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.

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.

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.

Tell People How much They Mean to You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—-

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

What Valentine’s Day means to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not for anything else.

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

A dream.

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

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

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

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

If there is indeed such a life, I  seek thee.

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.

Do we really want to live forever ?

A couple of years back, I used to look at people who were concerned about getting old with contempt. You know, of the kind who spent a fortune for every cosmetic cream on the market that promised them to look younger than they were. For one – that would be deceiving people (we’re even discouraged from dyeing grey hair black so we do not deceive )and two – why were they ashamed of their age ? I mean,  everyone will get old and will die one day no matter what.  They could die from a car accident on the way back home from the mall they just bought the cream from.  This life is so temporary.  They’d rather focus the same anxiety to ensure that they utilize every iota of time that they get so they would have no regrets about having missed opportunities  later on as the hours and years pass.

Hypocritically, I am now feeling the heat as I grow older and older , now that I am no longer the teenager who had the world before him  and a great potential for the future; well that future is almost here, and I am under pressure to fulfill those dreams I had back then. Not all things went according to script in this phase, and I want time to freeze so I can catch up. Perhaps, it is some similar kind of feeling with those middle-aged uncles who have a mid-life crisis of sorts about what they are doing with their lives. The aunties who indulge in age-hiding are just worried that they are no longer  “attractive” to the opposite sex.

But, I digress. I read this article on the BBC  about scientific research and interest into halting or reversing the process of aging. And the desire in some people to remain alive – perhaps young, forever and ever.

“Truly, the life of this world is nothing but a [quick passing] enjoyment, and verily, the Hereafter that is the home that will remain forever.” [Qur’an, 40:39]

The lack of belief in any life after death (or the certainty of hell after death :-) ) may make us never want to die.  Why not spend the time we get here to prepare for this everlasting life after death ?  Having a good job and family, a lawful income,  a good life of satisfaction and happiness, helping others, and thankfulness to God  would make great preparation for the hereafter – and certainly make a great life on this earth too !

Habits that Will Change your Life

Here is an article that was shared on a social networking website by someone I know. I found the advices here so good,  I knew immediately I had to start taking some of these seriously, and of course, share it with my folks. Interestingly, many of them featured in my own list I came up with a few months ago in a not-so public post on this blog – I will try to edit them in into this post as and when I get time.

This is an ‘uncopyrighted’ article, and so there is (apparently) no harm in reproducing it :) . You can find the original article HERE.


Developing good habits is the basic of personal development and growth. Everything we do is the result of a habit that was previously taught to us. Unfortunately, not all the habits that we have are good, that’s why we are constantly trying to improve.

The following is a list of 30+ practical habits that can make a huge difference in your life.

You should treat this list as a reference, and implement just one habit per month. This way you will have the time to fully absorb each of them, while still seeing significant improvements each month.

Islamic Habits

1.Pray 5 times a day. From pre-sunrise, to the afternoon, evening, the after-sunset and the night  prayers. It  takes just 15 minutes each time. And this is related to 4. and 6. from the  Productivity  and Personality development  habits down below.

2.Read the Qur’an and it’s translation/commentary every day for 15 minutes, after the early morning,  pre-sunrise prayer. Wonderful way to start the day, with guidance from the Sustainer of the worlds. Helps you make a good and positive frame of mind for the rest of the day.

Health habits

  1. Exercise 30 minutes every day. Especially if you don’t do much movement while working, it’s essential that you get some daily exercise. 30 minutes every day are the minimum recommended for optimal health.
  2. Eat breakfast every day. Breakfast is the more important meal of the day, yet so many people skip it. Personally, I like to eat a couple of toasts in the morning along with a fruit beverage.
  3. Sleep 8 hours. Sleep deprivation is never a good idea. You may think that you are gaining time by sleeping less, when in reality you are only gaining stress and tiredness. 8 hours are a good number of hours for most people, along with an optional 20 minutes nap after lunch.
  4. Avoid snacking between meals. Snacking between meals is the best way to gain weight. If you are hungry, eat something concrete. Otherwise don’t. Update: for clarification, I mean don’t eat junk food between meals, but eating real food it’s ok.
  5. Eat five portions of fruits and vegetables every day. Our body and brain loves getting vegetables and fruit, so I highly recommend eating as much of them as possible. Five portions is the dose that’s usually recommended by many health associations.
  6. Eat fish. Fish is rich of omega 3 and other healthy elements. At least one meal per week of fish should be enough for getting all these nutrients.
  7. Drink one glass of water when you wake up. When you wake up, your body is dehydrated and needs liquid. Make the habit of drinking one glass of water after you wake up in the morning. Also, drink more during the day.
  8. Avoid soda. Soda is often one of the most unhealthy beverage you can find. Limit your consumption of soda as much as possible and you’re body will be grateful for that.
  9. Keep your body clean. I don’t advise spending your day in front of the mirror, but a minimum of personal care does never hurt.
  10. If you smoke, stop it. There’s no reason to smoke anymore, and quitting is easy.
  11. If you drink, stop it. Same as above. Don’t think that alcohol will solve your problems. It never does. The only exception is one glass of wine per day during meals.
  12. Take the stairs. This is just a hack that forces you to do a minimum of exercise. Instead of taking the elevator, take the stairs.

Productivity habits

  1. Use an inbox system. Make the habit of keeping track of all the ideas and things that comes to mind. You can use a notebook to do this, and then sync everything on your computer.
  2. Prioritize. If you have a list of things to do, where do you start? One way is to prioritize your list. If you are in doubt, ask yourself: “If I could only accomplish one thing today, what would it be?”
  3. Plan, but not too much. Planning is important, and you should decide in advance what you are going to do today or this week. However, planning for more than a few weeks is usually inefficient, so I would not worry too much about that.
  4. Wake up early. Waking up early in the morning is a great way to gain extra time. I personally like to wake up at 5 am, so that by 9 am I have already accomplished what otherwise would have taken me many days..
  5. Check your email only twice per day. Email can easily become an addiction, but it’s usually unnecessary to check it every 10 minutes. Make an effort and check your email only once or twice per day, see if the world will still rotate as before after you try this.
  6. Eliminate unimportant tasks. Being busy all day does not mean you are doing important stuff. Eliminate every activity that’s not important, and focus on what really matters.
  7. Clean off your desk and room. Having a clear room and desk is important to maintain focus and creativity.
  8. Automate. There are a lot of tasks that you need to perform every day or every week. Try to automate them as much as possible.
  9. Set strict deadlines. When you do something, decide in advance when you’re going to stop. There’s a rule that states that you will fulfill all the time you have available for completing a task, so make an habit of setting strict deadlines for maximizing your productivity.
  10. Take one day off per week. Instead of working every day, take one day off per week (for example sunday) where you are not going to turn on your computer. Use that time for doing recreational activities like going for a walk.

Personal Development habits

  1. Read 1 book per week. Reading is a good way to keep your brain active. With just 30 minutes per day you should be able to read one book per week, or more than 50 books per year.
  2. Solve puzzles. Quizzes, word games, etc. are all good ways to exercise your brain.
  3. Think positively. You are what you think, all the time.
  4. Make fast decisions. Instead of thinking for one hour wherever you are going to do something, make your decisions as fast as possible (usually less than 1 minute).
  5. Wait before buying. Waiting 48 hours before buying anything is a tremendous money saver, try it.
  6. Meditate 30 minutes per day. A great way to gain clearness and peace is through meditation. 30 minutes are not a lot, but enough to get you started with meditation. ( Note by me – Islamic prayers 5 times a day, and the reading of the Qur’an make it 90 minutes a day. This is our version of ‘meditation’. Tremendous peace and tranquility is what I experience when I do it at least. )

Career habits

  1. Start a blog. Blogging is one of the best way to put your word out. It doesn’t have to be around a specific topic, even a personal blog will do.
  2. Build a portfolio. If your job is creating stuff, building a portfolio is a great way to show what you are capable of. You can also contribute stuff for free if that applies to your work.

What do you think? What are the habits that changed your life?