Thoughts on Helping Others: Post-House of Cards

It doesn’t matter whether you like or dislike Kevin Spacey’s character from House of Cards. The truth is, he did help others – his colleagues, his opponents, and everyone else. Why he helped others, is another story.

It made me ponder over why people help each other.

  • It’s a barter – you help me, I help you, and we both win.

A person helps others to get something or with the intention of getting something in return. The motive here is self-interest.

  • To be owed one

If there’s nothing specific that the person helping can get in return, it is still extremely valuable to get someone to owe you one. Self-interest – check.

  • To feel better

Even if they’re not getting anything in return, people help each other to feel better about themselves. Perhaps watching others in distress makes you distressed, so you help them to avoid that distress to yourself. Seeing someone drown in a Swimming Pool is traumatic, so you help someone drowning to save yourself from the trauma. Perhaps you feel better by being useful to someone, which is why you help. The motivation again is self-interest.

  • Truly for the other person.

You help someone not for anything it brings you, not for any personal benefit, but for others who you love, to make them happy, to do good to them.  This is when it’s completely altruistic. It is human nature to expect those you love not to be malicious to you. But a Grandparent loves his grandchild and helps him unconditionally, even if the grandchild is abusive. The grandparent is hurt, but loves his grandchild anyway.

  • Only to Please God

For those in whose lives, religion plays a pivotal role. There would be two reasons – to get favors from God in this world or the Hereafter, or avoid losses from God’s punishment for helping another of His creation; at a higher level, to simply please Him, not for getting anything in return.

There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these reasons why people help others from a worldly point of view. The world would collapse if people stopped being of assistance to each other because they shouldn’t help for selfish reasons – the vast majority of help, charity in the world, whether individual or corporate, involves people looking out for themselves in the process of helping others or society. More so in a Capitalist economic model. Kevin Spacey’s character helps others to achieve his ambitions – in my opinion, he checks out on the first two reasons.

 I was dejected recently when a friend I helped significantly in the past not only did not help me even though I begged for help,(as opposed to asking me if I needed help) but also treated me as though I didn’t exist. I was dejected; I was sure I deserved much better from someone I spent so much of my energy on. I rued that my countless man hours had been washed away; that had I spent the same time on other pursuits or other people, I wouldn’t have seen this day.  If there was no belief in divine justice and the hereafter, I would be medically depressed.

I had no option but to stop, rewind and judge why I was dejected in the first place. It was certainly a sign of my imperfection. For God did not forsake me, and His promise of reward didn’t disappear. If that was my one and only reason to help the friend, theoretically, I shouldn’t have to face dejection. I went back to my journal  from the past to check.
It wasn’t my only reason. I helped at the time thinking it was a good deed to please God, I helped because I was uncomfortable to see the person in trauma. I helped because I loved the person and considered part of my  family, who I wanted to make happy. What I did not consider at the time, was whether the person would help me in return.  I realized that I helped for reasons that combined the third, fourth and fifth above.

I may not have expected being trashed in future, and if I was dejected, it was but my human weakness of a lack of focus, of helping out of genuine concern. I helped because that’s who and how I am. But the more I shift my reasons purely towards the fifth, seeking nothing but God, the less I would put my expectations and happiness in the control of fallible, faltering people just like myself and more into the hands of an infallible God who would never be unjust to me, who would never allow my actions go to waste. I realized that logically, I would have little reason for disappointment.

Lessons for the future.

If we expect that anyone who we’re nice to, is going to be nice to us too, we’re setting ourselves up to get hurt. Be nice for the sake of The Just, The Merciful.

A Few Things I Love – from India

I had a wonderful time traveling to Bangalore, India recently.

 Coconut Water on the Streets

This was a familiar sight in Bangalore – a man selling coconut water by the roadside, with a sickle in hand to cut open your coconut right in front of you. Fresh, and natural. They were definitely a lot more expensive than the last time I was in Bangalore, but I totally love it.  Each time I see canned and branded coconut water in a store, I crave for simple coconut water from the roadside like in Bangalore.

There’s other delicacies sold on the roads and in street carts in India – in much the same way rice platters are sold on every block in New York or Philadelphia.

Street Cart

My family, and most people in Bangalore consume Chai (doodh-patti chai) several times a day. Someone flicked a line from Dunkin’ Donuts for Bangalore. “India runs on Chai.”

Chai

I do cook every once in a while, but I’m more known for burning my chicken curry. I tried to use my time in India to improve my cooking skills. Here I am, making a mean Roti from scratch, kneading and all. I was quite proud of myself.

Roti

What did annoy me sometimes was that some people tried to speak with me differently, and not as though I was any other Bangalorean. The auto-rickshaws and taxi-wallahs could figure out that I wasn’t living in the area and charged me exorbitantly, despite protests in my broken Kannada. Everyone speaks some English or Hindi/Urdu/Hindustani in Bangalore, which came to my rescue.

India

Buying Halal Chicken from the store. If you’re not buying from a fancy store with an inflated price, this is how the poor and middle class get their chicken from the store.

You get the (poor) live birds from their cage …

chicken

You weigh them to bill your customer appropriately ..

chicken

And then, Zabihah them.

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For the record, except for my severe allergies in Bangalore for which I was on nasal steroids, I never fell sick.

I came back to freezing weather while I was relishing the sun back in Bangalore.

temperature bangalore

I love Bangalore so much. The family of course, and the city, its people, its diversity, its temperate climate. Until next time.

PS: Google Now on my Android phone was a pretty good companion throughout my trip, and intelligent. Traveling through Bangalore and Abu Dhabi, it helped me in sightseeing, translations, and currency conversions without having to search for any of them.

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Back from a Dream Trip

It wasn’t hard to miss the difference in how Ettihad Airways treats customers bound for India or Pakistan vis-a-vis those for Western destinations.

Flying to Bangalore, India, my gate at the airport in Abu Dhabi was in a corner that could have passed off for an ill-maintained basement. There were no signs, directions or flight information except marked gate numbers. It was crowded. I had to ask cleaners for information or search around for staff who gave conflicting information about the assigned gate. I knew I was flying cattle-class.

Flying back to Washington from the same airport was needless to say, a pleasant experience with an ambience you would expect in a modern airport in an oil-rich Sheikhdom.

My time in India. The surprise I gave my folks when I showed up at their door with no prior warning or information, from thousands of miles away, was one of the happiest times of my life. India was just the way I had expected  - full of people with loving hearts and intrusive personal questions by strangers. Uncles and aunts trying to get me married. It seemed very expensive – from public transportation to restaurants to groceries. I didn’t do much sightseeing – all I wanted was to spend as much time as possible with the people I had missed so much. It was a wonderful experience  - a getaway that I needed in a place I wondered if I should call home.

In the few days before I left for India, I was stressed, dejected and sad. From a friend who hurt me a second time and wanted nothing to do with me. From stress about my career. From the relative loneliness in a new city even though I had made several friends. From pressure with decisions I had to make in personal life that would affect others. I was low on self-esteem and motivation.
And then Allah opened an opportunity for me. ‘Eid was only a couple of weeks away and I had a natural break at my job. It was perfect. I needed a break from everyday anarchy.. a holiday with those that love me unconditionally.

The three weeks after I returned were the best days I had in a very long time.

A Leap of Faith to the Motherland

In the end, all I needed was a moment of high courage – something I had backed out of, half a dozen times over more than one year.

I bought my ticket. I was going to fly to India the next day.

It was uncertain out there, and that’s why it was scary. Three years since the last time I was there. How much of it had changed? How would I feel about the life I had built for myself in another country? Would I feel guilty about leaving everything I knew for it? Would I be pushed into marriage with someone I didn’t know or wasn’t attracted to? Would I face trouble getting back to my life? It was stressful. I had my doubts. The thought of running back home crossed my mind even in the security line at the airport. It was only after the plane finally took off that it sunk in.

This was happening. It was surreal, and unreal.

If almost every trip in recent memory was preceded by chaos, stress and eleventh hour errands, it was a smooth ride this time.  Ettihad Airways, it was. I was a fussy traveler, complaining about the way they processed my paperwork at their counters, their response, their inflight entertainment, to the freezing temperatures they maintained in the plane from “mechanical issues,” and the lack of directions at Abu Dhabi for India-bound flights.

It was going to be a total surprise to my family I would be visiting. I landed without hassle. I couldn’t wait to get to my place for the out-of-the-world surprise. I took the airport shuttle to get to home and each time I saw something I remembered in the city through the windows, the excitement only grew stronger.

The total chaos on the streets, a rapidly growing city with construction every two minutes, the stray dogs outside, the super-rich with their fancy cars jostling for space with motor-bikes and auto-rickshaws, the honking, swanky offices interspersed with houses, people selling coconut water by the roadside…all of it made my heart tingle. The suprabhatam played in the bus, kids walked on pavements hand in hand.  This was and would always be a home to me.

I showed up at their door, and knocked. The reaction, the disbelief and shock on their faces will forever be etched in my memory. Genuine happiness and love doesn’t need to be expressed. When someone begins to cry out of happiness at seeing you, you know you waited far too long to make this trip. I wished I had taken this leap earlier.

Ramadan is Here!

It’s Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic Lunar calendar around this time. Those who fast in this month abstain from food, water, sex, and involve themselves in as many good things and deeds as possible. Feeding the poor, charity,  being kind and nice, forgiving, extra acts of worship are given extra emphasis. The month is special because it was in this month that the Qur’an was revealed.

It’s the most challenging Ramadan of my life this year – it’s the first time in my life that Ramadan is in the peak of summer, when the days are hot and long. It’s the first Ramadan when I’ve had a full-time job to balance along with the demands of Ramadan – a regular 9am to 6pm job for me. After spending five consecutive Ramadans in the same community, it’s my first Ramadan in a new place after I moved. It has been a challenge, but I’m relishing every bit of it so far.
Everyone has been warmer, nicer and more loving, whether at work or my neighbors or in the community I associate myself with.

I wish all of you a blessed Ramadan! Every moment wasted in this month is the same as wasting an entire year. Time to get to work!

“Ramadan is Here” by Native Deen.

Separating the Real from the Fake – Fashion Photography

I had cultivated an interest in photography in college. I wasn’t anything exceptional, but I was getting better with each passing day and spent considerable time on it. Until my beloved camera with its lenses was stolen.
A year later, I did buy another camera and one lens, but it hasn’t been the same – I still haven’t had the chance or drive to spend time on photography again.

At work, as fate would have it, my closest co-worker happens to be a now-part-time photographer. He offered to have me work with him so I could pick it up, but this was another instance where I had to let go of this opportunity with a heavy heart because of the nature of his work – he did fashion and beauty photography. I couldn’t get myself to be present at one of his photoshoots nearby. His portfolio was supposed to be impressive. He worked along with make-up artists for magazines, big fashion houses a couple of times, and even married a make-up artist who he still works with, and to me, as much as I would have learned and grown as a photographer from this opportunity, I couldn’t have been happy with it because it was against my conscience. Reason? It was not just because most of his models were practically naked and thus going against my sense of moral code – but more because  the entire industry of fashion photography seemed fake to the core.

He spent about three hours on a single picture of a scantily clad or covered naked woman trying to make her look perfect. In reality, there was no single person with a skin, shape, body and physical appearance as perfect as the images he would create out of a real picture. But that is how things work. Why? Because that is how people want to see themselves, and that is how people want to see others – perfection, all of it. It is a reflection on the kind of society we live in. I was once complaining to my sister about projection of fake success, happiness and beauty in the media, and she said that most people live with, and live around a boring, unhappy imperfection, so they crave to see perfection, happiness for respite. It was a getaway.

I have a problem with falseness. Fake smiles, fake kindness, fake friendliness, fake complements, fake beauty. Fake love. If you like something, say it and act upon it, and if you dislike something, be civil about it. Try to ignore it.

Boona Mohammad once received flak from many Muslim women when he said something to the effect of, you use so much makeup to cover blemishes on your face and skin…if only there was some kind of makeup to cover blemishes in your character.

Given how pervasive fake beauty is everywhere around us, or taking a step backwards, given how beauty has been defined thanks to the cosmetic industry, it is painful to see how so many suffer from low self-esteem about their appearance when they find themselves less, in comparison to the images they see. Girls and guys exposed to such kind of photography have involuntarily ingrained false notions of what beauty is, and it has an effect on their own self-esteem – on girls more than guys, and on what they’re attracted to, in the opposite gender, damaging or ruining the way they go about the process of finding their significant other, or worse, damaging or ruining a marriage itself.

 

First Steps towards Success Beyond the Comfort Zone

Running out of juice on your phone when that’s the only tool you have to find your way around a new city, late at night, sucks. I eventually managed to reach my hotel past midnight when all I’d gone out for was a few minutes to drive around and get a feel of the area, and the Mosques nearby.

Being around here in a new city made me realize how lucky I had been in the last few years, surrounded by an active, strong community that wasn’t very different from me – culturally, socially, and religiously. I thought if I get to go back again, I would attend every class that I had missed all these years, and every prayer in the local Mosque that I wasn’t attending, in congregation.
It’s a very small community – in fact, when I went to a supposedly big local Mosque which was obviously a converted church with Gothic architecture, I found that there is no Imam or five regular prayers. Anyone with an access code could walk in and pray when they want to. Everyone knows each other, and they have potlucks every once in a while. I made myself known to everyone and hung out. Someone mentioned that I had a Noor on my face, and that my presence makes people around happy. I could only attribute that to all the Qur’an I was reading.

There are very few Halal or Indian restaurants nearby, and that was disappointing even though I know it wouldn’t stop me from driving anyway.
I was diversifying my social circle in a big way too, so it helped to have very different kind of friends and cuisines  from what I have been used to, over the last few years. After all, this project was about rebuilding myself, anyway.

All along, I had to keep hiding really why I moved here. Of course, I have a better job here but that’s not what prompted me to do this.  Before moving, I spent an entire day with my brother-in-law who was nearby for work, and he did the equivalent of slapping me on the face when I explained to him the immediate reason. It was during a miserable three weeks when I isolated myself from friends that I decided to move out. I perhaps wouldn’t have made the same decision later, but it was a good one, in the end. I got better work.

My Laptop Loved Indian Curry, so a New One for a New Place

 The joke on How I Met Your Mother may have been too funny, and I may have moved my hands around too wildly while laughing. But it caused much distress when I managed to spill piping hot Indian curry on to my laptop, a few months ago.

Having moved recently, I had few friends, and I was used to catching up on old TV shows on my laptop on the dinner table.

I panicked, and I had a couple of friends tweeting and texting me with help and support. I freaked out as I saw it die in my hands.

It’s another matter that a ladies’ hair dryer I bought the next day managed to dry and revive the computer enough that I could use it with an external keyboard.

As I begin packing up before I move again, I was pleased when my gracious new clients shipped me an impressive, fast and flashy new laptop for work today. It is hopefully the end to hauling around my heavy old one with the keyboard all the time. It was like carrying around a desktop computer.
They have also been gracious enough that if I don’t end up going back to school, I expect to breach the six figure salary mark in two and a half to three years.

 Unlike the last time I moved, I am pretty excited and nervous for my new move and experiment in a new place. I am really looking forward to it, this time.

The only thing I would miss around here is the Mosque I used to attend – it was among the most happening ones in the entire country, and had wonderful teachers and classes to learn from.
I certainly wouldn’t miss the extremely high cost of living.

Full of Wisdom

I was studying the chapter of the Romans in the Qur’an early this morning.
You only have to pick up a Qur’an and flip through randomly, reading even the translation to realize how much it speaks to you, directly.
It addresses questions in your mind, and the concerns you deal with, with such wisdom that it always feels like an eye-opener. It leaves you with a feeling of contentment and satisfaction. It answers you.
It is as though the Qur’an was sent just for you. Understanding some of the beauty in the language from the little rudimentary Arabic that I know only served to add further pleasure.

In this context, it struck me when I recalled how this nature of the Quran is pointed out in the Qur’an itself.

Allah swears an oath by many things in the Qur’an just before making a declaration, and we know that any declaration after an oath is very important. The things Allah swears by shows their importance or significance.
In the second verse of Surah Yaseen, Allah swore by the Qur’an itself. What was the declaration made after this oath? That it is Al-Hakeem, full of wisdom.

“By the Qur’an, full of wisdom!”

Wisdom because the Author of this book is the One who Created us and is responsible for us, and consequently,  knows better than anything else, what is best for us. It is according to human nature, or Fitrah, and what man needs for his own good.

I could attest to the wisdom as I read this chapter again.

I signed off, finishing with the chapter, nodding in agreement, with the last verse:

“So endure patiently; surely the promise of Allah is true; and do not let the ones who have no certainty make you impatient.”

Uncollecting Things

My mom jokes that I’m a hoarder. My mom and I obviously disagree on the semantics.
I like to preserve things. Too many things, she says.

I have saved bills from restaurants, movie tickets, grocery bills, screenshots of phone calls, autographs, newspaper cuttings, old fliers,  Q-cards from events, coins from other countries,  hand-written notes and letters. You get the idea.

Hand-written notes and letters. I have a special thing for them. I still carry around a handwritten letter my dad sent me in 2009 in my wallet.

It reminds me of what I shared here in 2011.

Oh, my wallet. My sister gifted that to me more than ten years ago on my birthday.
Everything I preserve has a history behind it that I cherish, such as this wallet.

Ironically, t
idy and organized that she is, the same sister is quite the opposite of me in this regard –  she had made me get rid of my notes from a class in middle school to clear the “trash.” I’m sure they would have been a fond addition to my collection.

We’re different. We’re wonderful and distinct in our own ways.
But I understood why she was more efficient than I was at organization after I spent hours together sorting through my belongings and cleaning my room the past weekend. It’s only been months since I moved.  Given how much money changes hands for every hour I spend working, it wasn’t a feeling of success.
I raised the threshold of the importance occasions or people would need to have to preserve  memories associated with them. Needless to say, I can travel much lighter now that I got rid of so much stuff.

Sexism and Feminism

 President Obama’s remarks about Kamala Harris (You have ..to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, …She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country ..) may have been a lighthearted comment between friends but there were enough people calling them “sexist” to have some of his supporters defend them as mere compliments, and have Obama apologize.

From the face of it, it did seem sexist.  Too often, women are judged less on their aptitude, intellect and more on their appearance.  It was sexually objectifying women, and that woman in particular.  Too often, women are judged more for their ornamental value or for their appearance than their accomplishments.  It was no wonder that women that were more sexually appealing to men have a  better chance of growth in career than their homelier counterparts.

It was like saying that the women that did achieve success did so, because their physical attractiveness had a role in it, and not only because of their talents, capabilities and skills. It was like saying they probably wouldn’t have been successful had their physical appearance not been a factor. It was like saying that Kamala Harris reached success also because she was attractive. You see, men don’t have that advantage. It was sexist, because it was this kind of mentality that prevented women from being judged on an equal footing with men.

But the problem isn’t with some men alone. There is no shortage of women who perpetuate such sexism. Many women who judge themselves as attractive  use their wares to make their men more agreeable and have their way. Women who judge themselves as attractive and have low self-esteem often put most of their self-worth on the basis of their physical appearance, and by the amount and kind of attention they receive from men, actually relishing men hitting on them to an extent. Such women are often insecure about their beauty, wondering if it was a change in their physical appearance to something less attractive the reason for any perceived drop in attention or progress.
What they don’t realize before it’s too late is that the same women who bank so much on their physicality would lose the most of what they have when they lose their physical attractiveness – which every single woman does with age and family and the first kid.

Here is where I thought the Hijab came in. Hijab as a means of modesty for both men and women, would include reasonably modest dressing and modest behavior with the opposite gender. In my opinion, Hijab for men entailing modest dressing and behavior with women, and prohibiting lustful gaze addresses the issues of sexism partly.
For Muslim women, by taking out one’s physical sexual attraction out of the equation in a significant way in their interactions with unrelated men, they are in essence asking men to deal with their mind, not their body, and theoretically addressing some of the issues women face.

It was a coincidence that around the same time that Obama apologized for his remarks, FEMEN had naked topless protesters outside of mosques championing the message that they were naked, and they were free. While they had a point that men did not have any business forcing women to dress in a particular way, they were particularly Islamophobic and blamed Islam and Muslim men for women covering up. It was ridiculous that while they were protesting Muslim men patronizing and controlling women, they failed to realize that Muslim women did not need them “liberators” to free them of the clutches of Muslim men – in the vast majority of cases, Muslim women wear the Hijab because they want to, and not because their husbands of fathers or brothers forced them to. And moreover, the unfortunate fact that women are used as objects and commodities, played around by men as ornaments was also widespread in Western societies, just as the Obama episode showed us. Women are used to sell everything under the sun, not through any of their skills and talents, but through their sexual appeal.

I personally know Muslim women who have a strong attachment with the Hijab, relish the Hijab, feet confident, comfortable and in place in it. There are others who struggle in and out of the Hijab. It is true, that a few struggle with their hijab and  wear it more out of societal pressure and fear of gossip and embarrassment than out their own conviction.
Others struggle because they don’t feel confident and beautiful in it – either because of their similarity to the women who perpetuate sexism as discussed above or out of fear of negative reactions at work or school. There are some others who don’t feel the need for any outward clothing but are strong, confident, modest nevertheless, and do not allow men to objectify them.  On the other hand, there are other women who observe the Hijab only in dressing but not so much in their interactions with men. The story of Hijab is very human.

I agree that the remark that Obama made was a friendly one between friends that didn’t deserve controversy, but it served to highlight the underlying issues that are true, nevertheless.

Understanding the Pain of Separation

 I had tuned in to the Diane Rehm show on my long drive back home one evening. The interview this time was of an old woman well past her prime who was an accomplished and acclaimed singer.

While going over her past, Diane asked about one of her most successful songs. She revealed something that not many people knew at the time - she said the lyrics were actually composed by her husband.

Her ex-husband, she clarified. “He was very good with it.”

“Why did the marriage end? Diane prodded, It had been decades since her divorce with her first husband.

Silence.

I felt the pain in her voice as she gathered herself. “I don’t want to talk about it…it was a painful past.”

When I thought her ordeal was over, Dianne followed up with another question. “Were you relieved when it ended? Did you feel free and happy that it was over?

“NO! It was an ending.”

“It was very sad.”

It was a sadness that emanated  from every word she uttered. It made me sad. And think.

This was an area I hitherto had little experience with. There was no friend or family I had been attached to, that I had separated from, so painfully. Until then, that is.

If she had been as sad to separate from her man, and her husband was sad to separate from her, why would they go ahead with their separation? Don’t both need the other for their happiness? It had been decades, and she was still in pain from the memories.

Why do people have to leave each other, when their lives are miserable without each other?

In the days that I was pondering and still trying to solve the question for myself, I tried to use it for a situation that I saw in front of me.  I realized how everything appears simple and straightforward, superficially.

I had the answer to my question.

“It’s complicated.”

There would be no easy path. There would be hurt, misery and anger in any route one would embark on. It was a choice between continued misery, one that would bring much more pain in the future, or a lesser misery of separation, and chalking out an alternate life that would be happier with the painful memories still at the back of one’s mind.

 I realized that people separate because some or all of them change.

I also learned that people separate painfully when they realize in their saner moments that there’s no future.  The guest on the show realized that. She took a decisive step. She remarried. She was happy again. The memories haunt her, still. How does the guest look back at her life? She achieved much. She had her happy moments. She had her miseries. She changed her life. She brought back happiness in her life to mix in with her sad memories, instead of being stuck in an increasingly sad life. She changed, for the better.

Whoever said you could be perfectly happy in this world? That is what paradise is for.

Reflections on Valentine’s Day

I enjoyed reading what I wrote a whole year ago on the same topic. While my views may not have changed much since then, and I may still oscillate between being a clear-eyed pragmatist to a die-hard romantic, I know that I understand myself better now. I understand people better. I definitely understand the opposite gender better.

I now understand that among my weaknesses is that I care too much. I invest myself – my time, energy and emotions in the people in my life. I pay attention to minute details.  I hold on to memories and people tightly. It may sound funny or it may sound sweet depending on who you are, but all of this comes with a consequent problem – I haven’t been able to swallow the natural crests and troughs of relationships with people gracefully. I have been close to people in the past, and I am close to people now. But people have gone cold on me. I found out that this wasn’t because of anything that I did. Or it wasn’t because I wronged them. They just didn’t need me anymore for their happiness. They moved on. Slowly but surely, and without any formal notice. 

This is still a fear stashed at the back of my mind. Would the people I love move on to happy new lives without me? Would they stop needing me? Would I get replaced in their lives? Would they tell me or just move away without explanation?  

It’s more than likely of course, that this will happen. Even though this makes me vulnerable to get hurt again, I wouldn’t change myself. Because those people who move away or will move away wanted something shallow with me, which wasn’t, and still isn’t what I set myself up for. Only those people who need me in their lives would have me in theirs, as long as they need me.

Loving someone -  anyone, is challenging. The more the relationship deepens,  the veneer of perfection wears away, and we discover more of the flaws – both in others and in ourselves. This makes it risky. It scares people. It makes people vulnerable to being hurt. And deserted. And wronged.  They may be taken for granted. People treat those closest to them shabbily in sharp contrast to their politeness and niceness with rank outsiders who don’t mean anything to them. As such, people chronically trade such challenging, deep relations for these easy shallow ones’. I on the other hand, would sacrifice many of these shallow relationships for a chance to establish such deep ones’, even if much fewer in number.

An Identity, A Citizen of the World

 I had never believed in the notion of “nation.” To me, it was an artificial creation of the 12th century – a vague concept of dividing people up using artificial borders, creating “nations” on a map, and then getting people who happened to be within them to be loyal to the “nation” they were accidentally born in; or the ones’ that decided and managed to make another such “nation” their home.  Cultural diversity in people naturally separated by geography, and interaction between them had made the world a beautiful place that it still is. Exploring the world’s infinite cultures and places excited me.  Only my finances stopped me from doing what I loved –  to travel the world and experience it for myself.

Reflecting on my birthday recently, I realized something – I had even more reason to support my stance against nationalism. Only this time, it was more emotional than logical. I felt as if I didn’t belong to any “nation” even if I wanted to. I had to consider myself a citizen of God’s world.
I had lived my life so far in three different countries. The country of my birth didn’t recognize me – I couldn’t enter it without a visa.
I moved to the country my parents were born and raised in. I spent years here, growing and loving being part of it, fighting off those that mocked and ridiculed me for my religion, and said I, by account of my religion, had no place in it. I didn’t have much in common with the majority of society around me – not in food, dress, mode of thinking. I was a minority. A minority within a minority.

I moved again, to where I am, now.  I wasn’t born here, or even raised here. I came in and had a mountain of immediate challenges to surmount, which I did, on my own. I hardened and grew into a young man, all by myself, working away toward an education and a career. I was fairly successful, and won admiration and praise. Everyone with a dream, passion and hard work succeeded here, or so goes the legend, and while it still is a work in progress – I am on my way to realize my great American dream, provided I don’t give up.

But through this journey, I turned towards religion. I changed my circle of friends in a big way. I now had a circle of friends that I shared my religion with; the majority of whom were from my ethnicity – brown, and originating from the Indian subcontinent. It helped me grow in my religion.

But then something else happened –  the country I am in, lived in, loved to be in, proud to be in, was active in, volunteered in, and had begun to feel part of, had some of its own, from this section of society, look down upon me for what was theirs by accident – to them, I was inferior because I didn’t spend more of my formative years in the country. If it wasn’t snide remarks, it was rejection coming from someone I had invested my heart and soul in, and wanted to be with.  It hurt. A lot. I was heartbroken, at times. It was replaced by resentment and anger in some instances.

I interpreted it to come from, among other reasons, an insecurity of their own place in the country. Or that, it was a result of becoming “brown sahibs,” where Western culture had imbibed in them a shame of their heritage and antagonism towards the culture of their parents, similar to erstwhile feelings of backwardness  compared to the white man in a previous era – essential tools that the West used to keep up their hegemony in colonial pursuits.  Or that, this insecurity in a lot of them was because they themselves were born outside the country, spent a majority of their short lives outside the country, but immigrated when they were still younger, and wanted to feel more American themselves.

Facing heartbreak from some of these people who I loved the most, and not having it returned, I tried to fall back to where I moved from, the country of my family and my ancestors. I stepped back into this world emotionally, to see if I could find my place here. It didn’t take me long to see we were different enough that I couldn’t just slide in. We wanted to talk about different things, liked to do different things, had vastly different worldviews. It was becoming a pain to fit in – both for the companions I sought, and me. Before long, I was rebuffed – that I no longer fit in, that I had changed too much.

Where would I go? Where would I feel at home? Do I make changes to my circles of friends, again, to find my place? I couldn’t fit in, I knew, among people who indulged in practices that I had come to abhor, due to my religion. I was left ‘nationless,’ emotionally.
But before long, I changed, defined and carved for myself a place in society. The earlier troubled thought of how I didn’t exactly fit in anywhere, gave way to acceptance of every little thing that is part of me, my past and excitement about my future. It was now comforting for me to know that I was different, and with more unique experiences than most other people. I didn’t have to conform, or belong.
I am still changing;  changing the people who are part of my life, slowly, but surely, with more and more people who value me, that also recognize my traits and accomplishments that I am proud of and that God Himself would approve of; who accept me with all my attributes, and most importantly, that would return me the care and affection I shower them with.

Trust and Loneliness

“Solitude is fine but you need someone to tell that solitude is fine.” ( de Balzac)

A crowded room with friends and acquaintances. There is a good chance that one could be more lonely here than when alone. And lonely is not the same as being alone.

The difference, as I look at it, is trust.

 There are always people around us, whether we move to a new place or  whether we are with the same set of people and in the same place all our lives.
But trust makes all the difference. Leaving aside the small talk, the pleasantries, sports, weather, and politics, do you trust the people around you – do you trust anyone around you – to open up, to talk freely and frankly?

Opening up is giving a piece of yourself to someone. It is making yourself vulnerable to potential negative reactions, to exploitation, negative judgement, anger or annoyance, to estrangement and alienation. It has risks.
Do you trust someone to keep your honor in society and privacy intact? To give you their honest and sincere advice? To maintain a deserved confidentiality? To not judge you negatively no matter what you share?  To push you in the good and discourage you from the bad?  To not snap and break ties, no matter what you share with them?
Is this trust mutual?

Look around you, and build trust with people. You would naturally grow to trust some more than others. Loneliness goes away as you start trusting and mutually sharing with others. And being there for each other.
But stay on guard – even the strongest and deepest of trusts can and have been broken, and hearts have been devastated.
Human beings were made to be fallible. We falter and fall.

Complete and comprehensive, unbreakable trust can only be in God – only God is perfect, infallible and absolutely trustworthy. He is close to you, closer to you than your jugular vein. Develop a relationship with Him – directly with Him. Bring Him into your life, be honest with Him and open up to Him. Pray to Him. Ask Him for guidance. Trust Him to make a path for you, to bring peace into your life, to be there for you, in times of happiness and difficulty. To have a known or unknown reason and benefit in any situation He puts you in, when you trust Him. that He is looking out for you.
But before you begin to trust anyone, there is something that you need to work on.

Trust yourself.

NaBloPoMo’ing

It hasn’t been that I stopped writing, but my life took twists and turns, and went through enough drama that made me stop writing here.

Well I’m back now, and have decided to take up the NaBloPoMo challenge – a challenge to write something here everyday in November. I’m also finally making this blog public. I hope to reconnect with all the friends I made in the blogging world in the past.

I’d like to see how my face (It’s #NoShaveNovember, remember?) and my blog looks at the end of this month.

The journey begins …

Tell People How much They Mean to You

“Wow, am I the first person you called?” A good friend asked me with an obviously elated tone.
“Umm, no…uhmm,..third maybe?”
“Wow, am I the third person you called?” 

“Umm…err, actually, well …yeah, I guess.”

It was a happy day, one of two biggest religious festivals in a year. More so, this was in a year when my confidence was sky-high. The money was flowing in, I had an internship, I was doing well in school.

Over time, and through the hard way, one of the things I have learned is how illogical it is to hide how we really feel about others, from them.

Illogical because letting them know would not reduce one’s standing one bit. Illogical because somehow, to me, it was embarrassing to let this friend know how important he is to me. I hesitated to tell him he was the third person I had called that day. In reality, I lied.

He was the first person I thought of, to call on the happy occasion. And he was the first person I called.

Why are we scared of revealing how important others are to us, to them?  I know I am not the only one who does this. Isn’t sharing with them only going to make them happy?

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Edit: This post was sitting in my drafts, for months. I would know why this kind of sharing is not always a good idea, months later. Future blog material.

What Valentine’s Day means to me.

“It doesn’t have to be that way. It is not going to happen with me.”

They laughed at me. I was sweet, innocent and childish, my older group of friends told me, among other things. I insisted I would not face the same problems as they did.

In a few minutes of uninhibited openness, I shared how I was in for a blissful future, a union extraordinaire. (Read the entire post before making conclusions.)

It could be a story from a fairy tale.  She, with a heart filled with the love of God. A heart that seeks His pleasure.  “A sweet, gentle, pleading, innocent, dedicated, sympathetic, loyal, untutored, adoring female heart.”   He, with a loving, comforting, supportive, insanely dedicated  heart for her, that sought her happiness.

This union completes both of them. “By her ease and liveliness, his mind is softened, his manners improved, and  “from his judgement, information and  knowledge of the world, she  received benefit of great importance.”  Some of these lines were from Jane Austen and they are etched in my memory for ever.  But there is a reason why I can dislike Jane Austen, because I think such a  marriage can indeed know what connubial felicity really is.

But still, Valentine’s Day, did not mean anything to me.

Not because of the dark roots of Valentine’s Day that has the moral police going berserk, or the fatwas against it, with it being an “imitation of another people.”

Not because of my dislike of the  crass commercialization – where “love” is bought and sold, where corporations promote the event so they could make $18.7 billion in sales. Where they need to create special days such as these for money.

Not because of my dislike of  the pressure to show one’s affection in a certain way, on a single day in an entire year.  Or for love to be packaged overwhelmingly to mean the lustful love between two individuals.
For a society as the one here with such overt displays of sexual love, 50% of first marriages, 67% of second and 74% of third marriages end in divorce.*

Not for anything else.

But simply because I do not have a woman who I am married to, or who I would marry, or who would marry me, as yet. This is an idea.

A dream.

A dream that has temporarily been put off till I can find my feet. Someone as needy as I currently am could not be trusted to be the support or mean the world for another individual.

 While women and men want  to be desired and yet  resist others’ unwelcome advances,  spending countless hours studying their reflection in the mirror  - admiring it, hating it, wondering what others thought of it, something about inner beauty gets lost in the conundrum. Where a 7/10 on the scale of physical attraction trumps a 10/10 in inner beauty that would make for a blissful living. I hope I am not one of those making the wrong choices in decisions with such trade-offs, when the time to make the decision comes.

What Valentine’s Day did teach me was the power of a clean heart sans any resentment, a general feeling of happiness with everyone . As with anyone else, I falter, and hurt others, or get hurt. But it is the power to forgive and patch up that separates people.

  I wonder if men and women can ever break out of this infinite loop, and be in  freedom. In a feeling of freedom. With wings flapping. And light. Light enough to find oneself in the skies. High enough that, when one looks down below, those stuck in cycles of bad blood, and resentment look puny.  With a life of pure, unadulterated happiness. Of the kind that simply runs out of scale. Of contentment.  Of God’s pleasure.

If there is indeed such a life, I  seek thee.
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PS: I joke around that I would not be surprised if I do the same thing as the actor in this movie did, when asked a question that meant so much to him.

 

A Sleepless Night of Reflection

My eyes stuttered open yet again. It was dark.

I struggled to check my phone that doubles as an alarm. I  was angry this time, it was not yet time for my early morning prayers; my alarm still had some time to go off. It was the third time I had woken up from sleep that night in a matter of three hours. I felt helpless enough to decide to go for a walk outside.

I was clearly disturbed.

It was a friend’s birthday party earlier that night.  I loved being with this special group of friends that was there,with whom I was most comfortable being myself. I could speak without fear of negative judgement, and I could speak without fear of sounding stupid. I spoke a lot, and barely ever held back what I would want to say. Given that I was somewhat younger than the rest, I was pampered, and I felt treated like a baby. I enjoyed their company.

But on the downside, I would also get to meet people that had seen much more in life, that were more sure of what to expect in life, and more unfortunately, that were less optimistic about it for the same reasons.

For someone who is nearly done with school with a promise of a good life is laid out ahead, the more I heard from them that night, the more I was getting depressed.  I felt a strong urge to  leave but I did not want to be rude. Some part of me wanted to hear it all – for if it was the truth, I would have to hear it. Only exposing myself to positive thoughts and positive people would be deceiving myself, I reasoned, anxiously.

I stayed back after everyone left, with two trusted friends that were like my elder siblings. I had always been very needy; a female friend had remarked more than once that it was a twist of fate for a person as needy as I was to have had to live away from the closest loved ones’ forever. She was close enough to my extended family to be treated as one among my many cousins.

I opened up about my career, family, companionship and relationships, I opened up to them about the things that troubled me from the conversation we had earlier with everyone. I spoke about the transformation that I had seen in myself.

The expectations that I had from people, and how easy it was for me to get hurt and break, because for too long, my happiness was in the hands of other mortal human beings – skin and bones – who by their very definition could not be perfect, just like I wasn’t.  They may not return a phone call, they may be friends with me only when they would need me, they may be friends with me for their own benefit,  and they would consequently cut it off when I would be boring or not useful to them anymore.

That if I could break out of that cycle, take control of my happiness away from people and give it to God, to have Him as the source of my happiness, that would be a life of bliss on earth. Because God was perfect, and was a never-ending source of strength and happiness, who would never fail me, unlike His creation that was created to falter.

All of this was true, and I went back home with a lighter load after I shared it all.  But not light enough to get a good night’s sleep.

Covered Up Fun at the Beach

“Joyless.”

A disgusted smirk  drew across my face when I came across a right-leaning tabloid describe a group of Muslim women at a beach that way.
“A Muslim family stay covered up as the bathe on a … beach,” it continued.

In some rage, I wondered what made the female author think stripping down to underwear at a beach, as is the norm, was everyone’s idea of fun.

Having fun would mean different things to different people. It is pathetic when an “outsider” shoves down the throat of others their worldview and way of life.

Staying modest and covered up in front of family and others, and having a good family time was how the Muslim women wanted to have fun, but the author would not accept that people are different from her and are still be happy.
While she railed about “backward” Muslim practices, creeping “Talibanization” and “Wahhabism” in the British Muslim community – things which she said were denying its people “simply joys” in life, making several propositional fallacies along the way, she made apparent how she looked down upon people who did not subscribe to the cultural norms she was part of.

She failed to see how the world had long moved on from the colonial era – that era when White European peoples with their armies, cultures,  ran over much of the “third world” and enlightened people who were “backward” and “ignorant.” There was no place for brown sahibs like her anymore.

In the post-modern era,  while globalization and cross-cultural movements, interactions and adoptions are on a scale larger than ever before in human history, there is universal acknowledgement of the refined and advanced cultures in Africa, India, the Middle East and so on have had with thousands of years of civilization. More people than ever in the West are turning to philosophies that originated in the East to heal their broken lives.

To say that one culture is better than the other, though is being ignorant and preposterous, and the author was just that, when she considered a culture as backward for having its people enjoying themselves in a way that was different from how she would.

This might be cliché, but if she had the slightest doubt that those Muslim women felt joyless or subjugated, she could have asked them. Their answer would have been that they were happier than she could imagine. In the vast majority of cases, no one would have forced them to cover up; it was something they would do out of their own free will, in a free society. To force them to do otherwise would be denying them their rights.

  Towards the end, I couldn’t resist making a personal slight* at the risk of indulging in Ad Hominem.
*Edited out on request*

Birthday Musings

An additional candle was unlit, and another year blew away from my life. I was lucky to have another birthday. A couple of thoughts were swirling in my head since then.

First, the charm that there was in remembering people and their birthdays isn’t the same anymore. When I was small, I used to wait excitedly for mail – for one particular mail – on my birthday. It was an annual birthday greeting card from a cousin. The one year when I was most anxious for it, I waited the entire day but it never came. I was dejected. “Did she forget? Did she not care anymore? Maybe we’re all too grown up for this now?”
These questions do not come up now, and there is no anticipation and elation about others remembering to wish on a birthday, because they would be notified about it through Facebook, Google and the like without effort.  I was wished by around a hundred and twenty people this way. I was certainly happy and appreciative of the wishes even if most of them were triggered by online notifications. I realize that as much as I would like to be the closest one to every other person I know, it does not and cannot happen.  It would be silly to expect the same intimacy from everyone. In any case, it would be foolhardy to consider birthday wishes as a measure of that closeness, and more so to expect someone like the random person I met at a party the day before, to remember my birthday without automatic reminders.

I received phone or audio calls to wish me at three different mid-nights,  over six different time-zones and over two days. My family members were among the first to wish me this time, without needing online reminders.  I was especially touched by a friend’s gesture to phone me  even while traveling internationally, from a foreign airport.

   I would be upset if the people I meet on my birthday forgot to wish me before we part ways, and so, as in previous years, I did not take that risk. It is scary to consider consider the possibility of them not remembering or not caring about it. I  reminded them myself without waiting to see if they would need it. I was pleased of course, when my fears were unfounded with a younger friend who had actually planned a surprise party later that day.

The second thing I couldn’t help but notice was how much my friends’ circle had changed over the past year. At both parties I had this time – there was not a single person  from the past birthday bashes I had. I had grown increasingly involved with the MSA on campus; I had close relationships with the people on it, and they formed the bulk of my friends now – some closer than others.
However, most of my peers were out of college and had moved on with their lives with only a couple of them taking graduate classes. Most others in the MSA were simply too young for me to relate to closely, except for a few in their senior year and an older friend who still had time to finish.  This had pushed me more and more towards a bunch of fellow graduate Muslim students in other departments that I was not always close with, even though I had known them for long. Slowly but surely, we grew closer and formed a very well-knit group that got together multiple times a week. I felt loved and wanted here. I was coddled and pampered; I was allowed to be silly and talkative - perhaps by a combination of being immature and younger than the rest of the group by some margin. We were now like family, and I thanked God for having these people in my life.
The day ended on a slightly sour note when a childhood friend now in the Philippines failed to wish me; I couldn’t reach him either. This was the first time in about eleven years that we hadn’t spoken on this day.
Time flew by between my birthdays sooner than I realized, and brought changes greater than I noticed along the way. Time is slipping away now and there is obviously little anyone can do about it than to make the best use of it.  I wonder how my circle of friends changes by next year. But if there is a lesson I have learned, it is to value, thank and care for the people I have in my life.

A Mission Impossible 4 Night – A Review

“There is a first time for everything,” was how a friend comforted me when he found me worried, which I was. Nothing after the first time is as affecting.

“It” was me watching back to back movies in theaters – Mission Impossible 4 included. This holiday season, I did not fly out as I usually do, and instead hung out with local friends, and (gasp)  went to a movie theater twice in four days. I had been to one only three times in the past two decades and more of my life.

 Action movies aren’t exactly my genre but I had to stick with the flock. I hadn’t even watched the previous three Mission Impossible movies.

 I am no movie critic, but my Indian-ness and Muslim-ness greatly affected how I came back from the movie.

  •  Among the things that irritated me in the movie was the role of Anil Kapoor,  as Nath – the one Paula Patton seduces to get information. It was an embarrassing scene and it disgusted and perplexed me. Why would a hero in Bollywood movies do that to himself, and stoop down to perform in such roles just for five minutes of Hollywood fame?
    It was also interesting how people around me  made fun of the distinct Indian accent he came up with out of nowhere. They probably believed it added comical value to the scene. 
  •  Paula Patton, the female lead wore especially embarrassingly revealing clothes in the long scene with Anil Kapoor. The extra shock for me was probably because this was on a huge screen which I wasn’t used to, given that I have only watched movies at home on a computer or on a 25″ television. People usually take their eyes off or fast forward to skip such scenes, but in a theater, none of that was happening.
  • Important sections of the movie were really over the top. A Kremlin bombing and destruction. Really? 
  • The camera work, animations and graphics were simply superb. I loved scenes such as one when Dubai is introduced.  The camera pans from the desert, highway, camels, and then the awesome skyscrapers.
  • Some action scenes in the movie, such as the one around Burj Khalifa, the tallest skyscraper in the world, were breathtaking and managed to keep my pulse racing for quite some time.
  • The best part in the story line was how, each time when technology failed, the characters in the movie had to fall back on traditional methods to get out of sticky situations. Their high-tech glass cutting machine may not work, but they could always kick the glass window to break it open. Their electronic gloves that stick to glass to climb a glass skyscraper may not work, but they could always use a rope!
  • The antagonist character in the movie was not as strong as I would have expected, but I still think that was a good thing in a way.
  • Though the action scenes from Burj Khalifa were amazing, it was comical how during the chase scene from the skyscraper, they quickly run into an Arabian environment straight from the Arabian Nights with camels, and towels hanging outside small shops within minutes from the skyscrapers. 
  • The scenes from India were definitely not an accurate portrayal of India(Neither were those in Slumdog Millionaire.) Apart from that, I couldn’t wait until the end to point out to others around me another goof –  in the scene from the car parking lot and the satellite control station in Mumbai, India when the good guys were trying to restore power,  all the doors had sign boards and warning signs in Kannada, a language spoken in South India (Bangalore) and not in Mumbai. 
  • The final scene made me chuckle. I loved how there was an obvious mocking of George Bush and his famous “Mission Accomplished”  speech, in the context of the Iraq war. 

Should I now go back and watch the previous three MI movies? I still haven’t decided.

 

Circles of Relationships and Happiness Index

I have long looked at my association with people and the time I spend with them as a series of concentric circles.

 A few months back, I went through tough times. I was needy. I needed someone to hear me out – someone who would look through my eyes and ask me if I was really doing alright, despite my business standard nods and affirmations to business standard oral inquiries of how I was doing. I went into hibernation. I took off my Facebook for two months, which made things worse. I figured someone couldn’t really be what a friend is in the true sense of the word if they wouldn’t keep up with me without a mere social networking website. They were never really friends with me. All their interactions were them simply passing their time.

 This reinforced my classification. The inner the circle is, the more important the people in it would be to me. There would be no way I would support a relationship with someone in an outer circle at the cost of someone inner.

 With my recent and continuing efforts to break free from the shackles of shyness and introversion (an effort which I sometimes fear is taking me out-of-bounds of acceptable behavior,) I am part of many events and social gatherings. New people enter into my outer most circle everyday . I want to stay connected with them.

On my lucky days, I meet people I want to hold on to closer, and reach a level closer than just knowing their identity.

And then, there are people whose company I enjoy, just as they enjoy mine. This next inner circle of people is a god-send, a list of people I know by sheer good fortune or through concerted effort.

The second inner circle is the people I love, unconditionally. Their happiness is my happiness, and their sorrows better only be mine. Being a cause of their happiness sends me into a tizzy. I would be a fool to suck up to someone else at the cost of anyone in this circle.

 At the center, the smallest circle is me, the time I spend with none but myself – in solitude. With long periods of complete silence, a calmness and inner peace unmatched dawn upon my heart, and whiffs of pleasing cool breeze flap its wings. My heart becomes light and flies. Everyone is forgiven. Toxic residues of mean talk, hurt,angst and disappointments are blown away. My association with God is renewed. A burst of positive energy flows through my body.

 At a peak, I was completely invulnerable. No one could hurt me. I did not need any appreciation or approval, and no one could ever give or take from me enough. That was because God was the only One whose approval and appreciation mattered. Only when God was displeased with me would I be losing something, only when God was pleased with me could I be pleased. Every worldly entity including its people was puny and did not matter, because the life of this world was temporary. The hereafter was where the real victory was. But victory in this life was a victory in the hereafter. Only God mattered, and only God could give me victory in both. So having God pleased with me was my only goal.
And He helped me get out of the abyss I had fallen into.

I work now to never fall into the pit again, and I work to help others get out of it.

Cursing and Me

“What the f**k!?” …..”Astaghfirullah!”…..”Oh oops!”

Nobody heard me exclaiming when there were no paper towels in a public restroom. That’s because I only said those phrases in my mind and made the required movements in my mouth(tongue, lips) without vocalizing it. If you know what I mean.

I almost never use curse words, but when they do slip out,  I am repentant. It was no different this time as I dropped the f-word in a fit of frustration. (Hey, I still didn’t actually say it!) I immediately shook my head and said a phrase in Arabic seeking forgiveness from God, again, just to myself. But I then realized I was in a toilet. I grew up learning not to take God’s name when I am in a restroom. Mistake number two. I let out a gasp again.

Some people manage to make me laugh with their creative use of curse words at “apt” situations even though I wouldn’t officially approve of their use. Otherwise, I generally dislike cursing,  but would tolerate it with varying degrees of smile retention which is directly proportional to the magnitude of my already existing irritation with the person in question.
It depends on my past conversations. I actually get a frown on my face when I feel that someone is only trying to appear hip and cool by their cursing,while also holding views contrary to mine on my pet peeves. I follow it up with silence instead of my usual chatter to get the message across(True story.)

Kemal el Makki was narrating this story of how a person who almost got hit by a car while walking burst out with a “sh*t.” This person realized how that word would have been his last if he had died of that accident.  Not the kind of last words anyone would like to have.

If you really want to listen to some real stuff in English, in terms of cussing, at a whole new level, a level I found unmatched in North America, you would have to be in England in a working class neighborhood and try to pick up an argument. Personal experience.

The Daily Routine that Killed Me – An End-of-Year Panic.

I got up early this morning –  I snoozed my alarm one time less than usual. But otherwise, it was pretty much the same. Everyday, I pray, get ready  and leave for work, or work from home.   I spend time in school. I pray in between. I go to bed. I already know my story for today.

It is Thanksgiving.   My last big shopping spree seemed to have been only recently. But much to my consternation, I realized today with a gulp  - it was much earlier. It was last year on Black Friday. Somehow a year flew by. 365 days.

Everyday seemed the same.  But time flew by. An entire year slipped away, and a year later, so much is different, not entirely in ways I would have liked.  It is easy to be lulled into a false sense of infinite time, and go about the daily routine. This was a recipe for failure, in terms of long-term goals.

 It was intriguing how, through the daily routine of everyday where everything seemed the same, somehow there was so much difference a year later even if I was seriously lagging behind in achieving my goals.  I sat back to think about it. I don’t laugh at the same jokes. I’m not hurt by the same things.  I’m not attracted to or seek the same things.
I’m less religious. I have a feeling that God does not answer my prayers as before. I am less motivated to volunteer. I haven’t read books as much as I used to. My academic performances have dipped. I surround myself with a very different group of people. I am at the crossroads in my career more unsure of   my career than a year back.
But there were positive changes too. I love my family more than ever before, I miss those not around me more than I used to a year back. I am more spiritual in my approach towards things. I have memorized more of The Noble Quran and understand it better. I am closer to achieving my long-term goals than ever before, even if by a smaller margin than I would have liked for one full year. I am more outgoing than before, I talk to more people and have had some success in breaking free of my shyness with new people. I have consolidated some of my old friendships, and it pleases me to know they love me and wish well for me, despite knowing all of my weaknesses and failings.

 I now spend time tracking my progress on my long-term goals. I have a group of friends assigned to keep reminding me of them. There is no better way of thanking God for the time He gives us than by making it count.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Science and Faith – An Unresolvable Conflict?

This was the subject of discussion at my school recently. Given that the program was organized by a Christian Organization, there was no voice from the  atheistic perspective.

The first speaker went on for quite some time reading the Genesis, pointing out the scientifically accurate assertions in it “even though the Bible was three thousand years old”, given that these facts were proved to be true only by recent scientific progress.
Was he trying to prove that given this match, there is no conflict between religion and science? Was he trying to prove that since there are scientifically accurate statements unknown to men  when the Bible was written, it was really from God?
He failed in trying to prove either of these in part because he overlooked the scientifically questionable statements in the first few lines themselves.

They did point out how scientific “facts” change with time, and the Bible could not always be held to their standards, and how many aspects of “science” actually involved believing in things that haven’t been proven conclusively, which makes it not very different from a belief in religion.

What was their take on the Theory of Evolution? Did we evolve from monkeys?  It surprised me when they asserted (they were Orthodox)  that there isn’t necessarily a clash between religion and the theory of evolution. One student protested: “I can’t believe in a God who cannot create something perfectly, the way it should be, straightaway, and needs a gradual improvement”.
“I believe that God can create perfect beings straightaway, but He chose not to”,  one of the speakers replied, which I thought was a weak argument.  Weak because it would   imply that humans were also evolved from a more primitive form on Earth, which clashes with one of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity  - that the perfect and complete human form (Adam and Eve) was in paradise – before “The Fall” – before they were expelled to this world as complete humans.
I did put this question up at the event, and essentially, like on many other questions, the answer we received ranged from “This is a tough one” to  “It is belief, really”.  A  dead-end to all debates, because there is not much that can be said after  something is “a belief”. You just believe in it.  One of the speakers ended up accepting that there would be a conflict here and that there is a need of dialogue – he nodded his head when I asked him if this meant that he agrees that science and religion are two different streams.

A recent quote by Reza Aslan came to mind: “You have to understand that Islam and Judaism are legalistic religions, Christianity is a creedal religion. Christianity is all about belief, right? In fact, if you are a Catholic that creedal formulation is a complex formula, “I believe in God the Father maker of heaven and earth, I believe in Jesus His only begotten son, I believe in the Holy Spirit, I believe in the Holy Apostolic Church, etc. etc.”

A Muslim Greek Name.

While cooling my heels before the sunset prayers in the Interfaith center on campus recently, a fellow Desi, Muslim student asked me why another Greek Muslim, who was friends with both of us, had not changed his name to a “Muslim name” after he became Muslim.

 Sometimes, I feel guilty that I am there more for socializing, rather than for praying in peace, and in congregation. It is another matter that no one can pray in peace when I am around. I have a problem of giggling the most when I am absolutely not supposed to, but this is a story for another day.

While I  tease the Greek friend about his difficult-to-pronounce name many times,  this thought had not crossed my mind – I already had my views on this matter.

Mixing up culture and Islam has been my pet peeve for long. For example, and this is by no means reflective of the entire problem – many people think that the more Arab-ized they were, the more Islamic they would be, in matters of dress, names, language and so on, which did not make sense to me.

For people from the Indian subcontinent, Muslim names would either be Arabic or of Persian/Central Asian origin considering the centuries of rule in India by Muslims who spoke Persian.  Since they aren’t used to it, any name from any other culture would not be an Islamic name for them.
I asked this desi friend whether “Shiraz” is a Muslim name. He replied in the affirmative. I  pointed out that Shiraz is Persian, and  that it’s actually the name of a city in Iran. “So what makes a Persian name more Islamic than a Greek name? What makes you feel he does not have a  Muslim name?”.

I don’t even think that the situation would have changed if he would have had an Arabic name. The only (significant) reason to have Arabic names would be to have the same name as some of the greatest personalities in Islamic history, since many of them were Arab. Many of them were not, and the Prophet (peace be upon him) is not known to have asked new Muslim converts who were not Arabs to change their names to Arabic ones’.

I loved  Tariq Ramadan‘s statement from a recent lecture I attended –  that Islam was an umbrella, and many different cultures came under it; that all aspects of a culture that do not contradict Islam are actually Islamic.  In this case, any name that contradicted the principles of Islam would be un-Islamic, whether in Arabic or in any other language.

I’ll have your back.

 It is easy to get used to and dependent upon support. It is perhaps one of the pitfalls of growing up in an extremely loving desi family, and having a lot of friends.  The assurance that someone has your back, that someone is always there to rescue you if you screw up, gave me a sense of security and helped fuel complacency.

 My sister, speaking after her marriage, said a big difference in her new life away from our parents was that she now had to fend for herself more than ever, to actually answer and face the consequences of her mistakes. She gave an example of her losing her passport sized photographs. My dad would be the one doing all the running to make up for her mistakes, but all that he would say, no matter how many times she faulted: “Oh don’t worry beta, it’s okay”. “Beta” is an affectionate word for son/daughter in Urdu.
I have to admit though, that this kind of support is not true for everyone – first because my dad’s daughters were just that, absolute princesses to my dad, and secondly, because dad was and is a very rare gem of a person – and I don’t say that because he barely ever shouted at any of us siblings (*lol*), or because of his mind-blowing intense selfless love and sacrifice for our mother and for us.

 Living away from my parents, I feel the pinch too. Even if my parents couldn’t solve my problem for me, such as taking my exam for me (my dad would joke about it), they would push me to work harder and give me huge mental and emotional support. They still are out there for me, as much as distance permits and as much as I let them in on my issues, given that it would make them extra worrisome. I have a lot of friends, and some of them are out there for me just as I am for them. I consider myself lucky for that.

But then there are things which you have to face all by yourself, all alone. Things that aren’t going away anywhere, things no one is going to solve for you. You wish for someone to fly into your life and change things for the better. If only that were possible. The only way would be to stand up and fight – the cost of accepting defeat and fleeing would make it a non-option. Facing the hammer repeatedly seasons you to better face challenges in the future.

 It makes you stronger each time, which is good preparation for what you  want to be and try to be – the same backbone support and dependence for those you love. Enough to be able to make this promise: I can’t promise to fix all your problems, but I can promise you won’t have to face them alone.”

Reasoning Emotions and the End of Gaddafi. A Love for God.

An old memory from childhood cropped up in recent days - it was a chilling sermon I had heard at Eid,which is one of two Muslim holidays in a year. It was a masterpiece of oratory, with powerful rhetoric that, I remember, had sent chills down my spine and gave me goosebumps.

The sermon was on the oft-repeated Islamic chant, “Allahu Akbar”,  Arabic for God is Greater. Greater than anything else.

Listening to this chant being recited in chorus has long been addictive to me. Quite often, emotions stir up. If I do not melt and feel like crying, helpless before God, a fire lights up within me giving me a huge rush of energy and a feeling of invincibility, that God alone matters and nothing else does. At other times, I feel a heavenly inner peace and contentment, a blissful solitude even in a crowd.

I’m not alone. Many look forward to the chant being recited in chorus before every Eid holiday prayer by Muslims. In times of happiness and success, sorrow and distress, in need and fulfillment, many find a way through calls of  Allahu Abar.

It was moving to see young revolutionaries in Egypt standing up to a tyrant, a dictator as they repeatedly chanted the same in chorus, electrifying the masses. I often searched and played the protestors chanting and praying during the revolution, on YouTube.

It was the same during the Libyan revolution, until, things changed.

The last time I heard the chant during the Libyan “revolution”, I was nauseating. I was disgusted.

A bloodied Gaddafi was being sodomized with a long knife-like object, a someone ramming it through his buttocks, cries of Allahu Akbar abound. He was being lynched, beaten, slapped and ultimately killed by people chanting the phrase in chorus. I also read how scores of others were summarily executed by the same “revolutionaries”. I wanted to plead with them to stop one of them – either the religious chant, or their despicable act.

It was clear. Swayed by emotions, the worst has been done, even in the name of religion. Hatred and discrimination, and worse, killing and oppression of a people, because of or due to, or for religion.

 Did I learn any lessons? Yes.  One, be careful about who you get your knowledge from. Not everyone who claims to do and call upon good is right. The truth stands out clear from falsehood.  God repeatedly asks us to ponder, in the Qur’an.

More importantly, emotions that run high and low, and vary with time and place cannot be the sole basis for actions.

Emotions now come after I am convinced of its basis, with reasoning.

 My personal relationship with God has grown beyond this stage.
It is about total love, hope, fear, all at the same time – strong emotions, all of them.
As a mortal human with forgetfulness, I have my mistakes as I act at certain times in ways that may point otherwise, but I do realize this: that the world may teach us, men more than women, that to show emotions is to be weak. But the way to God is through hope, through fear, through love. That God is closer to me than anything else. That He is waiting for me to communicate. That His wishes are more important than mine. That my desires are less important than His. That only He is an infallible entity that I can depend upon, that He will never let me down – men are fallible and can and do all the time.

.

 Someone rightly said: Use emotions—but never let them use you. Control them. Never allow them to control you.

A Reminiscence

 I am, on paper, at the prime of my life. I am twenty three. I am out of college – in fact, I  have nearly finished enough work to get a Master’s degree at an age when many people don’t have a Bachelor’s. I have the world ready and laid out to be conquered. I have an entire life ahead of me, to prosper, to enjoy, to conquer its peaks one by one, to make a good life after all the hard work of school with little to worry about. I have no financial obligations to meet other than to satisfy my own animal instincts of hunger, thirst, shelter. My parents are blessed enough that they do not need my money, nor do my siblings.  Things could be better but things are going great.  I have a great set of friends I love to hang out with. I have the best restaurants to dine at nearby, I am going to get my own car after I start getting paychecks, soon. What would I have to complain about?

On Eid day recently, I had the honor of being invited by a female acquaintance’s family to their home along with a few other friends. Few friends have introduced me to their families, so this was an exception. I knew her from the MSA, but had barely ever spoken to her – in fact, I had ignored her for months if not for a couple of years but had more recently interacted with her enough to get the invite.  It was a happy occasion but I cried or struggled to not cry later that day. Like a true gentleman, I never let anyone know of my turmoil. Hers was an amazing, lovely, happy family which looked cute together. I was missing my own. My family all together, happy and frolicking around , just like that.

I had selfishly moved away from my parents seven years back for my career. I saw my past years flash before me. I wasn’t really jealous here, or may be I was. But I wanted the same.  I missed being in my mother’s arms, I missed the hug from my father. The kiss on the forehead from my mother. Resting my head on my mother’s leg.  My father’s insatiable love for me  and the now unbelievable desire for me to succeed. My loving sisters, my brother who I fought with at times, but for whom I  prayed and wanted to succeed. We all made a pretty, lovely, happy family. Our sibling rivalries looked cute. The thought that those days are never going to come back brought a gulp in my throat then and tears in my eyes now. We went out every weekend, we had our family games of carrom and chess, snakes and ladders and a few other board games. We loved arguing what to order at the restaurant for our weekly dine-out. We loved shouting when our mother cheated by picking up coins from the Carrom board without pocketing them in with a striker.

We’ve all grown up. My sisters are married, and are away with their own new lives and kids. My parents are old and I am not with them.  My brother is busy and has a life of his own away from all of us. They miss me and I miss them.  I forget them all too often as I get engrossed with my life, but I know they do not forget me at what are supposed to be their happiest of times. I cried when my mother asked me to be with her on Eid.

I have given up so much for the time here that every moment that I am away from them is precious as diamonds that I have to try to extract the best out of. What I have achieved in the seven months since the last time I saw them does not seem to match up to that.

All I can think of right now, and pray for, is for all of us to be united in the eternal paradise, and live happily together, forever and ever. An eternal life of bliss and happiness celebrated together.  Bring on the monopoly with two dices, please!

“Mommy, why were they shouting at me?” When Islamophobic Terrorism came home.

“I don’t know why they were staring at me”. I can almost see my little niece say that as she adjusts her cute little scarf with her tender little hands. She loves ponies – pink ponies and almost everything pink. She loves the fairies in the cartoons and in her animated story books.  She made me play the  me-buying-her-dolls-she -the shopkeeper game.  I’ve also played pony-rides with her. I’ve been embarrassed as I played  twister with her the last time I saw her.  She is much more childish and innocent than children her age usually are.  We call her a pink princess. She’s beautiful,  and gets a pink complexion.  She’s an angel.

When my sister in England called to let me know that her family was attacked by drunk, racist Islamophobes (The EDL) , I had to put the phone aside while she was still talking. I could no longer hold back my tears and I didn’t want her to know I was crying. She assumed a bad reception and hung up.

But I could not bear the thought of my angelic, innocent nieces having faced the barrage of  extremely foul, vulgar words that were thrown at them. Wine bottles and cans were thrown at them and at the car they were in by the drunk, white supremacists. They mostly missed their target, but one of the bottles thrown managed to drench my brother-in-law’s pants with wine when he was at the scene. The first, older niece, a little girl herself,  is an absolute gem; she later said she kept reciting specific verses from the Quran  when all of this was going on. This stunned my sister and brother in law who said they were frozen with shock and couldn’t think of anything themselves.

My sister’s family had stopped at a service station by a motorway in England on the 3rd of September, 2011 in the middle of a long drive, for their sunset prayers and to have dinner. When they got out of the car, members of the English Defense League got out of a bus that was parked behind and started hurling cans and foul abuses, while asking the “Pakis” to go back to Pakistan.

My sister and her family are  British citizens. They did not go to Britain from Pakistan, they were never Pakistanis, and it wouldn’t have mattered even if they were. My sister and her husband are both doctors, and made a good life for themselves with sheer hard work and talent. They pay their taxes and have never broken the law, not even the driving rules.
They are deeply religious and practice their faith openly. My sister observes the Hijab and my brother in law has a beard. They say their prayers outside when they have to. They are not White Caucasian.
The people asking them to get out of the country say that’s not being British. It’s funny they say that because it is as if they’re saying getting drunk, being jobless and on government benefits, living in government subsidized housing, being a drain on the economy using up the very tax money my sister was paying,  rioting, bloodshed, TERRORIZING innocent children and Muslim families, fire-bombing places of worship, ANTISEMITISM, using vulgar language and so on is being British. The vast majority of the EDL are all of this and more. The more intellectual ones’ among them happen to be real terrorists or inciters towards terrorism. Anders Behring Breivik in Norway was one of their terrorist co-ideologues who massacred innocent youngsters. He was a big fan of the EDL.

The amount of hate is just unbelievable. I would never be able to sleep at night if I had as

EDL Protest in Newcastle

Image via Wikipedia

much hatred against anyone as they had in their hearts. A life of sadness, hatred, spite, enmity, bad blood, vengeance, rancor, heartburn. A dark world with no happiness. Compare that with a bright world of happiness, joy and merriment, with no ill-feelings. A world without hate, where all of God’s creation, some white, some brown, some black, some yellow,  people with different ways of life, all live in harmony in the world God gave us all.

My sister’s family did not report the ordeal to the police. They fear for the safety of the children and wanted to avoid court appearances.

My little niece still doesn’t understand why anyone would hate her. Someday in the coming years, she will understand why, but for now, she has had her first brush with the filth the world has to offer.

Journey Through a Thank You

thank you note for every language

Image by woodleywonderworks via Flickr

Our desi parents brought us up teaching us to thank people a lot.  If we weren’t saying “I’m sorry”,  A Thank You and a Shukriya (in Urdu/Hindi) would be thrown around a lot with people outside the family.  It was a big thing to not apologize- as a nine year old, I had an epic tiff with my older sister when I refused to say sorry after I shouted at her, which I did because she didn’t say sorry when she brushed my feet with the floor mop. By mistake!  These were times when our parents were our heroes and everything they did was always the right thing.

Then came my rebellious teenage years when I wanted to do things differently, different from my friends and family.  I thought it was cool to not conform.  I started using the Arabic phrase “JazakAllah Khair” (Arabic for “May God reward you in goodness” ) instead of the Thank Yous with Muslims because it was new and different. It was used by someone my aunt  didn’t really like very much,  but it sounded cool and exotic to me.

I  now have a more mature head over my shoulders as a twenty-something year old.  I frequently use both a Thank You and a JazakAllahKhair, but the former is the one that comes naturally, while I use the latter more when I am not being myself.

But despite these changes over a Thank You over time,  there was and is a catch – one thing has remained unchanged. We don’t want to be thanked for things that we think we were absolutely obligated to do.  A Thank You for something, to me at least, would mean we were being thanked for doing something extra that we didn’t have to do, or something we weren’t expected to do, or that we were outsiders.

Over the past several months, as I have consciously been trying to get out of my shell and shyness(some of it hypocritical), I try to talk to just about every person I can and be friendly- on the bus, with the taxi driver, with my co-passengers, my neighbors, the people I cross paths with on pavements and so on. This has also meant I help people out much more often, and that I volunteer more. Recently, a set of Thank Yous came home to trouble me when on one such volunteering program, the lead volunteer kept thanking me profusely over three weeks. I now realize it may  have been  to encourage me to volunteer more but back then,  I was slightly annoyed even if I retained my smile.  I really wanted to volunteer, and wanted to be part of the group that was simply doing its duty and wasn’t after any recognition or compliments, but the Thank Yous somehow gave me an outsider feeling, that I was going over  and above what I was duty-bound to do or what was expected of me.  It gave me the impression that I was doing this, or wanted to do this or that people may think I’m doing this for the compliments and the Thank Yous. Well, the truth was I was volunteering because I wanted to volunteer, because of the intrinsic goodness of the volunteering activity and not anything else.

I am now at peace with this issue- I did not have to prove anything to anyone. I know my intention when I am doing something good. I know God knows what is in my heart, and He will reward me and He will reward me by my intentions. Isn’t that what we were looking for, after all?

A Favorite Summer Memory from Childhood – RS Emeline (Blog Swap)

RS Emeline is a fellow member of the 20-Something Bloggers Community.  She is a fiction writer-a Fictzophrenic - and is working on two novels. She is a prolific blogger – check out her wonderful blog Fictzophrenic Musings.
 This post is courtesy an event 20sb Blog Swap #9  in  which bloggers were paired up to swap guest posts on a mutually finalized theme.


The summer day of July 18, 1995 was a changing point in my life.

My parents were outdated and boring, and when they spoke I listened with the thoroughness of youth.

The person I looked up to–worshiped might be closer to the truth, my middle sister, had just moved out… again. Off to start a new life with another new guy.

I felt cast aside and heartbroken.

I was thirteen and knew everything.

At the time, my father worked long hours across the Puget Sound at Intel, and my mother worked as a nurse for the Alzheimers’ ward of the local Assisted Living Center.

They were never around, and when they were–they weren’t.

At the time it didn’t bother me. My friends and I had freedom to do what we wanted, when we wanted, and we never had to clear it with our parents.

We were latchkey kids, and life was a constant adventure.

On this particular day, the sun was shining brightly, the sky a crisp blue dotted here and there by white billowy clouds.

The Pacific Northwest was having a heat wave, and the temperature was teasing eighty.

My friends and I hopped on the County Transit Bus headed toward the local ferry terminal. We were breaking the rules–heading across the inlet to the ‘shady’ town where the local Navy base was–and it made the trip even more exciting.

We flirted shamelessly with the ferry workers, practiced the skills we’d need in a few years when the boys we went to school with would finally realize how amazing we were, and laughed joyously as the wind blew our hair wildly around our faces.

When the tiny foot ferry– it couldn’t have been longer than twelve feet– rocked and bumped its way to the dock at the ferry terminal, we waved at the men who’d entertained us good naturedly, and hurried off.

It was time.

People crushed around us, rushing to and from the larger ferry docked in a slip further down the pier. The loud speaker warned passengers the next run to Seattle would be leaving in ten minutes.

The briny taste and smell of the Puget Sound wafted on the breeze, and we pushed and shoved our way into the transit terminal.

Thirty minutes later we walked out of the building, our stance a little straighter, our gait a little surer.

We were no longer kids.

The glossy ID in our hands assured us we’d left childhood behind.

We had the key to our future freedom.

We had… our official reduced fare transit IDs.

Sixteen years later, I still have that transit card–though it expired in 1998.


The girl looking out from the photo has a bad perm, twinkling eyes, and a huge grin.

That was the happiest day of my childhood.

I keep it as a reminder of youth, and the experiences–both good and bad– that came with it.

Washington State has long since been a speck in the distance of my rearview mirror, but the scent of ocean water, the crush of people, and the heat of the summer sun brings me right back to that rare warm day and the friends long since missing from my life.

It makes me smile.

The Desire for Acceptance

Among the things that make me teary-eyed, apart from the onions I cut every other day,  is when I watch an adoring large group of people  applaud someone.
It happened most recently when Rep. Giffords returned to the House of Representatives to vote. It happened when I saw people applaud Patch Adams in the movie by the same name. It happened when I saw huge audiences do that to Randy Pausch. It happened many times when they did that to Obama back in 2009.  It melted my heart each time,  and I felt as if the pinnacle of human achievement was being breached. I wondered dreamily if I could ever receive such a response. I wondered what I would feel like if I was in that position, at the receiving end.

While many may think I am over-reacting ( I think I am ), there is no doubt about the need for recognition, acceptance, approval and praise that everyone has. Closely linked is the need for acceptance by one’s peers and the need that a lot of people feel of maintaining a reputation that they already have or want to have.

But then, some questions prop up. What if people aren’t applauding you ? What if people do not recognize you and your efforts ? What if people do not recognize you the way you want to be recognized ? What if you are obscure and unknown. Does it mean you are doing something wrong ? Or as a corollary, if people are applauding you, if people recognize you,  does it mean you’re doing something right ?

I sat back to think about it. As much as I was moved by the sight of recognition, some cold hard facts stared at me.
Hitler was used to receiving rapturous applause, but he was a demagogue and a devil personified who was responsible for heinous crimes. Netanyahu is a right-wing hawk but he received many standing ovations and applause from the US Congress even as he thundered about the right to colonization.  The despots ruling or formerly ruling in the Arab world have been used to such treatment by their “chamchas” (spoons in desi parlance), i.e., by those who personally benefit from their rule and slavishly follow them.

What if someone wanted to do the right thing even if it was unpopular ? It would certainly not win any applause. Does it mean we shouldn’t do anything that’s unpopular ? I thought about the caste system in India. There were the “untouchables” who were treated as just that – untouchables and as dirt. They weren’t allowed to mix freely with the “upper castes”, they weren’t allowed into temples and so on. In extreme cases, their women weren’t allowed to cover their bosoms in public in a community. A second example was the Sati system in India – where the widow was  forcibly burned alive in the funeral pyre of her dead husband. Stopping such heinous and inhuman practices was highly unpopular in society, but it still had to be done. Even if the rulers weren’t going to get cheered for it.

A lot of volunteer activities that people did were all about photographs in newspapers. This was most exposed when volunteer organizations were given relief money to deal with the aftermath of the earthquake in Gujarat, India a few years back.

Closer to home and around my life, volunteerism on and off campus for some people seemed to be more about giving the right impression about themselves to others. The reason some of these people gave when asked about what they do or why they wouldn’t do something was that they had a reputation to maintain. This brought us to the same problem   – by consequence, they wouldn’t do something that they think is right if it was going to be unpopular or looked down upon. In another way, they would do something right more because of what others would think of them, than because of the fact that it’s what they think is the right thing to do.

This world is never going to be completely fair. Apart from the great people who win great applause, there are also countless but unknown heroes that go unnoticed. There are many who fight the world to do the right thing, facing flak instead of applause. On the other side, there are those who only play to the gallery and go against their own conscience and there are those who do good only to win applause or impress a people.  Real and true justice, therefore, can only be in the hereafter, where everyone will be judged and rewarded for their true worth and effort, and not on how the world treated and judged them. To me, satisfying my conscience was now more important than recognition. Doing what you think is right was more important. People are imperfect. People may not treat its greats equally. People may reward the wrong people. People may not reward the right people. But God is Perfect and Just.  So satisfy your conscience and let not the desire for worldly applause sway you !

The Courtesy Half Smile

Culturally, we grew up learning to smile at others, more so when glances meet.  The Prophet, peace be upon him has said, “And your smiling in the face of your brother is charity, your removing of stones, thorns, and bones from people’s paths is charity, and your guiding a man gone astray in the world is charity for you.”    So, yeah, even a smile is charity.
But being in a place where you pass by a lot of people you are acquainted with, a full-blooded smile may trigger unwanted conversations when you’re short on time or intent. A smile may also be construed wrongly by the one smiled at, especially if it is the opposite gender.
The solution – and I do this all the time – the half-smile of the kind pictured below, with widening of the mouth while closed, flattened lips partly taken inside. When someone wrote about it, I couldn’t help but smile. I’m not the only one who consciously does this.
[Clarification - The man in the picture is not me]

[via Zoe Says]The obligatory courtesy smile Humans are such funny creatures. We have all these social niceties and some of the “rules” in place are rather odd. Something I wish didn’t need to exist is that weird smile – sometimes an accompanying nod – that you give to people (namely, acquaintances or office mates) where you flatten your lips and smile tightly as you pass each other by.… Read More

Pictures from Spring

I’ve developed an interest in photography over the last few months.  I always had the habit of taking pictures with my cell phone as I walked around and found something interesting or beautiful. But the time I put into this skyrocketed after I decided to gift myself a camera before I embarked upon a trip to better capture memories in pictures.  Here’s a collection  from the Spring I thought were fit for sharing from the hundreds I have, before I ran out of patience.  I still have a long way to go though, but I’m improving.

Finding Faults with Others – Being Mirrors to One Another

It was the last day of classes at school, the last night before Finals Week. Some students decided to dance their stress away  to music in a flash mob dance in the library,  while many other peers watched with amusement, some of them video recording the semi-impromptu event.  The “others” also included a few Muslim male students.  On their way back home after the event, everyone was out with the customary postmortem. The dance was not good enough. The one last year was much better. The flash mob  at this other school was way better.  Among these was one that stood out – the ridicule on what in their view was a fundamental contradiction – a Muslim woman in a Hijab dancing with the group.  The woman had been judged. Negatively.1

It is a phenomenon that is apparently universal within Muslim communities (this is indeed a universal phenomenon, but this article is specific to Muslim communities) – the presence of a section of people who spend great energies at finding “faults”. Of others, that is. As they go about their public fault-finding exercises with people, with organizations and institutions – often accompanied by ridicule and condescension – they leave behind a trail of ruined reputations and bruised egos. Backbiting, much?

Muslims, as the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said, are like a mirror to one another(Bukharee, AbuDawood), helping each other introspect and helping each other stay on the right track.

For me, this process does not involve a holier than thou attitude. When a fellow Muslim has a fault, It does not call for public debasement of him/her, but rather, involves counseling in private.

Being such a mirror also involves showing each other the good that they have. How often do we find people who are verbose and let their hearts out when finding faults, but at the same time, who are miserly in  praise and appreciation?

Fairness would demand that a whole body of work that makes a person be used to judge someone, if a person is being judged at all,  and not the few moments of weaknesses, that everyone goes through.  I would not be negatively judgmental about a person’s character despite seeing something that might challenge one’s perception of that person’s good nature, by giving them possible excuses and explanations. 

The mirrors that some Muslims have for each other though, only reflect the bad. The apparent bad. Magnified.

While publicly reflecting the “bad” in others, many do not have the honesty to recognize the presence of skeletons in their own cupboards. An American author, William Wharton was known to have said “What we all tend to complain about most in other people are those things we don’t like about ourselves.”

Even if there were shortcomings in others, it is in one’s own interests to hide them, and as said earlier, counsel others privately.  Muhammad (may peace be upon him) said : “The servant who conceals the faults of others in this world, God would conceal his faults on the Day of Judgement.”

Then there is also the case of double standards  in the application of “morality standards” while making reflections of people –  with one set of rules for themselves and another set of rules for others.
A corollary would be, as was also seen from the reaction to the presence of a female Muslim in the flash mob dance,  all the load of “morality” is placed upon women, and women are blamed for the accusing men’s own temptations and weaknesses, while ignoring those weaknesses.  The men from the story never blamed themselves for having stood there watching the dance for fifteen minutes, an Islamically questionable act in itself.

I considered it my obligation to defend someone whose supposed faults were being exposed and laughed about in her absence – we are obliged to defend anyone who people backbite, in their absence.

Edit: I loved this video by Baba Ali on this matter.

 [1]If you do not understand what went wrong there, most Muslim scholars discourage free mixing between men and women who can marry, when it is for purely socializing purposes. They also consider music from stringed instruments as forbidden, and dancing to it in such a social gathering would thus be forbidden. They also want to avoid any situation that would result in gawking and lustful stares at women, so  women and men are supposed to be modest – a woman dancing in front of staring men wasn’t helping here.

 

Gender Relations – The Cultural Divide : Part I (Greetings between men and women )

 The Raison d’être for this blog, at least when I started off, was to dwell upon cultural divides and cultural differences that I have encountered between different societies that have made me who I am today – Saudi, Indian, British and American. One of the most distinguishing features in cultures is the way men and women interact with each other.

Among the things that fascinate me on this subject is the way men and women greet each other when they cross paths. Most Arabs (except perhaps the socially liberated ones’ like many Lebanese) show a lot of warmth when they meet – if two people greeting each other are of the same gender, they hug and kiss each others’ cheeks. If it is the opposite gender, they would barely notice each other and continue their way. In case of social gatherings, care is taken to make sure that there is no free mixing of people from the opposite genders, ruling out the possibility of awkward meeting of glances.

Indians shake hands when they meet – and hug each other on special occasions or when they are meeting after a long time – as long as they are from the same gender. Indians in India seem to be in a transient stage as they embrace Western culture that is more free as far as interacting with the opposite gender is concerned, while still influenced by their heyday which involved greeting the opposite gender with folded hands without ever touching them. As they deal with a heavy dose of Western influence via the Internet, movies and Television, they seek to interact more with the opposite gender and notice them more, but society as a whole still judges such actions negatively, which bogs them down. The resulting effect has been many of them indulging in a lot of interaction when there is no physical proximity – via text messages, social networking sites and chat clients, but when they come face to face, they are left shifting weight from foot to foot while staring at their own feet, if they do gather the courage of getting face to face at all.

Two Arab men kissing each others’ cheeks would be considered weird by most White

United States President Obama meets former Bri...

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Caucasians and African Americans – because they are usually seen doing the opposite – when two men greet each other, the most they would go up to is a handshake, but when a female is involved, a warm hug is quite common in non-professional gatherings. In fact, for example, when a male-female couple passes by another male, the female from the couple would hug the other male and shake his hands, and the guys would just shake each others’ hands but not hug each other. Such a difference in greeting gestures is not considered weird – two men expressing affection is. Indian males who are friends often grab each others’ hands and walk with arms around each others’ shoulders, and these actions would normally be considered weird and reserved only for people from the opposite genders by these cultures. The perception of homosexuality is indeed much stronger here. I pointed this out to a friend recently who concurred after recalling US President Obama hugging Mrs. Cameron, the British Prime Minister’s wife, while Obama and Mr. Cameron only had a handshake during Obama’s recent visit to the UK. As far as Muslims in the United States are concerned, interactions between the opposite genders is worthy of an article in itself . Watch out for the next post!

Really achieving your childhood dreams is all about breaking the cycle of procrastination

I haven’t been writing here lately, and have a lot of catching up to do as far as getting up to speed with new posts in my Google Reader full of subscribed blogs is concerned.  I would have liked to say I was quite busy the last few weeks as the semester is ending soon, but those who know me would know that it was more of being stressed out about submissions  than actually staying busy working on these submissions that kept me away from many good things in life (there are exceptions )

I checked my virtual countdown timer again – I have FIVE days to finish my thesis work. That this deadline was set by myself was enough motivation to not be motivated to try to finish it on time.  As things, are, I am nowhere close to finishing this on time. Someone famously said:

Go ahead, do it. Don’t wait. It won’t get easier. There won’t be a better time. So start. Right now. Just stop procrastinating, already!
:-)

Talking about procrastination (something about which I have shared here before), I spent a weekend choking up reading Randy Pausch and his battle with pancreatic cancer.  It brought back tearful memories of the time my family went through when  two uncles went through  horrific and painful battles with cancer.

Dr. Randy Pausch

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His talk on time management was actually played in class last semester. His message hit me strong because he was showing how little time he had before he would die of cancer, and how there was the need to get as much as possible done in that time.

We all have limited time ourselves to get our work done, and limited time to get the things that we want in life to be done.
Another landmark speech that pushed Randy Pausch to worldwide fame was called – The Final Speech – Really Achieving your Childhood Dreams shows how he goes on to achieve everything he wanted to in life, and this was no surprise considering how he lived his life going by his Time management talk.  I could relate to him because he had been a Computer Science graduate student at a top school, and later on was a professor at the same school. A lot of this lecture spoke about his life in the academia which I am in and frequently go through similar situations and conversations.

He is my newest hero; an inspiration to achieve what we want to, and live up to what we are worth,  indeed !

Check out his battle with cancer (twitter style ) here and his page here.

Old Rag Mountain Hike in Shenandoah National Park, VA – II

I have been pretty busy (read: only stressed out but not working as much ) as the semester draws to a close. A lot of my extra-curricular activities have been cut down, but the one opportunity that I did not/could not let go is hiking.
Only three weeks after my previous hiking trip, I went to another one – and for the second time in six months here -  the Old Rag Mountain Hiking trail in the Shenandoah National Park.

We were warned that though this is a popular hiking trail, it is tough and fraught with risks considering the number of search and rescue operations that authorities have made here, and that this hike is not for everyone.

I was almost like the tour guide to our group since apparently I was the only one in our group of 15 who had already been here before. The last time I was here was in late November last year when it was quite cold and the leaves were all shed after the Fall season.  I went again because it was with a different group of friends, I had a camera this time, and it was a different season. Oh, and I do not even have to share the frustration I had when the two close friends I was going with failed to get up and start on time to join the group. I went ahead without them in the end.

The hike was tough, 8.8  miles long, and took 7 hours to complete, though we really should have been done in 5-6 hours if not for the time we spent chilling at the summit and taking photographs. It was a circular trail that first went up to the summit and then back via another route to the parking lot. The hike up towards the summit was quite challenging at certain points and took the bulk of the time though it was only 3.5 miles to the top.
It was pretty much steep for about one and a half hours through the forest, and then, the challenging rocky part began which was where ALL the excitement really was. Many slipped and fell around me – people do not realize the power of their hands to climb rocks, squeeze between them or jump through them  and only try to find a firm footing for their feet as they go through the rocky part.
I hiked flawlessly without problems thanks to my previous experience, except for a small bruising near my knee from a rough rock and helped others too. I was thinking of myself as a pro but all of my pride crashed spectacularly when a fellow female hiker  let me know this was her 11th time here. She said she perfected the toughest section where you have to pull yourself up through a narrow gap between two rocks sometimes with the help of a rope only on the 7th or 8th time.

Like the last time, I again got to pray my afternoon and evening prayers on the summit and it was a really nice feeling to pray at 3,200ft above, on top of the world with the b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l valley in view, and in front of other hikers.

After enjoying the breeze, we started the hike back, taking more pictures along the way. One of us twisted her ankle and was in quite a pain which slowed us down.
When we finally did reach back to the parking lot, we waited for more than an hour for two of us who were still not back. It was getting scary now because it was getting dark and it could have been BIG problems if they were still holed up somewhere in the rocks or the forest in the dark. Were they lost ? were they hurt ? Are they alright ? Where could they be ? I overheard some people talking about the movie 127 hours.

A very nice family that had been camping there helped us search for them and we finally found them after an hour and a half in the dark. They were lost, had gone the wrong way and only realized that after an hour of hiking  in the wrong direction. It does not help at all, when there is zero reception on everyone’s cell phones.

Despite a body ache for the next three days, it was a memorable experience. I can’t wait for the next challenging hiking trip again which are anything but like the trails at The Great Falls, VA which are simply too easy.

Some 100+ pictures that I think are worth sharing here.

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