history

Day 10 in Quarantine: Life in the midst of chaos

As I listen to the slightly subdued voices of our neighbors wishing one of their family members a happy birthday at the change of the date at midnight, I suddenly start with a pang of reality hitting me in the face—there is life in the midst of chaos. As they finish the ‘Happy Birthday’ song with a loud cheer at the end of it and ask the birthday person to blow the candles—blame my room at the end of the house and absence of fans whirring for listening to every word of it—I am reminded of how birthdays would continue to come, children will be born, weddings will take place, and people will continue to fall in love despite death at our doors; and thus life will go on.

A few days ago, I read about a couple who said their wedding vows on a street in NYC while one of their friends read the vows to them from the window of an apartment building, the photographers took their wedding shots and passers-by took photos of the couple from their phones to record the surreal moment, and I wondered if there’s a possibility that the world might be ending. The question seems far-fetched, but so does the absolute denial of severity of lives at risk. People seem unperturbed—Italians, Spanish, Pakistanis, the governments of first world countries, conspiracy theorists, politicians; it seems as if cultures and Capitalism has taken a better part of us. Wage earners have been made an excuse rather than the governments’ responsibility to provide for them.

There is anxiety, confusion, ignorance and poverty, furthering as each day passes by; and then there is privilege—money, boredom and plenty of time to do ‘nothing’. And that ‘nothing’ translates into anxiety, misinformation and indulgence into an abyss of emotions ominous at present.

And yet there is nature. Thriving—despite the human suffering. The nature cures itself as the number of infections increase, the death toll surges—as the air quality improves and I witness cold breeze in the month of March in Karachi; canals in Venice have cleared up they say; deers have come out on the roads in Japan from the wild; Ozone is showing a remarkable self-recovery. Is it balancing it out? The pain with healing? Or perhaps it’s just how the nature works—endearing, undaunted, daring? We would never understand. Camus resolves this dilemma for us, ‘But perhaps we should love what we cannot understand.’           

The world might not end yet. Our children might grow up and have their children and grand children. We may live to tell the tale of social isolation in the time of technology that virtually connected us across the globe, when we took off the stickers of our devices’ cameras voluntarily to let people see our faces and the inside of our rooms—for work, for studies, for connecting with friends across the globe who we had not seen in years. And yet there would be a slight doubt in that memory because everything felt so unreal, movie-like—empty roads, silent streets, mass graves, lit up cities with no tourists, the sound of applause from balconies, windows, excited cheers animated at the noise of another cheer, until everything is only validated by history.

Book Review: Their Language of Love by Bapsi Sidhwa

The stories in Their Language of Love are rich and languid, told in a fashion that is engulfed in an affluent and graceful historic aura. Bapsi Sidhwa’s work is not new to me but I fall in love with her writing even more every time I read her. Her short stories are as much witty and sarcastic, vivid yet baffling as her novels. She portrays her characters as people you would meet in your everyday life, and yet they are powerful and inspiring, offering an unpretentious exuberance.

The most attractive part of her work which keeps bringing me back to her is the realistic portrayal of the sub-continental history, before partition and the 60s, 70s, 80s and early 90s, and the depiction of ease with which the local diverse communities would mix. Similarly, Sidhwa’s reminiscence of the roads and streets of Lahore, its nooks and corners, old gates and shrines, with a colorful paint of historical pallor makes one want to go back to the old city and see it with the author’s keen eyes time and again—it never tires you out.

Bapsi Sidhwa’s short stories are based on the theme of reconnection to roots—of culture, background, language and the commonality that brings the sub-continent together—whether it’s Feroza the spoilt American-turned kid, Roshni, the dark Parsi bride on the American soil or Sikander and his family who are trying to adopt the American ways.

The Language of Love (Short Stories) by Bapsi Sidhwa

Rating: 4/5 

Musings

History is bizarre. When you start reading it, you don’t understand a word- since it’s never the beginning. Even if you think you started from the beginning, it never is. The beginning has its own history, and so it takes you long to identify the real beginning of history. But when you do, it begins to unfold itself, like an untold tale. It unveils things that you know and things that you don’t. And then it connects to make sense for you. And slowly and gradually, you don’t even realise and you become one of the characters of history. Reading, rereading, investigating, connecting, going back and forth to make sense, until it takes you along with itself—something you came to know about, you became a part of it; so much so that you loved it and it became your life.