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.

 

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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.

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.

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.

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 …

Hook Up with God, God will Hook You Up!

Hook Up with Allah, Allah will Hook You Up

This was a beautiful article that I read on a blog that I follow.  I recommend this blog to everyone – I found  the posts on personality development and relationships on this website extremely useful .  I just made my friend who started the topic of marriage again for the nth time with me to read this. Find the article here

It’s just my poor luck that  a lot of people I surround myself with are older than me and are actively looking for the one meant for them for marriage, so there’s no surprise they always raise the topic. Though I always dismiss even the remotest of thoughts on marriage or companionship as soon as it comes to my mind, I do know, that deep inside, I feel the need for companionship with someone close, with whom I can share joys, sorrows and frustrations, and open my heart out. But I am strong enough to keep myself in check – I know I still don’t want to marry for quite some time now and I’m not going to have the so-called platonic relationships with anyone from the opposite gender too as a compromise. Prayers, friends and blogging be my companions till then :)

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