Throw together a few words with a full stop as the only bridge between them, and the reader is still able to understand what they’re being told. For example, “Happiness. Grief. Love. Hatred. Repentance. Fear.” You know that these are feelings. You recognise them.
In this picture, four of the people I’ve willingly – and lovingly – chosen as my family sit together like those words. Each one unique, and yet, still connected. Somehow.
It was a gorgeous Wednesday. The afternoon sun glistened fiercely over warm smiles. A lot of young laughter and some grateful sunny faces sang away to memories as dreams and ambitions peeked out from the window of a cosy apartment by the sea. The salt in the air. The sea out there.
When the sea and the sun meet, their orange is the colour of what you see when five girls count five years as they grow into their womanhood, together. It’s such a lovely shade because it’s not a mere figment of our imagination; it’s real and it’s tangible. We can feel it in the protective way we guard each other – physically, mentally, emotionally – and the honest loyalty that has our back always. We can feel it in the way we find our way back to each other after foggy evenings, in the peace we find in a mehfil of Gluco and Zeera biscuits and Chocolato dipped in warm cups of tea followed by one samosa after another. We can feel it in the way the air brushes our hair as we drive across the city to a playlist as unpredictable as it’s weather. We can feel it in the promises of not letting time and life and responsibilities get in the way of these five years.
A few minutes ago as I was tidying up my closet, a delightful thought arrived (just like how epiphanies do – amidst the chaos of our daily chores) and my heart smiled. I could picture the twinkling stars in the dark sky covering up the fairy lights set up gaily by humans like ourselves, to lighten up a simple dinner on a hot and humid day.
As I carefully hung one shirt after another onto the white hangers, I wanted to clap and laugh and laugh at myself for not realising earlier that the secret to being happy – eternally happy – was in accepting that with His praise and with gratitude on our tongues, nothing could ever go wrong; there is no such thing as “things falling apart” or “everything that can go wrong in the universe is going wrong” – it is all a part of His plan, His will, His way of rearranging and realigning things to make everything perfect for us. But what’s the key to this hidden treasure? Constant dhikr, remembering our Allah at all times – our tongues moving to sing His praise; our hands removing a thorn from the road; our legs moving to save a patient; invoking in ourselves a gentle consciousness of our actions that doesn’t hurt another soul; thoughtful gestures that rescue another one in need; through kind acceptance of another human being’s uniqueness; by not lying, by not cheating; by fulfilling the rights of our near and dear ones; by killing the deadly nafs that seeks acceptance from this world; by being forgiving; by elevating our souls and becoming better versions of ourselves.
Yep. It is all a part of His plan, His will, His way of rearranging and realigning things to make everything perfect for us. And what is perfect? Extraordinarily different and unique for us all, just like our fingerprints.
So what I’ve learnt in a little more than two decades is that the real joy is in finding happiness and peace and contentment when things don’t go our way.
Otherwise, what’s so special about this life, about us?
kawaakari: (n.) the gleam of last light on a river’s surface at dusk; the glow of a river in darkness
Someone said something to someone and that someone told me that, “self-righteousness and righteousness are opposites. The existence or increase of one necessarily means the absence or decrease of the other. they eliminate each other.”
A bell rang somewhere and my heart skipped a beat. I was scared. I was scared because I chose to stand away from the crowd by making a lot of decisions the way I did – in my choice of the headscarf, in choosing to expand my spiritual world by writing about it here, in listening to my heart and working hard on Walking Thoughts, in nurturing friendships and relationships the way I do. And in trying to detach myself from those worldly pleasures that could have made me a slave of my own desires. And where did that leave me? To more questions, to more locked doors. But it’s okay. Because no matter how deep, how immense the ocean seems, the shore does exist. Somewhere. And what all did everyone teach me along the way? Kindness. Empathy. Humility.
As a very dear soul sister shared a lovely secret with me, “Experience another human being in his or her very uniqueness. Giving others enough comfort to be themselves will open your eyes and heart to a multiverse of His signs. And you’ll learn who you are in the process.” This comfort to be ourselves is a privilege that our ancestors ought to have left behind as a legacy. But some dreams remain dreams.
So every time I step out of the warmth of my home sweet home, I’m reminded of how every dervish must explore, but must also guard their eyes and heart against making themselves feel better, feel superior at the cost of another human being’s uniqueness. Every time I hear the hymns of the meynas, I wonder if they, too, have time to do anything other than becoming better at flying, and taking care of their intricate nests, and of course, their hearts.
And so I realise every day that everyone is beautiful and there really are no flaws in anyone. There are only scars from falls, wounds from stabs, dried tears of pain. And fear. Fear of losing a loved one, of failing and falling, of more pain. So we’re all beautiful in our own ways. And every person we meet in this lifetime, only adds to that beauty. We’re all the same in our uniqueness, carrying a little of God everywhere we go, sharing it with everyone we meet.
It’s a strange feeling resting heavy on the heart. Hurried anticipation for the near future. The kind that doesn’t let you sit still and makes you want to get up and pace around the room. A few deep breaths every other second does no good. Your feet also begin to hurt. Where are the words to describe this discomfort?
Everyone and everything around you is fine. Your aunts and uncles are sharing happy good mornings on the family WhatsApp group and there is love and warmth all around you. But do you really feel it?
How can emptiness feel heavy? But it does! I promise you that! It’s a puzzle, the heart. The missing piece is just your soul demanding to go home. And this home is not in the dusty streets of Karachi or in the shimmering ones of New York or in the rainy ones of London. This home is in His remembrance. Just remembering Him, thinking about Him, His mercy. More than the problems that keep you awake at night.
This home is in the smile you gift to another human being, it is in the ease you create for another, it’s in the comfort your words and actions gift to another. It’s in the noise of the waterfall, in the humming of the meyna, in the sea-shells washed along the shore. In the gratitude you offer as you wake up from flashbacks of a ghostly – or ghastly – past life. It is also – and I’m sure of this – in the guidance we seek, every morning.
And in love. And in Love.
I’d like to imagine that right now – at this moment – I’m watching the sun rise here and set far away.
Slowly, gracefully, the orange semi-circle of the centre of this known universe rises. The darkness of the previous night shies away as hope and love begin to dawn. It’s going to be a new day, another day, anything can happen! Anything at all! Do you see how big that is? How amazing that is? Good Lord!
It keeps on ascending the azure, singing hymns to the seven skies, admiring the hues of the wild blue yonder, nodding “*subha bakhyr” to all who woke up to say “thank you for another day” to the God who sends little miracles along their way, each day, every day.
And once it’s up there – majestic and all – it just shines down on everyone. The rich, the poor, the weak, the strong, the sad, the happy, the sinful, the pious. And just knowing that it’s there up there, helps you breathe deeply, slowly, calming that erratic heartbeat and sweaty palms and racing thoughts and the doubts and fears. It’s a little hard to believe but when you peek at the crystal mirror, you see your reflection smile in gratitude for another chance at life; for tearing away the heavy, heavy mask that was taking your life away; for this magical walk on the clouds when you lightly put your feet in front of the other and dance carefully, unbelievably light, not believing that the long path behind you is really now that: behind you.
Skipping heartbeats, grateful **sujoods, peaceful eyes. Really, “***Allah O Akbar”!
There are certain emotions that cannot be named and there is no language that will always – always – explain why the poor heart is beating to a certain rhythm.
Such as when something happens, something that isn’t bad but doesn’t get you to jump around with joy, either. And then you don’t know how to feel, how you are supposed to feel. Your heart is beating faster and faster and you want to rip it off because it’s making you uncomfortable and you feel like crying with frustration. You also know that your mother’s womb was warmer.
There’s nothing you can do because all you remember are the days that have gone by, the nights when the room was booming with all that you wished to say.
But what of the days ahead? you ask yourself.
You’re a doctor. But do you know how wounds heal? God-willing.
“Doctor Sahab jab se aap ne inko yeh dil ko machine lagaee hai, yeh kuch ziyada hi bolnay lagay hain!”
(Doctor, ever since he’s had this pacemaker, he’s become very talkative!)
“Woh isliye kyunke inki quality of life behter ho gaee hai!”
(That’s because his quality of life has improved!)
“Haan lekin yeh bohat bolnay lagay hain! Har waqt mazaaq kartay rehtay hain, chahay dost houn yaa rishtaydaar!”
(Yes but he’s really become very talkative! He’s joking around all the time with friends and family!)
“Tou acchi baat hai naa!”
(So that’s good!)
“Meray liye tou mushkil ho gaee hai, Doctor Sahab! Bus yeh chaahtay hain k myn saara waqt inkay paas hi bethi rahoun, inse baatyn karti rahoun! Bus har waqt inko hassi mazaaq chahiye! Mjhe tou dar hai k kahin abb maid se bhi mazaaq naa shuroo kar dyn yeh!”
(But its annoying for me, Doctor! He just wants me to sit with him and talk to him all the time! I’m afraid he’ll start chatting and get friendly with our female house-help even!)
And the well-furnished cardiologist’s clinic roared with a burst of hearty laughter that reminded us – future healthcare professionals – that health truly is wealth; that a happy, satisfied patient is the best reward for the years of hard work, and that this is exactly why advancements in science and medicine were a tribute to humanity.