notes

Of Organizing

In my struggle to make sense of this otherwise unpredictable world, I had always resorted to organizing things around me. I knew I couldn’t control time, so I naturally became its treasurer.

I would organize my work bag IMG-20181103-WA0053-1once a month, save all my receipts, undo my closet twice a month and redo it, clean all the surfaces regularly that I would come in contact with, stack books over one another either by their themes or titles or size, make elaborate notes of readings so neat and organized that some of those are still being used by my younger siblings; give away clothes and shoes I wasn’t wearing anymore to clear space, and categorize pieces of cleaning cloths based on things they would clean. My workspace would always have all the things I needed and not an ounce more. I would either shred papers I didn’t need or reuse them. I wouldn’t call myself a clean freak but I had a fascination for organization–obsession if you would. My computer has layers and layers of folders organized into themes, categories, dates and time so I would never forget what happened when.

But then a point came when I started to forget—things, minute events, scheduled work, deadlines—replaced by memories that I wanted to suppress. It wasn’t all of a sudden, but I all can remember is, I slowly began procrastinating on my organization, because I was scared to admit that the disorder around me was due to chaos in my mind. What was once a source of contentment was slowly turning into mayhem. It was deeply disturbing and impeding—more like blockages in the veins but I had so much to do and had so little time. In a haste of losing, and disbelief of what I had already lost, I began setting reminders and alarms and sticking scribbled notes to things to remind me of what I needed to do.

At a point it became so overwhelming that I couldn’t trust what I had written for myself. So I decided to return to organizing. I began from scratch. Little by little. I emptied my bags. Washed them. Filled them first with things of necessity, then of leisure. Made new playlists while listening to old ones, to remind me of passage of a lifetime that once was. Transferred years of data in a hard drive should my computer decide to pull a stunt like me. Undid and redid my wardrobe on the basis of frequency of clothes I wore. Gave away some. Deposited my old receipts and cleared my workspace both at work and home. Felt my head a hundred pounds lighter.

I’m still working on remembering stuff. But it’s so much easier. Because I’ve accepted what happened was the best it could have rather than questioning why it really happened. I know some things are not in our control and time will fly but we need some reins to make sure things that are ours—our imagination and the space that elevates it—remain that way.

 

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Imaginary Towns

It’s self-assuring to think in terms of towns.

Towns of happiness and towns of sadness. Towns where people meet and greet and depart and retreat. Towns where summers come for a month or two and the wind blows bringing winters and snow. Towns where people communicate in terms of books they’ve read—the favorite ones, the depressing ones, the ones made that them hold on to people on the verge of losing, and those that made them find themselves. Towns where music plays as a warning in the streets, those slow numbers late in the evening into early hours of the morning.
Can’t we segregate towns for people who love the colors of fall, or early winds of December, and for people who love a sunset at five, an early cold night? Where it rains in the afternoons, trees dancing to the thundering tunes.

Like towns by the sea, and those by the lake and mountains, where people come to live in expectation of a uniform weather, can’t we have towns where grief is momentary, glee a lasting season?

Independence Eve in Lahore

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Last year this day, it was 45 degrees in Lahore. But since we couldn’t stay all day in the comforts of AC (and of course why were we here if we didn’t taste some real Lahori food?), there we were, in androon city, on the roof of Cuckoo’s Den—an old kotha, now operating as a restaurant run by a painter, son of an old prostitute—in the backdrop of Badshahi Masjid overhearing live qawaali from down below somewhere, deciding on our Lahori menu for dinner. Even though we were seated outdoors under the sky, there was not a single whiff of air that could dry out our perspiration. It was a starless sky with no air but not the kind that whispered rain. We had our dinner listening to the clear sounds of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s numbers playing in the park below, only marred by the buzz of rotating stand-fans—a low-key affair; neither too many photos nor too much drama, just the four of us enjoying the unearthly backdrop. But the moment we paid the bill, it started pouring with reckless abandon—large drops of rain, each the size of a ping pong ball—drenching our clothes in seconds while we ran for cover. IMG_20170813_212814

Not for long though. We knew our clothes had been ruined and there was no cover in the Food Street so we resorted to buying kulfi, checked out some traditional jewelry, and argued about whether we wanted to eat Paan (we decided we didn’t).

Only then my friend’s driver called to let her know that the car had broken down. Wow. Exactly how it happens in movies. Except it didn’t.

We strode towards the car, licking the melted kulfi, while it poured. People were running here and there in a frenzy—anxious for cover. The route from food street to my friend’s place—where we were staying—was no less than an hour at least. It was already past 9:30. And of course we didn’t forget it was Independence Eve tonight, with the whole city lit and ready for celebrations. And in case we didn’t know how Lahoris celebrated, we were about to find out.

My friend called home and informed that we had been stuck and called for another car while we waited in the broken car amid roaring rain that unsettled everyone around. People ran out of eateries, holding whatever they could over their heads—bags, purses, umbrellas—hailing rickshaws to get out of the narrow streets. It was a musical chaos: sounds of azaan from Badshahi masjid entwined with Qawali (which couldn’t decide whether to continue entertaining people or to stop, eventually stopping mid-azaan) from the park beside the fort, the horns of cars and bikes honking non-stop in efforts of getting everything—moving and unmoving—out of the way to get out of the broken roads and quickly expanding puddles of water amid thunder and lightning of the hammering rain that had been suppressed for too long, it seemed.

So there we were, the four of us, stranded in the middle of the old city, sitting in a broken car waiting for another one to come.While it showered non-stop—rain drops pelting continuously on the metal roof—we talked about all the things that we wanted to do, things we dreaded after the long weekend, of life in another city, of movies that we had watched and those that were on our to-watch list, Bollywood songs, and cheap dance parties that ended in us rolling on the floor with laughter, followed by pizza deliveries and coffee rush late at night. Tired of waiting in the car for more than an hour, we changed places, opened and closed doors of the car (since the windows couldn’t be rolled down) while arguing as to whether it was safe to open the car doors:

“But it’s getting really suffocating in here!”

“I’d rather die of suffocation than by a serial killer slitting my throat”. (The driver had disappeared somewhere looking for a mechanic).

The street where we were parked had suddenly fallen silent, the only sounds now of rain thrumming on surfaces. Street lights blinked, so did the lights from inside the windows of the two-three story kothas. The silence was eerie and yet daring. Bored of sitting needlessly in a closeted space of the vehicle, bickering about what we were going to eat next, I suddenly had an idea—something I had always wanted to do but had never dared to say out aloud: we could explore the red-light area.

The timing couldn’t have been perfect; us parked just outside the back gate that entered into the district, with no people around, and virtually no one to notice us, we could just get out of the car and go inside, explore the street and come back. I knew the taboo associated with the place—the infamous Heera Mundi where men from all backgrounds visited to amuse themselves; from drug-addicts to vagabonds to bureaucrats and faujis, students and tourists to cheats and liars, and everyone else who didn’t fit the list and yet wanted the sheer experience of it all. Even though the street is an enigma for the outsiders, enticing some while repulsing others, to me, it held an artistic value. I had read Fouzia Saeed’s Taboo: The Hidden Culture of Red-Light Area and since wanted to visit the place. Heera Mandi is a completely innocuous street unlike what people imagine—that the people living in the Mandi would capture any girl who entered the district and force her into prostitution. And yet the idea was thrilling due to its taboo. I knew the opportunity was too big to miss—when else would we be standing here in this place, idle, with the only worry in the world of a car repair to get home, only feet away from exploring the place I’d read about years ago; a district full of skilled musicians and artists and vocalists and dancers; people, who weren’t appreciated for their inherent art and disgraced for their clandestine services. But of course I wasn’t listened to. How crazy was I to even voice my irrational thoughts of getting out of car in that unsafe area in the first place and then going right into the lion’s mouth on a rainy night in wet clothes, four girls only, with no male to accompany? I tried to reason rationally first with facts and then with the thrill it brought, but my friends were too hard lined to give weight to my imploring requests.

And so we waited for another hour stealthily glancing in the dark street—now the center of our focus, looking for any activity (it was too dark to find out)—till the other car arrived and we left eventually after 11 pm, reaching home (Phase 6) late at 1:30 am in the morning of 14th August. The ride on the roads on the eve of independence was a treat in itself worthy of writing another long post, nonetheless, the highlight of the drive back home was the final fifteen minute drive via Ring Road amid the downpour—sodium lit deserted road, wet windows, some nostalgic Pakistani music and us singing like crazy; probably the best long drive in rain I’ve had in years!

 

Note: To my friends who were the best company ever in Lahore, in scorching heat and load shedding hours and suffocating clouds followed by rain and downpour and summerhouse/rooftop conversations late at night.  

Special thanks to Beenish, my true Lahori friend, who was the best host ever.

Chapter 26 – New Beginnings

I was reading a few days ago how the best writers we’ve had in history happen to be those who have chosen to open up about themselves. And it left a deep impression on me. Great artists were mostly those who struggled half of their time trying to search for their identity, failing and learning, trying on new things, and repeating the cycle. Some of these artists endured failure for years, until they were known for their greatness. And in the long run, it’s the greatness that has defined them.

Self-discovery is hard—it’s like building a wall of legos, block by block. One wrong block and some bricks fall down. You have to put the right blocks at the right places. It’s excruciatingly challenging. However, unless we acknowledge our reality, our struggles, and come in terms with who we really are, we can’t be honest in telling the stories we want to tell. The stories I’ve wanted to tell for the longest of time, a lot of them challenge my own thinking patterns. Rather than answering my questions, they further confuse me—about my reality, my sense of self, of things I believe and want to believe. And there are things, I’ve been scared of writing because they show too much of me—of my naivety and sensitivity, of things I believe in, and of the things I love.

But I’ve considered this—it’s these vulnerabilities that make us human: fear of being rejected, the fear of trying, the fear of that answer that has been stopping us for years to ask the question, those periods of darkness that make us wish for the light, the fear of loving without being loved in return. Trying to act strong would make us one, but only in short term. For long term, we need something to rely on: we need courage from within. Putting ourselves out there in spite of fear of failure is being courageous (an amazing friend told me). It would kill us (if you’re awkward like me), but if it doesn’t, it’ll surely make us stronger.

My best friend, miles away from me right now told me a few days ago that she wanted her opinionated cum passionate friend (who used to feel every single feeling in the world) back. And she was right. I hadn’t changed. I had simply chosen to hide. I was like the last drop in the faucet that wants to fall, tries really hard, but the forces from inside despite all the gravity stop it from splattering.

And so, I resolve to share. It’s a road to self-discovery and you’ll help me achieve it. There would be struggles, battles (both inward and outward), failures (for sure), love and hate, a lot of thankfulness, some whining, a lot of music related posts, some conversations with coffee and chai, some extremely deep posts (so deep you’ll roll in them), my journey of faith (that waivers sometimes but is mostly the only reason of my survival and peace), my opinions (those give me life!), but mostly, my coming back to being myself again.

Lightly

Often times, it’s not adversity that defines you, it’s rather the journey that you decide to make. The path that you take, the dwindling steps, the fear of unknown, of the darkness ahead (or the absence of it), define the strength of your existence.
So lightly, child. Don’t make adversity define you. For although you may be born to suffer for what’s written for you, yet it’s you who decides how you’re going to steer your way out of it. Everything will come into place. Slowly. Yes, painfully. But things will fall into place eventually. So lightly child. Worrying is natural, but know that there’s always those people and things that matter. Far more than the things you worry for.

And surely, it would happen that there would be too much pressure, to pretend, to act like it doesn’t matter; you wouldn’t know what’s happening to you until your eyes are wet and you haven’t realized you’re crying until someone asks if you’re alright. You don’t have to be strong all the time. Let yourself loose. It’s okay to cry child. It’s okay to not perform sometimes. It’s okay if some people are let down. Just remember, when you look yourself in the mirror, you look at yourself and not the shadow of you.
It’s okay to fall until you don’t give up attempting to stand. It’s okay child. You’ve tried too hard. You’ve prayed too hard. So lightly child. Don’t be too harsh on yourself.
Good times will come. But look for them in moments rather than in periods. You’ll find love unexpectedly–in books, in badly scribbled notes from friends, in music that reminds of slumber parties of 3 am ending with pizza deliveries, and in people who genuinely love you for how annoying you are, because it’s only them that you annoy so much–and sometimes you’ll find love from where you expect, those close cushions of support who cry when you cry but help you turn into a rock when you need them.
So lightly my child. Talk long walks along the paths that you’ve known all your life to clear your head but don’t hesitate to find newer paths every once in a while and make new memories with yourself. Know that the longest you’re ever going to be with, is yourself. So learn to love your company, and don’t ever hesitate being seen alone sitting in the cafe reading a book, drinking your coffee and nodding at people–it’s the most charming thing ever. Few people, if ever, are brave enough to be sitting alone all on their own enjoying their little solitude.

You don’t have be brave all the time my child. It’s okay to cry when you’re down. But it’s okay to smile too–in moments, in gaps between nothingness and everything; while lipsynching your favorite song and the memory that comes with it, while stumbling upon your favorite lines from a book randomly scrolling. It’s okay to smile while heading home after a long exhausting day. It’s okay to live your life my child. Lightly. Ever so lightly…

 

PS: unedited.

Inspired from Island by Auldous Huxley.

One moment

You know how people are found? In a moment. In just one moment. You either find them or you let them go. That one moment, you decide whether you want this person to stay, or let that face be the one that would be lost in the crowd.

Lately, people have been faceless. With too many faces. Too many names. Too many lists in the Excel sheets—the whole bio data. And yet there have been only few who have been in that moment, that you can’t let go.

And yet. And yet there are people who have made some moments their own. For the lifetime. Like owning a song, a word that’s always theirs, a time when you know it would be them missing you, like a typical text on a certain time, or a silly tease, to remind you how you don’t matter to them—or just owning you by complaining to you, whining to you, arguing with you for nothing and telling you they’re praying for you, even though you’re not even sure about yourself.

These are few people, but enough for you. You don’t need more. You want just them to be with you. But you want all of them. Not one less. NOT ONE LESS. You don’t expect more but you can’t take less. You want all of them. Every part of them. But your hands are tied. You can’t do anything to bring them to you. So you pray.

You pray. And you pray. And you pray.

You pray every time of every day. You may cease to exist but you pray.

Black, White and Gray

Crossroads

Roads closed

Dreams of faceless people.

Darkness,

Or absence of light,

Tests that determine nothing that was mine.

Patience,

Endurance,

All that false pretense,

Of things that would be,

and people who will change.

Everything, that has been,

Is a mass of contradictions.

Love what we trust, or trust what we love?

It’s a shame it’s all come down to it all over again.

 

 

Vows to oneself as a 25 year old

 

As 2016 comes to an end, I make some vows to myself. No, these are not New Year resolutions made to be followed in the coming year only to be forgotten a few days later. These are vows of a 25 year old to herself, who had refused to acknowledge that a tough life exists and that tough people exist who despite how much you try to please would never be pleased with you, because it’s not their priority unlike you (so don’t take it to your heart).

Yes, life is tough and yes, it does get too suffocating sometimes that you don’t get enough time or space to listen to your own thoughts, but it always gets better. Believe that it always gets better, because it always has.

When you were 18, 20-year-olds looked like they were fully grown adults. When you were 21, you thought your life would be settled by 25, everything figured out. You would have fully matured, learnt all the realities of life. But at 25, I realize we never really figure out life, we may only try to. We never really mature enough. I might have been mature enough for my age, even perhaps more mature than any other 28 year old for that matter, but under what parameters? Balancing work-life? Making family decisions? Saving money? Making new friends? Handling love life? Life is never the same for two people. Everyone has to deal with different circumstances, different realities and different strokes of luck. What we might call crazy may be completely normal for others. What others might pity about you could be something that makes you proud.

So here are some vows I make with my 25 year old self to stand by:

  1. Don’t be too harsh on yourself

Don’t judge yourself too harshly. Only you know what you have been through. You alone have experienced your journey. So don’t be too disappointed when people close to you (let alone others) do not understand. They don’t know the whole story.

Never criticize yourself on how you could have done better under those circumstances that you faced. You know you did your best. You know you couldn’t do any better. It wasn’t just written for you. The timing wasn’t right. Don’t stress yourself for it.

  1. Don’t expect. Period.

Expectations kill. It’s a lesson learnt the hard way. Never expect from people. People disappoint. If ‘people’ had a synonym, it would be ‘disappointment’. Be good to people. But never expect goodness in return. Be kind but never expect kindness in return. People are generally indifferent. They don’t give second thoughts. Why does the kindness of strangers make us so happy? Because we least expect it. So the more we expect, the less satisfied we would be.

  1. Be patient

However you work hard, you have to wait for the results eventually. And trust me, the results wouldn’t be the ones you have wanted—this is where you have to be patient. This is a gray area. There are no black and white answers. What you might think best, might not be best for you. So try again if you will, but keep an open mind about consequences.

  1. Have faith

Point 3 automatically brings me to perhaps the most important promise to myself—having faith. Having faith might be the easiest and yet the most difficult thing to do sometimes. For things we don’t have any control, we can’t help but let them be. We leave it to God (or whatever you might believe in) despite having insecurities. It’s easy because we couldn’t do anything even if we wanted to. And yet it could be the most gruesome, self-tiring chore to do. For having faith requires patiently enduring our inner struggles for everything we have stood up for and worked hard. And it doesn’t just end there. Having faith requires us to accept the results as they come, with our head held high, because that is what’s best at the given time and therefore it has been given to us. It might look like we have been cheated, not given what we deserved (and that God has been unjust and whatnot), but trust me, it’s always for the best.

The lessons in defeat, in heartbreak, in going low, in acceptance, would prove to be your lifelong mentors. The timing would be so perfect, only you would understand later.

So don’t rush. Have faith.

  1. Smile

You have smiled too many times for people. It’s time you smile for yourself. There are far too many reasons. For one, it gives you wrinkles at the right places.

  1. Surround yourself with good music

Good music makes good memories. Or rather, good memories are made even better with good music. So listen to new songs, make mixtapes, send them to people you love (but remember point 2 above), play old songs, write about them, write about memories associated with them and don’t forget to make new ones.

 

PS: Unedited

 

 

 

 

 

 

Detour

When past makes a detour, it’s almost as if we’re not ready. We’ve tried to let go of things—no matter how pretty, how beautiful–and it’s been excruciating. They sting—reminding us of what are made of: shy smiles, coconut flavored candies, board games, anxiety attacks, pure glee.

For some it wanders—the past. For others, it comes back, like it’s written to connect the dots that we didn’t understand as kids. Things we had to let go but weren’t ready to do so. So past makes a comeback. For closure. Only, past is not as we’ve always imagined, not as we have lived. Is it playing with us? Are we hallucinating? It’s an old trick. Only Past would know.

Past has gotten old, just like we have. Twelve years older. But past is happy. Proud. Past is proud that we had to go through him, and just when we were getting used to his presence, he had to leave. But Past is back now. To commend, to applaud, to tell us that he would not desert us again. Past now has wrinkles, instead of worries, all at their perfect places. Past has learnt to smile more, to tell more and is more eager to listen to what we have to say. It’s been more than a decade since we lost contact—or since he decided to flee—but he is not here to stay either. Past promises to visit again, with more surprises—but this time with future. Soon past would become our future.

Things would change. No more chasing little girls playing, no more nursery rhymes or hide and seek in the shades of trees, no more peeking from windows too tall for our height. When past decides to bring in future, all the leaves would have shed, October gone, welcoming the onslaught of early snow and December. Future-past would bring campfire and melted snow, grown up kids, their eyes filled with amber and glow.

Past has promised that things would change, because once again we’ve opened the Pandora box that we had buried under heaps of sand.

But this time, things would change. We would keep our hopes but we won’t let past dictate our show. Past has the choice to come but we won’t mind if it decides to change its home.