The Orions Within Us

Walking through the dark isn’t as scary anymore. Although discomfort rests on my shoulders, but if I look up to see the stars, and specifically, Orion’s belt, I feel atomic. A single, irreducible unit as a component of a larger system. Do those three stars, sequentially arranged, realize their importance or insignificance in an ordinary person’s life? But then again, do we, when we think about ourselves?

Epigenetics tells us that our experiences become a part of our genetic encoding, that an experience can translate itself into the chemical arrangement of our molecular biology. To put it simply, your traumas or experiences can travel through generations and shape their decisions, feelings and emotions. It is proven that something so abstract can become something irrevocably hard wired into your DNA. So as we ask ourselves, what relevance do we hold in a universe that consists of things exponentially greater than us, we must refer back to ourselves as atoms and molecules.

If such a tiny part of our hard wiring can have a domino effect on the thinking process of our future generations, wouldn’t our entire selves multiply that power by a trillion when we think of the effect we may have on this world? We are a microscopic part of a larger system, but irreducible and essential nonetheless.

The dark isn’t scary anymore because the Orion’s belt of stars will eventually be overshadowed by the sun in the solar system, even though the sun itself is just another star. And that is what matters.


Brown Man Blues

There is you, and there is me. And then there is our collective existence and it is drowning out everything else that seeks to ‘other’ us. Brown man tells me that he dislikes the way things are in the homeland; that it is full of dishonest people who are incapable of the level of educational excellence the G-20 has achieved. Brown man claims that he never lies; he is not one of them. And then the brown man seeks to ‘other’ those who do. I see the tinge of the foreign accent in his voice and I am almost inclined to comment; do you think you can other them and forget that you are the same flesh and blood and passions and delusions, brown man? Brown man also says that he is against colourism and doesn’t understand the white man’s racism.

Yet I see him looking at a light skinned woman and watch his eyes light up with the kind of interest he never gives brown women, often the same shade as him. Brown man, you are a paradox within yourself and bear many contradictions. You cannot rid yourself of the brown man’s burden much like I cannot rid myself of the brown woman’s. And lest you forget that those people are your people, the beggars and children in tattered clothes and also the uncles with ill-gotten money in their bank accounts. The features of your face will keep reminding you that in a white man’s world, you will always be different and you can never ‘other’ yourself enough to forget that this is your reality. Even if your skin is almost as white as a caucasian which of course it is, you still cannot get rid of your brownness.

And lest you forget, you belong to this land, this land does not belong to you. Even from thousands of miles and many years away from where you peer into the lives of those people who live here and you shake your head disapprovingly. You belong to these people and these people do not belong to you. Your accent and colour can never wipe the blood running in your veins and your greatness resides in the notion that you are a self aware brown man, if only you realize what that means.

Literary Blues

Classics have this element of solitude in them that becomes a recurrent theme which shapes the lives of people in ways perhaps unfamiliar to people of our current era. And they are especially relatable for people who have spent a major part of their lives in solitude. This theme is beautifully and heart wrenchingly described by Brontë in Jane Eyre. It is one of those books which have always held a special place in my heart.
Most people find Silas Marner an incredibly dry book. More so because it speaks of the industrialization of a people unbeknownst to us. But sometimes brilliance can be dry, I suppose. One of its initial aspects carry forward the idea of a benumbing unbelief, that could not be restored by any words to shake Silas’ emotions to a sense of pain. This benumbing unbelief is still amongst us; some toil hard to keep it away and some already carry it within themselves. George Eliot remarkably pens down human psychology and man’s struggle with beliefs and society with such intricacy, even though women writers were shunned and questioned in the 1800s. Her writings are a source of pride for female writers throughout the centuries.

If we seek a much more emotionally stimulating book from amongst the Victorian era classics, Wuthering Heights has had massive recognition in both earlier and modern eras. The depth of description and the vigour with which Charlotte Brontë has described the events that take place in this book is truly remarkable. Elements of joy and madness, of misery and despair are aptly elaborated on, leaving the reader shaken.
Whilst looking at authors which have had a tremendous impact on English Literature over the centuries, it would be a crime not to mention William Shakespeare’s Hamlet or The Merchant Of Venice. The use of wit in the latter play is undeniably unparalleled and Shakespeare has brought to light a plethora of subjects that were previously undiscovered by writers appealing to a large audience. A comparative analysis of the types of love presented in the play alone would leave a person dumbfounded as platonic love, requited and unrequited love, materialistic as well as the love with madness are all shown effortlessly by the playwright so well celebrated over the world. The Merchant of Venice has much better depictions of the different kinds of love as compared to Romeo and Juliet or Macbeth. Shakespeare’s plays have always had strong female characters which go against the stereotypes perpetuated in that era where women did not even have the right to vote.

If we look at modern era classics, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee is a masterpiece which deserves the praise it has gotten over the past century. It is a must read for everyone who has delved into the world of classic literature and brings the personal and political together in this story about racial prejudice and injustice. The Help is another brilliant book that speaks about racial prejudice and black slavery in the Americas in the 18-1900s.

Cellphones and Travel Stations

It is bemusing that I find myself tapping away at a screen when I had previously lost the motivation to do so for many months. Today, I am travelling with people whom I rarely knew before this month, and it comes as a revelation that travelling with almost strangers could be more enriching than with the dearest of friends. For of these people I almost knew not, I piece together bits and pieces and try to envision the family we have become. Behind me, lays a chubby old lady who seemed to be one of the most indifferent people to me before this encounter; yet now I see the soft aspects of her. Her hard caucasian features have always been a source of fear for me, for what are nuns to do except discipline children and instil the fear of God in them? Yet now, as she lays with her feet swollen and eyes closed, she makes me reminisce of my mother. An educationist seemingly hardened by the years, yet as soft as dough from the inside. And yet, as practical and hardened as she seems, her main source of hope and support remains God. As I massage her sore shoulders and head, I remember why she keeps so many dogs and children around her. After losing almost all her family, her only comfort remains in these innocent and docile creatures in a land as foreign to her as this one is to me. 
At the front of this bus, sits a lady with blue eyeliner and pink eyeshadow. Her eyes always radiate energy, and despite old age she still remains full of life. All my life, I had born a slight resentment against her because I was always the chubby child at the back of the class, never noticed as much as others. Yet a day earlier, I had seen her shaking with fear upon losing the money my mother had entrusted her with for me, and she hugged me, cold and trembling violently until finding it. Her eyes looked like ones of a small frightened child, and after years of teaching children, her inner child hadn’t died. Her memory ails her; she had battled cancer at the end of her thirties and the aftereffects were still prevalent upon her personality. 
There sit other girls around me who are more intellectual than me, more responsible than me. They are soft and kind in their own ways, yet there are things their maturity has not yet reached a level to make them understand, and I shall not bother with telling or explaining; after all, time is the greatest of all teachers. 
And then there is me. Nine or ten months ago, I remember seeing the picture of the inside of a beautiful place in Cordoba, and I remember posting that picture and crying, praying to God to let me out of this place, to let me see places like this far and wide. I desperately wanted to travel, alone perhaps, but with the reassurance of love in my heart. I felt like I was homesick for places I hadn’t seen yet, but that was a thought long lost and buried inside me until now. Coming here was no plan, in fact it was a miraculous set of circumstances that brought me to that very place. In fact I did not realize it was the same room in the picture I found those many months ago until I was well inside it. I held back my tears from falling because it seemed surreal, that this small room in a very far corner of the world from where I lived would be seen by my own eyes. A place that till now, I didn’t even know the name of. And it just so happened that it was in a mosque and cathedral merged together. So I prayed to God again, and thanked Him for bring me here. For listening to the smallest of duaas that such an undeserving person like me could make. 

The sun is setting behind me in this country where everything follows an eerie monotony. Where even the trees and herbs are lined up neatly and the hay stacked symmetrically. It bears a stark contrast to my home country; where the houses are built in a haphazard way and the hay is always stacked in messy bundles. And as picturesque as Europe may be, I belong to chaos. Where we have shaped the walls with our mistakes and flaws. The gentle bray of my heart is constant, as constant as it was ten months ago. Yet things have changed. And now things that are meant aren’t spoken. I have always disliked small talk yet that is what we resort to now. Perhaps growing up does mean hiding what you feel, no matter how useless it may be. And even if we won’t admit it to ourselves, we walk upon these streets and think of little else. 

Staple Connectivity.

They say that the way to a person’s heart is through their stomach. While this might not prove true in all cases, one thing that connects people as a whole does happen to be food. Differences aside, food is the one peacemaker that nobody wants to refuse and brings people together on the dinner table. Comfort food is a largely understated category of food that, perhaps, brings people together more than anything else. People find it easier to converse over a snack because of it being a gesture of friendliness. During my life, I’ve seen many kinds of people being catered to at my home. People of all religions, colours, languages and races. While they mightn’t share much in common with the main wonder chef that was my mother, food was a language they could all communicate in. Be it loved ones, or people seldom invited over, they were all equal on the dinner table. Some days, when things seemed duller than usual, or I seemed to be missing home, the familiar scent of spices and aromas of chicken cooking take me back there. 
Many a times I asked my father about what he missed most about home, back when our house was more home to him than his abode abroad. He always told me that it was the food and the taste of ripe Pakistani mangoes. And they still are. A few days ago, my mother started cooking large amounts of sweet rice, or zarda to distribute to the poor in honour of the holy months of Shawwal and Ramadan. Customarily, I watched ad my mother went to different neighbourhoods around the city and begin the task of serving the less privileged. I watched those children, with hungry eyes who looked at their helpings as if all the happiness of the world was theirs for a meal. I watched how their faces lit up, children who lived like beduins, refugees in small tents, unsure if they would even get their next meal or not. I had never met these children before, albeit I saw the likes of these shaggy looking street children many times before, never observing their actual lives. But that food, no matter how insignificant it seemed to privileged people, bore something beyond the meaning of just a meal. It induced gratitude, from both sides. These children had no visible link to us but they were more grateful than the most blessed people. It might’ve started a chain reaction of reflection, in fact. They made me realise about my ungratefulness. A feat as simple as food made people realise more than they usually admit to. Many a friend have been made over time by acts as simple as sharing mere snacks. On the death of a loved one, people bring food to console the families of the departed when words can’t provide enough comfort. It’s a beautiful cycle, in fact. Lunch ladies in cafeterias find meaning in feeding other people, no matter how overlooked their jobs may be. Their pride lies in their ability to provide nourishment for others. 

So food’s not just what keeps us going, it’s what brings us together too. Innate needs of humans to acquire food and shelter give rise to more feelings than we realise. And I think that’s pretty wonderful. 

Coming To Terms.

Perhaps one of the things that I’ve seen people write most about is happiness. Most people are still in the search of this ‘secret’, that we think, will ultimately lead to perpetual happiness. While I think that a secret to happiness doesn’t even exist, as a matter of fact. Summing up happiness into a term, i.e. Secret, would be incorrect, probably. Because such an enormous thing, connected to so many relative factors cannot be thought of as a secret to humankind. It would be very mainstream if I begin writing this to explain how you can begin to be happy, simply because it isn’t something you can give a step-to-step guide to, and expect the reader to be fully capable of executing the said activity by following the instructions. Point to note here; I consider most self help books about happiness, contentment and success as complete and utter bullshit. You cannot cure a person’s depression by simply writing about how one can make themselves happy. You cannot cure someone’s social anxiety by just telling them to ‘be confident and believe in yourself!’. And to think that happiness and success are somehow interrelated would be somewhat of a wrong perception. You can achieve worldly success, most certainly. You can become accomplished and have a legacy to leave behind. But will that make you happy? Shady question. I’m not someone to answer that question, so I’ll just leave it hanging.

Ultimately, what I perceive could be a major factor in this so called ‘happiness’, that everyone’s trying to seek, is contentment. Mainstream analogy, I know. Most of you already know that. Perhaps what could increase our levels of contentment would be to simply open our eyes to the little things around us and think that, hey, this isn’t so bad. I can make something of this too. Maybe what our built-in cynical thinking system has messed up with our emotions more than we’d like to admit. Perhaps we’ve become so self conscious of ourselves that we refuse to see the other side of the story; whatever happens, you will probably make it. While we obsess over what can make us more perfect, more advanced, we forget to think for a moment that maybe what we’re running after isn’t what we really need. While there comes a point in your life when you start questioning the necessity of what you need to be happy, you start to stop caring about thinks that become temporary factors that affect your happiness. Perpetual happiness; or the idea of it would be driven from making the most of the things that will affect your long term contentment, not the nitty gritty details that aren’t worth worrying over.
That scar will fade away with time, your grades will improve with time too. Because while we most often run after some things so much, that we lose the other things that have an equal affect in our joy. The balance is intricate; but what matters most is the things that will matter in the long run. Those friends will probably start forgetting you after a few years apart; your parents won’t. It could be the opposite too. Those grades won’t be the sole factor determining your success; your health will be more important. Your skin or teeth might not be perfect, and that’s okay. Your grades might not be either; but you’ll learn. Your sister might not always be nice to you; but cherish the times she is. That stupid grin that you pass the person you like mightn’t be seen by the people around you, but hold on to these moments that you might tell little kids about when you’re 80. While racing to be the best, we somehow forget how to live. Regrets are worse than apologies. Forgive yourself, and forgive others. Talk to strangers. Talk to your family. Tell stories and be told yourself. You mightn’t get the thing you set your heart on, and it won’t be the end of the world. Let go of the details and hold onto the real substance. There will come a point in your life, maybe when you’re eighty, or fifty, or even ten when you will realise that everyone is on the same page when it comes to life. Someone may have loads of financial success, but they mightn’t be very happy. Some people may not know if they’ll live to the next day, and they might be fully content in the present. The world isn’t an oyster; no. It’s so much more. You mightn’t be the king of a country, but you might’ve saved someone’s life. You can be more than a king, titles are just fancy names anyway. Your happiness is directly proportional to what matters. It is what matters and what matters will affect it. And the bigger picture is what will matter in the end. Happiness is sort of like energy, it can neither be created nor destroyed. It just passes on from person to person in different forms. And more often than not, it is passed on through small gestures, rather than actual things. If that makes any sense.

Lines, and Other Artsy Stuff.

Over the years, I have tried my hands at painting, sketching, colouring and crafting different things together to maybe try and create something that could be visually pleasing. Since the days of kindergarten, I could never restrict my colour lines inside of the given outline that I was supposed to colour. Staying within boundaries was never my thing, really. But it seemed that every line I ran on paper seemed to drift in a different direction. When the time came to write, my words were always jumbled up, hastily falling onto paper and sometimes proving to be incomprehensible. While children made beautifully curved loops, I struggled to differentiate the formation of the number 7 from the letter ‘z’, and the formation of the numbers six and nine. While everyone learnt how to write fluently, I struggled in making my hands go in the directions I wanted to form the words legibly.
When the time came to sketch, I realised that sketching needed time, patience and resilience. But then again, I have never been a very patient person. My sketches have always been wonky, to say the least. Origami and glue-work were never my forte either. I must admit that artists indeed have that little something in them that makes their grip over their tools remarkable. Their lines flow beautifully and articulately, forming the most amazing of pieces. I do appreciate art, even though I lack the patience or steady hands to form it myself. While my hands could never keep up with the pace of my mind, I did appreciate the people whose did.
I find languages to be a beautiful form of art that convey a different context with every word, using the same letters rearranged in a different way, ultimately resulting in a combination of letters that could have the ability to narrate any happening, or express many feelings. Language, however, differs in its impacts according to its variation. English may have many words to convey emotions, but to convey feelings, and more importantly, specific kinds of feelings, I find Urdu to be more suitable. I think that blessed are those people who have the ability to use the Urdu language fully and know how to use the exact words they want in the exact way they want. I do not possess that ability, unfortunately. I have been acutely dyslexic since childhood and while I do have fluency over English usage, I find difficulty in reading the details laid on paper in Urdu. You could change the entire context of a sentence with one letter, and I think that’s amazing. It implies for all languages.
A line could change the way you think. Be it through art or literature, lines matter. Same goes for the lines in sciences and math. Hypothetical lines, physical boundaries. All these lines affect the way we think. The lines we read in books alter our thinking processes to some extent too. Bar codes are a series of lines. Our hair are a collection of lines too, if you come to think of it. I’m not sure where I’m going with this, really. But lines seem pretty fascinating. I’ll just leave you with that thought.