If I Were You, I’d Have Just 5 More Years

I turned 25 this week. In my head, that always seemed like a definite sort of age.

At 21-22, you’re still figuring your life out, getting used to the real world after the college bubble, learning how to deal with the perils of a full-time job and finances and bills. 22-23, for me, were years when these new adjustments solidified, and I began to make real choices about what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be and be with, and where I wanted to go exploring.  24 was quieter and louder at the same time, a sense of restlessness creeping into the routine of work life, but not enough to make me want to up and leave again, helping me build a resolve to stay and power through whatever needed sorting out. 25 seemed to me more decisive than others, a turning point from struggling to figure it all out to actually having a game plan set and in motion. Is that the case? Not really, and oddly enough, that feels more than okay. I didn’t expect much from 25, or from the months leading up to it. Perhaps this is why, the happiness is a welcome surprise.

I didn’t expect I’d want to celebrate this year, seeing as it hasn’t been much of a priority the past handful of years.  I didn’t expect to feel the euphoria I did, surrounded by friends and family at home and otherwise.  I didn’t expect to rediscover the old excitement I used to feel on my birthday, counting down the days like a kid and planning what I’d do, wear and experience. And, as much of an advocate of happiness as I can be sometimes, I truly did not expect to be so fundamentally happy.

A last thing I also did not expect was to be visited by you in my dream this week.  It has been so long since it last happened, that it actually took dream-me a moment to recognise you and register that it truly was you, my brother.  If someone had told me 10 years ago I’d have a hard time recognising my brother if he appeared in front of me, I’d have laughed dismissively.  But that is exactly what happened.  You showed up and my dream-state-mind needed some time to put the puzzle pieces of your face together.  The shock and surprise dream-me felt then, I can still recall that feeling right now as I type these words, and that fact, is as sorrowful as it is real and true.

The first year after you died, I had phases where I was in so much pain, I’d make myself feel better by picturing a time much later in life, maybe 4-5 years down the road, where your death was simply a fact of life I’d gotten used to and thinking about it wouldn’t hurt me. Heck, just the thinking itself wouldn’t happen much.  Guess what, though? That time is here, it’s right now. It doesn’t hurt to think about you, and it’s true, I actually DON’T think about you a whole lot normally. In day-to-day life, there are things alive that preoccupy my heart and mind.

This might sound callous or harsh but there’s only so much of the past I can allow myself to emotionally relive. I don’t usually talk about you or allow myself to think about you because I haven’t wanted to share these thoughts or tales with anyone.  It’s been an entirely internalised process, silent and inherent, not to be shared, not even to be self-acknowledged.  Lately, however, there’s been a slight shift.  I’ve been sharing your stories, and just through this act, I’ve been thinking about you, remembering your characteristics and habits, recalling your likes, dislikes and irritations. By using you as a topic of storytelling, I’m able to fondly step back into a time where I’m 10 and oblivious to what will happen to you when I’m 20; I’m able to think of you as ‘my big brother who plays the guitar and can charm an eskimo into buying snow’; I’m able to trick myself into putting you back into the present tense again.

It’s soothing to recount anecdotes of your life that make me laugh, because I can now share that laughter with a keen listener, who will join in and extend the joke and talk of you as if you’re still around.  It’s probably exactly what I needed without knowing it.  It’s been tough to recall the stories, not because it hurts but simply because they’re old and muddles in my head, and my memory muscle isn’t too strong.  Maybe your long-awaited reappearance in a my dream a gentle reminder from you, of you. There’s no way to know, but I’ll go with that interpretation. There are some bits I remember all too well, like how enraged you became when I secretly decided to tune your guitar and broke a string, and others that are blurry, like a song you had taught me how to play which I can only remember the first few notes of. Certain triggers, like this song, are still as strong as ever and will cause my eyes to smart quicker than raw onion juice.  Other triggers, like seeing the car you drove on the road, have, over time, settled into a state of relaxation enough for me to drive past with ease.

I just turned 25, which means that, in a few days, you would have been turning 35.  I used to wonder how my life would be if you were still around but, as alarming as it can seem sometimes, I have come to like the life I have right now, even without you around.  I’m powering through, trying new things each year, visiting unfamiliar places, connecting with unexpectedly like-minded people, and attempting to set goals that don’t always align with practical considerations. Am I fulfilled? No, because I keep wanting more and more and that’s okay, because if I were you, I’d have just 5 more years.

Happy birthday, to you and me both, this month.

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To 2012: Till 30

For a few weeks now, I’ve had this nagging feeling that I’ve been wanting to express.  It’s a feeling that can’t quite be contained within just one word, or even one blog post, for that matter.  It’s a feeling of limbo, of being in a phase of transition between two dimensions of life, of waiting in a playground before being tossed into the middle of a busy highway.  It’s a feeling you try to mask up as excitement but in its raw form can be easily classified as fear. It’s a feeling of uncertainty laced with anticipation so intense that the butterflies in your stomach have now been replaced by bats, blind and raging, flapping about without direction.  It’s a feeling that’s shared by the entire graduating class of 2012.

I’d been toying around with the idea of verbalizing this feeling sometime soon, maybe just a day before graduation.  But now I feel strongly compelled to do it tonight, because, once again, I was reminded of the brevity of life.  I heard about another young death today, another life full of potential extinguished out of the blue, another bundle of hpes and dreams saved for the future and cultivated over time to bring to fruition later.  Because that’s what we tend to do, isn’t it?  We hope, and we dream, and we wonder, and then we gather all these musings up in a box and store them away, thinking “Later, I’ll do all this later.”  But that’s where the error occurs.  That’s where we foolishly get ahead of ourselves.

I wouldn’t say I have experienced a whole lot in my 22 years, but one thing I’ve learned the hard way is this: as easy as it is to think that we will always have time to do things later, it is just as easy for that time to be taken away from us.  It has nothing to do with who lands the dream job first, who gets into the competitive post-grad program, or even who gets married off first.  The simple, honest, and brutal fact is this: EVERYTHING matters.  By everything, I mean, every single moment you spend mulling over life choices and moaning about what’s fair and what’s not and what you could do as opposed to what you should do; these very moments are the ones people take for granted.  This is not a ‘carpe diem’ message or a shout out to motivate people to live life to the fullest.  No, it is a simple call for people to just be aware. 

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My brother died at the age of 30.  Being just some years short of that, I try to wake up and go to sleep with just one thought in my mind: I may have just 8 more years to live, I have to make them count.  My brother led a good life: he lived abroad, he traveled, he loved, he worshiped, he worked, he sang, he created more life.  I can only try to do all these things by the time I am 30.   If there is one graduation lesson that I would like to communicate to everyone, this is it: Live as if you just have till 30.  Don’t wait for a life event to bring you to this realization like I did.  Make everything count, and always, be kind.  Power, fame, and wealth are all great and worth coveting, but the most lasting thing you leave in your life in an impression.  Your legacy will not be what you leave in your will, it will be the amount of goodness you spread, the wisps of memory you leave behind in each person you met.  And you don’t need to be a saint to do it; heck, I’ll be the first one to admit that I’m not always the nicest person around.  But once again, all you have to do is be aware.

All those dreams, hopes and wonders that you’ve got tucked away in a box saved for the future, take them out.  Look at them closely, and think hard: are all of them really what you want or just what you thought you wanted before?  Surround yourself with them, and one by one, go for each one.  It ceases to matter whether the end result is failure or success once you become aware of the magnitude of your actions: you’re pursuing phantoms, and eventually, they will become real.  Live in the real world, and don’t box up things that you think don’t match it.  It IS possible to do both, and I know that for a fact.  In the one year following my brother’s death, I chased dreams into reality: I designed my own clothing line, I interned at a corporation, I wrote a novel, and I traveled to a new place.  On its own, each achievement is unique, but together, they form a bundle, one that I had once labelled as “To do in future.”  My bundle turned true, and the main force driving it is the same thought that I share with all of you again: Live as if you just have till 30.  You will be amazed by how much better you will become.

“I love you”

I love you.

You don’t own me, I let you possess me.
You complete me, but you’re also an agent of my annihilation.
You are what affirms me, and also that which denies me.
You are my anchor, my rock, my support, but you are also the edge of the cliff that I am slipping from.
You are the shore that I sail to, but also the iceberg I will inevitably crash against.
You are my greatest joy, but also my impending doom.
Your vision is my lens of the world, and also what distorts it.
You can make me feel like a million bucks one minute, and then a neglected, forgotten rag doll the next.
You are my sanctuary, but also the cave of my horrors.
You are the other half of the yin-yang, and yet you are all grey.
You are my refuge from the madness of this world, but you are also the madness in my world.
You are clear-cut and straightforward, but you are also a labyrinth with no solution.
You will meet me halfway, but you will also leave me stranded.
You are what I know so well, but you are also unfamiliar territory.
You are a crimson flame, but you may fade to blue anytime.
You tend to my wounds, but you also pour salt on them.
You are my dream-catcher, but you are also a living nightmare.
You break down my resistance, but you also help rebuild my walls of defense.
You are not my master, but your command over me is transcendental.
You are what I stop and turn around to look for, and then you keep walking away.
You form lyrics from my words, but your rhythm is out of sync.
You can make me lower the weapons, but you will never surrender.

You are mine, but I am not yours.
You are not me, but I am your mirror.
Your skin is yours. My skin is mine. But you are still under it.

Photo courtesy of: Wajiha Khuwaja

Then and Now

I no longer dream about you. It seems silly to, really, and even if I try, the only thing that comes to mind is the ugly and the jaded.

There are no more scenarios that I can picture us being in. No wishful visits to far away lands, no racing down an empty road just to see who’s a faster runner, no surreptitious glances exchanged over inside jokes in public, no waiting at an empty table while you arrive a few minutes later than expected, no watching a dreadful movie just for the heck of it, no driving round and round the same neighborhood and holding hands in the car, no shopping excursions and waiting patiently while the other chooses which pair of jeans look better, no conspiring over what to get for each other on trivial occasions, no pondering over how cranky we’ll be when we’re old and wrinkly. None of that.

It just doesn’t happen anymore. The only thing I can imagine is running, looking straight ahead, listening to nothing except the sound of my feet hitting the asphalt as I gather speed. When once, I pictured myself walking towards you, smiling and hopeful, I now only imagine running frantically as far away as I can. Away from you.

Carpe diem!

You go through life planning it in segments. Say your first word, learn to walk, learn to read and write, go to school, follow it up with university, graduate with good grades, get a stable job, marry someone respectable, die a peaceful death.

Everything is done just so, and the slightest disruption can have a catastrophic effect. You fail a couple of courses and the graduating with good grades part becomes harder, you fall in love when you’re not supposed to and you’re more resistant towards marriage, you stumble and break a leg and you have to learn to walk all over again. It is said way too frequently that life is full of ups and downs. But that’s only if you’re expecting your life to be one straight, monotonic line where even the smallest of things can catapult it in any direction. If, however, your life is already a colossal jumble of highs and lows, then any trouble that comes your way won’t have such an immense affect on it.

That’s how life is meant to be, not a straight line full of ups and downs, but simply ups and downs with little bits of uninterrupted lines in between. You can’t plan something that may or may not happen 10 years later, it would be delusional to do so. Basing decisions on days and weeks of weighing out the pros and cons may be the ‘practical’ thing to do, but where’s the fun in that? Doing that doesn’t mean you’re living, it just means you exist.

Grab a magic-8 ball and whisper your wishes into it, throw away your day-schedule and drive off somewhere far and unexplored, strike up a conversation with a total stranger and tell them your secrets, sing out loud in public instead of just in the shower, wear wacky shoes without worrying about how odd your feet look. Stop thinking and just be.

Professors, Politics and Pakistan

For some reason, WordPress has been at odds with my browser and internet settings recently so I haven’t been able to blog as much as I wanted to.  This post is going to be an amalgamation of everything I wanted to say all month!

So I am taking a course on democratic theory this summer and its turning out to be more entertaining than I thought.  I actually wanted to drop it, mostly because I wanted to continue being a bum and taking just ONE course the entire summer semester; BUT that was before I actually attended one of the lectures.  It’s being taught by Howard Schweber (his profile: http://law.wisc.edu/profiles/index.php?iEmployeeID=278 ) and it’s become one of my favourites so far. 

Now, normally, when you imagine a course on political theory, you reckon it will be dry, dull, dreary and full of thinkers you’ve always heard of but never really understood.  Certainly, this course features Locke, and Rousseau and all the other political aficianados but with this specific professor, they’ve been brought to life!  He knows his stuff but doesn’t come across as intimidating and is super-duper capable of teaching the material in a way that makes it relatively easier to understand; he contextualizes it well.  To top it all off, he’s hilarious!  Sure, the course only has a handful of students in it, but hey, who needs a big class anyway? 

So anyways, we were studying Robert Dahl today (who is just WAY too theoretical about democracy for my liking) and Dr Schweber made an interesting remark that really took my by surprise and made me think.  Robert Dahl wrote in the late 50’s and in his text, he makes references to Germany and England as being weakened states.  Now obviously, since he was writing just about a decade after the second world war ended, it makes sense.  But compare this to Dahl making the same references in 1990; it would seem ridiculous for anyone to think of England and Germany as ‘weak’ in the 90’s, which is FIFTY YEARS after the war ended.  It would be just as ludicrous if, in 1990,  the leaders of England or France refuse to trade with Germany or join any UN agreements that include Germany by saying ‘No way, that country invaded us and killed our people andruined our economy and is still a threat to us.’  It’s just not very likely to happen.

Yet, in Pakistan, people constantly and consistently refer to the India-Pakistan war of 1965 and use it as a basis for distrust and disagreement.  The governement of both countries are STILL at odds with each other and on extremely precarious grounds when it comes to diplomatic relations.   And this is FIFTY YEARS after the end of the ’65 war.  Funny, isn’t it?

Certainly, many people can claim that the two examples aren’t fair to relate because India and Pakistan also had military confrontations in 1971 and 1998, but, as Dr Scweber pointed out, they were both without ACTUAL invasion of one country by another.  Either way, I still found it to be an extremely relevant and thought-provoking analogy.  If nothing else, it certainly says alot about how long the poeple of South Asia can bear a grudge.

I find alot of the matierial covered in class to be really insightful and the professor asks alot of questions and personal opinions, which I never actually knew I had about the subject.  But this also becomes a complication, because I feel like I can’t really say anything meaningful about democracy or the process involved in the set-up of a representative gov’t while sitting in Pakistan.  I just feel like I am being naive if I say ‘oh, it should be like this’ or ‘it should follow the model of so and so’ because the history of the country displays the exact opposite.  Turmoil, take-overs, martial law, rigged polls: it’s not what ‘democracy’ entails.  At the same time, what all thinkers and theorists write about democracy also sounds really idealised and phantasmal.  Can any state actually ever be truly DEMOCRATIC?

I don’t really know if or when Pakistan will ever become democratic enough for it to be credibly labeled as a democratic country and I don’t want to get into the specifics of it either because it’s a discussion that’s too long and frustrating to have with myself on this blog.

Oh and here’s an article by Dr Schweber about his experience in Lahore so far and what his thoughts are on how Pakistan is viewed by the outside world and what its ACTUALLY like: http://worldnews.hometips4u.com/howard-schweber-pakistans-contradictions-the-view-from-lahore

‘It will shape up’

Sophomore year is over.  That’s another 2 semesters of trying to learn useful stuff or acquire some sort of skillset that will come in handy when we’re thrown out into the big bad world of corporate ladders and cut-throat competition at the water coolers. 

I can’t say all my courses have really taught me anything like that; I mean, its not like learning about Renoir and Delacroix is going to help me stay ahead in the rat race, right?  In all the philosophy and literature courses I took, there was one theme that was common between them: that in order to find meaning in your life or for it to have any value, you have to subject yourself and become submissive to a cause greater and beyond yourself.  I guess that’s where religion would come in, it’s that sort of faith that’s beyond the yardstick of human reason and its not limited to ratinality.

Everytime I come back home, I make it a point to work on myself and my faith a little more.  In the grind of daily life, living alone in the dorms and without anyone telling me when to pray or what to do, I don’t really keep track of it as much as I should.  That’s not an excuse but it’s all I’ve got.  I know I believe and I know what I believe in, its just the outward demonstrations that Islam require that I fail to fulfill.  And, since the inner and outer dimensions of an individual are intrinsically linked, no matter how strong my inner faith is, it becomes nullified if I don’t express it.  So whenever I come back home, I try to become a little more spiritually stronger.

I’ve dabbled in the idea of not believing at all, and just renouncing it all but the only reason I found to do that was because the demands of religion are too great.  But, whenever I am in a state of distress or something agonizes me to such an extent that I find no comfort on myself or in those around me, I’ve realised that the solace comes only from religious consciousness and appealing a higher authority in whom I have faith. 

Nothing fixes itself, there is no automatic renewal or regeneration.  It all comes from somewhere.  Even if something becaomes okay on its own, it’s because of an inner energy it possesses that ensures that the damage will be repaired, there is something potent that is the cause of the fix, the cause of all causes.  Whenever I am really upset about something that is not in my control or angry about something that I wish was, I’ve found comfort in being able to just talk to God in my own way and ask him for some help and reassurance that it will all be okay.

The next day, when the day dawns bright and my spirits are refreshed, I can feel that invisible pat on the back and I can feel that something is telling me, it will all shape up.