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.

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 unannounced 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 (zealusmedia DOT com). 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. Going off on a tangent, I noticed that Muslim women happened to be a little different from other girls – and it could be because of how Desi Muslim society is structured, with regards to things such as marriage and interactions with the opposite gender. If non-Muslim girls were more likely to share pictures of themselves doing something interesting, or exciting, or funny, or in an interesting locale, Muslim girls, even if there was nothing intrinsically wrong about it per se – were more likely to put up a picture of themselves in their best dress, best makeup, and their prettiest self – the emphasis being on their physical appearance, and then revel in the multitude of complements on their appearance, mostly from other Muslim girls, some of them fake. (Guys aren’t supposed to complement girls on their looks in Desi Muslim societies.) Desi Muslim girls  also obsessively discuss marriage with each other all the time, more than guys do.  

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.”