Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Closure Note For 2017

Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from, and where you will go. Three years ago I was giving a workshop in the Rockies. A student came in bearing a quote from what she said was the pre-Socratic philosopher Meno. It read, “How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?” I copied it down, and it has stayed with me since. The student made big transparent photographs of swimmers underwater and hung them from the ceiling with the light shining through them, so that to walk among them was to have the shadows of swimmers travel across your body in a space that itself came to seem aquatic and mysterious. The question she carried struck me as the basic tactical question in life. The things we want are transformative, and we don’t know or only think we know what is on the other side of that transformation. Love, wisdom, grace, inspiration — how do you go about finding these things that are in some ways about extending the boundaries of the self into unknown territory, about becoming someone else?

- Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide To Getting Lost

Reading this I realized, other than the profoundness of the message, how our cognitive abilities are a function of not only our intellectual faculties but also our particular set of experiences.

Ask anyone familiar with the flavour of burning desire, to describe Laila (of the Majnu) to you, and compare it against the offering of someone who hasn't ever experienced longing. You're bound to notice a difference.
What insight this passage offered to me right now, I'm sure I wouldn't have been able to draw at any other eventful period in life. Right now I've been at a stage in life to interpret a certain message better.

Patti Smith - poet, artist, musician - has expressed it in an extremely poetic way:

The transformation of the heart is a wondrous thing, no matter how you land there.

The interesting fact is that all transformation is borne at the wings of loss. It is the impact of the blow we bear, the unfamiliar dark of the life we step into, that we could become more than what we have been. In the action of growth, a small green shoot valiantly rebels against the basal force of gravity. It struggles, breaks through the ground, offering untameable rebellion, stepping into the unknown dark of pain and resistance ... and thus, developing into a full fledged plant.  

And this brings me to the next thought... how come, when our understanding of the world is likely to be in a flux, our opinions of it are so rigid? Why is there so much finality in our perspectives? Why do we find it hard to see a tree when looking at a seed?
Does the degree of finitude of your own thoughts not disappoint you?

May your coming year brings you more of everything that means growth to you! 

Image: Orion (at right), Sirius (bottom) and the pale wintertime Milky Way (center) are well-placed for viewing in late November. Credit: Bob King

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Story of a Work Meeting

The office timings had since long ended but the meeting continued. Now it was 10PM and hunooz dilli duur ast!
Year review meetings are often long, no denying that. But in that case you're supposed to begin them early in the day, and not in the second half after lunch. 

Khair ... this is how things work in seth organizations, ie without any order. Chaos is, usually, the only language we speak here. And just in case you aren't familiar with the seth organization culture in Lahore, please read that 'chaos' a little louder. 

Mian sahab, the CEO, went on and on and kept losing track of the agenda (and sense) all too often. Oh, and did I mention this meeting (which was supposed to last till Mian sahab willed) was without any dinner break as well. My head had begun to spin by now and the shoe bite hurt like a bitch. During the day I already had it tough dealing with the two foreign delegates from Italy and China, both with unenviable prowess in English.

"... We beat them all. Our ship of success is sailing like the Titanic," Mian Sahab repeated at least 8th time this evening. Someone clapped. A few "alhamdolillah ... MashaAllah!" echoed in chorus. 

"Haey Allah ji!" I groaned silently. "Kal ka tou Saturday bhi off nahi hai." The thought came to my mind and hit me straight in the gut. 
Pained at the realization, I shifted in my seat a little and caught a glimpse of my face in the glass surface of the conference table. The face seemed to belong to a prisoner who had just been sentenced for life. Being the only female in that meeting room, I moved my gaze discreetly to look around and realized we all wore the same expression: Doom and gloom. The marketing team, the sales team, the creative department ... All of us, except, of course the Mian sahab himself ... oh ... and the GM Merchandising, Tirmazi sahab!

Wow ... Infact, Tirmazi sahab was almost animated. 

Just in case you're not acquainted with the gentleman, in his late 50's Tirmazi sahab is quite a character. From a meaningful clearing of the throat whenever you've just passed him by, to an unnecessary, sneering interest in female staff's dressing, to always interjecting when a female is giving a presentation with completely irrelevant and snarky comments ... he's the kind of a person at work any lady finds best to avoid. 

Now that I noticed, sitting diagonally opposite to him I could see that Tirmazi sahab was actually not with us lesser mortals in the room. His eyes were glued to something under the table. Ah ... okay! He was watching the screen of his mobile phone he was holding underneath the table's glass top. 

Since the meeting had lasted long enough to make watching paint dry an interesting task in comparison, I continued to study Tirmazi sahab's uncharacteristic cheerfulness. I didn't remember ever seeing him not being scornful. I imagined the cute little video his grandson/daughter would've sent him asking him to be home soon and the thought suddenly made me smile. This caught Mian sahab's PA - Naveed Ahsan's attention who was sitting right next to Tirmazi sahab. Our eyes met and his quizzical gaze moved to Tirmazi sahab's phone screen. The next instant I heard a hissing sound following Naveed's visibly popping out eyes. Startled at the sudden attention, Tirmazi sahab dropped the phone. First came a soft thud and abruptly the meeting room was filled with loud moaning sounds and sighs. Mian sahab's rambling voice instantly hushed.

"Phir se!" A female's seductive voice urged and all heads in the meeting room whipped to me. My mouth dropped open.

"Yeh ... Yeh! Isay band karain please!" Naveed whispered with a reddened face to a Tirmazi sahab who had literally moved beneath the table. 

"Karo na!" The female voice was insistent this time and there was a rustling of sheets. 

"BC ... Ki bakwaas ay eh Tirmazi?" Mian sahab roared aloud, stepping out of his sailing Titanic. 

The lady whispered something again, which I couldn't hear in the sound of chairs being pushed around, people standing up to take a better view. Of Tirmazi sahab, perhaps.

"Mian saab Youtube hang ho gaya hai. Band nahi ho raha." Tirmazi sahab's struggling, reluctant voice came from under the table. 

Naveed dived down and grasped the phone. 

"Ye dekho ..." This time a sensual, male voice demanded and was abruptly cut short. Naveed had removed the phone's battery. Phone band ho gaya.

For a few minutes there was absolute silence, the kind in which you can hear the movement of astonished clock arms witnessing the entire scene. Then Tirmazi sahab's grey head slowly emerged from beneath the table and he sat in his seat, wiping his face, head bent down. 

God knows who coughed first. And just in case you aren't familiar with the seth organization culture in Lahore, please read that 'cough' a little louder. 

The meeting had, unceremoniously, come to an end. 

*Disclaimer: This account could be a work of fiction. Or not.*

The post has also been published at Muslim World Today

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Perspective ... Of Gratitude

Last few days have been extremely taxing in terms of emotional toll. My father has been critically unwell. Tossing between hospital & home, trying to ensure that his failing heart does not lose the spark of life, I've been reading to him ... small snippets, short stories.

Like many men his age, he has been of the generation who prides in suppressing their emotions. His expression of adoration never went beyond a pat on the head. I don't remember ever being kissed by him until only now. Therefore, keeping his comfort zone in mind, his aulaad has learnt to be adherent to a tradition of stoic love. We keep a culture of stolid, quiet, affection.

Finding him particularly exhausted this morning, I chose to read to him something personal. Something I had posted as a series of tweets earlier this year. Something I never knew I remembered, until one day...

There maybe some lack of cohesion, which I think the kind readers would forgive considering the limitation of 140 character tweets, and the emotional state of the author.

Here goes:

Due to a lot of harassment stories being shared, I've been tempted to share a personal story.
This is however, from a different perspective:

The story is of late 80's.
It's the second day of Eid. Lahore. My father, mother, pupho, my kindergarten self & infant sister in a Starlet on Mall road.
Massive traffic jam near the Governor House had trickled down to the entire Mall. Traffic wardens had given up.
In that rush an FX was stuck.
From that FX female screaming voices could be heard even over that mad traffic chaos.
The car had 6 girls inside. 4 bikes wth 10 guys surrounded it.
The guys had raided the car. The front window had been knocked down & the biker was pulling at the girl's face, pulling her out.
The scene was so grim and gross that till the time she passed away, my mother quoted that as the most disturbing thing she had witnessed live.
The rest of the gang guys were flashing themselves at the girls in the car. One was doing air firing at intervals.
The jammed traffic watched.
It was then that my dad got off the car, despite my mother's & pupho's pleas. In his signature fauji way, he went straight to the guy waving the gun at the girls & slapped. HARD.
It was so unexpected that the guy dropped the gun.
There was some physical action and long story short, the traffic warden approached. Police arrived. The driver girl had a bleeding face.
In some while, the bikers were put in a police van. Dad was a hero.
When he returned to his car after some more time and having deposited them girls with their family, my pupho was mad at him. My mother was inconsolable. 
Both asked on loop: "what if they had shot you?" "Apko apni baitiyon ka khayal nahi aya?"

"Apni hi baitiyoN ka khayal aya tha. Isi liay gaya tha" my dad replied to them both.
And this is the other perspective.

When I finished reading, I saw him sobbing quietly. 
My father, now frail and weak, struggling for his breath, whispered with closed eyes, "Alhamdolillah. Thank you betay!"