be a real mentor to ensure that by giving up on all that hinders my spiritual growth, by being kind, and helpful, and loving, by killing my lower self, by establishing my connection with Him, because along the way, you’ll learn just so much.
Outward and inward changes walk hand in hand; often one runs ahead of the other and pulls the other one forward. That’s just how it works. It’s your own war against your nafs, against your lower self. Let His Oneness make you whole.

With each passing heartbeat and with each passing breath, you will learn that the most difficult and yet, the easiest thing to do when one lies alone in the middle of the night with a lonely, broken, wailing heart, is to say, “Thank You, God!”. You will learn that your own voice sounds as strange to you as you do to those around you. You will realise that often, the people closest to you will not understand you, will misunderstand you, and will hurt you, but you must forgive them and be gentle because in doing so, you are actually making sure that you can spend the rest of your life in peace, not being unjust to the people who unconditionally love you. You will realise and experience how optimism and gratitude works. It’s not like you won’t know how tough things can be or how hard life can be. You truly will! You will live to see a lot of unkindness, a lot of inhumane acts, unfortunately. You’ll probably witness a lot of human suffering but you will still believe in love, and gentleness, and optimism, and most importantly, in Him. I know it’s a bloody system that kills you slowly, makes you despise everyone. But that’s it! A constant connection with our true, inner selves is what we need. And that’s what fully embracing Him means – inward and outward. It’s easy to turn bitter and pessimist after this life plays with you. It’s challenging to remain – or in most cases, turn – gentle and hopeful. But hey, that’s all we have because this life really is temporary and the sooner we learn to invest in our souls, the better it is. The sooner we realise that a beautiful heart is immortal, beyond the changes of age and time, the better it is. For everyone.

The C.S. Lewis quote that you read at the beginning of this post, dear reader, is how we should be, how I should be. We can’t hope to change others unless we change ourselves. We can’t complain about how cruel the world is unless we ourselves are making an effort to be kind, and compassionate, and forgiving.

And all of this brings us back to spirituality – practical spirituality – and Sufism, and why we need it. Because when you’ve spent all your life living according to a philosophy that has left you feeling restless and lonely – like an old, empty church, covered with weeds, built to a god who has long since been forgotten – as your soul reverberates to one lonely chord echoing through again and again, then it’s because your soul is demanding – or rather, begging you – to cleanse it, to reach out to Him. That’s the only way all of us can get to the Grand Kingdom – His Kingdom – without losing sight of what is relevant in this world. I’m going to be a doctor, I’m going to be a homemaker, and amidst all these worldly responsibilities where I’m not only sustaining my body but am also trying to help out others, how do I hold onto my spirituality, how do I reflect His Light? This is how; a constant guide.

I need a teacher to explain science to me. I need someone to help me fix the car because I’m not an expert there, I only know how to fix a broken bone or how to manage diabetes because as a doctor that’s my area of expertise. When I’m a novice here, I need someone to hold the torch for me as I find my way. It’s very relevant because armchair Sufi philosophy won’t help us get to Him. We need to practically do something to get there, whether it’s how to control our lower selves or how to ease the distress of His people, or best: both. So, when you’re sick, you go to a doctor. When you’re spiritually needy, who do you go to?

Life is very beautiful if we look at everything as a manifestation of His Being. And we all really want that till our last breaths; to enjoy the beauty around us, the miracles of love and life that we see around ourselves every day, the little joys and smiles. And because there is absolutely no other way, this is why Sufism, dear readers!

Allah k banday

 

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Photo credits: https://www.instagram.com/ax2mir/

Sufi music has a very distinct sound to it, a different ‘samaa’, the kind that seems to beckon you to something you seem unaware of. Like a magnet pulling you towards the realisation of something great, something life-changing, something so beautiful that you are scared of how – and how much – it can change you. What if my entire life was a lie? What will I do then? What – if any – will my ‘before and after’ be like?

Kailash Kher’s ‘Allah k banday‘ does a little something like that.

“Toota toota ek parinda aise toota
Ke phir jud naa paaya
Loota loota kisne usko aise loota
Ke phir ud naa paaya”.

(Broken, a bird was broken such that
It could never fix itself
Stolen, stolen who stole it
Such that it could never fly again!)

Birds fly towards a destination felt only by the heart, the bottom of the heart; that old forgotten house standing at the end of the lane, romanticised by young men and women struggling to live, but breathing easily. Doesn’t that remind you of Attar’s ‘Conference of the Birds’?

“Kho ke aapne par hi to usne tha ud naa sikha
Gham ko aapne saath mein ley le dard bhi tere kaam aayega”.

(After having lost its wings, it had learnt to fly
Take the grief with you, this grief will be helpful)

There’s something incredibly beautiful about grief and pain. “Verily, with every difficulty there is relief!” (Quran. 94:5) Because waiting for the warmth of summers after the harsh, frost-biting winters, is the easiest way to wait for His Love and the most difficult way to survive. Because that’s what you do, you don’t live, you survive.

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Photo credits: https://www.instagram.com/shehrozkhan_/

“Tukde tuke ho gaya tha har sapna jab woh toota
Bhikre tukdon mein Allah ki marzi ka manzar paayega”.

(Every dream was shattered when you fell
In broken pieces, you will find God’s will!)

Broken dreams cover the earth under your feet like pieces of glass spread out to make your soles bleed. You look down, hunting for your reflection. You see destiny smile at you, gently, lovingly, confidently. Walk carefully, okay?

“Allah ke bande hasde allah ke bande
Allah ke bande hasde jo bhi ho kal phir aayega”.

(God’s man, smile. God’s man!
Gods man, smile.
Whatever happens, tomorrow will come again.)

Do you smile with your heart? Feel it laughing? Feel the weight of Love dancing around in your blood, pumping itself through each of your cells, blowing into it another soulful love? Maybe you will now that the marriage of your will and God’s will has been celebrated.

I read about the power of prayers and duas, the magic of sincerity, the mysticism of faith. And I wonder if my will became His, or His Will became mine?