A Lesson From How I Gained Weight

“Why don’t you spend time on yourself?,”  my aunt suggested in passing, when I shared that I get bored on some weekends. She perhaps thought little of it after the conversation, but it had a game-changing effect on me, suddenly spurring me into working on myself in multiple ways  – one of which has been physical fitness.  I have always been the skinniest guy I knew all my life – I saw pictures of a little kid with chubby cheeks who my mom said was me, but I have no memory of that time.  My BMI had always showed me as underweight.

I put on fifteen pounds of weight in just three months, a rate of increase that wasn’t projected even in the most optimistic of plans I made for 2015.

 I stopped eating out all the time with friends and started cooking at home much more often,  as I live by myself – eating more nutritious food and saving money. I installed an app to keep track of my running and walking, I kept track of my calories, I joined a gym and started training with weights about twice a week.

Nothing I did was extraordinary or out of my comfort zone, and yet, this surprisingly fast gain in weight was despite the eating problems I have had with my dental braces and bite plate.

All it takes to change your life, sometimes, is a minor tweak in your mental orientation from a small piece of advice.

 

A Little Girl’s Father

I was flying kites recently with a friend’s little nephew. He soon lost interest and would rather play on the slides. A little girl in the public park took his place and befriended me – she wanted to fly a kite, which we happily did until my kite broke.

I listened to her talk and I couldn’t but adore her pure innocence, her pure heart unadulterated with malice, her cuteness. I chuckled as she shared how sorry she was about my kite. It was, after all, barely worth $2 at Wal-Mart. But she was still too innocent to value things on their price. I foresaw my daughters being spoiled.

What the little girl said after that struck me for days.

“Let’s go to my dad.”  She said, with a confident voice. “My dad can fix it!” I smiled and looked up. As if to convince me, she continued, “My dad can fix anything!!”

The father is a girl’s first love, I’d read, and here I saw it in her eyes. The trust in her flawless, invincible hero, who could do anything, who would always be there for her, to protect her, to provide for her, to guide her.

It was that age. It was why I was heartbroken when I saw a picture of a little Palestinian girl looking on, towards the lifeless body of her superhero, her invincible man, her love –  her dad.

Her face said it all – her bubble had burst. Her dad wasn’t invincible, after all. He was dead.

Her dad couldn’t do everything, after all. They always learn later, but it wasn’t time yet, for her to know that.

Growing into young men and women, through their rebellious teenaged years,  everyone learns of the flaws and imperfections of their precious dads. Maybe they continue to love them despite their flaws.

As a son, I remember when I looked up to my dad that way. And then, I discovered he wasn’t as perfect as I thought he was. I disrespected him sometimes as an angry teen. And then, I grew further. I could now see him in full. If the love I had for him as a child was like that of an animal, blind and complete, where I would rather get hit by a brick than have a pin prick him, it was now total love with him with reason – the man, the human being, the father, the husband, the brother, with full knowledge of all his imperfections amidst his strengths. Father-and-Son1

My dad the husband has shown us children a beautiful marriage with our mother. My parents have long conversations. He jokes with her, he lightens her up and tries to please her when she’s upset. He has been a mountain of support –  physical, emotional, financial to my mother when she recovered from cancer.

My dad the brother is someone my uncles, aunts and cousins rely upon for support. Everyone in the extended family goes to my dad for advice, help and mediation.  As I play that role in my circle of friends, I wonder if it’s It’s something I learned from him.

My dad the father has been more amazing than anybody I knew – he pushed all of us toward academic success – my three siblings are medical doctors. Dad had a great career himself – our mother loves him for his industriousness, efficiency and hard work. My dad is a spiritual man. He encouraged and motivated us to give religion, Islam its importance in our lives. He didn’t force us, and he succeeded in what he wanted.  For the strict parents who forced a moral and religious code upon their children, we have seen how the good boys and girls in front of their parents have secret sinful lives hidden away from them.

My dad is street-smart. He fixes things.  He would rather wait an extra day before he calls a plumber, an electrician, a laborer, a mechanic or any other specialist, because he would like to fix it himself.

 I am twenty years older than that little girl, but I would still take anything to my dad to fix – my broken kites, my broken heart, my broken toys, my broken work, my broken spiritual life. That I live far away from him tempers with this wish to share with him, to ensure I don’t worry him with my problems.

My dad says he loves his daughters more than he’s loved his two sons. I smile, because I know my sisters love him immensely for he has given them every reason to love him as much as that little girl flying a kite loves her father.

 When an acquaintance asked me who in the present world I would like to emulate the most, my answer wasn’t Steve Jobs or Bill Gates like the others. It was my father, the employee, the husband, the father, the brother, the son.

My Grandpa is no more.

They were together for 70 years. And then they left this world together.

Abba Jaan followed Nani into the next world after just two weeks.

He had been sick for weeks; he was in his early 90’s. A month before that, I had broken into tears sharing with a friend my fears of his end.

Despite everything, there still was disbelief when I received the news. I was at the same place out-of-state as I was when I received news of grandma’s passing away.
I looked at the people laughing next to me with shock – how could they be laughing? Don’t they know they’re dying!? How much time do they have?

I can still meet him in Paradise, I consoled myself. “It’s Ramadhan – I’ll beg God to get everyone I love into Paradise.”

My Grandpa was a gem from a bygone era – of British and Royal India. He grew up in Coorg, a hill-station in South India – full of Coffee plantations, a part of India I have never seen. My earliest childhood memories of Abba Jaan include him gifting us fresh Coffee beans and honey from his farm when our family would visit him in Mysore.
He graduated from College in the erstwhile Princely State of Mysore in British India – a rare enough feat at the time that he was invited to dine at the Palace with other graduates with the Maharaja, the King of Mysore. His classmates in university made it big – the more financially sound of them continuing their education in Aligarh and outside of India, but Abba Jaan had to support a family, so he took up a desk job with the Government in Mysore.

He spoke British English, a lot different from what his grandchildren spoke. He was suave, handsome, well-dressed in Western dress pants and shirts and well-groomed. My mother and aunts would giggle about how he wouldn’t stop getting a haircut every two weeks and a neatly trimmed and shaped beard every so often no matter how old he got. In fact, it is when he stopped his regular hair cuts that my mother knew his end was coming. He worked out in a gym and played badminton with proper badminton attire – few men in his time were as “Western.” His refinement was not just in his physical appearance but in his manners and conversations. He was also very well-read, quoting European thinkers and writers, showing a lot more European Western influence as opposed to the American influence his later generations would come to have. I remember the jokes he would read to us from Urdu newspapers and his giggle.
An old man came face to face with a tiger in a forest which wanted to eat him. The old man reasoned with the tiger – I’m old, my blood is cold. Why don’t you go there where you could have a younger man? The Tiger says it’s very hot these days in the summer. I would like some cold blood!

The jokes may not always have been rib tickling funny, but his giggle was what made us laugh and smile.

His interest in history and politics meant Abba Jaan and I were natural conversation partners. I would love how he would wait for me so we could talk. I listened with relish as he described historical events. He was deeply pained by the Second Iraq war, enough that for a brief while, we thought he was losing his mind as he argued over diametrically opposing points at different times, confusing everyone.
He was politically and religiously active, for which he had to seek an early retirement from his job during the persecution of all political opposition during the Emergency imposed on India by Indira Gandhi in 1975.

His only son tragically passed away relatively young, in front of an old father in a painful time for the family. If my Nana was known for his patience all his life, his repeated heart troubles and trips to the hospital in the months after that showed us his patience perhaps included  more of hiding his pain from the world than a lack of it. Two weeks before he died, he saw his lifetime companion pass away. No one knew what he went through. He was silent. Was he in pain? Did he understand? Is he grieving?

Nouman Ali Khan shared exactly what was on my mind – ” I look back and half of Ramadan is over in the blink of an eye. Before I know I’ll be saying that about my entire life.”   I can already see myself following in the footsteps of my father, and my grandfather, and time is unstoppable. My thinning hair is a daily reminder for when I forget.  Before I know it, I will have to face my Lord with what I accomplished in this world. Will I be ready? What will people remember me for?

Time to pull up my socks in the few remaining days in Ramadan.

My Grandma died today.

Our beloved Nani, Ammi Jaan. I didn’t know her by name, true to Indian culture.

Ammi Jaan was one of the simplest, most clear-hearted women I have  known, of the kind that otherwise is only part of Indian folklore about the people of old. She loved her family and wanted everyone to live together, nearby, in the same hamlet, in the same town, close to each other. What’s the point of your education, she said, or your job, if it moves you away from those you love. I have been away from my family for a long time – over nine years now. And almost every time I saw her, she would hint at how I should move back in with my family. You should open a “shop,” a doctor’s office in her language, in Mysore, she said, of my sister and her husband, doctors in the UK, so they could live close to family.  . She raised my sisters when our family was away. They have many more fond memories of her than I do – her Dosa with extra ghee, her walking to my sister’s school for two miles every afternoon to give her a fresh, hot lunch, her loving smile.

Ammi Jaan knew no malice. She was delightfully innocent. To her, the world was full of kindness, empathy and care, just the way she was. When I talk about  caring for others, she’s on top of my mind as someone who embodied unconditional love when she cared.  She grew up in a now-small village of Srirangapattanam, where everyone knew each other. Contrary to other parts of India that saw Hindu-Muslim clashes, people were simple, nice and loving here, best known for one of India’s greatest heroes in the 18th century, Tipu Sultan, who fought the British colonial forces and brought in new technological innovations. She took great pride in her hero, and spoke of how, if Tipu Sultan had continued to rule, Srirangapattanam would have been  London. Of course, London still seemed the center of the world to her, having spent a significant part of her life at a time when the sun never set on the British Empire. As someone who loves history and wants to experience life the way others did, she was a treasure trove to me. She spoke of how everyone following the World War 2 on the radio thought Hitler would win, as the Luftwaffe were ravaging London.

Ammi Jaan was also deeply religious.  My sister said she pretended to sleep next to her while she prayed – she heard Ammi Jaan pray for every single person in the family several times a day. Her most painful time that I knew of, was when her only son, our Mamu, passed away young in front of her. She never seemed to recover mentally from the trauma. To those who cared for her, none more than my aunt, it was a painful period until her end. Her dementia worsened with time. Her prayers had become meaningless to those around her by now, because she forgot how to make the Muslim ritual prayer. She would ask the same question every five minutes, and ask silly questions, providing some comic relief and rest to an aunt who was otherwise overworked caring for her. She failed to recognize her own children and grandchildren many times. She perhaps never understood what my mom went through – in her long and painful cancer treatment. Near her end, she forgot how to swallow, or use the restroom. She had several health complications and was in considerable pain in her last days. My cousin talked of how, even at her end, Ammi Jaan would always answer queries about her health the same way – “Allah ka Fazal hai,” “Good, by God’s grace.” Her faith was embedded in her personality.

When they told me her days were numbered, deep inside, I felt that was probably the best for her- an end to her suffering. But God knows best, so I prayed for what was best for her. My mother had been very emotional. I didn’t know how to comfort her, but I decided to take the plunge anyway. Two minutes into my conversation with mom, when I talked about how Allah gives us what is best for us, she burst into tears and hung up. If I was calm about Ammi Jaan all this while, I was crying seeing my mother cry. It has been about a week since I have spoken with my mother, something that has happened very few times in life.

And then, the news came as I was driving out of state – Ammi Jaan  had passed away.   Hours into my long drive, I couldn’t hold back my tears, turned around and went back home.

In the messaging thread that I used to inform my cousins of her death, the previous message was of the birth of a baby in the family. It struck me how two consecutive messages for the family were about birth and death. That sums up the life of this world – it is but a brief period between birth and death. It is temporary.
Through the ups and downs in life over the past year, one lesson I have learned repeatedly has been simple – life goes on. And life ends when it is meant to. Old gives way to new, each with its own benefits and challenges. Until then, all we can do is make the best of our time and circumstances, preparing for an eternal life in future.

The prayer that I always make had found the best time for it – Ramadhan – may Allah unite all of us, everyone I love, in eternal paradise again. Amen.

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.

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.

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 …

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.

 

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!

“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 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

Image via Wikipedia

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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Osama Bin Laden is dead

It’s the talk of the town now – an hour and a half after news started spreading that Osama Bin Laden was killed in a firefight in Abbottabad, Pakistan (Abbottabad is sixty kilometers away from Islamabad, capital of Pakistan).  A headache the day after another hiking trip (saved for later) meant I stayed away from the television or computer for most of the day, and only came to know about this development when my entire Facebook newsfeed homepage was filled with status updates about the bloody end to a man with a bloody legacy. I tuned in just in time to see President Obama address the nation about the incident. He let us know that US intelligence got a lead on him a whole year earlier.

He wasn’t found in the rugged, tough and inaccessible tribal belt by the Afghanistan-Pakistan border unlike what we’ve been lead to believe all these years – he was found in the heart of Pakistan, in a suburb of the capital of the country, Islamabad.  I find this quite suspicious and might point to some sort of support from powerful elements in Pakistan because it is obviously hard for a man of such notoriety and recognizable face to escape attention from people around under normal circumstances within an urban setting.

This development is going to count as one of Obama’s big achievements and will certainly raise his stock in the days ahead. Had this happened closer to the elections, Obama would have hugely benefited from the immediate positive flow in his favor.

What needs to be taken care of now, is to protect anything that violent extremists that support Osama see as a target from reprisal attacks.

People are joking around about how Obama killed Osama.  If anyone missed this on FOX News last night,  there was a Freudian slip by the newsreader when he said “President Obama …telling the nation and the world .. President Obama in in fact dead…” . It’s already up on YouTube:

“Desi Wedding Guide”

Desi (“They-see”; Indian/Pakistani origin ) marriages are a complicated thing, but the process is about to be more streamlined than ever. Now you know which path you are headed towards if you can find your place in the flow chart below.

(I don’ t really know who owns this picture to ask for permission , but I’m going to go ahead and share it here anyway. It’s going viral :-))

An obsession called Cricket and the World Cup

Last week was one of the rare extended periods of time when I generally stayed away from news channels and news websites, and of course from a lot of my school work  – blame the Cricket World Cup craze.  I was like, “wait, what ? Why are hundreds of people finding my blog looking for something to read on a burned Koran ? Oh, here it is, Pastor Jones burned the Quran and there are riots in Afghanistan.” I’m saving this story for another time.

Cricket World Cup media

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I hadn’t really followed or watched cricket for years now, but when India and Pakistan were playing in the World Cup semifinals, the frenzy and excitement among South Asians was as high as it could get – and some of it got to me too. I can only imagine the craze back in India and Pakistan for the world cup and this match. Indian and Pakistani media coverage was pathetically silly, stupid and biased, at least from the reports I saw on YouTube shared on Facebook. Prime-ministers from the rival countries were to watch the game together !

So much so, a South Asian student organization in my school arranged a screening of the semifinal game on a big screen and I did not let go of this opportunity.  Indians had an amazing time cheering  every dropped catch ( Yes, Pakistan dropped as many as four catches that would have got Sachin Tendulkar, the best batsman in the world, out) and every boundary or a six, and then later on, at every Pakistani wicket that fell when India were bowling. Pakistani wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal was a butt of jokes too after his horrendous performance, dropping more catches than he caught. His pickup line ? “Where can I drop you ?”


When Pakistan finally lost the match to India,  I did not lose any opportunity to have fun rubbing it into my Pakistani friends’ faces.  Most of them wouldn’t really care, but these were abnormal times.  And many of them would only say that the match was fixed. Losers! :-)

For most of my Pakistani friends (and I’m sure this is true the other way round too), regardless of whether Pakistan can win the World Cup or not, India should not win it. Not surprisingly, there were fervent Pakistani prayers that India lose the final against Sri Lanka.

I went to see the Final  match screening on a big screen with a bunch of die-hard Indian fans this time, and it was a dream come-true for them when Indians were world champions after a wait of twenty-eight years. The celebrations went on for days, and they still cannot stop gloating about it on Facebook.

Pakistani captain Afridi was large-hearted and accepted defeat, saying India played better.  He also won many Indian hearts when he questioned Pakistani special rivalry with India in cricket pointing out how Pakistanis watch Indian television serials, how Indian movies play in their theaters, how they adore Indian movie stars, eat Indian food, and yet oppose India this way.

And then, again, Pakistani media was at its best – the Final match was fixed, they said, only to have angry and abusive comments by Indian fans on such reports.

I enjoyed myself the whole time from the company of the people I was with and the frenzy around, not to mention by poking fun at friends whose favored teams lost.

We now have a billion people celebrating on one side and so is their diaspora, and millions on the other side of the border mourning. Both of these over  eleven people who rotated a piece of wood in a park somewhere.

I hope the hundreds of millions of Indians who sleep hungry and live on less than a dollar a day had a real reason to celebrate, and the millions of Pakistanis in poverty had a real reason to mourn.

 

 

Hiking at Great Falls, VA

I have always loved traveling and holidaying – and spring break was here.  This was sounding like another perfect opportunity for a get-away.  A bunch of friends had already been planning a four-day hiking and fun trip at Great Smoky Mountains in NC and TN, Charleston, SC and Savannah, GA since weeks and were insisting that I join them.  Another group of friends from a different place was planning a single day hiking trip at Great Falls, VA.

At any other point of time in my 20+ history (okay, at least from my high school days ),  these twin opportunities would have driven me crazy with excitement and would have been akin to me licking both chocolate and vanilla cone ice-creams alternately in the campus dining hall whenever I eat there.

But these were extraordinary times what with my graduation (for the second time) being months away. Desperate (well, not really desperate) times call for desperate measures. I had tons of work to complete to ensure that I meet deadlines and spring break was a nice opportunity to get up to speed.

I am usually the one planning all these trips but I was hesitating to even join either of them this time.  It was a constant battle between my holidaying desires and my common sense, but the former had a partial victory when I finally decided to go ahead only with the one-day hiking trip, much to the disappointment of my fellow hikers planning the four-day trip.

Most of us going hiking at Great Falls, VA were fellow “desis” (pronounced as they-see, for those who don’t know, and refers to Indians/Pakistanis in the west) – and we desis are legendary as far as being late  and disorganized is concerned.   So, we finally managed to START our four-car convoy towards our destination at 11:30 AM. At least the days were longer at this time of the year.

We took the River Trail that would give us a good view of the Potomac all through the hike. It was just 3.0 miles, and substantially less challenging and shorter than my previous hike at Shenandoah Valley late November/early December, 2010.   But we kept stopping at short intervals for those extensive photo sessions, pushing and shoving each other, and when possible, throwing water on each other and took hours to complete it.  Damn those cameras, every beautiful view and every step has become a potential picture for the photographic minds that some of us armed with cameras have.  This is similar to how every event in life is a potential Facebook status for those Facebook-addicted people.  How about just enjoying the scenery?

Sometimes, I find it quite peaceful and satisfying to just sit there at a rock in the middle of the forest with a blank mind all by myself, taking all the beauty in and observe the less conspicuous things around – there is so much detail that it makes you sit back and wonder in amazement what the world is about and why we are here in this world in the first place; and how disconnected we have become to this world thanks to our daily routine in an artificial world we have created for ourselves.   But when you’re going in a group, it is often hard to find this time alone.

After we completed the first hike, we decided to try another trail since there was some daylight left – we went further for fifteen minutes only to turn back when we realized that the second hike would take us way too far from where our cars were parked, and we obviously had to be back before it was dark.

All in all, we all had an awesome time and I was glad I joined in.  It is another matter that now being  the week after spring break, I still have work left-over from what I had planned to complete during the break.

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“My awkward moments in Muslim prayer”

When it’s time for one of those five ritual prayers in a day that we Muslims have to offer,  and we are at a place far  from the safe comfort zones of homes and/or mosques -out shopping, or at work or school, it becomes a challenge to have to pray at a place where others might see you praying and prostrating and may not understand what you are up to.

The hesitation may just have more to do with our own thought process , of fear and of shame, embarrassment etc., and of being judged. Some do not want to express their Muslim identity in public and keep it under wraps, while others find it awkward to do anything that would appear weird in public and attract attention.  Most others are just too scared to pray in public – wondering how the authorities and/or owners of the place they want to pray in  might react.
It is also true in a few cases, the establishment frowns upon public prayers on their premises- my own niece gathered enough courage to start praying the afternoon prayer at her school  and after a few days, she was asked to stop.

Most ritual prayers, called Salaah, prayed at five different times of the day last from five to fifteen minutes at most depending on the devotion to God felt at each time and the time we have on our hands.  But some of those five minutes of prayer have been real anxious ones for me many a times, with a heart beating fast and hope that  no one enters my lab when I’m praying, no one comes to where I’m praying at the library or that corner of the shopping store.

An article on salon.com linked below has a hilarious account of the author trying to pray in a Gap store’s trials room in a hurry when there are just fifteen more minutes remaining before the time ends.  When people see your head on the floor from outside the fitting room, it could spell problems – you know, like, they may think you’re having a heart attack or something ?

My awkward moments in Muslim prayer.

Making A Default Positive Assumption about People

I have been troubled by some people being in a hurry to make negative conclusions about others and judge them. I find them guilty of double standards while they judge, since they would talk about applying rules when it concerns others, while asking for understanding their intentions when it concerns themselves.

 I was taught that Islam asks us to avoid suspicion of people, and the Quran says that some suspicions are sinful. Scholars have asked us to think positively of an apparently sinning person when possible, so that “the hearts are free from resentment and that people will be brought together and will cooperate in doing good.”

 Umar (RA), among the best of Muslims,  said: “Do not think badly of a word uttered by your brother, when you can find a good interpretation for it.”

 I would make a default assumption of the good nature of people, and try to work with the assumption that people are good and do no wrong, even in the face of actions that seemingly fly in the face of their professed good nature. I would think in terms of excuses and explanations, and refrain from rushing to negatively judge someone’s  character. Faraz Rabbani, a Canadian scholar recently quoted one of our pious predecessors, Hamdun AlQassar as asking us to make seventy excuses for an apparently sinning person, putting it metaphorically.

Winter trip to the UK and India

After a grueling Fall semester in school, I got to get away from this place for a five-week long holiday and visit friends and family in two countries – the United Kingdom and India.

People are often surprised when they hear about how much my family and my extended family is spread out over three continents. A few days before I left, one of my lab-mates expressed his awe at how much of the world people like me have got to see. I told him that going to and living in different parts of the world has widened my horizons,  and that people who haven’t lived in different places tend to have skewed understandings of other parts of the world. They tend to believe more in stereotypes and are easier to fall prey to propaganda about other nations and cultures. No, Muslims don’t actually worship a black box in the middle of the desert and don’t actually kiss the ground five times a day !
Well, this guy did not actually say that (Yusuf Estes did in one of his lectures ), but he did have some of the wrong but popular impressions about Arabs and the brown people, and he’s always been in the area between Indiana and the east coast.

After a Christmas day shutdown in London when I landed, I had little to do but sleep at a friend’s place.  It was just my poor luck that my next and final day in London was going to be a strike-day for the London underground metro workers and none of the tube trains would be working.  A Brit replied to a ranting me: “Welcome to London”.
Apparently, strikes are not too uncommon here.

I still enjoyed riding the jam-packed double decker buses for the first time, but long waiting times for buses, higher walking time  towards stops, and a very early sunset meant I could cover only so many places. Our group got to be at  The Tower bridge, London Bridge, the aquarium, London eye, Piccadilly Circus, Liverpool station, ice-skating near the London eye , Trafalgar Square in the dark,  London Central Mosque’s closed gates and Madamme Tousadd’s closed doors.  At least I could tame a huge lion and sit upon its back – so what if it was a statue in Trafalgar square and the pictures were crappy in the night ?

Generally overcast skies and dull weather had me humming “Welcome to Seattle” as my next few weeks were spent visiting relatives and friends in Manchester, Blackburn, Cardiff, Liverpool etc. interspersed with visits to local attractions in these cities, the best being the museums in Manchester. I would recommend the Nawab restaurant in downtown Manchester to anyone who wishes to have the best of desi food in the area.(UK for me).

Next stop, Bangalore, has always been my absolute favorite city in India despite my allergies, the pollution and the heavy traffic.  Mysore, an erstwhile royal city in the south also had a bunch of relatives I had to visit and was my next stop. The Mysore Palace was definitely a better structure than the more famed Buckingham palace.  A musical fountain show in Bangalore a few hours before I had to board my flight back home was my last stop and provided for my last few hours until a long time with  some of the most beloved people in my life.
Pending work at school was enough motivation for me to gather enough courage to control my emotions as I headed back home.

I arrived back to a warm welcome by the customs and border protection folks at the airport, who opened all my bags and searched every inch, all the while asking questions about the books (most of them on Islam) that I had bought during my trip.
Okay, it has been enough procrastinating. Heading back to my work now. I’ve added a few pictures from my trip below.

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Snow brings holidays

We had the first legit snow of the season today, but that was (un)fortunately not enough to postpone the two exams that I had. The exams were not bad anyway, and I am glad to be  done with them. It’s never a good thing to have to suffer from postponed exams and an extended period of pre-exam tension.

We had an entire week off this February when we had three snowstorms in a week. Those who know me would point out that getting locked down at home for snow or whatever is among  the worst things that could happen to me. I just love getting out of the house, and go places.  This one time , I ventured out with my camera when there was a heavy snowstorm accompanied by 80kmph winds – it was indeed a crazy thing to do and people pleaded with me not to -but that was something that gave me the kick. At 125 lbs, there was a good chance that I could have been blown away, and be ‘gone with the wind’ !

Now that my winter break is about to commence, I am so looking forward to my trip abroad and continue challenging the snow and freezing temperatures, only this time in Europe. And then, to some warm weather !

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One down, three to go.

It is that time of the year when finals are in full swing. When  there is one skipped meal after another and one sleepless night before the next.

The first exam/ demonstration yesterday turned out to be much pleasant and easier than I had imagined. The professor was like “you guys were awesome…… Awesome job ! Awesome….and another awesome repeated at the end. Of course, the presentation was interspersed with other compliments too.

Well, we know  how our job was so NOT out of the ordinary. We know he was being nice, and that making a good presentation made us project what was in fact a pebble to be a mountain. Lessons learned:

1) Pay more attention to presentation than the actual meat of a project – you know, like designing the front end  and stuff when you are short on time. Makes a huge difference.

2) Be verbose and take ten sentences to convey what could have been done in one sentence.

3)Do not procrastinate ! Get your exams done before others in your class show their’s. If not, the examiner would start making mental comparisons between your work and that of others.  And of course, starting your work sooner helps ! But I’ve been saying that to myself most of my life though. Not that it has helped me in getting my work done anytime before the 11th hour.

4)It helps when your professor knows little about your project domain.

Off to the other mega-exams now !