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Portraits – His neighbor-coworker

She often comes late to work. Nobody really minds but her boss doesn’t appreciate it. Although he does ask about it once. Her excuses are fickle. She says she comes late because she has to prepare breakfast for her mother who is old. ‘But you could make her breakfast early and leave for work on time?’

‘Yes but then I have to give her medicines too.’ She drags her words a little when she doesn’t have good answers.

‘Can’t the medicines be given a little early too?’ her boss asks still pretending composure. ‘Yes sir. No sir. Actually, she’s very old so I give her the medicines myself’, she shifts from one foot to another. She has a little problem standing on her feet for too long these days. The doctor has asked her to go for physiotherapy but she’s been procrastinating because it is not covered in the company’s medical insurance. ‘Just try to reach office till 9:30’, her boss finally closes the discussion. ‘Yes sir’, she pauses, thinks, ‘okay sir’, she puts a full stop. She’s not satisfied with how it ended, but she drags her feet away and out from his office and towards her workstation.

She must be around 57. Or at least that’s what the younger employees think. She hasn’t given the company much—she’s a data operator—just her years of service. She comes late, leaves early and works around three hours in total if we count her individual contribution per day. Most of the time she forgets her due assignments and someone has to remind her politely what she has been missing. People are generally considerate of her old age.

Ms. Raima is a short stubby lady who wears long Kameez with chappals that make distinct noise of dragging feet from ten meters away. She dyes her hair a shade darker than blonde whose roots she gets renewed after every 15 days. ‘You know Papa doesn’t particularly like unkempt hair.’ She explains. Her favorite person in the world is her father—only he’s not in this world anymore. She calls him Papa. She mentions Papa at least once every day. She mentions him in the present tense. So if you were new around her, you would think Papa is alive. So Papa likes to take a nap in the afternoon, he thinks it’s good for health. Papa always thinks highly of people who wear white. It’s Papa’s favorite color. Papa’s favorite poet is Ghalib, he absolutely loves his poetry—and so she does too.

When she does not come to work one day and you ask her the next day, just out of courtesy, the reason of her absence, she tells you that it was Papa’s 11th death anniversary yesterday; it’s only then that you realize that Papa has actually been gone for more than a decade now. ‘You know Papa never likes to make a big deal out of anything, so I just took leave to recite Quran all day and make some Biryani and distribute it among my sisters and brothers and their children. No big deal. But it took all day.’ Her eyebrows shoot up while her head nods. ‘I didn’t want to come today—I was so tired, but Papa doesn’t appreciate when people take their work for granted, so I had to come.’

She has been working in the company for more than 18 years now but she still doesn’t have a decided commute to and from the office. She hails a different rickshaw every day after work and tells him the route to her house. No matter how the situation of the roads of Karachi  is—due to traffic, protests, exhibitions, presence of high government officials in the city—the rickshaw has to take the route she dictates—because, that’s the best possible route to her place.

Most of the colleagues in her department are male except three younger women—one of them sits right across her. She really likes her. Whenever the girl wears a new dress, she asks her to stand up and show her how it looks. The girl mostly feels awkward but obliges. She then nods her head and smiles, and tells her that the dress looks lovely. ‘Light colors suit you very much. I don’t wear light colors to office because I come by rickshaw and there is so much dirt in the air that the clothes get ruined on the way’, she says. ‘Most of my dresses I wear are old ones. Beta, why would someone ruin their new clothes for office?’ She asks the girl. ‘It’s a waste of money.’ She shakes her head. But then she smiles and takes the girl’s hand, her voice goes down conspiringly, ‘you know, you should rather be saving this money for your wedding.’

Nobody understands where her money goes to. She earns a handsome salary after 18 years of service and doesn’t have most obligations people her age have. She didn’t marry, in case you were wondering.

But she should really go see a physiotherapist now. The drag in her feet while walking is increasing and so are her complaints. She’s been taking off every other week and can’t stand properly for more than two minutes. She also offers her prayer on a chair and feels cold even when it’s 37 degrees outside. Her colleagues wouldn’t mind otherwise but when she asks the office boy in the middle of the noon to go and turn off their side of the air conditioning, it does get really hot and suffocating—until someone passive-aggressively starts whining about how hot it is outside today that even the ACs are not working and the other person replies that the ACs are working but theirs have been turned off because Ms. Raima was feeling cold, that Ms. Raima realizes that it’s time to restore the system to normal.

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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.

Stars

Stars. She didn’t remember when she started noticing stars in the sky. Probably when all the normal kids do—in bedtime stories, and toys and in fairy-tales; when their teachers draw those colorful little stars on their soft little hands. But she started making her universe under the stars later.

In the village they all slept under the stars. Her grandparents, her aunts and uncles, her cousins, younger and older than her. And so, when she visited her village, with her parents and brother, she would sleep in the large courtyard too—wooden charpoys spread across the yard, beneath the neem trees, everyone would fall sleep under one sky looking into the dark night and millions of stars above them.

You dream about what you think about. Or, you dream about what you want to think about. She dreamt about neem trees, and nights full of stars and waking up early and running away with cousins to the nearby stream while their aunt would prepare breakfast for them. But sometimes, she also dreamt about the large vacant three storey house whose shadow fell upon their courtyard as the day matured. She never knew why she dreamt about the house. They often talked about it—she and her cousins. Perhaps it was haunted. Sometimes they would peek into the windows. But the only room they could see through one of the windows would be dark and empty. Perhaps she dreamt about the house because it blocked her view of the blanket of stars from far East.

As the years passed, network towers came into her view of her starry nights. More things would keep adding themselves to her view of stars. The trips to village decreased slowly and then ended abruptly. But obstructions kept adding up to her view of stars wherever she went. Slowly, she began to live with them. She would adjust to smog thinning the stars, buildings blocking her view of the sky, clouds of doubt and distrust, until one day, her view to up above was completely shadowed by a man over her who claimed to take a right over her under a lawful agreement—until she could not see anything above her, could not breathe, could not envision a life beyond that darkness. She would reason with herself later that he had the right over her, but what could she do about the stars floating under her eyes that she had stenciled straight from up above?

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.

 

 

 

Letters to her (1)

“You are the dreams you chase, the things that keep you awake.

You are the mountains you have climbed and the waters you have dived.

You are the playlists that you listen to, always skipping some songs, while putting others on repeat.

You are the wild car rides, speeding tickets and narrow escapes, those that brought you closer to life and close to end.

You are the karaoke nights and clumsy slumber parties and singing at the top of your voices on the radio with your friends; you are ugly gifts and pranks and arguments and later amends.

You are the stars in the sky that make you think of falling in love and seas and clouds and unicorns all at the same time; you are texts and chats and phone calls after rough patches telling them you’d be fine.

You are the tears of happiness and sighs of pain, you my dear are the first dance of monsoon rains.

You are all the books, the songs, the movies you own, you are the nostalgia of your sweet childhood gone.

You are your first love, the pure glee that it brought, the nervousness, and later the courage that it taught.
You are the shine in your eyes, the curves of your lips, the crooked collarbone of yours that you secretly adore; you are all the beautiful nights chasing after the moon and so much more.
So dont you dare believe them when they tell you they want better, for you my love know what they are missing on later.”

Quetta Bombing–August 8

August 8, 2016. Bomb blast in Quetta outside a hospital killing more than 70 people, injuring several others. Did anyone ever think of the possibility of a bomb blast in a hospital? Well, now we do. How many other places like that? How many more innocent civilians? How many more soldiers, police officers, in the line of fire protecting these civilians? How many more innocent human beings? How many more of such incidents to completely desensitize us? Do we still mourn? Do we even feel the loss we are going through constantly, persistently—or have we lost it completely?

Have we become braver or just indifferent? Because ‘bravery’ is a quality and indifference is the absence of humanity. Every day I leave for work, I observe people heading to their offices, children for their schools—everyone in a hurry, breaking signals, beeping horns despite knowing there’s traffic ahead—that no one’s blocking their way on purpose, rendering traffic police powerless and frustrated. Nobody is bothered about the fact that they are heading towards the same destination eventually. That they all want to get to work. That they all have the same purpose. That no one is wasting their time intentionally. It’s a daily ritual. A car hits another. Both drivers come out, cars abandoned in the middle of the road, engage in verbal abuse—traffic blocked behind, none of them caring. Few others join them as spectators. Hardly anyone comes up to disengage them. Everyone is afraid. Weapons might come out, shots might be fired. Nobody wants to get involved. Everyone wants to witness, break some news later. I look at the sheer irony of it.

Workplace is a blessing. Friendly people, empowering work, friends to hang out with, coworkers to have a good time with, it’s almost a different world. Until reality kicks in. I log on to a local news website. There are honor killings, security threats, mourning letters from the families of those killed in the latest acts of terror. I overhear a coworker saying, ‘there have been security threats after the Quetta blast. There’s always calm before the storm.’ The hair at the back of my neck rise as I take it in. it’s always been true for Karachi.

The city has already been on high security alert because of the Independence month. People have been seen happier than most days because of the pleasant weather and a relative peace. But everyone secretly knows that schemes have been brewing—some people can never tolerate peace in this city. Quetta just might have been a reminder. So what do people do? Do they need to be brave? Or do they have to be indifferent? Brave has to endure pain willingly. Indifference makes you numb. Brave shows signs of life. Indifference is the death of the soul before demise.

I don’t believe we’re just dead. Perhaps we’ve been killed. Once, twice, thrice, and then all over again. It had been excruciating the first time it happened, but with time it became easier. We still feel when our soul is ripped apart. But every time, the pain is less. Every time the soul feels less violated. Perhaps we are getting stronger at this. And that perhaps is the paradox.

I realize I don’t have solutions; I am part of the problem myself. But I want to feel more, to feel alive. To make myself feel human. And so, while I can’t stop the bloodshed, I pray. I pray for the lack of indifference, for strength, for being part of a solution—I pray for life.