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?

Advertisements

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.

Anatomy of a Government Officer

Disgruntled-Employee

It all starts from the shoes.
It has to.
They have been run ragged, scampering from floor to floor..pressed under the burden of massive, rotting, fly-stained files. Each time the wearer presents a new case to his superior with ‘submitted for kind perusal, please’ , the soles cave in on themselves a little more.
The socks are lucky that they do not need to be presentable or seen for it is too late for them. They have long ago lost the war to the big toe and have no identity or shape of their own anymore.
Next come the trousers. Legend has it that they were once a part of a suit. Maybe they still are together, maybe not. The rigors of working in the government have driven clefts between the staunchest of relationships. The trousers have seen better days. Now they just look slept in because they usually are. It is no longer advisable to look for the crease because their isn’t one to be found. They have long since crossed over the partition between trousers and shalwar. In fact, they are now categorized as ‘Shalwousers’. Of special mention are the knees which show more wear owing to decades spent smooching the floor, bent over.
The belt comes with the area, and disposition of the wearer. For those unlucky souls, still floundering in the choppy waters of the bureaucracy, the belt has lost its efficacy due to the countless times they have been futile in rescuing the trousers from being pulled down to knees in meetings by irate seniors –figuratively speaking ofcourse.
The shirt is irrelevant and comes into the equation not because of its texture or quality. Rather it is due to the monstrosity that it tries to encompass..the gut. Their ability or failure to ‘hold it all in’ is in fact the actual ACR of the officer if there ever was a need for one.
The gut is the end-all-be-all of the government officer. You can tell a lot about the government officer by the acreage of his/her pastureland (don’t kid yourselves ladies..you’re in it too, although in case of females the gut readings are not as conclusive or accurate owing to difficulties in terms of norms and ethic involved in observation. Therefore, anthropologists have reverted to other tried and tested variables such as quantity of war paint and accompanying paraphernalia.)
If the buttons are down to their last threads, hanging on for dear life cliffhanger-style, you can tell the wearer has been classically conditioned in the art of seminar/workshop/meeting attendance. The gutsize of an officer is directly proportional to the number of meetings attended which is in turn, a dead give-away to the level of involvement in day-day government affairs. Because, lets face it; not much happens in all committee meetings involving done-to-death powerpoint presentations that does not involve tea, biscuits, sandwiches, patties, working lunch ..*starts to drool*
One of the first thing a government officer learns is to never..NEVER pass on a chance to feed the gut. There may not be any free lunches in life, but if you play your cards well and are willing to take minutes of meetings, you can assure yourself a pre-retirement era of free luncheons.
Moving on.
There are two things that define a government officer; a tie and cufflinks. After a few years in the service, an officer can easily quit his job and open up a tie and cufflink shop. No matter what the weather; come hail, snow or fire the government officer will be sporting a tie that will have seen better days. Cufflinks will mostly be sported by officers whose hands are in full view most of the time. Be it holding the millions of files as they scamper after their boss or the food plate while heading out for refills on state-sponsored buffets. Nothing says ‘made it’ like a gleaming pair of cufflinks-one of many presented to the wearer on prior such ‘meetings’. And that my friends is what we call ‘the circle of life’.
The coat has spent more days hanging on the shoulders of the chair than on those of the owner. It thus, performs two important functions; on the chair it is a constant reminder to snooping seniors who are liable to burst in on any day that the wearer is present and on premises, even though he isn’t. On the occasions when the coat has been spotted in the company of a live person, it is easy to mistake it for a shawl, kurta or even a jacket..depending upon the mileage the apparel has accrued.
Sitting on top of this amalgam is the owner; the government officer. A quivering double chin that has heard more ‘no’s’ than ‘yes’s’, fed on years and years of office tea and samosas leads up to a pair of lips that have been frozen into a scowl that strives to resemble a smile. Spectacles are mere decorations, eyesight has long since been considered obsolete along with other mental faculties. The officer performs purely on muscle and gut memory.
The crowning glory of the specimen is a clear and shiny helipad that has been created over the course of days, weeks and years pulling out hair, one follicle at a time.
And there you have it ladies and gentlemen! Boys and girls! Your beloved government officer.
Disclaimer: Resemblance to any uncle, father, aunty, brother, sister is purely coincidental.
Corollary: (i) It must be noted that the size of the gut is irrespective and in most cases, in contrast to the overall health of the officer.
(ii) Government officers are rarely spotted in isolation. They travel in packs and feed off of each other’s company.
(iii) There are further sub-species within, known as ‘service groups’ which may differ slightly.

Tuesday Bloody Tuesday

When I was in college, a roommate of mine introduced me to the music of U2. One song of theirs that instantly intrigued and captivated my attention was ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and I looked up its origins. Absent mindedly I used to imagine other such titles based on the rest of the days of the week.

On the 16th of December 2014, Pakistan got its own version.

Two days ago I would have come up with some statement full of bravado and resilience. Two days from now I will in all likelihood be sprouting venom against these barbarians projecting their band of religion.

Today is not that day.

I have had my legs shot out from under me. I have had the wind knocked out of me. I have had the blood drained from my body.

I have failed.

I am tired.

I am lost.

As a Muslim, Pakistani, Father, Brother, Husband, Son; take your pick.

I let this happen.

You let this happen.

We let this happen.

There are those among us who have already started pointing fingers at some party’s ‘dharna’s’ or another’s inability to govern. There are those who have already started the age-old mantra of us being victims of our military’s doctrines. There is always the usual us-being-the-pawns-in-a-greater-game and of course our neighbor state that always has evil designs on us.

I know all the arguments. I have heard all the conspiracy theories countless times.

They are all true.

They are all false.

So what?

What are you going to do about it?

Black

I’m not going to blame the government, the forces that be. This one, I am keeping for myself. This one is all on me. There is no fate, no religious punishment, no global conspiracy in this.

All. On. Me.

Today I am unable to look myself in the mirror. The face that leers back at me is grotesque. It is numb. It is cold. I may profess to be a Muslim but what that may mean, I have long since forgotten, in my heart of hearts, I know that I never knew what Islam is.

Will this ever end?

I would’nt hold my breath.

I know will get over this in a day, max a week.

And this will happen again.

I’m just hating myself for knowing that I’m used to all this and for that part of me that is secretly grateful that I’m still away from all this, for now.

Having worked in a national level counter terrorist organization that never got off the ground owing to the inflated egos and turf wars of our leaders, I am no longer as naïve and idealistic as I was when I decided to serve my country.

I now know myself.

I  am not resilient, I am cold, numb. I am opportunistic. I am a terrorist. Not the one that wields a gun and straps on a vest. A much more harmful one. One that talks, and talks and then gets on with his life. I hold a soft spot for killers, because I feel I can discriminate bloodshed. I feel I can justify some of it.

How do I come back from this?

I  don’t.

Where do I go from here?

Downwards, and onwards in my journey towards my personal hell.

 

My debut short story published on Amazon Kindle

The story is a satire on the unpredictable nature of politics and shaky power bases that are prevalent in most post colonial states in South Asia. In today’s age, no state can afford to adopt an isolationist stance. This has been depicted in a satirical fashion here as the inhabitants of Monty’s bathroom have to face the repercussions of changing policies, taking place beyond their borders and out of their control. Through the course of the narrative, the fickleness of loyalties and vulnerability of alliances and dynasties is  exposed.  As the arrival of an unexpected outside sets in motion a chain reaction of events that threaten the status quo of the ruling party, ties of friendship and loyalty will be questioned and each character will have to answer their own demons as they are faced with a constantly changing political landscape.

Please do check it out on Amazon Kindle and spread the word too!

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00KJMP4GO

Thanks

Wish you were there…

‘Pity the beautiful,
the dolls, and the dishes,
the babes with daddies
granting their wishes.’
‘Pity the beautiful’ by Dana Gioia

Who doesn’t love the weekend?

It’s the only thing that keeps us going through the monotony that is the long tedious hours sitting in a cubicle, following the rat race that life has become for most of us. But we know why we do it.
For the little ones. Our pride and joy.

From the moment those little fingers wrapped around your hand, you made a  promise to yourself to go through all kinds of personal hell to make sure that they never have to walk in the sun. And if that means sacrificing your Sunday morning for a day in the park, that doesn’t seem to be too demanding.

If you managed to get out of bed on Sunday the 6th of May and made your way to Gravity Hill in F-9 park, you would not have been wrong in mistaking the scene  before you for a typical family picnic. The picture fit the description perfectly. There were all the little children, dressed in their Sunday best, playing games, listening to songs, reading, doing all the stuff a normal family would do. And yet, something did not add up despite large trays of smiley faced home-baked cupcakes and goodies from the fellows, delicious picnic food from our generous friends Thali and all the outdoor games.

For one, the grownups looking after the kids, monitoring them, playing along were too young to be their parents. But if you took a closer look at the little ones, you would have noticed a maturity beyond their years. You would have felt the calluses on those hardened baby hands. You would have seen the steely resolve in those tiny souls even in a game of relay race or Frisbee. And yet, there was no meaness or jealousy that is present even in children when it comes to sharing their precious toys. And that alone, should have made it clear..for these were no ordinary children.

These were street children. We also call them ‘under-privileged’ sometimes.

Their whole life has been one big struggle against fate and the world from the moment they were born. For most, childhood ended the moment they opened their eyes to a world without doting parents or all the luxuries that money could buy. Most of these young kids had to learn a trade to earn a livelihood for their families while they should still be playing.
But instead of toys they were handed rags and clothes to clean, merchandise to sell and trash to pick to earn for their family.
However, for one day, they were children again.

This picnic was the culmination of a long and fruitful relationship that the grown ups have had with these less fortunate kids. Inspite of all the hardships these young souls have had to face so early on in their lives, they have taught important lessons in life to even their seniors.
As the sun set on Gravity Hill that Sunday evening, I saw the children transform right before my eyes. Without a word or being told to, they silently helped their elders and each other, clean up the place and pack up the picnic stuff.
There were no groans or complaints or pleadings for five more minutes or one more round of games. They knew that life did not afford them such luxuries. Life was all about these little moments of bliss. And they had learned to savor them, with no regrets.

Instead, they welcomed each moment with a smile and a spring in their step, for after having seen life from rock bottom they knew that their dreams and aspirations were the only wings they would ever have to lift them up.As I waved goodbye to the kids, I wondered if we were teaching the kids about life or was it the other way around.

More fun yellow pictures: http://blog.lettucebeekids.org/gallery/twice-on-gravity-hill/