City lights? Fairy lights.

Summer poems, winter ghazals. Sunny mornings, whispering nights.
But what does one really want? Thudding along the velocity of life, here and there. Pretending, always pretending.

It’s hilarious – and even incredible – how these glistening city lights protectively hide the hurt, the anger, the remorse (or lack of), the bitterness, the hopelessness, and all things lonely. Like a loving mother, hiding her child in her heart, saving – trying to save. It’s like standing across the table, watching a stranger cut their birthday cake as their friends and family clap and sing gaily, ‘Happy birthday to you!’ And you only smile to yourself and sigh with the wisdom of one who has lived a hundred years of solitude.

These remind me of a half-forgotten midsummer night’s dream; a quite little house by the sea, under the blue sky. Much like that nostalgic pretty house from Black Mirror’s San Junipero.

Sailors from the sky, stars from the sea, walking with us on the sandy carpet, listening to the peace of a country life, dancing to the happy carols, being the happiest you can be.

City lights? Fairy lights.

Yeah?

Hmmm…yeah!

 

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Photo credits: Momina Qadri

 

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Tycho – A Walk

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A still from Tycho – A Walk.

She suddenly draws in her breath – like the secret in that slow walk before you enter a room and shout “surprise!” – and you expect her to shatter your folly with her golden philosophy. Except that a heavy musical greets you. It is a surprise.

My meeting with this instrumental was also a surprise. Searching for an old classic, I had accidentally stumbled upon this.

So Tycho’s ‘A Walk is my drive. A smooth drive in a quiet black, car as the little droplets of rain hurriedly fall on its roof – falling slowly, aren’t they? – racing against each other to listen to the symphony that it was creating between something and everything. Outside, the sky is velvety black and the grey clouds are safely hidden away in the excitement of the shy, uncertain, future.

A deep breath here, a faraway look there.

The heart matches its beat with A Walk. You look out of the car window and see a storm behind but you do not press the accelerator. You can’t alone, can you? You can’t. So you drive ahead at the same speed till you realise just how tired, how very tired you are, but you don’t turn down the volume. You can’t. You wait. You wait for your favourite bits to come again so you can ignore the world and the taxes, and the elections, and all that nonsense that the morning newspapers shove down your throat. And as you are bravely waiting, you realise that Tycho’s A Walk is about to end and that it will never play by itself again. Never? Maybe. See the artwork of this album; you don’t know if the sun is rising or setting, do you? And just like that, you don’t know where you are – going or coming.

The path is really long.

Content nostalgia

When I first read this poem, it seemed strangely familiar, a bitter-sweet expression to define all that lies between who we were and who we are.

I once lived under a sky that was teaching me to love each of its hues one by one. And then suddenly, without warning, it decided to change its course. The heart was suddenly homeless. That happens to all of us, doesn’t it?
To see a loved one struggle with the burden of breathing – and even living, even loving – kills you before you are resurrected into who you were born to be. But this resurrection is under a different sky, with different people, with a new heart and a new soul.

And then you look back with childlike wonder at the lightyears that you’ve travelled within the earthly count of days and months. How could you reach here so soon? Because you’ve been riding on little angels as your soul meets your soul. God blew His soul into Adam, and we’re all Adam’s children. So it may be that we have more souls than we like to think; as my dear friend, Zahra, has wondered, what if we have thousands of these souls? And if she’s right, then I imagine they all have a time-limit. One in one era of our lives. Maybe that’s why we have more than one soul-mate; in a parent, a friend, a sibling, a significant other – all at different atoms carried within the energy of our times. So when all of our souls come as one, there’s a celebration; you see fireworks in your life as you realise how your desires change, how your heart begins to sing a different tune, how the chilly winds of autumn don’t bother you anymore, how stray leaves don’t tickle you, how now everything and something make a new algorithm of nothing. Maybe that’s also what deja vu is – soul-number-one meeting its twin, soul-number-two, to hand over the vial of memories so that the twin can truly be itself. Perhaps that’s what the familiarity means. Perhaps that’s why our souls travel when we’re asleep; they go looking for one another, say hello, and then come back and spin our dreams.

I call it content nostalgia.

Our souls are happy with their travels, the nostalgia is the colour of our rich dreams.

There’s a fuzzy feeling in the pit of your stomach as you look back excitedly, and talk, and laugh at old monsoons, but you don’t wish to get drenched again. The eyes are seeking a new horizon…along the same shore.

That’s content nostalgia, too.

The meadows there were beautiful. But this is where I want my heaven.

Content nostalgia.

I think phoenixes might have always loved this content nostalgia. And now I love phoenixes.

the angels, too, are flying at the speed of five centimetre per second?

 

There’s something about prayer – dua – that baffles me. It’s like wondering whether the angels, too, are flying at the speed of five centimetres per second, till you suddenly try to guess where their compass is – towards you or away from you.

Is a second there a hundred years here? So does the earth move around the sun at the same speed as us circumambulating around the Ka’aba? Is the universe deep enough to hide all the chords of loss? Is it darker than our fears? Are our souls the wings that angels don’t have?

Why do you and I – ruled by these thoughts and feelings that are dazzling little clusters in the clouds of our lives – put our throbbing foreheads to the ground and choke out our helplessness, our long wish-lists, and complain of starry nights lit up by our soledad when He is closer to us than our jugular veins? He speaks to me – and to you, too – in Surah Rum, “Did they not reflect in their own selves?” So He wants us to meet ourselves before we meet Him; the seconds before happiness, again. Over and over again.

Ais ishq di jhangi wich mor bulenda
Sanu qibla ton Ka’aba sohna yaar disenda
Saanu ghayal karke phir khabar na laaiyaan
Tere ishq nachaiyaan kar key thaiyaa thaiyaa

A peacock calls in the grove of passion
It’s Qibla, It’s Kaaba where lives my love
You asked not once after you stabbed
Your love has made me dance like mad.

– Bulleh Shah

Five centimetres per second is very slow. The hearts are all tired here. Its been too long.

 

 

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

 

 

“He causes two bodies of water to flow and meet together, but between them is a barrier that they cannot surmount”

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

Look at this picture carefully. Do you see how the different shades from the colour palate are kinetic with the serenity that the minarets of the mosque seem to be exuding? Do you feel it?

The colours are hazing into each other – like love and hate, joy and grief, pain and relief; all these different emotions that have baffled the children of Adam and Eve ever since our God said, ‘Kun Faya Kun’ – and you can hear the sweet sound of the *azaan in the background, so lovingly asking you to come home. To come home.

It rather reminds you of how He, “… causes two bodies of water to flow and meet together, but between them is a barrier that they cannot surmount” (Quran 55:19-20). The two seas that meet, but, do not mix at the Gulf of Alaska.

That’s us. All of us.

We’re a little confused, us humans. But we know we want happiness. Do we, though, know where our happiness lies? Or with whom?

Sin meets repentance, but, they do not unite. Repentance meets forgiveness, and they embrace. You can breathe but not live.

Sometimes, we find ourselves dangling in between love and hate, longing and fear for all of what we think our mortal souls desire. We beg Him for guidance, and yet, our visions are perturbed by the immortal path that we’re shown. Our intelligence so easily mocks us. And our hearts so easily deceive us.

It could be a long, long journey, they tell the faithful.

We’re all travellers here, aren’t we? I await the day when my memory will become a memory.

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*Azaan: Muslim call to prayer

aaj rung hai re maa, rung hai rii

And how do thoughts walk?

Gingerly stepping over brave ambitions, and crushed hopes, and you-s that we don’t recognise; boldly dodging the arrows. They carry an air of pride that boasts of not having been elsewhere before, announcing the visit of joy.

Your lazy thoughts get lost along the journey of lost-and-found till you discover them again, buried deep within the glow in your heart, hidden by Him only for you to discover it much later so that you can walk down another aisle of Renaissance and exclaim in surprise – and exasperation, too – over the easiness with which the storm drowned the momin. And what is really surprising about this rediscovery? The more you drown into them, the more you breathe. The darker it gets in there, the brighter His glow. The faster the spin, the deeper the magic. That’s just how it is.

So the men and women of wisdom have agreed that each thought is a different teardrop, taking on a different journey – flying, scurrying, dawdling, running, or merely strolling along with Destiny and Free Will.

And so our thoughts walk along the shores that hold the deep ocean in between them. It’s an ocean and it is too wide, too deep, and there’s no way you can cross it unless you hold the lantern that He made so lovingly, so perfectly. There’s no other way, you know? The sky has no pillars and the sun will not shine forever.

The many you-s need the blessings of Tauhid, the glory of Taqwa for it to rain daisies and lilies so that all of your souls can spark as one. So that Khusro can finally be happy.

“Aaj rung hai re maa..rung hai rii!” / “What a glow everywhere I see, mother..what a glow!”
(‘Aaj rung hai’, Amir Khusro)

 

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yellow butterflies

And whether you are a rebellious twelve-year-old or an ambitious twenty-four or a tired forty-two – or even a bored eighty – there’s just one simple pleasure in life: having something to look forward to. Anticipation, as they say.

A new funky backpack. That new glitzy ring from the local marketplace. Peaceful surrender to ‘Fragrance of Guava – Conversations with Gabriel Garçia Marquez’ in the comforting company of some good ol’ ginger ale. Friendly banter with your cousins just to see grandma smile as you race with her to finish her mango shake. The stable vitals of a very sick loved one. New teacups and intricate henna patterns on soft palms. The early morning call to prayer that jingles gently in the background as you talk to the meyna. Old friends, new letters, yellow butterflies. Even the scary uncertainty that slowly, turbulently eases into a patient wait for the exciting surprise promised by “Verily, with every difficulty there is relief”. (Quran. 94:5)

These are all little grains in the sand that the blue of the sea prostrates on; my little galaxies in the mystery of the thought of infinite, the seconds before happiness, the spring before the favourite season. So this is also what happiness looks like.
I wonder what took me so long…

Photo credits: Sabrina Merchant

You learn the names of the galaxies as you recite His ninety-nine names.

This post first appeared on the Ziauddin University Atlas.

Emotions are funny companions. They twist and turn the peace of your mind and drive you dangerously through life. Much like an over-excited bus driver racing his queen (you know the one with some eye-catchy Urdu poetry adorned on its back? Yes, that one!) through the broken roads of Karachi, jamming to the latest Bollywood song.

This picture that you see here isn’t something extraordinary. It’s a very mundane moment captured as an expression of disguised vulnerability.

This man – his back to us – may have a family back home that awaits his smile, his protective embrace. To them, the new ice-cream parlor in the city does not matter because not only are they blissfully unaware of its existence, but to them, the cherished moments of joy lie in a few happy hours spent chatting with their old grandparents, drinking some cool falsay ka sharbat, contemplating the meaning of life, and then going to bed with a full stomach, a prayer of gratitude on their lips, and utterly in awe of the Unseen Existence.

Lanes like these map our entire city, don’t they? And each mile of each of these lanes is covered by a thick layer of dust that reminds you that even without the glamour of the city, life can be very beautiful and fascinating. The muddy reflection staring at you from the road tells you that imperfection is real and okay, and the bumpy roads that cause you to jump in your seats are pretty much like the bumps that life has to offer, no? And then at the end of the road, you see a shabbily dressed man happily selling balloons to a group of happy kids. Their smiles are innocently beautiful and you are easily mesmerised by the reality of something so extraordinarily simple. And you learn to laugh amidst the tears. You learn how to count the stars on the dark night. You learn how it’s futile to run away from yourself.

You learn – after the lies and deception of this world and its mortals – the names of the galaxies as you recite His ninety-nine names.

 

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Dementia and us.

This post first appeared on the Ziauddin University Atlas.

When the same eyes that have once looked at you with adoration haze into a struggle for recognition, it does a little more than break your heart, doesn’t it?

Dementia, described in simple terms as a disruption of the brain’s functioning leading to behavioural changes and loss of memory, is easily – and sadly – one of the hardest ailments to deal with, simply because of the emotional implications for the patients and their families.

The ageing patient might not recognise who you are. They may think it’s the winter of 2012; you tell them it’s 2018 and the heat wave is bad this time. You cut out a few slices of a rosy apple for them and they will keep it in their mouth – chewing and swallowing long forgotten – till you chide yourself for not giving them an easy-to-swallow meal of mashed bananas and warm soup. Your back may ache from helping them move around because sometimes, they may just forget that walking requires you to move a leg. They will be irritable, anxious, confused. But so will you. They will see the shadow of a man where your favourite curtains hang and they will tell you how their dead relatives came to visit them. They may occasionally get scared because they will feel ants and mice scurrying around their bed.

But it’s okay. It really is.

They say old age is synonymous to infancy and it’s very, very true. The same unconditional love and inexhaustible patience that was once lavished upon you needs to come full circle; they need you the way you once needed them. And the kindest way to show them this love is by honouring them and giving them a life of dignity.

Medications will definitely do what they are supposed to do but let us not undermine the power of some psychological management here.

What can you – as a family – do to give them a life of dignified comfort? Here are just a few out of the many things that you can do:

  • Talk to them gently, patiently, respectfully. If you are talking about them in their presence, say, “Mom is not feeling too good, we need to see her doctor,” instead of “She’s not feeling too good so we need to take her to the doctor.”
  • Greet them cheerfully whenever you see them. Introduce yourself if they fail to recognise you.
  • Place a large wall clock in the room. Tell them what day and time it is.
  • To reduce the risk of trips and falls, don’t clutter the room.
  • Keep the room well-ventilated, but dimly lit. Too much light in the room can aggravate their anxiety.
  • Keep your conversations short and simple. Avoid lengthy sentences that may agitate them. Speak slowly, using simple words.
  • Be patient when they repeat certain phrases or ask the same questions again and again.
  • Engage them in easy, manageable activities that they can enjoy.
  • Do not, at any cost, blame them for being ‘lazy’, ‘dramatic’, or ‘uncaring’. It’s not their choice. Remain calm if you tend to get frustrated.
  • Be attentive to their body language.
  • Don’t stand too close to them while talking. It may intimidate them.
  • Include the person in conversations instead of speaking on their behalf or completing sentences for them.
  • Listen to the person. Give them plenty of time, pay attention to their feelings.
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Artwork: Safa Younis

One of the gravest mistakes that you can make, however, is self-neglect. It’s important to acknowledge your own needs, too, and look after your own health. You can not be expected to look after someone else when you yourself are not at your best. Eat well, keep yourself hydrated, have a strong support system that you can turn to when in need. Denying yourself help will not make you more responsible or the more loving one, it’s natural and only necessary.

Dementia is not easy to deal with; it’s painful, it’s cruel, it’s heartbreaking. There will be many tears of frustration, a few of helplessness, some out of fear. There will be more than a few sighs of exhaustion and quite a few breakdowns. You will begin to question everything – why is it happening to you, when will it all be okay, does God even exist? You might even look enviously at your friends enjoying fancy meals when each of your own are caught in a hurry, haunted by thoughts of a questionable prognosis and the sad reality that your elderly loved one is no longer able to share their favourite meals with you. Your own anxiety will become a frequent visitor, and your life will have taken a path different from those around you. But it’s okay, it’s really going to be okay. You will – in your own capacity, at your own speed – grow; you will learn to master the art of patience, you will learn new skills as you care for your loved one, you will strengthen relationships. You will also feel your heartbreak – first all at once, then over and over again at each missed reflex and each reminder of where this could lead to – before you feel it soften into a much kinder, more compassionate, more emphatic one that will have learnt to call out to its Lord as a form of self-reliance. And it’s very advisable to reach out to a professional or to support groups to deal with your own caring mechanism.

So as you and your loved one gracefully transition from fighters into survivors, remember that the crux of human life lies in its dignity, in love, in kindness. Sometimes, medicines and doctors are not enough.

The sun was created to set but the morning is also a beautiful reality.

 

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Artwork: Safa Younis

your eyes are even smaller, yet they behold the world

A day before our ophthalmology exam, one of my friends shared with our clinical group a snap of Conrad Fischer from the Kaplan lecture series, relating a well-received saying by “our friend, Rumi” to explain how the cornea in our eye is home to a thousand layers of cells:

‘My heart is so small
it’s almost invisible.
How can You place
such big sorrows in it?
“Look,” He answered,
“your eyes are even smaller,
yet they behold the world.’

The ophthalmology rotation is notorious here as one of the driest, and hence, difficult ones. Add to it the unfortunate fact that I was too busy for university even, this rotation was easily one of the most challenging ones, catalysing a kind of growth that I had never anticipated.

The cornea, the lens, the iris, the optic nerve. Cataracts, glaucoma, conjunctivitis, macular degeneration.

As the rotation thankfully ended, I realised that myopia is not merely short-sightedness of the eye. Often enough, we fail to recognise what really is important to the eternal soul and the mortal bodies – myopia of the heart, maybe? To be able to see – in this day and age – that the honour and dignity of human lives lie in kindness, humility, compassion, forgiveness, love, and empathy, is one of the biggest blessings that you can enjoy. To even consider it to be a blessing is a blessing in itself. Just like the proteins in the lens accumulate to turn into the pathology of cataract – clouding your vision and making it ugly and blurry – our prejudices, our egos, and our insecurities scar the beauty of our happiness, leaving behind a tragic trail of lifelong regrets and struggling souls. Weighing the worth of happiness against the bias of religion, caste, creed, and social status is – sadly – How You Kill Love and Happiness.

Maybe one fine morning, we will wake up to a world of mortals where the beauty of the soul will be the joyous Phoenix.

 

Photo credits: Sabrina Merchant (https://www.instagram.com/sabsescape/)