Math + Me = ??

Math and I share a complicated relationship.  One defined by non-existence.

It’s a common complaint by many: i just don’t get numbers, I can’t do math.

But it’s more than just a complaint for me, it’s a legit fact, as factual as those horrendous equations I never understood the point of.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure math is great.  There are many people i know who excel at it and think it’s the bee’s knees.  I look at these people, these Russel-Crowe-A-Beautiful-Mind types, with awe and respect.  They can decipher numbers and functions and matrices and all that jazz. Good for them. Kudos to them. Let’s give em all a big cookie.

It’s the complete opposite for me.  I was 6 when we moved to Canada, went into grade 2 and, for a while there, I was the “smart kid.”  Okay, I’ll stop being modest, I was pretty smart at school, but I think it had a lot to do with the fact that the intensity of what was taught at school in Canada was nowhere near the stuff I had been learning before.  It’s pretty ironic; in Grade 2, I remember being grouped with a couple other kids (brown, obvs) and given stuff like long division to do because what the rest of the class was doing was just not challenging enough.  Things continued in this vein for a while, another 5 years till grade 8 and  then BOOM! We moved to Dubai and I was stupid again.

Amen, sister

Amen, sister

 

Geometry, algebra, multiple choice quizzes and tests every week! The dramatic shift in what I was learning and how I had to learn it was unsettling.  Gone was the emphasis on personal development and creative growth through fun projects, and in was adopting a new way of memorising as much information as possible. It took ages for me to catch up with what everyone else was doing.  The school I went to, there was no such thing as a stupid person, academically.  While there was no encouragement to develop your personality or figure out where your strengths lay, there was plenty of pressure to outdo yourself and those around you in every quiz.  I remember distinctly liking science at school in Canada (experiments ftw!); fast forward a couple of years in Dubai and I’d developed a deep abhorrence for anything formulaic.  At college, I cried great big tears of misery after the calculus midterm.  Needless to say, I did not do too well on that course. I wonder now if my mental block towards Math & Science (yes, to me they form one big, evil union together) was merely a result of the change in learning environment.

Perhaps, it’s not an inherent quality lacking in me that prevents me from grasping such concepts now as well as I used to.  Had I maybe stayed in Canada and continued school there, I wouldn’t tear up now at the sight of numbers.  There is the obvious flip side to this argument as well: loads of kids who went to the same school I did flourished at all things math-y and science-y, including others like me who’s moved to Dubai from Canada.  Whatever the reason may be, the fact remains: I’m no good at that stuff. Furthermore, I have no particular interest in trying to be. I have my words.

I’d often wonder aloud in class when I’d ever need to use the Pythagoras Theorem later on in life.  Five years out of high school, my thoughts remain as they were. Numbers and formulas are great at helping you figure out how something works, but words can elucidate why.  So, to conclude with a fancy justification of my weakness, my strength lies not in thinking of the “how” of life, but rather the “why”.

See? He thinks about the 'why' too.

See? He thinks about the ‘why’ too.

No Culture in Dubai? Come to Emirates Lit Fest. For Ben Okri.

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’ve been a bit starved for intellectual conversation in Dubai.

Since moving back here 7 months ago, I’ve been on the lookout for anything that can get me cerebrally turned on.  There are some great folks in the city, certainly, but most events in Dubai labelled as ‘cultural’ or ‘artistic’ attract the same type of footfall.  There are only so many vapid, self-involved people you can meet before you decide to give up and just stay in and watch re-runs of Friends.

All hope, however, is not lost. Lo and behold the Emirates Lit Fest!

Granted, I don’t think all the authors invited for it (and the list is rather long) are the cat’s pajamas but I’ll stop nitpicking long enough to rejoice that YES, THERE IS CULTURE IN DUBAI (…only when it is imported, but it’s a start).

Today was the 4th day of the festival.  The venue was crowded, lots of bookworms milling about, hoping to find a last-minute ticket to the Jeffrey Archer session, which was sold out soon after it went on sale. Thankfully, I didn’t even dream of wanting to attend that one.

What I was looking forward to was catching the talk and reading by Ben Okri, and oh, what a delight it was!  The man is a wonderful speaker: soft, thoughtful, and eloquent with words that seem to just glide into the ether and linger there for a while so you can savour them before digesting what they are trying to convey.

His bio is impressive: a Booker prize, novels, short-story/poetry collections, books of essays, even a comparison that denotes him the African counterpart of Marquez and Rushdie.  His demeanor, however, was absent of any grandeur and he spoke about some truly wonderful notions surrounding literature.  From five pages of notes that I was compulsively scribbling down, there are a plethora of things that really stuck with me.

Okri, Ben.jpg

On being called an ‘African’ writer, Okri shook his head and commented that a people and what they mean cannot be confined to simply one place. With literature, geography becomes transnational.  As a teenager, he would devour Plato while his father would often gesture around him with his hands and comment ‘We have our own Platos.’ (Isn’t that just the loveliest image/line?)

The African (and here I could easily insert Pakistani or South Asian, and it would make just as much sense) philosophy and way of seeing reality are in the air.  The spirit of a place and its people are not separate from the way in which we live our lives.  Thus, writers who write only of where they are from, or who are labelled as where they are from, pose a severe limitation to the scope of what is being written.  Where you are from is already implied in your writing as a default, there is no need to make a deliberate effort.

This particular idea really resonated with me.  It’s something we often debated in Bilal Tanweer’s workshops at LUMS, the concept of writing ‘ethnic lit’ and representing Pakistan. Making an effort gives you prose that is exoticizing and simply trying too hard, with long English descriptions of the simplest of things such as a paratha (“round, flat bread, fried to a rich golden brown”?) sounding like a justification or an over-explanation for what is normally just a part of your culture that you don’t think twice about. A paratha is a paratha.

Expanding on the burden of representing Africa in his writing, Okri used a great little analogy.  We do not find Shakespeare interesting because of his English-ness, we read him because of his humanity.  When you read a writer, think beyond their identity and their labels. To approach a piece of writing with a set prejudice in mind is to do it a great disservice.  “One of the most effective ways of overcoming prejudice is to write well.  Conflicts of the world would be so much easier to deal with if we just read each other.”

Okri also spoke at length about childhood.  He described that phase of time as an unusual way of seeing significance in insignificance, a teacher of openness. “If you want to know what a nation is like, look at how they treat their children.”  As we grow older, this is what we lose. It becomes difficult to see.

This reminded me a lot of what William Wordsworth puts forth in his poems (Tintern Abbey, and Ode to Intimations of Immortality).  He explores childhood as a time when our connection to nature is at its most pristine.  Equating Nature with the divine also implies that in childhood, our connection to that which is beyond us is unblemished.  Childhood is that idealized state in which a simple sight such as that of a rainbow can excite the mind in wondrous ways.  We lose that sense of awe and wonder as we grow older.  There was this beautiful moment in the Q&A after the talk when a young girl asked Okri, “What advice would you give to children about writing?”  He was flummoxed into silence fro a few minutes before thoughtfully responding, “Read.  Read as much and as often as you can. Write, of course, write but read because that comes first.” He paused to ponder before continuing on, “There are moments when Mom or Dad say something amazing. Remember them.” He settled back in his seat and the audience began to applaud.  He sat up again and interrupted the moderator to continue, with widened eyes and a feigned look of wonder, “You know that feeling when you see something or someone for the first time? Never lose that.”  Needless to say, the entire audience aww-ed and sighed in pleasure.

I also really liked what Okri had to say on ideas.  He likened an idea to a seed, it may be small but it contains the potential to be an oak tree. (A lot like Shariati’s idea of the 0 and the 1.) The logic of your idea pours out once you start writing and that is the best kind of writing, that which calls forth out of your soul.  A novel doesn’t just happen all at once.  “A novel visits you, in a glimpse.  Maybe it’s just a glimpse of a woman walking down the street, but what a woman and what a street!”

He described himself as an obsessive re-writer.  You cannot know, he said, if a sentence works unless you literally and with full consciousness go over every single word.  “The process is sickening.” It requires what Chekhov called the “coldness of the eye”, a sort of distancing yourself from your creation in order to critique it.  But this is far from easy.

Personally, I abhor going back to stuff I’ve written in order to edit or re-write.  What you write is like your baby, you;re protective of it, you’re halfway in love with it, and incredibly resistant to altering it in any way but it’s necessary.  Being secure as a writer is impossible. How can you be secure in a way of being that deals with the most intangible of things? As Okri put it, “Insecurity is a punishment from the gods for the effrontery you commit for wanting to create.”

How gorgeous is that line? Soak it in.

Needless to say, the session was exactly what my soul needed.  There are not a whole of other writers I’m particularly looking forward to meeting and hearing, but Ben Okri was definitely one of the highlights.  Here are a few bit from some of his poems:

We have broken the night.

The night yields in the rock.

Night leaps out from our hands.

The night has left the sky

As fire and power in our hands.

As a strong shape.

The world is ours at last.

 

We are as the gods dream.

Haven’t we broken the mountain

And shaped the world

In our own hands, to bend and crack

And change it into form and dream?

 

We have become more than we seem.

 

Not sure which poem this was from, but I loved this particular stanza.  Made me think of Karachi:

Our future.

Who can read it,

save the Gods.

But they are quiet now.

They are quiet

now.

 

And this one:

I held you in the square

and felt the evening

re-order itself around

your smile.

 

I could keep gushing about Okri. So I’ll stop now and start reading the collection of his essays that I bought today, ‘A Time for New Dreams’. Indeed.

2 Years: It’s been long, but not long enough

Let us take a moment
to pause and stare
Pause and stare at the fresh grave.
At the immeasurable spoonfuls of dirt
that will soon fill
it to the brim.

He died on a spectacularly sunny Saturday.  We left Canada almost a decade ago to relocate to the UAE, a country with one season reigning supreme all year long: summer.  Unlike this year, December wasn’t all that different from March or October in 2010.  To me, it had just been a day like any other in Dubai, hot, humid, and treacherously sweaty.

I had returned home for my annual winter break from college a few ago, and spent most of my time writing or playing with Ayana, my one-year-old niece.  Like my father, my brother was a banker and though Saturday is a working half-day for most banks in Dubai, my brother had been home all day.  In fact, he had decided to take his annual leave early and was going to be home every day for the next two weeks, a fact that did not register too well with me since I’d been planning on spending my days careening across the city and roaming the endless malls.  This would not be easy to do, with an older brother at home who had an inclination to call every hour, enquiring of my whereabouts.  Unknown to me, God had his own plans in motion.

Let us go
Let us embark on a journey
of thought, and descend
six feet under
to pause and stare some more.
Pause and stare
at the body that lies
beneath.

 4:30 pm.  I left the house with my sister, anxious to get some shopping done and spend some of the money Bhai had given me the night before.  This was new.  Usually, I’d have to pull my ‘I’m a poor, broke student’ routine to make him cough up some pocket money but this time, he had given me way more than ever before without even needing to be asked.  Perhaps I’d shouted out “Okay, I’m going now!” from my room downstairs or maybe I’d just flounced out of the house without a word.  Either way, there had been no real goodbye.

7:30 pm. My sister and I were browsing for sportswear, and dreaming aloud about all the things we’d do in London next month, a trip we’d been planning for the better half of a year.  At the same time, my brother had left home, bidding his mother, wife and baby daughter farewell for the very last time, to come to the same mall we were in, Mirdif City Center.  He had a weekly cricket match at its indoor play ground. Till date, I feel uneasy going near that area.

8 pm.  I was strapping on my seatbelt, and my sister and I were about to head out of the mall and back home when we received an unnerving phone call from my father.

“Beta, Bhai has collapsed.  Come to Playnation right away.”

My sister and I had been bewildered, but not as shocked as we should have been.  I’d always seen my brother as having a flair for the dramatic, with every little symptom exaggerated to generate the largest amount of sympathy possible.  I saw this as typical behavior, rolled my eyes and actually thought to myself: Well it’s not like he’s dying. But he was.

8:05 pm. As we maneuvered our way back through the parking lot, a series of phone calls followed with the last one falling like a jagged boulder on our souls.

“Beta, Bhai has died.”

How could my father possibly sound so calm?  His voice seemed wooden, jarringly inappropriate to the words he had spoken.  I couldn’t think, couldn’t move but knew we had to reach him.  I ran through the mall, panting and crying simultaneously, face etched into a mixture of disbelief and hysteria.  My sister must have been running with me but I was no longer aware of anything else but how fast my legs could take me to my brother.  I focused my thoughts again on my father’s tone of voice, the inflection in his words, rather than his actual words themselves.

Notice
the freshly cut nails,
the neatly trimmed hair.
One will yellow gradually,
the other will be nothing
but tufts and wisps
of dark brown.

I pride myself on my descriptive prowess, but even after all this time I cannot figure out how to fully convey the impact of what happened that night.  What i’ve realised is this: its not so much the immediate impact of the death that matters as much as it’s long-term effect.  Our swollen eyes, sleepless nights and struggle to put on brave faces were all just temporary afflictions. It’s what we’ve all experienced since then that is vital.

  • We can say your name without being overcome by a wave of tears every time.  When people ask me how many siblings I have, I am able to mention you.  I can say, ‘I had an older brother’ without my voice breaking.
  • We can smile and fondly remember things you liked to do.
  • We can do some of those things on our own.  We had a bbq last weekend, the first since you left.  You weren’t there to do all the work, but just as we were about to eat, it drizzled for a couple of minutes.  Was that you telling us you’re still with us?
  • We can talk to Ayana about you, and try answering her many, many questions about her Baba.  I can tell her that her love for singing and music probably comes from you, as well as her desire to have a pet turtle.
  • We can still go through moments of hysteria while thinking of you, but then we move past it.  Coming back from Karachi last month, I saw a man who looked a lot like you.  Same stature, same face shape, even a similar way of dressing.  I probably unnerved him by how much I was staring, and my heart broke a little when I lost sight of him, but I survived.
  • We can have dreams about you but still wake up to face reality the next day.  For the past few months, I’ve had this recurring dream in which you come back to us.  I don’t know from where or how, all that’s certain about it is the elation we all feel, and the sweet relief that this whole charade is over.  And when my eyes blink open and I see the framed photo of you I have on my bookshelf, I don’t need to lash out.

Notice
the glassy eyes slightly open.
They have witnessed the yellowing, falling leaves
Of only thirty Octobers.
Notice
the ears stuffed with cotton.
They have heard a crowd roaring, an audience clapping,
a baby crying.
These senses thrived for three decades
but now are dormant.
Not seeing, not hearing.

The truth is this: nothing fazes us any more.  Nothing rings truer than the oft-quoted saying: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  The cessation of your heart ended your life, but the end of your life did not kill us.  It made us stronger.  And with each passing year, our strength grows, our resilience grows firmer.  There are still moments of weakness, but that’s okay.  It’s been two years since you died, sometimes it feels like twenty, sometimes it feels like no time at all has passed.  That’s okay too, because though it has been long, perhaps it hasn’t been long enough.

Time has ceased.
Temporality is no longer
an affliction.
This body will lie forever,
Still and silent.

Let us go now
and ascend back into existence.
The moment to stop and stare
has passed.
It is time now
to let the spoonfuls of dirt
do their duty.

My Scattered Soul, Part 4: Dubai

When people ask me where I’m from, I have a hard time answering.  I hear people around me passionately defending their hometowns during never-ending Islamabad vs Lahore vs Karachi debates, and I can’t really participate because I’m not from any of those cities.  I never lived in Pakistan prior to LUMS; I grew up in Toronto but even with a blue passport and remnants of a Canadian accent, I’m not quite from there either.  It has, after all, been nearly a decade since I left Toronto. As for Dubai, I’ve always treated it as a stopover of sorts, not wanting to reveal it’s where I’ve lived most recently, unnecessarily adding in a little tidbit that its simply where my family resides.

Lately, though, I’ve started to really wonder about that.  I have to head back to Dubai after graduation in a few months and, even if it was, in my mind, simply just a place where my family lives, it will now be a place where I live as well.  I went to high-school there, suffered through the various stages of teenage angst in the sandy city, rolled down sand-dunes the same way I tobogganed down a snowy hill, rebelled and tested boundaries and made a whole bunch of startlingly diverse friends in the 5 years I spent there.  Surely, that makes Dubai a little more than just a stopover?

Image

Articles about the monstrosity of Dubai are a dime a dozen; from UK’s Guardian to Pakistan’s Tribune newspapers, there have been features about the lack of soul in Dubai.  It’s known as an oil-funded Las Vegas on steroids; a wasteland of a city whose main attractions are not its history or its people but its tall, shiny buildings and ‘world’s largest’ everything.  Google ‘dubai’ and the images that come up are all of a metallic haven of spires and palm-tree shaped islands. But does the fact that everything about the city has something to do with pushing boundaries necessarily a bad thing?

Image

Think about it: Dubai is a city where you can ski in the middle of the desert and go to the beach in the same day and on a desert safari later that night, audition to be Paris Hilton’s new best friend, shop at any time because there is always a mall around the corner, see every top DJ/band/artist live more than just a few times a year, go sand-surfing and miss school when it rains, earn without having to pay taxes, etc.  The mere wonder of these things gives the city a diversity that it is so often criticized for not having.

But then, there’s a flip side as well.  And this is one that I feel quite passionately about: the attitude that all this opulence imbibes in Dubai’s people.  You meet a range of people of various ethnic backgrounds, and as great as that is, it bears no reflection of the fact that Dubai’s own locals, the Emiratis, are generally known to be rude, arrogant and above and beyond the law.  Some of them are genuinely nice and down-to-earth people, but the majority, those who we read about in news articles regarding car accidents and speeding instances, that majority is the one that vexes me to no end.  Their regard for the law is non-existent, and no fine or penalty will ever be high enough because of the wealth they have at their disposal to use as pay-offs.

Just another Lamborghini. A comment from the blog where I got this pic from: "I know the person who was driving the car. Nothing happened to him. They have many other expensive cars…"

This assurance that nothing can ever happen to them translates into an ugly arrogance: they go by without ever really studying or working as hard as any others because they’ll never get kicked out or fired simply because of their nationality.  Because their father or uncle or cousin owns the city.  Of course, I;m just making a broad generalization here that in no way reflects how ALL locals are, but this is the general dominant viewpoint of them.  It just doesn’t gel with me, this devil-may-care attitude that translates into other people being treated unfairly.  Dubai may be the city of wonder, but it’s also the city where most people don’t clean up after themselves because they’ve got a maid to do it for them.  Yes, I had one of those too.  It spoils you, this city.

I don’t want to simply resign myself to the fact that I HAVE to move back to Dubai and I HAVE to work there.  Most people would be overjoyed at such an opportunity, but my excitement level hasn’t really reached that height yet.  People stare at me wide-eyed and ask “You came to PAKISTAN from Dubai?? WHY?” and my answer’s usually the same: Dubai’s a great place to visit, but for living, not so much. But I’ve realized this dual nature of the city, its charm and arrogance both, is what, I suppose, really makes it whole.  Because, really, what city, or person, or even thing, is entirely good or entirely bad?  We all have a flip side.

The Old, the New, and Karachi

So before I write anything else, I just want to know: how have I been getting over 50 hits a day this past week when I haven’t blogged anything new in over a week?? I am one of those obsessive bloggers who always checks site statistics before doing anything else and when I did that today, I was rather confounded. I do have the benefit of being able to view how readers come across my blog via Google but that only accounts for about 1/3 of the hits. Curious indeed. It seems my readership is growing ever so slowly. I is a proud blogger indeed 😀

So let’s see. I am in Karachi again; I haven’t been in this city in over 3 years and although quite a few things have changed, much has still remained the same. New buildings have sprouted up, there seems to be a designer boutique every few inches, and all these too-posh-for-my-oversized-trendy-sunglasses bistros and restaurants have emerged out of the ground, each boasting it’s own take on taste that’s unique. At the same time that faint trace of sea salt still hits my nostrils every time I go out, the wind picks up every time I get closer to the seaside no matter how scorching hot and sunny it may have been 10 feet away, and yes, I still hide my phone from view and tilt back in my seat every time a motorcyclist passes by my car window.

My visit here is of a different sort. Yes, I will be attending weddings (it’s summer, who DOESN’T attend weddings in Karachi at this time?!) but my main purpose is to get some work experience. I’m lucky enough to be getting that opportunity at a great company, and it’s really changed my view of who I’ve always thought I am. I knew there would be significant changes in me this year, but I didn’t for a second think they would happen in such a manner. A writer is how I’ve always identified myself, and I know that it never going to change. I am never going to put down my pen. But, now there’s this peculiar sense that perhaps I might actually be good at other things too which would also earn me a living. An occupation that thrills me in a different way than writing does, gives an other sort of fulfillment which makes me think that it might not be so bad to have a REAL job. Yes, I too can be corporate. But I always will be a writer.

I like it here. I thought I wouldn’t and that I would been like a visitor on vacation, which is kind of what I am. I’ve never lived here before, and only been here at stretches of time during the weddings of my brother and, later, my sister. But I don’t feel like an outsider. I remember that I used to love the chaat and juice from Flamingo, would salivate over the raja saab paan on Boat Basin, and wasn’t at all bad at bargaining over shoes of mysterious origins at Sunday bazaar. It feels right here, more upbeat than Dubai, more peaceful than Lahore. A good mix, I think. This city of constant evolution and change has that surrealistic feel of paused time for me. And I’ve never been more relieved to simply…stop…and be.

One Month

So. I haven’t blogged in a couple of weeks. I haven’t really felt like it, because all I could think about writing was stuff that I’ve already said before the past few posts. Stuff about the despair and the hurting and the missing and the moving on. It would be repetitive but honestly, most of the time, that’s all I think about. It’s been one month of this, one month since my brother’s sudden and untimely demise, and you’d think that I would shut up already about how conflicted I feel. So I’m going to try to do that now. I’m going to try to not ONLY harp on about my pain and make an effort to talk about some positive things as well.

The weather’s been so gorgeous in Dubai, it’s almost unnatural. It’s been chilly and windy and cloudy, so unlike this city; it’s almost as if the gods of climate are trying to make me feel better. Here you go, doll, take a bit of breeze, you look like you need some. I remember looking up at the night sky today, while being battered into better shape at boot camp, and I watched as the full moon kept peeking out from the clouds every now and then. It would hide and disappear, blocked by a fluffy dark cloud, and then show itself again almost playfully. I felt as if the moon was me, or rather the me that existed before my brother;s death. Every now and then, it turns up, and I feel nearly normal again, happy and glowing just as a 20-yr-old college girl should be. And then the dark clouds rush in to cover me up again, engulfing me in the sombre sorrow of their fluffiness.

It’s the nights that are the hardest to get through. The day is filled with distractions, trivial details of following some sort of a routine to stay sane, but by night all of those are over. Sure, I try to distract myself with movies or TV shows, but that hasn’t seemed to work the past few days. In everything I watch or hear, there are always things that remind me of my brother. A certain type of outfit, traces of an old song, a dimpled smile, guitar strings and a microphone, the sound of a plane flying overhead, the license plate of a car, chicken on the barbecue grill. All these things are everywhere, they always have been, but now they seem to haunt me. They mock me, forcing me to remember things I would rather block out from my mind. The nights have become bland and bleak, monotnous and repetitive. The whole house sleeps, anyone who I consider to be a part of my support system goes to bed, and I’m left to fend or myself, and give myself pep talks, and just remind myself to breathe every time I feel tears forming.

One thing this has taught me, or actually forced me to see, is that there is a difference between people who say they care for you and will always ‘be there’ for you and those who do not have to say it but simply, actually ARE THERE as a pillar of strength. It’s made me realize which relationships matter and which people are important and I’ve become even more grateful for the wonderful friends I have. Many of them have constantly and continuously been in touch every day, boosting my morale and cheering me up with their silliness, and though I may have not said it enough, I really do appreciate it. Another thing I’ve come to realize through this experience is that people are very surprising and I mean that, for the most part, in a good sense. Negatively speaking, some people surprise you by acting very differently from their words and they disappoint you and let you down at such a time when you need them the most. On the other hand, there are also many genuinely NICE people; I mean, there have been so many incidents when strangers, people I barely know and have probably never spoken to, have tried to cheer me up and distract me, and it’s worked! They’ve become my unlikely angels, and for that too, I am grateful.

I’ve also become more conscious of how devastating death can really be. That seems like an obvious point but to so many, it’s not. Death is omnipresent, it occurs all the time but we remain oblivious to it until it takes away someone we love. A friend’s grandfather died, another friend’s aunt died, yet another friend’s 2 close friends died within a week. It happens so often yet we choose to not see it until we are forced to. I don’t know about others, but my brother’s death has made me more emphatic. Salman Taseer was shot and killed and it caused this great hue and cry in the political sphere, some people lauded his killer, others condemned him. But all I thought was, who cares? The man is gone, and its a horribly tragic time for his family and none of this sensationalizing is really going to make any difference. Their loss, their pain, that’s whats real but that’s what so many don’t see. I suppose you can’t unless you can actually relate. I’ve become more understanding somehow, and I can only hope to become a better person. As a cousin of mine said, ‘If this realization makes us all try to be better human beings in this world, then unknowingly, even in death, Jawad has accomplished a wonderful feat’.

Someone said to me today that I seem to be doing so much better in just a month. My first reaction was: JUST a month?! Do you have any idea how long and unending this month has been? Do you realise that time for me has essentially just slowed down to a snail-paced crawl and that each day has felt like a dozen? But then I shook my head, cleared my mind, and allowed myself to wonder whether I am actually doing better, and I realised that I am! Certainly, there’s only so much ‘better’ anyone can be at such a point, but I think I am getting there, slowly but surely. I don’t cry as much, I haven’t had a nightmare in about 10 days, and the depression just hits me every few days and even then, it always helps to take it out on the treadmill. Also, everytime I feel sad about Bhai or start missing him, I simply open up the blog post I made about his death (‘For My Brother’) and read the comments on it. There are so many great things people have said about him, and continue to say about him everyday and that actually lifts up my spirits. I like that he was such a memorable individual. Yet even this has its disadvanatges, it seems so unbelievable to me when I read condolence messages for him. They are for my brother. MY BROTHER. And all over again, I cannot believe he’s gone.

Sometimes it does still feel like this is all some weird, twisted dream but that feeling doesn’t last so long anymore, and the reality sets in sooner than it did a few weeks ago. Have I become accustomed to Bhai’s absence? It’s disturbing to think so, and I don’t think I could say that I have, I still expect him to turn up at any point, back from a business trip to Jordan, bearing gifts of soap made from the salt of the Red Sea. I know that’s not how it is, and even though it hurts like hell, I like to let myself imagine all these possibilities. It’s like when you have a wound that’s become scabbed, you know its wrong and it’ll hurt but you still pick at the scab, almost as if it’s some sort of addiction, until it finally comes off, and your wound is exposed and open again and you’re back at square one, waiting to heal. That’s how it is for me when I look at his pictures or listen to his music and songs. I don’t think this feeling will ever change, this is something that won’t ‘get better’.

It’s been 31 days out of a nightmare, each of which have been filled with moments of torturous remembrance of my brother. January 18th. It makes me think of so many ‘if onlys’: if only I’d had more time with him, if only we’d talked more that last day and I hadn’t kept my headphones on while he was sitting right in front of me, just a few feet away rather than forever gone as he is now. I’ve been dreading this day but also awaiting it, it’s a landmark of sorts. I won’t ever stop missing him, but atleast I know I am somewhat capable of living while missing him and yearning for his presence. That counts for something, right?

Bhai, I'll miss you always.

The Frequent Flyer

I find it strange how accustomed I’ve become to airports. Specifically, the Lahore and Dubai airports.
Every few months, it’s the same process.

Try to get done the packing a few days before the day of departure but fail miseraly and end up doing alot of last minute packing till the very end, when you’re just about to step out the door. Leave at least 2 hours prior to flight time (since it’s an international one), all the while fending off anxious calls from home. Despite the fact that I’ve been doing this alone for nearly 3 years now, they still haven’t quite gotten used to the idea that you may actually know what you’re doing. Text a bunch of people goodbye while on your way to the airport, and make a sidenote to call a few of the ones who matter after you’re done at the DutyFree.

Reach the airport and find a porter, since there is no way you’re lagging around a 30 kg suitcase on your own. Try to look sophisticated while checking in so that you can get your seat upgraded, since your father always forgets to get a front seat booked when reserving the ticket. Of course, it always helps to smile alot when the attendant at teh check-in desk is male; alternatively, if it’s a woman, feign some sort of sickness or back ache. Get through baggage control and try not to lose your cool as people keep butting in line; hand a minimal tip to the porter and roll your eyes when he asks for an extravagant sum instead, he obviously assumes you must be some sort of gori/sheikha after seeing you’ve got a blue passport and are headed to Dubai.

Make it through passport control, too used to the typical scrutinising look at the man at the desk, there’s no point wondering why he has to look you all the way up and down and stop for a few seconds just below your neck; you know he would take a picture if he could. This specific instance is the same, be it in Dubai or Lahore; clearly subtlety is dead everywhere.

With everything stamped and cleared, you finally breathe a sigh of relief and make your way to the DutyFree, in Dubai airport of course. You get through the usual important chores first and buy the chocolates and knick-knacks you always get for the same people every single time. Then, you let out another sigh and start wandering around, aimlessly looking at books and gadgets and colognes, making a mental note about what you could possibly buy as presents for someone when an occasion arises. You buy the trashy mags you love to read on the flight, so you can get your weekly dose of celebrity gossip and high-end fashion trends, and then it’s snack time. As always, you contemplate between having McDonalds fries or a latte from Costa, and try to remember what you had last time so you can choose the alternative this time. You love this little bit of time, when you can sit down somewhere, sip some nice coffee, flip through the book you just bought, and remain oblivious to the hustle-bustle of all the other travellers. It’s like the calm before the storm. They all seem so frantic, and you know that you’ll be exactly like them in time..

At the Lahore airport, it’s a little different, but the hustle-bustle is still the same, maybe that’s a universal rule for airports everywhere: must be jam-packed and busy, or atleast appear to be. There are women with screaming children, young couples who you assume are going to Dubai for their honeymoon, men of all ages hoping to strike it rich in the Arabian city, and of course, the dancing girls of Lahore who are going to do what they do best, entertain the rich ones. There is no real duty free, just a few little stalls that sell odds and ends to vulnerable tourists at outrageous prices. No Costa or Mcdonalds, so you settle for some chai. No books or magazines worth buying, so you open up your laptop and watch an episode of wahtever show it is that you’re addicted to these days. Or you open up a blank document and write a little something, like you’re doing now. Despite the difference in the 2 airports, you manage to have your peaceful me-time, and you shut out all the external noise. You force your mind to become a blank canvas, you push out all the anxious thoughts you have about how it’ll be when you return to Dubai, and you try not to let it bother you that you couldn’t say bye to a few people you really wanted to see before leaving. You also don’t let yourself wonder why it seemed so important for you to see them.

Getting on the plane is usually the most annoying part of the entire process. There’s always an enormously long queue at the boarding entrance, with all the men pushing and shoving up front. Using the power of your gender, knowing that the tide of men will part like the Nile once did for Moses, you make your way to the front and hurriedly board the plane. You settle in and hope and pray as hard as you can that no one sits next to you; you’re not the type who likes to socialise on a flight, and despite the fact that you’ve actually met some interesting people in the commute, you’re not in the mood for it today.

There was a time when you’d get startled during take off and grip the edge of your seat, but it’s become too pedestrian now, so instead you now file your nails. You also can’t be bothered to look out the window as the plane ascends, you know exactly how the lights of each city twinkle, it’s not a new experience for you. You also know not to freak out as the engine roars and grumbles, and the plane starts to bump and shake at intervals. You know now thats it’s a small aircraft, a low-budget flight, so you just try to sleep all the way through. You take a pill and hope your headache, which is another constant travelling companion, will disappear. Soon you’re lost in a dreamless slumber, awakening only when you can feel yourself descending towards the ground. Towards home. Whichever one it may be.