What Lies Beneath

You are someone else.

You know that.

In front of this world, there is a mask, (and) you are someone else, someone else.

Why aren’t you what you are?

For the world, don’t you forget yourself and oppress yourself.

Open those ties in which you have tied yourself.

 Speak up, that you are someone else. The faces that you wear, they are not yours..

Come out, open up everything.

Whatever is in your heart, tell everything.

Your paths are your dreams, which have been with you all your life. Embrace them.

Tell them who you are.

 Open these ties.

You are someone else, there are no limits for you, you are sky, you are a thought, you are matchless..

 You are a wave, you are brightness, you are what you wish.

– ‘TAMASHA’ Irshad Kamil.

 

 

On my fourth birthday my grandfather predicted that I would become a government officer. It was an off the cuff observation, given the nature of the occasion and the age/ mental state of the person he was making it about. But my grandfather stuck to his guns; he had seen enough to reach that decision and he was not going to budge. Apparently within the first four years of my existence, I had proven to him that bureaucracy was going to be my true calling.

I wasn’t very talkative and smiled even less and yet, he said my eyes seemed to miss nothing. This was too much information for a four year old to handle let alone understand. All I kept with me were the words government officer and the sense that this entity had some sort of super powers.

It was true that growing up I wasn’t the kid who told the best stories. But I certainly wrote the most imaginative ones. Writing came naturally to me. As if to compensate for my lazy tongue God had given me an over active mind and a prolific writing hand. In order to feed my starving mind, I developed over time a sharp eye for details and a keen nose for plot.

I don’t know if my grandfather’s remark turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophesy or weather he just saw something that was always in me before anyone else but as I grew up I found myself being pulled towards a career in the public sector.

Well, if I am being really honest, like, really reaaalllly-I-hope-my-parents-and-family-don’t-read-this honest, it was more push than pull.

I can still remember clearly the day my dad took me out for lunch when I had come for my O levels exams. By that time I had been in boarding school for three years but this was the first time I was having a one-one-one grown up ‘business lunch’ with my father. Every son worth his salt looks up to his dad and strives to live up to their expectations. I was no different; having endured hundreds of hours slaving over Mathematics (which might as well have been in Latin for all I understood) I had finally succeeded in securing admission in Cadet College Hasan Abdal (one of the premiere boarding schools in the country and my father’s Alma mater). In my adolescent mind, I had finally won, I could now rest.

Then ‘disaster’ stuck in the form of a younger brother forever shattering my ‘only son’ hegemony. Years later, I would realize that although I love my brother but his arrival had activated a medieval button in my mind which had triggered on an eternal quest to always gallop off on another quest to vanquish some foe and redeem myself in the eyes of my father as his true worthy successor. The same has been playing on and on in an infinite loop. It happens in every family more or less to some extent.

And so, back to my lunch with my dad.

As I munched on my chicken cheese burger with fries, my dad asked me about my future career aspirations. Now any fifteen year old will tell you what the standard response to such query when it comes from a grown-up is to be; go for the vetted (read: socially acceptable) career choice. In my case the answer should have been the Army (my father was a proud soldier) or the Civil Services (fulfilling my grandfather’s prediction).

Having already proved my worth three years ago by getting admitted to Hasan Abdal, I had gained enough leeway to let my father know that I just did not see myself in military fatigues. And he, with a father’s intuition (it is a thing) knew not to push. In fact he himself said on numerous times that his father wanted him to go in to the Civil Services too but the entrance exam was just too tough. In an interesting game of pass-the-wish, my father felt that if I cleared the exam and joined the Civil Services, he would in a way be living up to the expectations of his father and my grandfather.

Birds: 2

Stone:1

Me: stone

Little did I know at that time what I was putting myself in for. But then that’s the thing; we never know the consequence of our words until much later. At that time I was much more preoccupied in my chicken cheese burger and proving myself to my father. Both equally important and commendable. So long story short, I knew what my answer had to be; the Army (just to see dad light up) or the public sector).

I said neither, and went for the third option.

The truth.

I don’t know if it was the extra mayonnaise or my new-found ‘adult’ status but the operator inside my head whose duty it was to prevent me from blurting stuff out infront of grown-ups slipped up and I said that I wanted to be either a writer or a professional tennis player. As I was washing down the last of the burger with my Coke I saw my dad give me an exasperated look and with that our first man-to-man ended on a low.

Don’t you sometimes wish there was a chance to go back and rewrite our history? Or at the very least change some of the things you had done? Alas humans are not born with a button that restores us to our factory settings. As the years go by one starts looking backwards more than forward. Like a passenger on a train that is closer to its destination than its point of departure. Once you hit your mid-thirties nostalgia dressed as a ticket collector with his trusty partner Hindsight, starts visiting the various booths of your memory.

Every action of ours has a timeline and if you go back far enough you come to the point where you could have switched the tracks of the train and ended up on a different destination. Hindsight knows those points and once he finds out where you live, he visits regularly and demands that you answer him why did you not push the button. It is better that you have a response ready for he is a persistent bugger and can really get under your skin if you do not block him off at the outset.

They make a formidable pair. Nostalgia has the ‘good cop’ part down pat. He will show clearly how there had always been two passengers on the train, the part of you that you were always meant to me and the one you decided to be. There’s no malice or animosity in nostalgia’s mannerism when he exposes how you trapped the real you in the basement, sneaked food down to him but never let him out in to the light. Nostalgia just lays it out in the open.

Hindsight comes with the fangs. He sinks them into the flesh of your memory to lay bare the wound that had healed the first time you decided to suppress your true self. And he will not let up unless you have an air-tight case. For if he senses even the tiniest hint of regret on your part, Hindsight will not let you rest until you have resolved the issue or gone made tearing your hair out.

And so it was that time and time again, just when I had thought that I had learned to play the part of the government officer, I would look down at my official note pad and see the prologue to a story involving three brothers born in three different decades, while my boss would be giving me dictation on a letter to be written to the Agriculture department for the latest import procedures for cotton. As much as I tried or ignored, I could not kill him off. Over the years he kept planning his escape route through the various tunnels in my personality. Like Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption the writer in me has never given up on the dream of crawling through rivers of shit and finally walking out clean. Since I did not kill him off completely, I guess that makes me Morgan Freeman’s character. There isn’t much I can do besides silently hoping for the best.

For we are told that once the train leaves the station, whatever and whoever you decide to become is what you will be. There are no refunds or change of destination. In time I will reach my destination and then there will be no one to remember the stowaway I have been carrying with me.

He has been a good companion. Through him I have made sense of the world. Of love, life and everything else in between. So this is to you old friend; who knows what the future holds.

For now, scribble away.

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The Waiting Game

It was to be the perfect farewell.

I had the best heading in my mind for how I would write about it;

The Seven Year Bitch

It was going to be catchy, it was going to be poignant. And it would be killing two birds with one stone. I was getting out of a job that I knew was killing me, day by day, minute by minute. And I was getting out of it via the love of my life, writing.

And then I hesitated.

And another year passed.

The Eight Year eye-sore?

I didn’t quite feel the same pull. Let’s give it some more time, it’ll come to me.

And another year passed.

The Nine Year niggle?

When did the job go from becoming a bitch to just a niggle?! At which point had I finally given in to the inevitability of my fate? Was it when I ordered the second plate of oily samosa chat and wiped the stain off of the file which my senior had sent back with some minor (read: hair-tearing) corrections? Or was it the day I found myself finishing a sentence with the words, ‘For your kind approval, please?’ at home?

Whatever it was one thing had become certain, my mind had grown tired of dillydallying and decided on my behalf that I wasn’t going anywhere and so had thrown away its jeans and designer shirts and instead had let the gut hang out in the sarkari baboo suit. I was now institutionalized. No question about it

I am no longer the twenty year old who had the world at his feet. I have responsibilities now that prevent me from taking spur-of-the-moment decisions. And the cold hard facts are that after almost a decade in government service I am still not sure as to what additional capacities I have which would appear promising to a potential employer. The bureaucracy is a glorified post office and the best officers, the ‘shining stars’ are those who are able to ‘network’, move the letter quickly along. And that’s pretty much it, from what I have seen so far. But I could be wrong. I want to be wrong. That is perhaps the only reason why something holds me back. Maybe I am being myopic in my skepticism.

This too shall pass. And maybe I just have to ‘pay my dues’ until one day it will all come together. I can always quit, nobody’s holding a gun to my head.

And so another year passes.

The Ten Year Trauma?

Ice breaker

where did the years go

You spend all your time on this earth searching some meaning in life. And then one day, you find that all this time, life has been staring back at you.
Waiting for you to break the ice.
Sometimes, in fact almost always, all it takes is the first step.
Writings comes easily to me. Like all our other gifts that we are born with, I never really appreciated the joy of writing. Oh I knew I could work my way around a lengthy thesis; get a passable grade on almost zero preparation based solely on my ability to bullshit my way with words. But it’s only with the knowledge of one’s own mortality that one starts taking a more focused interest in one’s inventory.
For me writing enhances a world that otherwise I feel I’m not suited for. I mean it’s not like I feel I am from another planet and ET phone home and all that. It’s just that there are people who are great conversationalist and then there are people like me. We’d rather sit back, observe people, and notice their idiosyncrasies, their quirks.
And of course put in a word now and then, because let’s face it; otherwise we’re just coming across as creeps. I have found that the ability to write helps me become a more functional version of myself. It compliments my other faculties-as in I see more, I empathize more- and in the process, completes me. Countless have been the times when I have found myself in a situation and imagining how I would write that down on paper. I have decided that I will start writing again. The decision isn’t new, I have taken it countless times. Each time, something or the other, usually laziness on my own part, compels me to give up the habit.
I don’t know what I will write about, but I will not let my love for expression be burdened by expectations. For now I will just let my mind wander and my hands gallop on the keyboard as wild horses.
It will come to me..whenever it will.
No hurry.

The Burgers are extra- spicy

dharna

Let us for a moment, talk like the arm chair analysts that we are and not like the Pulitzer prize winners we pretend to be.
Let us for a moment ignore the precedents it would have set and the precedents for it already extant.
Let us make an effort to differentiate between de-politicising a situation and dehumanising it.
Let us fade out the coloured lines. Forget red, blue, green. Let us revert back to black and white.
Let us all take a collective step back .
Exhale.
Let me tell you of an incident that happened to me, many years from now.
When I was thirteen I got a room of my own for the first time. It was the high point of my existence till then. I was the master of my domain. The king of my castle.
The only thorn in my crown being the other occupant, my two year old brother.
In retrospect it shouldn’t have bothered me. How much space could a two-foot child take? I practically owned the place, as depicted by the posters of my idols adorning three fourths of the room. The only exception being the corner occupied by my kid brother in his crib. For all practical purposes he was a guest in my home.
And yet it rankled me.
As long as he stayed within the confines of his crib, I could tolerate him, for a while. But my mother, astute policy maker that she had shown herself to be over the years, had given me the room with a proviso. The room was mine, provided I kept the other occupant, satisfied.
In plain terms, the room was not mine by right, it was a trust, made on an understanding with all of its occupants, that I would not usurp their rights. All fine and dandy when they were just words that I excitedly kept nodding my head to.
Something had to give.
When my brother started crawling, nobody had been happier than I . Of course that had all been before he took up residence in my den. Suddenly nothing two feet from the floor was safe from his tiny hands.
I tried keeping him barricaded in the middle of the room with obstacles that he couldn’t climb over.
In time he learnt to crawl around them. Things came to a head when he managed to crawl under my study table, the seat of my throne, the Kings Landing to my seven kingdoms.
All attempts to drag him out from under there were met with loud wails and hysterical sobs that brought immediate response from my mother.
I had arrived at a deadlock. Force would only give temporary respite. I might get my room back but for how long?
Mother would not let the wails of her youngest go unheard. And once she intervened the decision would no longer be in my hands.
I summoned a meeting of the elders.
My two sisters had also been given a separate room and my action would no doubt affect them too. So it was only fair that I discuss the current dilemma with them.
The two sat impassively as I presented my case; the study area was sacrosanct, if I let my brother enter it, I would be setting precedents with disastrous consequences. Pretty soon he’d be roaming all over the place.
So? They inquired.
But that must never happen.
Why? They inquired.
I owned the room he should limit himself to the crib! I bellowed.
Owned?! They inquired.
Fine, I shared it with him, I huffed.
And? They inquired.
It was a trust shown in us by our parents and we were both equal parties to that trust, I mumbled.
So is the room yours by right? This was getting annoying.
No, but I was the majority by size and I couldn’t give in to the whims of a smaller party, that would show me as a weakling, I sputtered. He’s a mummy-daddy weakling! I earned this room!
And a show of strength against this mummy-daddy baby will prove your strength? They asked, what’s the worst you can do? Lock him in his crib? Once he has endured your worst do you think you will ever be able to use it again without mother finding out? And how much longer after that will you be able to hold sway over the room? On the other hand, what if you let him roam around? He tears your posters? Stick them a bit higher where he can’t reach.
Let him crawl wherever he wants to, how long do you think will he stay there? What’s the worst that can happen? He can’t possibly take over the room. Most probably he will grow tired and bored. You will still have the aura of being bigger without having to show your superiority and he will continue to look up to you for guidance and support. On the other hand if you choose to show him who’s boss, mother will have no choice but to interfere. She will take away our privileges of being responsible adults and you will have wasted, in a moment of arrogance and high handedness, our years of obedience and diligence which led us to our freedom.
It was an eloquent response, I had to agree, albeit to myself, but I wasn’t ready to cave in yet.
He will always be a mama’s boy won’t he? Calling for her help to get his way.
Weren’t we all, at one stage or another? She smiled.
Yeah but not anymore, this is mothers way of keeping us in check, my tongue was running ahead of my mind now.
And that’s bad because?
Because I’m too old to take directions and instructions anymore! It’s my room I’ll do what I want there, I can’t let mother question me everytime he complains to her! I was losing the argument, I could feel it the balance shifting.
My elder sister stood up, grabbed my younger sisters finger, sighed and said, do what you will but know this, I will not be a part of this, it will define who you are for the rest of your life, you will not have gained anything and your strength will forever be exposed .
With that the two walked off into the sunset of their room.
In the course of time, I learnt to ignore the odd torn book or spilled milk. To say I was happy would be an understatement , I was happy with the status quo prior to the onset of the crawling. But now I realised that change cannot be stopped. You have to roll with the punches and hope to remain standing at the end of it all.
That is strength.
The source of power lies in never having to use it.
I never again had a problem with my brother , who in time has come to be my greatest supporter and defender.

You tell me..

What defines a person?
How can you spot one in a crowd of millions?
Is it something that can be seen in his looks?
The way he walks and talks?
Is it hereditary?
A real man, or woman is one who is who he is not because but in spite of his appearance. Behind the talk, underneath the muscles and within the blood and bones there is a piece that refuses to yield. Something that only grows stronger and harder the more pressure you put it under.
Mark Twain once said, ‘The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why’.
I believe that there is a third day, although not so much a single day as it is the period from the moment one realizes ones reason for being born to his/ her death. It is the period spent in trying to bridge the gap between one’s self-actualization and actual perceived self. How near or far these two points are by the time the fat lady sings, well that’s something worth finding out about isn’t it?
You may not have the legs to tear up the race track
Or the arms to rip a cross court forehand
Or the ability to see ten steps ahead of the present
Does that make the task that much harder? Probably
Or the odds stacked against you that much higher? Definitely
But should that stop you from reaching for what you want?
…You tell me

Roadside Buddha

 

060What is the meaning of life?
How is one to attain happiness?
These are the type of introspective questions that are bound to pop up in one’s head from time.
I am no exception. Both in terms of thinking about life as well as in coming up empty handed.
Travelling by bus during the afternoon as the sun is a sullen red ball about to dip over the horizon, is perhaps the best time to indulge in actions lazy cousin; introspection.
And you just have to get a window seat or else all is lost.
As the bus meanders through the city and makes its way to the countryside the sea of humanity starts petering out until you catch a weathered old man reclining on a rickety charpoy puffing on a hookah, surrounded by his meager wheat field. A toddler crawls at his feet, probably grandson. There’s a look in the kids eyes that sparkles in anticipation of the stories that he will listen over a crackling fire under a starry sky.
In the background smoke rises from a mud house. A muscular and younger version of the old man carries a pail of milk to the open kitchen.
As the bus passes this scene I lock eyes with the old man. He nods.
I nod.
Is his life easier, more comfortable than mine? Not likely.
Is he happier than me? Perhaps, yes.
Would I trade places with him? Absolutely not.
What did I just see in those few seconds? Happiness? Maybe, sure why not.
Contentment? Absolutely.
And there it is. The meaning of life is what one chooses to make it. Happiness is not a path that one stumbles upon or finds through the sayings of a sage. In all probability these sages lived lives which were harder and troubled than we can imagine. But they learned to savor the few fleeting moments of happiness in between the troubled seas of life.
And so it is my friend. Happiness is cherishing those fifteen early morning minutes spent with your child before heading off for work. The meaning of life is fleeting. It changes as you change. Don’t beat yourself too much about it. Just find your source of happiness and hold on to it. Life will find its meaning accordingly.

Blink before you peak

where did the years go

Where did the years go?
One day you wake up and realize you are closer to 40 than to 30 and the sinking feeling in the pit of your love-handled-surrounded stomach lets you know that the net balance of those years is showing a deficit. You have nothing of significance to show for the decade since you stepped out of college, full of promise, hopes and dreams.
Now what?
Is it too late?
Should one give up? Reconcile with fate and trudge on towards that ‘elixir’ we have been spoon fed on; pension?
Don’t kid yourself, you know the answer. You always did. You were aware from the first day of the creeping vine of complacency as it twinned itself around your ankles and immobilized you one muscle at a time.
You are being fed, just enough to ensure that you can still nod when spoken to and sign your approval if and when required.
And that’s about it..
As the years go by, your body and mind develops a taste for this feed. Those organs that do not adapt to this sort of nourishment are atrophied and fall away by the wayside. Foremost among these is creativity and independence of thought. Once you find yourself starting every sentence with a ‘Sir if I may’ and ending with a ‘you are absolutely right Sir’, it is time to burn all your childhood photographs, for that person is gone, lost.
So, is there hope? Animals raised in captivity are not always able to survive once they are released in the wild. It all boils down to who you are and who you were before putting on the collar. You already know the answer to that, it is not important. What matters is what you are willing to live with. Freedom with the chances of being your own boss and enduring bleak days of famine and rejection, or servitude with a steady feed of bare essentials and an assurance of being put down humanely once your use is over. So which one is it?
You already know the answer.