6

Me

Words. They're good for description, for describing a character. A character like me. I am male and slightly shorter than average. The eyes behind my glasses, which have rectangular lenses, are brown. Although my ears are finally proportional to my head - which had a lot of catching up to do in terms of growth not too long ago - they still earn me the occasional snide comment or two. I guess they're just different, despite the fact that I cannot exactly say how. I like my teeth. It would be sad to be dissatisfied with your teeth after having them caged in metal braces for almost two years. I dislike my voice. At least it doesn't normally sound as bad as it sounds over the phone. And through a microphone. And in video recordings.

Words. You can paint pretty pictures of people with them but that is all you end up with - an image, two dimensional and lifeless. Words cannot define people. The fingers of our experiences and the actions we consequently take shape the wet clay that we are. They mold us as they brush over us, leaving the eternal proof of their passage behind for all to see, etched in our character.

I am defined by the sound of a camera shutter as it opens and closes and by the time that stretches between the two clicks, time that is both not more than a heartbeat and longer than several deep breaths. I am defined by the reassuring feeling of the pen in my hand and by the ecstasy it brings when cruising along a sheet of paper. I am defined by overcast days when the trees look greener against the granite grey sky and when a single breeze can be both warm and cool at the same time. I am defined by the smell of rain, of freshly brewed coffee, and of bookshops, pine trees and toast. I am defined by crisp winter mornings with dust motes dancing in the sunlight. I am defined by chocolate and ice cream, how they melt in my mouth, and by cheesecake - only during the time between when I cut myself another slice and when I scold myself for eating it. I am defined by the happiness that comes from getting the amounts of ginger, soy sauce and wasabi just right while eating sushi. I am defined by the manic passion that grips me when I find an interesting book, by how it causes me to cease existing in this realm for a time as it pushes me to read on and by how it suddenly gets replaced by overwhelming emptiness as soon as I turn the last page.
4
An undulating mass of people, vehicles and bloated shopping bags throngs the street, every square inch of it. We're all looking outside the windows of our car, our eyes sweeping for a potential parking spot. No luck. There's no space at all.

"We shouldn't have come this early."

I check the digital display of the clock on the dashboard. It's 1:30 AM.

My parents stare wide-eyed at all the activity going on around us. I hear someone mutter the word deewanapan. I sigh inwardly. After living in Karachi for so long, I wonder how anyone could still be amazed by this. This is Karachi. The city that never sleeps.

We find a place to park in some random gali and then proceed to pick our way through the muddy, post-rain streets as we walk towards the restaurant (read: dhaaba). It's a shabby place. Only men lounge about on the ground floor. There's also some tables upstairs, 'for families only.' We make our way up a flight of marble steps. The din of people and cutlery meets my ears. There's no space to breathe. It's 2 AM now. A family of about seven suddenly gets up from their table, done with their food. We rush to grab their seats.

The table isn't exactly a pleasant sight. It's littered with used napkins, spilled water, bits of bread and the occasional squeezed lemon. A waiter appears and hurriedly sweeps the stuff aside with a dirty wet rag. We take our seats, careful not to rest our elbows on the table and order our food. Another waiter brings out a silver pitcher full of water and some glasses. We look at each other and order mineral water; small bottles so nobody has to use the glasses. The food arrives almost instantly. The steaming hot nihari and the crispy naan fresh out of the tandoor are delicious. Of course it's not easy eating while making sure nothing touches the table.

I look about the room. Most people sit comfortably cross-legged, with their slippers on the floor and their plates in their laps. I feel out of place with my bright green Converse shoes and my thoughts forming in English.
8
It's funny, in that utterly un-amusing way, how life suddenly steps in and forces you to change your perspective. It's funny how one minute you're bitching to yourself about how tough life has become, about how hectic your A2 year is, about how college applications, SATs, the tons of homework you get, and the many extra curricular activities you've somehow wound up with are slowly tearing away at your essence and then the next minute you realize how trivial and petty your grievances are and how you cannot even begin to imagine what some people might be going through that day.

It's also funny how no one is laughing.
3
Food eaten. Dishes done. Chairs pushed back, squealing in protest, until they hug the dining table once more. We wait.

The smell of fried eggs hangs in the air. The dark sky won't turn blue until the sirens announce dawn. All is still. We wait. 

The wind playfully tousles a tree. A lone car glides along the street outside making soft splashing sounds as it wades through a small puddle reminiscent of the last time Karachi pretended to have a tropical climate. All is silent once more. We wait. 

Stress does not exist in this limbo between yesterday and today. It would be nice to wait here forever.    
3

Apologies From Us

Happy birthday, Pakistan. Another year has gone by and you've pulled through. You're sixty-three now, but only in age. You haven't really made any progress in these past six decades. And for that, I - no, we - are sorry.

We're sorry for not seeing problems while they unfolded, for not nipping them at the bud, and for letting them grow into the thorny, parasitic vines they've become today. We're sorry for not seizing power away from the feudal elements right at the beginning when we should have. We should have been suspicious of them from the start. Most of them had been Unionists only until the Congress declared that it would abolish all princely states and what not. Was it not obvious that they would choose to cling to their power until hell froze over? But we put up with them at the time, perhaps because we needed their support, which was fine. But we should have taken action afterwards. The descendants of these very people still hold the country in a deathly vice-grip, denying those under them basic human rights and considering themselves above all forms of law. We should have foreseen this.

We're sorry. Sorry for not having our priorities right, for keeping our heads down and minding nothing but our own business. True, many of us had left everything we had in India and needed stability. Stability is important, agreed, but is there such as thing as financial stability in a land teetering at the precipice? We're sorry for screwing shut our eyes, ears and mouths and ploughing on while the ignorant were left to twist our religion, our beliefs, and our traditions beyond recognition into something brutal and horrifying.

We're sorry for turning you into a training ground for a war that wasn't yours. That really was a boneheaded move for us.

We're sorry for becoming numb to the crime and corruption around us, for accepting it as part of who we are for 'this is Pakistan, this is how it is here' and for only worrying about the taint ruining our clothes and that within our boundary walls.

We could list hundreds of grievances you have every right to hold against us; one meager blog post couldn't contain it all. The point is, we're sorry for pointing our fingers anywhere but towards ourselves. This is our fault, all of it.
2
I love standing by the large window in my room after sehri with my ear pressing again its slightly damp jaali as I try to separate the sounds from the kitchen and the fan whining about the fluctuating voltage from those coming from outside. Are those the first sounds of the azaan? No, you idiot, that's just a plane.

I love the deep, intoxicating sleep that embraces you once you've stuffed your face at 4 in the morning. I hate waking up from such a sleep to go to school. It is the hardest part of fasting for me. 

Dates are overrated. The eating kind, I mean.
3

Monotonous

The moon and sun rise and sink
In a never ending cycle
'Tis their fate to live a thousand lives
And die as many deaths
Forever onlooking the earth
And the humans' self-destruction
2

Crumbling

What do you do when the pillar that stood strong and firm all your life, the pillar you imagined would stay that way forever, begins to show signs of age? What do you do when you see cracks in its once flawless surface? You probably always had a feeling, deep down, that one day that pillar would no longer be there to keep the sky  from crashing down on you, but what do you do when you realize that it crumbles faster than you thought it would? What do you do when you realize that the day the pillar finally falls isn't obscured by the unfathomable mists of the future but could be tomorrow?
3

Small Things



During our first few days here in Boston, we went to a place called Quincy Market. While browsing through some of the stalls, we bumped into a young woman wearing a headscarf. She gave my mother one of the sunniest smiles I have ever seen. “That,” my mother informed me, grinning, “was the smile of familiarity.”
The weather here is really unpredictable. I have seen more rain that I usually do all year back at home, experienced temperatures I would call cold and still managed to get a tan.
It has been really cloudy the past couple of days. I enjoy staring at the swirls of white and grey drifting dreamily through the sky. I was doing that one day while on the bus, when the clouds parted slightly and warm sunlight fell straight on my face. Just my face. The fact that hundreds of tons of gases reacted in the Sun, creating light and heat which travelled for over eight minutes through the nothingness of space just to fall on my face makes me feel quite special.
Extremely crowded trains can be awkward. With so many human bodies forced into a tin can (of sorts) it is not possible to find a direction to look in without making someone feel that you might be staring at them. Looking up and down aren’t exactly solutions either. With the former, you may end up staring up the armpit of the tall guy who decided to wear a sleeveless vest that day. With the latter, you might get distracted by someone’s bright green nail polish or worse, miss your stop because you weren’t paying attention.
McDonald’s fruit smoothies are divine.
It is okay to wear your pants low if you want to. It is not okay to wear your pants low if you’re not wearing underwear and insist on standing in the bus and holding on to the rubber loops which makes your t-shirt ride up. Nobody wants to see the moon during the day.
It amazes me how freely people can talk in public spaces such as on a train or in the bus. Or perhaps I am the kind of person who doesn’t talk freely enough. Either way, I have overheard some rather interesting conversations such as the argument between a couple where the woman refused to take a shower until the man did something about the mould growing there. Weirder still was when a man told his friend how he liked women who weren’t ‘girly girls’ and admitted that he often attracted lesbians (though that bit didn’t make much sense to me).
I am compiling a list of things I’d like to do this week before I leave for home. I think a visit to Cheesecake Factory tops the list.
During the long bus ride from where I live to the subway station, I pass through a street called Myopia Street. I always wonder if Retinal Detachment Avenue or Cataract Road are nearby.

4

Black Coffee and Cigarette Smoke

Last night I had a Facebook chat conversation with a friend - one who I haven't talked to a lot and don't know very well, either. It was close to dawn and I guess the conversation sprung out of the need to do something other than stare out into space while waiting for the arrival of the ever-elusive neend. It wasn't a trivial discussion. We exchanged condensed outlooks of life in our points-of-view and talked about how we thought fate worked. It was solid, intellectual stuff. As she tossed aside phrases such as 'men, museums and culture' I could not help but recognize an old soul in my verbal companion. In my overly imaginative, sleep-deprived mind's eye, I could even picture a young woman in an old-fashioned dress complete with a veiled bonnet mouthing those words at me, one finger tracing the brim of her teacup, a cigarette holder in her other hand.

Before I start sounding smitten, I'll move over to what really inspired me to write this post.

Towards the end of the conversation, I was told that, from the way I wrote, I could be the editor of some top-notch newspaper. Someone classy. And it was at that that my mind's eye went jittery and I experienced an almost palpable vision of myself in a crisp, grey suit, sitting at a handsome desk of polished, gleaming wood, a newspaper opened smartly in front of me and steam curling from a cup of black coffee sitting on the side. I could smell the aroma of the coffee and hear the hustle and bustle of people flooding the streets of Manhattan outside and the 'extra extra' of a boy at a nearby newspaper stand.

What struck me most was how there was an appeal to this no number of visions of myself peering into the depths of a microscope or mixing liquids in test tubes have had.

I guess what this made me realize was the fact that an infinite amount of possibilities lies ahead of me and I should not write off any avenues as closed. I am not untalented. I have promise. The world is my oyster.
5

Emergence

So yeah, I started a blog. Here it is. I've been meaning to start one for a long time but I never really came around to doing it. I guess I never really needed one; I have blogged for as long as I can remember, not in digital form, and most certainly not on paper, oh no - my perfectionist self would maim too many sheets of precious paper before I'd be able to produce an 'acceptable' amalgam of my thoughts. I've always done it in my head, etching each vague, amorphous idea into the inside of my skull in sentences complete with parentheses and semi-colons.

Lately, however, I haven't been able to treat every single stray thought in this way. The unlucky ones saturate my brain, randomly materialising every now and then, screaming at me to chronicle them so that they may rest in peace. I'm ashamed to say, 'There is just too much going on,' because there is not. I have probably made myself permeable to the screams of these thoughts so I may divert myself from the haunting calls that resonate from the pile of textbooks making my desk groan at this very moment.

I am letting trivial things grab my attention so I don't have to face the important ones glaring right at me. Important is such an objective word. Important for me? Important for my future? Probably, but only as long as I am part of the system.

But now that the ugly monster has come so close, ignoring it would be sheer stupidity. Only the fit and the well-prepared survive in this world. I must stop my rambling and take the bull by the horns.

Perhaps this will be where the moaning phantoms that endlessly haunt the passages of my mind will be put down to rest.

 
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