Sunday, December 30, 2012

Snippets from 2012

'This is my new favourite place to eat,' she says, reclining back next to me in the yellow leather couch with a small content smile, and I immediately decide it's going to be my favourite too. I can tell she feels so at ease, and there's nothing that can spoil my good mood now. Opposite us sit my sister by blood and another sister by heart, conversing softly, and the sound of the fountain on our side drowns out what they say. We lean forward, attacking the strawberry-filled white-chocolate-topped crepe with our forks. They say money can't buy happiness, but good food with the right people always does.

It's past midnight, and we're watching the video of my uncle's wedding. The wedding that happened in 1997 and that I've watched- at least- forty times since then. It is the funnest that's ever been, and although I wasn't there, I've memorized every detail and could relate it second by second with my eyes closed. All of us are huddled on couches, watching, screaming and laughing like there's no tomorrow. At some point, my uncle's kids decide to renew their parents' marriage. (Our family's adoringly crazy like that). The television screen shows a young couple, standing on the large, green front garden of our family home, against tall palm trees and a Baghdad night sky. A few feet away from the screen are the couple in real- him greying and her three pregnancies later, with an audience clapping and singing around them with the enthusiasm of a fresh event. 

When we finally go to bed, massaging our tummies from all that laughter, I'm crying. Miles away from us is the setting of that happy day, the front lawn dead and yellow, trees abandoned, the home deserted. I want to go back home, and I was never there to begin with. Will I ever? And if I do go "back", will I feel as at home as the other authentic Iraqis? 


(8) du du du du du du (8) Adds life to life... 
Du's tag-line was made to describe my sister, actually. We're at the airport waiting for her to come back and awaken our dead home. If there's anything I learnt this year, it's that you can miss someone so much it aches.

There's a conference on technology and business happening in the hall across, and I'm staring angrily at my reflection in the bathroom mirror, wondering how she got here. What on earth do you have to do with this? And why, why, did you agree to be a speaker? You who can't open your mouth with more than two people looking at you without blushing crimson!

Suddenly, a girl staggers in, panting and shaking. She leans on the sink. I steady her and the next thing I know, she's passed out. Fifteen minutes later, I walk into the conference room calmly, knowing exactly why I was destined to be at the bathroom by the conference hall that exact moment. It had nothing to do with a talk on how technology shapes business.

Cafe Ceramique. There's an aura around here that makes me feel there's nowhere else I'd rather be. We've picked our ceramic bowl and the colours we need. Now we divide the bowl in four sections, decide that each of us will paint the personality of whoever sits next to us. For two hours we bend over the bowl with careful strokes. Occasionally gasping over a minor mistake. And occasionally turning our attention to the meals on our side. But mostly, concentrating on painting. We agree not to look at everyones' parts until we're done, but it's easy to tell what someone's painting by the smile or smirk on their face. Later, we all leave the cafe loving each other a little bit more.


Monday, December 24, 2012

"I knew nothing but shadows, and thought them to be real."

Dorian Gray has just come back from breaking a heart. He takes off his coat, rubs his eyes sleepily and casts a lazy glance around the room before doubling back. Slowly, he walks closer to his portrait- the one his friend Basil has created with all the love imaginable- the one he has decided to burden with age and sin on behalf of his person. Lines of cruelty have magically appeared around the painted lips.

I wonder how different you'd see my face, if every wrong deed left behind its trace. And I wonder, would I be able to stand straight before a mirror, look right into my eyes? Without the luxury of any disguise?


Dorian Gray is several years older and crueler. Only the picture in the room can testify to this. And a loving friend who looks at his cursed creation in horror. Then before he has the time to get over it- the sudden plunge of a knife, a stifled groan. A calm Dorian steps out on the balcony to watch the city.

I wonder if Oscar Wilde was suggesting, that the prospect of eternal beauty is the real testing. And I wonder, at what point a heart dies? Becomes indifferent to conscience's cries?

"The Picture of Dorain Gray"
Read it!

Monday, December 17, 2012

What does Freedom mean to you?

This is a speech I gave in April at a university event to mark Bangladesh's Independence anniversary, which I'm posting in light of today marking two years since the spark that triggered a series of movements to freedom. (I didn't win the speech contest, but I hope it interests you!)


It was 10:30 am, the 17th of December 2010. 

Just another Friday in the world of Mohammad Bouazizi- a 26 year old vegetable seller in his small, unnoticed town in Southern Tunisia. Mohammad was doing what he had been doing for the past seven years, walking around town with his vegetable cart, when he was stopped and his cart confiscated by a policewoman. Trying to save his (and his 8 member family)'s only source of income, he asked if he could pay a fine instead, and was replied with an insult and a slap on his face. An hour later, at 11:30 am, Mohammad was standing in front of the municipality headquarters, dousing himself in flammable liquid to set himself on fire.

That Friday morning, Mohammad had no idea that ten days later, his decision would lead to the revolution that brought down his country's dictator of 23 years. He would never have imagined in a million years that his decision –a vegetable seller in an unnoticed town- would create a chain of revolutions across the Middle East, forcing dictators out of power who had been oppressing their people for decades, and moving a people who had been silent since almost forever.

Mohammad sure didn't have any of this in mind when he set himself on flames. And of course he didn't live to see the outcomes, so we cannot question his motives, but we can speculate. 

And I like to think that Mohammad's move was not an impulsive act made in blind anger, but a calculated one, irrespective of its morality. He knew it would mean the end of his own life, and the suffering of his loved ones. But for the mere inkling of a possibility that it would somehow not go unnoticed, he considered his own life worthy. For the sake of the concept of 'freedom' living on, even if it meant his not being able to taste any of it, he was willing to sacrifice everything.

Mohammad isn't alone in his sacrifice. Since that Friday, 35,000 lives have been given up in the name of freedom. But people have been dying for freedom since the beginning of time. In the Bengalis' long struggle for the Independence that we are celebrating today, three million were killed.

These are numbers of lives ended, not the number of broken hearts that followed.  But that is irrelevant to most of us. The blood that has been spilled hasn't stopped this chain of revolutions being dubbed the "Arab Spring." We hold high the pictures of our martyrs, and we speak of those whose lives were given for freedom with pride. When Mel Gibson in Braveheart screamed 'Freedom' just before his execution, all our hearts jolted with pride. To us, freedom is worth any sacrifice. An essential ingredient in our lives which life is bland and not worth living without.

We worship freedom, yet every person in this room, and each of the seven billion people walking on earth at the moment, has a different idea of what freedom really is. Imagine now, that while I am standing before you talking about what freedom means to me, I am suddenly transformed into Adolf Hitler, sprouting a moustache and stern expression, here to tell you what my idea of freedom is. I would probably be telling you that freedom to me is the right to choose which race may continue to exist. The freedom to exercise my power in my country and beyond, the freedom to do whatever I want to, without being labeled the ultimate example of the "bad guy" for eternity. I doubt any of you would empathize, although I assume all of you value your own freedom as much as he did.

So if we want the concept of freedom to be workable, I can't say it is the lack of restrictions. Nor can I say that freedom to me is the right to being myself, or following my dreams. What if being myself doesn't allow you to be you, and what if following my dreams makes it impossible for you to follow yours? Who has the greater right to freedom then? Wasn't Hitler, after all, just being himself?

A sweeping epidemic is gripping all of us these times- the elimination of responsibility. This plague is not so apparent; it comes dancing to us sugar-coated. What could be sweeter than a world encouraging you to just be yourself? The right to do whatever you want to do. The world is your playground, they say. The word 'freedom' has become a word to mean 'getting away with anything'. It's become a word that releases us from any sort of accountability. 

Yet the word freedom originated as exactly the opposite- it comes from the German word "Friede" that signifies the period of peace after the end of a battle between two German clans, during which the clan that had committed the most wrong was to own up to its wrong by giving up its supply of meat. Freedom is recognizing that our actions are ours alone, that it is we who choose to implement them and with that arrives a duty to implement them with caution, bearing the consequences, keeping in mind that we are all linked to each other with infinite invisible and unbreakable threads.   

I find it ironic that the human race has been fighting for freedom since the beginning of time when all they have to do is take a single deep look inside themselves. Maybe they are looking for the brand new freedom that doesn't really exist where you can pretend you're not responsible for anything…the weird kind of freedom that two extremes like Hitler and Mother Teresa could both claim to have rightfully exercised.  

Because the kind of freedom I know was stamped onto my soul as soon as I came into existence. It isn't something I must ever fight to achieve because it can't be taken away from me. It isn't something that needs to be taught, because it is instinctive. 

To love without expecting to be loved back, 
to give without expecting to take back, 
to speak the truth even if it makes my voice shake,
 to consider my body parts too noble for profanity,
 to be in control of my senses and my emotions instead of enslaved by them.  
The freedom I talk of that comes free of charge to everyone with the package of being human, and it is up to you and I the extent we would like to use it. 
It is our humaneness.   

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Cruel Kids- Part II

I may have done my share of persecution as a kid, but sometimes I think about situations where I played victim, painful as they may be, because self-pity can be so comforting!

So this particular tragedy took place several years prior to our previous episode. It was a rainy day outside, with the sort of cold weather that lashes at your face like a whip. A group of six and seven-year-olds huddled around their teacher on the thick, soft carpet of their classroom's "book-corner". The warming radiator and the soft voice of the teacher sitting before them made them feel all cosy, tucked in safety away from the fierceness of the world outside the window.

I sat cross-legged with all my classmates on that carpet, listening intently to our form teacher and trying very hard to contain my excitement and mirror their expressions. POSTMAN PAT was coming to our school! Postman Pat with his black and white cat! 

'He's not even a real person,' said one bored boy.
'Yes, he is,' the teacher's smile remained unwavering. 'He particularly asked to see you lot. He will be telling you all about the secrets of his job, and taking individual pictures with each of you. Wouldn't you like a framed photo of you and Postman Pat?'
I noticed I was sitting up on my knees by now, and quickly re-positioned myself.

'Now what I want you to do is think about any questions you might want to ask him. Think carefully because you might not get another chance at this.'

I knew right away what I wanted to know. Everything to do with how letters my sister and I were writing to our father overseas, with lame school rhymes and crooked arabic lettering, were reaching quickly enough for him to read and reply. 'I'm going to ask him about post between different countries', I blurted out. 

'Not now...keep your questions in mind and ask Postman Pat in person.'

So a few days later, Postman Pat and his black and white cat arrived, and we all stood there shyly while he let us stroke his cat and told us all about the mail and how it worked. I kept trying to peer into the open mouth, which is where my sister had told me a disturbing night before I would find a pair of eyes of the person suffocating under a costume. 

It was finally time to ask questions. Several arms shot up in the air, including mine. 'Let's just go in order, shall we?' he said, stroking his chin and pointing at the first person in line. He continued answering questions until there was just one person in line before me. He pointed at her.

'Dear Postman Pat,' she recited loud and clear. 'I  would like to know about post between different countries.' 

'Oh, my! I was waiting for somebody to ask that question! Come here, my girl.' She sat on his lap as he delivered the explanation with renewed enthusiasm, an explanation that I was only half listening to. And then too soon it was my turn, and I stood there tongue-tied as he went, 'No question? Not curious about anything?' 


I KNOW. It's silly and I wouldn't give it a second thought if something similar happened today. Who cares about who asked the question as long as it was answered? But seeing as how I can't look at that photograph of Postman Pat and myself in a strained smile without remembering this, I know kids can be super-sensitive sometimes.


In other news, I read The White Tiger, The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency, and The Very Thought of You for the December 1st-3rd Read-a-thon, and have reviewed them here if anybody is interested.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Not that you'd be interested

There are many forces of discomfort playing at my life today:

  • Firstly, it rained. I know that's an everyday occurrence in most parts of the world, but it's an exceptional event here that makes it to breaking news. I don't like complaining about any weather, but I can't help letting the gloomy, dark wetness dampen my mood a teeny bit. 
  • Secondly, I spent most of the day in the presence of people and I feel that inexplicable need to just sit alone in my room now. And I'm annoyed with my anti-social self for feeling that way. 
  • Finally, Monday's off for the UAE National Day, and the university has still not decided when the make up for those classes will be. I have a presentation and two assignments due that day, and not knowing when is very close to disastrous for me.
But I am comfortable, in spite of the evil discomfort forces. I'm sitting here with a pack of Sohar Chips (eating super-fast before my sister realizes I've nicked it) and an open, ignored Auditing textbook, and I'm so proud of myself for being this comfortable! 

Tomorrow, Dazzling_Mage at A Reading Kabocha will be hosting a Read-a-thon for three days, so I am hoping this helps me catch up with my to-read list. I can't seem to decide which book to start with, and it's one of those moments where I'm pleased with the sort of tough decision I have to face. :)

"How are you feeling today?" 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Sun on the Day of Ashura

How did I withstand the scene?

A ten-month old baby, in piercing arrows decorated
Mothers in agony; the loyal brother's arms
from his body separated;

And the army of a Muslim Leader, self-placed
Demanding approval
When the term Human they disgraced

How can I ever forget?

The day I shone over a peaceful body, lying on sand ablaze
Tongue scorched, heart broken.
The day his pain I caused to raise

Why must I be the sun?

Adding to his thirst and ache
Watching high above, a full view, helpless
Burning with grief in his wake

What was in my hands?

I tried.
I prayed that my tear-drops would fall to you as rain
Over your dry lips
Quench some thirst before you had to be slain

How could I bear it be?

I tried.
There was nothing I could do
Not yet time for me to set, nor time for night to pull through

I looked left and right, seeking a cloud to cover me
To not have to watch your slaughter
To stop the world from having to see

I will always recall

And at the close of every day as I withdraw
I think of you and shed
Tears blood-red.


On the 680 Tragedy of Karbala 

Inspired by the eulogy شمس recited by باسم الكربلائي

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Casual Vacancy

I know, I'm late. The world has already stood up, said all it's got to say and sat back down again.

I wasn't really going to read this. When I heard about J.K.Rowling writing another novel, a judgmental voice inside me went 'Oh, here we go again.' Somehow I felt it was a betrayal to Harry Potter- like she didn't think the legendary series were perfect and enough for her writing career. There was another voice inside- squeakier and kinder- that kept reminding me of my curiosity. Then it was out, and people were reading it, and not liking it, and the judgmental voice felt fed and satisfied. 'That's what she gets for turning away from her gold mine to dig from another.'

So when a phone call from the university's library called me to declare that my request purchase has been made and my book's ready to be picked, it took a few seconds to recall what they were talking about. I was at the library counter in the blink-of-an-eye, telling everyone "I never really expected them to buy it" but secretly over-joyed.

What it's mainly about
A fictional town in England buzzing with drama behind a seemingly-peaceful cover, its residents dealing with issues that places all around deal with- local government politics, social class issues, death, broken families, poverty, racism, drug-abuse, et cetera et cetera

What was so good about it

  • Writing: Distinctly Rowling, with simple sentences well-worded, un-opiniated leaving judgement to readers, witty or poignant as fitting to the scene.
  • Characters: Realistic. 
  • Plot: Begins with a climax, and ends in one, with a very slow-paced story in between. Many reviews mentioned that the story dragged on, but I feel the sluggishness of the main body of the story gave the characters time to develop and allowed Rowling to delve on to each character's relevant past and inner struggles. 
  • Message: Without giving away any detail for fear of accidental spoilers, the way the novel ended with all the characters' separate stories just SO perfectly weaved together demonstrated very neatly how the members of a close-knit society impact each other's lives in such direct ways, and leaves no doubt in the reader's mind the main message of the novel: we are responsible for each other. 
What was not so good about it
  • Filled to the brim with colourful language and dirty scenes
  • That it was by JK Rowling. It's not fair to expect another magical world that sweeps you away. I find it interesting how she first wrote a fantasy story where the good ultimately prevails, and then wrote an adult novel showcasing our real world, where- *oops*
Overall, four on five stars to The Casual Vacancy. Joanne Rowling, I'm "your girl through and through".

(Next read: Divergent by Veronica Roth)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Arundhati Roy

^That's Arundhati Roy, author of best-selling novel "The God of Small Things" and political activist (which she apparently doesn't like being called, because 'what do activists really do and who came up with that word anyway?')

I saw her last night at the Sharjah International Book Fair, where she was supposed to be talking about her famous book. (Note: Supposed to be talking about her famous book.) Her session wasn't sponsored by any corporate, because how hypocritical would that be?, so basically, it was one of those times where random people passing by just drop in because something interesting seems to be happening, never mind if they have no idea what that is. A few minutes after I was lucky enough to get seated in the fourth row, the hall was infested with men, women, mommies, daddies, grandparents and mostly- KIDS. What were kids doing at a talk on 'The God of Small Things'?! The room was getting stuffier and noisier by the second, and there were huge crowds of unseated people squeezing at the sides, and for a moment I doubted whether I had accidentally walked in on a free three-ring circus. 

By the time she finally came up on stage (after arriving half an hour late another half hour of unnecessary introductions), I was sort of not excited at all and wanted to come back home. I've been to one of these sessions before to meet Jacqueline Wilson, and then I had had trouble staying still in my seat. So I don't know why and how this was happening, my mood turning one eighty degrees so easily before she had even started speaking. And this was the author of a book that I five-starred and read three times.

It didn't help that the interviewer was asking her such superficial, on-the-surface questions, like 'Would you change anything in the book now?' and 'Will you write another novel?' I really wanted her to talk alot more about the underlying themes in the book... about the incredible unique language she uses... how she thinks it contributed to telling her much of herself did she put in the novel....there was just SO much to be said about her book. I thought that was coming up after she read an intense extract but the interviewer was slowly steering the conversation to her political views, to recent comments she's made, to the press's reaction and blablablablabla

An hour later and I was sitting in the midst of a freaking convention on Indian politics, watching my favourite author argue with an economist in the audience. Another thirty minutes and I had given up on the book-signing happening anytime in the near future, stood up and left the hall (ignoring the protests coming from a disappointed copy of 'The God of Small Things'in my bag).

When I left the room, I really wanted to sit down on the carpeted floor and just bawl. You know the way you find kids doing in supermarkets' candy section? 

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Mercy to Mankind

He would cut up his cloak to be able to move rather than disturb the cat sleeping on it.

He would embrace the poor and radiate his warmth, undeterred by rags or social status.

He would never be the first to let go of a handshake's grip.

He was famous for his bright smile that flashed perfect white teeth.

He befriended the dark-skinned and the foreign at a time when only the prejudiced were welcomed.

He would stand up in respect whenever his daughter entered the room, and give her his seat.

He received with open arms visitors, offering all of the little he had.

He neither pressured, nor forced his teachings on anyone, inviting them instead with gentle reasoning.

He was diplomatic- open to third solutions, his ear always ready to listen.

He made sure everyone around him was fed before he turned to his hunger.

His lap held the weight of many children, careful to always build their confidence.

His tongue only knew the sweetness of words.

His heart never held an inkling of hatred, his tears abundantly flowing for his enemies.

He was so, so far away from what you are doing in the name of his religion.

"And we have not sent you except as a mercy to all creation" The Qur'an 25:56

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

No, I don't want to be Super-woman

“"Live each day as if it's your last', that was the conventional advice, but really, who had the energy for that? What if it rained or you felt a bit glandy? It just wasn't practical. Better by far to be good and courageous and bold and to make difference. Not change the world exactly, but the bit around you. Cherish your friends, stay true to your principles, live passionately and fully and well. Experience new things. Love and be loved, if you ever get the chance.” 

When you read something that's a refreshing glass of icy lemonade on a hot and humid day.

I came across the above quote while reading David Nicholls's One Day, and what I really wished for, in that instant, was the chance to enlarge each of the words and inscribe them across the sky for our entire world to read: the world that is incredibly obsessed with the idea of changing itself. 

I am so tired of being told to "go out there" and "do something great." I understand you guys in charge are anxious about passing on the reins and inspiration to the next generation, but could you cut us youth some slack? 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Blind is the eye that doesn't see You

Don't tell me nature isn't a miracle. Don't tell me the world isn't a fairy tale. Anyone who hasn't realised that, may never understand until the fairy tale is just about to end. Then there is one final chance to tear off the blinkers, a last chance to rub your eyes in amazement, a final opportunity to abandon yourself to the wonder you are bidding farewell to and leaving. 

The Orange Girl

Reading another Jostein Gaarder is like a chocolate bar after a year-long diet. I breezed through this in a day and it ended too quickly, leaving me with a strange tangy-sweet-bitter-melancholic-nostalgic taste. I think I have been gripped with Habitophobia again. The world has grown on me, and I needed this nudge to get fascinated again.


Georg is reading the letter his dead father wrote him before he died that was only just discovered. His dad is telling him a story- of when he is three and in his arms, out in the backyard. They're looking up at a star-filled sky.

The last time I saw a sky like that was in Baghdad, eleven years ago. A vivid memory. I can see us four cousins on the rooftop of our home, feeling adventurous. We crouch low, peer outside, at a dark street lined with neat rectangular homes and incredibly tall palm trees, silent except for the occasional cricket chirp. From here we can see the front garden of our neighbours on the left, their big brown guard dog standing attentive. One of us throws a pebble, and the dog stands higher, his ears straight. Another pebble and he is barking now- loud barks that pierce the still air. We stuff our hands in our mouths, trying to stifle the giggles. And then the sound of a front door unlocking and the neighbour is out, and we are clambouring over each other to crouch down, unseen. It is then that I lay my back against the wall and look up. Innumerable stars shine back at me. I have never seen anything like this before. It's like somebody painted the entire sky pitch-black and glued tiny diamond bits all over.

Don't tell me the starry sky isn't a miracle.


I'm making Spaghetti with Tuna Sauce for lunch. Cutting the onions half an hour earlier because I know what it does to me. I chew gum and try not to smell but none of that works. The knife slices through and I am weeping insanely, temporarily blinded. I take a breath, wipe the tears away and resume the cutting, trying to see through my stingy eyes. It's amazing what a little vegetable can do to you.

Don't tell me that's not a miracle.


Saturday, October 13, 2012

You and Your Beautiful Mind

Do you know how it feels like to love somebody more than yourself and the world with all its contents?

How it feels like to be in constant worry for them? A 24/7 lingering worry. One that not even sleep or intensive tasks can force in a corner, let alone drive away.

Do you know that you are permanently alive on my mind? That I'm thinking about you when I'm reading or daydreaming or listening to other people. That I'm worrying about you when I'm at school, on the road or in the next room.

Remember the year we had a very boring Eid? I took you for a walk while everyone was napping, and we ended up at the deserted beach. We just stood there, staring at the water. Then through some un-spoken agreement started collecting sea-shells. It felt so serene. You asked me questions about God and angels. Remember when I asked you to pose for a picture before we headed back home? You stood back to the water, eyes closed and arms held out wide. I could tell you felt free and happy to be, and it was the best moment of my life.

I wish I could make a deal with the One in charge. A deal that all life's ugly side bounces off you. Even if I'd have to take it. I would gather all the situations and life events and people and words and looks that make you unhappy. Stay watch dog over them and make sure they never dare cross your path.

Do you know that you are the opening sentence to my every prayer? That I don't care what's in store for me as long as you get to feel safe and loved for eternity.

Remember the day you told the big family gathering that you have a beautiful mind? I couldn't stop playing back those words in my head. They were the most true words ever said by the purest person to have ever existed.

And I can never be thankful enough for how lucky I am to have you and your beautiful mind in my life.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Life tips from a lady pilot

Have you ever been to a TED talk? They're events where you listen to passionate speech after passionate speech for eight hours, and by the time it's over you are so soaked in drive and ambition and positivism to the point that it's surprising when you must carry on mundane activities such as actually having to use your two feet and walk instead of being able to fly through sheer will.

Captain Aysha 
A week ago I attended one of those intense TED events and the opening inspirer for the day was Aysha al Hamli, an Emirati pilot. A woman pilot. The first from her country. She stood there in her traditional abaya and sheila and told us her story. How she decided to be a pilot when she was a kid, and how she simply pushed aside all the 'but's and 'if's and the 'what will be the people say?''s when the time came to realise her dream.

Then she shared lessons learned from her world of flying:
That you don't just hop on a plane and expect to get anywhere: you've got to plan ahead.
That you always need to know in which direction you're headed.
To know better than to expect appreciation from the safely-seated passengers at the back for going through turbulent times alone in the cockpit
To recognize that a journey never goes back to Point Zero
And to always remember to make a Plan B, but not be disappointed when God puts a Plan Z in your way- it may be your best plan yet. 

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

How Post-its were born by mistake

It was 1968, and Dr Spencer Silver was seated at his laboratory, trying to create a super-strong adhesive. One like no other. Instead, he came up with the complete opposite: an adhesive so weak it could easily be removed and reused. Dr Silver had failed.

What would I have done in this situation?
A. Embarrassingly cover-up my failure and continue my search for the great adhesive
B. Laugh about my failure: maybe write another 'Why oh Why?' blog-post
C. Try to stop my bawling for enough time to send a resignation e-mail to my boss

Dr Silver didn't, however, choose to deal with this using any of the three approaches. For the next five years, he promoted his little non-sticky secret, until the great day for all of us came when a colleague decided to use them in the form of Post-its.

The next time you don't get the result you want, think about Post-its.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Even from faraway I look at the blueness and taste salt in my mouth.
Swoosh, swish, whoosh.
Sun in my eyes, sand in my hair, and this sea blanket.

I am sitting alone facing the sea, observing its moves with respect. Let's make conversation, it says. Someone yells what sounds like my name in the distance.
It's simple, this life. We complicate. I don't think there's any other place I'd rather be.
Gentle swish. Foamy. Agreeing with me?
Two women lying down on yellow, way beyond the waves, wearing glum expressions. Really, what happened to manners, polite ways and making the right impressions?
A fresh heave. And then a wave covers me with a roar.
My apologies


Marwa. Or preferably Ma-wa. A hill in Mecca, but also a girl's name. We squat down, staring at our toes. Letting wave after wave cloak us, talking about these and those.

A random empty potato chip packet makes its appearance. Out of the blue, quite literally. Poor sea, everybody assumes it's a litter-basket for free.


Mothers, mothers, all around. Mothers here, there, everywhere: A mother is laughing uncontrollably with her little girl as they throw bits of sand at each other. Another mother is holding her floating son with enough concentration to make something explode; matching terrified faces. And...there's another mother! "MAMA!" yells a minuscule boy in black swimming shorts, pointing out his drifting floatie. "There, there, Bader", back in his arms.

When I'm your mother, we'll come together here, wearing matching colours. Build sandcastles together, if you like that. Or just sit down if you turn out boring like me. Whatever you want. I'll hold you tight to myself and tell you I love you as much as the drops of the sea.

It doesn't matter how sandy I get because the waves clean.

Imagine if it was this simple getting rid of imperfections.
"Oh I sense some stubbornness, let me just wash it off here." I think I'd just build myself a little hut on the beach. Inconvenient.

Worth it if you get to stay lean.

We both stare at the dug-up bunches of sand in our open hands. Broken-sea-shell-infested sand. All of this, subhanAllah, where do they think it comes from? she says. Then a smooth, salty, delicate wave- a sea nod.



Friday, September 7, 2012

On brotherly love

It had never happened before. His mind being somewhere he was not. The sun's rays shone brightly through the large classroom windows, throwing a golden glow on his smooth, eight-year-old face. Creasing up his eyes, he tried to concentrate on the blackboard before him, tried pushing away the thought of her, but she kept coming back with a presence even stronger. Digested peanut butter and jelly sandwiches squirmed in his tummy. He brought his chair closer, feeling his heart's rapid pounding against the desk's hard edge. Gripped his pencil firmly- staring at the way his dark fingertips turned white under pressure. The numbers on his book were swimming.

What was she doing now? Had she managed to play star again- commanding her new class's attention with her wild hair and even wilder laugh? Or was she staying low profile- checking everybody out undetected from a silent corner? Sick with worry, he turned the page shakily, struggling to make out Miss Beadle's vague commands through the drone of voices that seemed to come from so far away.

He had done okay on his first day. But that was him. He had stood up in front of everybody and recited the essay he'd prepared on the best and worst cars on the road. Practised it a week before school started and everyone had been so impressed. In fact, it might have been an ideal first day of school if it wasn't for the big guy...  A shudder ran through him. Shaking his head to bring himself back, he stared at the hands of his watch. The one his dad gave him for his birthday, blue with Spiderman hiding behind the numbers. He eyed them meaningfully, willing them to go faster.

The bell rang and he ran like he'd never before. Left his stuff lying around and they could do whatever they want for all he cared. He pushed away chairs, desks and children. 'Scusee....scuuseeee' he murmured as he darted through student-infested corridors, his heart beating in his legs. A minute later, he skidded to a halt before her class, stopping to catch breath and peer inside.

His sister and first friend. Sitting down at her desk with her lunch box, delicately nibbling her apple slices through furtive looks around her. And he laughed and laughed. Whether out of relief or amusement, he didn't know. Still guffawing, he walked over and held his very confused sister to himself.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

10 things I know to be true

1. ...that nothing read ever goes wasted- whether it's a physics textbook, a fantasy novel, a biography of a politician, a silly fashion article, a gadget's manual, warning signs near construction sites or the ingredients on your toothpaste's box

2. ...that nobody ever felt better after criticism uncalled for. As much as it might itch me to see a job done not perfectly, learning to bite my tongue and leave my big nose out of it is something I will never regret.

3. ...that no matter how many theories may try to convince everyone otherwise, thinking positive is not enough for dreams to come true. You need to work hard and know what you're doing. And that still doesn't guarantee anything. Life isn't fair, and the quicker I surrender to that fact, the happier I will be.

4. ...that people with special "needs" are actually people with special abilities, who don't need sympathy from anyone but acceptance. Just because somebody is structured differently does not make them any less 'normal'

5. ....that some of the richest people in the most glamorous of houses are also the ones most miserable. And some of the people from the best of schools are also the most uneducated.

6. ...that while some problems in life need rooted solutions, others just need a piece of chocolate, a short walk or (in my case) a good scrubbing session in the kitchen to go away.

7. ...that ignoring differences is worse than not tolerating them.

8. ...that if you're not happy with the way you look, the least you could do is not complain about it. One small step on the surface, one giant leap towards self-acceptance (tried & tested)

9...that if you come from a Middle-Eastern family like mine, you'll never be able to memorize who's who. Just smile and love all of them unconditionally.

10. ...that there is a God, a Power beyond our understanding, who weaves our lives with the lives of everyone around us in a beautiful web, and it is for this Ultimate Power that we must aim to breathe for every minute.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dijla, the Wise

Almost two thousand kilometres long, she is, the breeder of civilization. The Book of Genesis brands her the third of four rivers branching out of the Garden of Eden. On her banks were prophecies delivered, by the side of the great river. A Sumerian myth claims the god Enki created her, filling it carefully with flowing water.

The water doesn't flow now like it always did, and you can't blame her. Nobody would expect you to continue your job excellently. Not while you helplessly witness glory crushed around you- over and over again.

It began with over a thousand merciless faces sweeping over, like vultures arriving to fish out what they know will soon be dead. Wiping out in instants the work of a million minds. Tearing down mosques, palaces, libraries, hospitals into dust and rubble. Not even the House of Wisdom was spared. That day, Dijla's waters changed colours- blue to black to red. Black with the ink of words. When she had swallowed the books of her people, she took in the blood of killed thinkers.

I like to think that Dijla's preserving all the wisdom she swallowed in her midst. Waiting in patience and in hope the time when her people will be ready again. And then she will help them rise, and go back to flowing happily again.

Photo by Ghassan Malik

On the 1258 Siege of Baghdad
*Dijla is the Arabic word for the River Tigris

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Under all that glitter and glamour

Dubai at night- Photo from Dubai Informer

Unlocked front doors and that safe, sheltered feeling. The insomnia of the city. Coming back home at 3 in the morning without a turn over your shoulder. Interminable, suffocating traffic. Global village in "Winter". The status quo. That Dubai-an mix of an accent. Gigantic shopping malls. Neat, spotless streets and bins decorated with flowers. Calling Rafeeg for anything you want, anytime, delivered right to your doorstep. Seeing mini-colonies of every country under the sun. Witty, friendly, green police. Etisalat and Du and their hate clubs. Pretty mosques at every corner. Ignored speed radars. The high-heels, and the Ray-bans that stay put in-doors. Street-side Chai karak. Pink taxis. People walking around town with their noses in their BBs. Streets that change everyday and out-dated GPSes. Gamboo3as. Having your petrol filled for you. All the restaurants you can think of. Cooled air, all around. Twenty-somethings and their independent cake and abaya businesses. Niqabs and skimpy clothes. The undercover universes of Karama and Bur Dubai. The other under-cover universes of public transport. The categorization of people. The locals and the almost locals and the expat Arabs and the Desis and the Filipinos. And the white house-wives with their gym and spa subscriptions. The uninterrupted weather rants. The Salik dodgeball. Everyday fireworks. 

After you've lived somewhere for a while, the good and the ugly start to infuse and eventually become- the familiar. It's not that the pros and cons stop being what they are. It's just that they sink into you- or you sink into them. Like how the initial pleasure and shock of owning a fancy car and having to wear ugly uniform for school stop having that effect on you.

The Dubai-ans here are mostly not really Dubai-ans. They have their own homes to pine for somewhere else. Circumstance got them here, and Comfort kept them. Gripped them in not so reluctantly. I don't know about anyone else but I can speak for myself. The damage has been done- I have been enchanted by my temporary home. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Up all night, the nation of the day

It was the second of August 1990, twenty two years ago, when the peaceful little country of Kuwait turned into a battlefield overnight.

I hadn't yet come into this world. Only snippets from here and there complete the story for me: the irony of my mother's family escaping their country's dictator, only to find one fine morning's skies announcing his arrival at their new place- my Kuwaiti relatives on one side facing their new upturned world with grace- my Iraqi relatives on the other side watching truck after truck of stolen Kuwaiti items entering their country. 

Burnt buildings, innocent dead bodies, stolen homes, Saddam's men everywhere. And a people refusing to give up their home. Doing whatever they can to keep their world intact- even if it meant having to collect their own garbage from the street after a lifetime of others doing the dirty work for them.

Is anyone watching the drama Saher el Leil, Watan el Nahar? "It contains great offense for us Iraqis" said my dermatologist today morning with a tight face. Only if you want a tyrannical regime like that to represent your nation! "Lots of exaggerations" replies my dad. More like- an understatement. We Iraqis know more than any other victims the extent that the inhumane can reach. 

No matter how many years pass by, we must never forget their martyrs. Not to breed hatred, nor to block reconciliation, but as a tribute to those who stood up in the face of oppression, and as a reminder that bravery always pays off in the end. 

Pictures of the Kuwaiti martyrs- by Dhirar al- Fadhala

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Ramadan-y things we do

We're back to being a family now. Complete with the Mommy, Daddy and three girls. Gone is the echoing of footsteps in a house too large for us; gone is that unpolished silence. Our Skype button's been untouched for a while, left to itself feeling useless. And there couldn't have been a better time.

I love this month. Who doesn't? 

It's a feeling that I can't quite put my finger on- a weightlessness in the air. Like the burden of breathing to keep yourself alive has lifted, and now you're just be-ing without effort. Out pops the crescent and our worlds turn friendly overnight. Curvy smiles and serene hearts. Floating of people who usually drag their way along.

I love this month, and the little family rituals we preserve. A sulky meal at 3 a.m. where the joke of whoever dares falls flat. Prayer mats that stay unrolled in their places. The melody of my father's Quran reciting. Clinking of prayer beads and clicking of electronic ones. My mother's 'Menu of the day' in elegant writing on the kitchen's white-board. The items in the menu under construction. Us continuing to purposelessly stride in and out of there. The speedy evaporation of anger or annoyance. The sweetness of an empty tummy. A gentle reminder of another's hunger. The swelling of mind over matter.

It's hilarious what no food can do to you. The sun sets- we're in the kitchen. The first few moments of our meal are unusually silent. Everyone is too busy pacifying themselves. A mathematical equation we must follow: dates, then soup, then the main meal. And a cup of Vimto ofcourse. A scented candle lulling us. And once that's done and we've smirked at whoever's turn it is to wash the dishes, we huddle up and read Du'a al Iftitaah. Another family ritual. Drink tea and pick a television show to laugh at. Spend the whole show throwing comments at the story, actors, and each other. The occasional arrival of family or friends. More laughter. Late into the weightless night.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Our faithful sky

A smell of 'what now?' lingers in this room, and I don't know what to do with it. The heat doesn't help. I could go ahead and switch on the air condition, but lately I've been abit too dictatorial in imposing the air condition on the room that links to mine, so I'll pass tonight. Never mind that it's boiling in here. The temperature seems befitting to the strong transience floating about. Like all the relatives of discomfort agreed to arrive arm in arm.

My mind is being the annoying kid that wants to play when you're really not in the mood. It's giving me little snippets of thoughts. Giggling at my frustration. An unanswered email, an unpacked gift, an unplanned lesson. The flash of an acquaintance who needs to be given alittle more thought than she's getting. Three-quarters of a creamy chocolate cake sitting innocently on a refrigerator rack. Aliya in the air. Pictures of murdered children in Burma. The pimples on my cheeks.

What would really help at the moment is a thought-washing-machine. I'd unload all my mind's contents in there. Add in sweet-smelling conditioner. Watch through the tiny circle the cleansing of my thoughts. Wait. Then clear all out, and flop them one by one on a hanger to dry. Secure them with pegs. Just in case they try to slip away. And finally fold the dried refined scented thoughts neatly back into my mind.

Looking at the sky is comforting. It's 3 am and pitch-black outside, and I can hardly see it, but I know it's there. It somehow makes me feel better that the sky's seen more change than any beating heart. That he just stood there, being himself, while he looked down on eras changing. Dinosaurs and animals and humans taking turns in control. Through births and deaths of civilizations and world wars. Just stayed in his place, watching trends and fashions and mass crazes come and go. Observing strangers turning into friends, and friends turning into strangers. Staying the same old blue sky over all the changes, without even throwing a tantrum.

And then there's my grandmother who's been having the same day everyday for six years now. Waking up and going to bed at exactly the same time. Eating the exact same breakfast, lunch and dinner everyday at the exact same times. Asking the same questions at their prescribed times. I watched her today, seated at the dining table having her 13:30 meal. Everything in its set position. The two tissues placed neatly on the table, tissue box on the left, pills on the right, and date container in front. With its lid opened and tilted at at 45 degrees angle on its side. Just like it should always be. She starts with the dates, eating six of them and then placing the seeds on the two tissues. In neat pairs. She counts them, mouthing the numbers silently. 'Six' she declares. 'Yup, six dates'. My confirmation is acknowledged with a slow turn of the head and a blank stare. That's when the thought crossed my mind- that the sameness of her days to her is like the sameness of the sky to me. A comforting constant in an uncomforting world.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


A word that means nothing. I heard it first from someone on youtube- a teenage boy wearing a sea-blue tee-shirt, his arms raised in the air in exaggerated exasperation. And now my brain's taken it as a cue to replay that random insignificant act.

Also a word that means many things.
Nada, a mother of four, somewhere distant on my family tree. Eight floors separate us. If the world had separate divisions for thinkers and feelers, she would definitely be leading the Feelers. Might even be holding a banner with a big heart on it. When we greet each other, it's not the customary hugs and kiss in the air. She holds me close to her, draws in the air around me. She says "How are you?" like it's the first time the question's been asked, and scans my eyes like they're mini television screens.

Nada, the owner of a tongue dripping honey. We're sitting in the university's coffee-shop, a thick form between us. She's interviewing me on casual american dining for a market research, and apologizing politely at regular intervals. It's long and I have things left to do, but somehow I'm not bothered at all, because those nowhere as sweet as her take time away from me by force, so why not give it to a deserving person voluntarily?

Nada, a word of comfort in an uncomfortable year. Her rough long hair tamed into a plait, her big brown eyes filling the bigger face that sits on her seven-year old tiny body, feeling like it doesn't belong. I've moved into a new school, its hallways as unfamiliar and confusing to me as the people that fill it. Everything is a confusing blur- the games in physical education with rules I have no clue of, the identical blocks, the infinite rules I need to learn. But Nada is the clear constant, chattering incessantly by my side and expecting no entertainment in return. Which is relieving because I have none to offer. All she wants is to be listened to. On henna-ed hands, her older brother's philosophies on discipline, the different things she has to do to manage her hair and the handwritten letters to her grandmother in Yemen.

Nada. Us three girls sitting on conveniently-placed sofas in a store's men section, bored and waiting for our dad to finish deciding on which shirts to buy. We create an additional sister in our imagination, twin to Huda, complete with appearance and personality. Nada and Huda. She'd have the same straight and silky brown hair, big brown lashed eyes; wear the same clothes in different colours. Huda is giggling uncontrollably at the thought with sparkling eyes. She shyly begins to contribute: Nada will be the athletic twin and the more talkative one. She wouldn't be as good as her at school. We go on brain-storming, giving more life to our new sister, until it's finally time to leave and we both exchange a knowing look that needs no words to express itself: another her would be too much for our hearts to handle.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Her Freedom

She wasn't like all the other flowers. Maybe from the surface, yes. But you wouldn't have singled her out if you were just an outsider looking in. You would simply take in the breath-taking carpet of yellow tulips spread as far as your eyes can reach, each no different from the other.

If you had a special plant-translation device with you though, you'd hear her bitter whispers. Pretty aggressive too, coming from a delicate tulip like that.

So stuck here.
This is pathetic.
Bound by a stalk to the ground. 
My right to freedom.
Let. me. go.

So you do let her go. Out of genuine conviction. Or pity. Or submission.
But did you remember to remind her that she dies when she breaks away from her roots?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Little Favour

How about we have a deal.
All you must do is hop on to my Ferris Wheel.
Take me by the hand. Hold it steadily.
Pretend you're not afraid. Sit ahead of me. Lean over the edge.
And let me know what's coming ahead.
Point and spell them out loud and clear for me.
Guilt expected later this evening. Love speeding up around the corner. Here comes Indignation in two days. And behind it I see Insincerity wearing a Friendship gown.
No more surprises and no more let-downs. And no excuses, either.
I promise to accept it all without a frown.

Photo taken by deviantart member =xthumbtakx

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Open Door

I wrote this piece for a writing competition with the theme "The Open Door". I didn't win but thought about sharing this with you for my O day :)

He drummed his fingers on the floor of his prison cell, then sighed. That left him
exhausted. His fingerprints looked like deep excavations through the thick layer of dust he was on. The hot air he exhaled stood still by his lips, hesitating to mingle with the coldness of the room. How long had he been in here, with his head drooped down? He couldn't for the life of him remember. It didn't matter anyway. Time had ceased to be important: minutes and hours and days and years swirled around in his fuzzy head like misty silhouettes indistinct from each other. Desperation- This is what it did to him.

You are his twin, not his mirror-image. Look into this mirror I'm holding up for you now. You see? Your cloned features are crammed with so much more. I can almost see vision overflowing from your eyes. If I could, it would be red. The color of energy. Look at the caterpillar on the window-sill and see the vibrant butterfly inside it, waiting patiently till the time comes when it can flaunt its beauty.

He settled over there pathetically. Perched on the prison floor that he had become a part of. If the room was capable of holding more gloominess, he would be feeding it some. But it had saturated. The accumulation of a billion dark thoughts. The thoughts were cranky teenagers, sulking at him for bringing them into a place they couldn't figure out.

Don't let that distract you though. Can you smell the stench of fertilizer outside the room?  You're not one to let that get to you, right? I can see how you're thinking about the substitution that will soon occur. When the manure will produce fragrant flowers, their delicate scent invading the world. Can you detect the subtle whiff now? If it had a color, it would be yellow. A bright, light, sunshine-y color.

He lost all feelings of being and belonging. Numbness shrouded him. His body parts cried out loud for a change in their position. His jugular vein throbbed in pain, his neck having forgotten its default position. Yet he felt none of this. If they could speak, they would complain to him of their anguish, plead him to put them to mercy. His lifeless eyes moved over his body, the separate entity, with an objective look that saw nothing.

Ignore that. Look at your intact self. You're a machine with a million friendly parts, working in harmony. Do you sense how the blood cells are thanking your heart for its pumping and your veins and arteries for the amazing ride? You see how they look behind at the lungs and wave? When meal-time arrives, you will smile at the little food, cold on your plate, thinking of all the fun activities going on inside you. Green is the color of the world in you- the color of well-being.

He lived on in his self-pity. Since he couldn't add more dismal thinking to the atmosphere, the thoughts got trapped inside, gradually filling him, entering his blood and oxygen, until Hopelessness became him. From the corner of his eyes, all he could see was murkiness. 'A waste of space', he told himself, another miserable thought to add to the darkness. The four walls of the room loomed over him, gray. They were approaching- shutting in on him, making him feel even more confined, until he was suffocated. He finally moved- to wrap his arms around his knees and rest his head on them. Gave up on life with only death to look forward to.

If I could see the aura around you, it would be purple. The color of nobility. Hear that steady dripping on the ceiling? The one that was designed to torture you? It could be anything you want it to be. I can practically hear the tune you're turning it into in your mind. A beautiful melodious song that can soothe the edgiest of people. Blue is your composition's color- the color of trust and tranquility.

Funny how a pair of twins in the same room can be living in parallel worlds. Don't mind the prison bars, you have butterflies, perfumed flowers, music and yourself to accompany you. Soon your beautiful thoughts will give rise to a new beginning. Do you see how the door opens before your eyes? I see that the fruits of your optimism have left you dumbfounded. Don't be. You underestimate the power of you. As you step out into your new world and celebrate yourself, don't look behind you. Too bad Hopelessness is too busy looking down to notice The Open Door before him.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Meeting Jackie Daydream

I once wrote about Roald Dahl being one of the few writers that understood children's minds so well. There is one particular author, born thirty years after him, that can do this abit better. Jacqueline Wilson's books were my drug as a child- the sense of euphoria they gave me...and the increasing dosages I needed to get the same level of satisfaction. I never really outgrew them- if there's a new Jacqueline Wilson novel, I'll make sure I read it (even if it's under the pretense of buying them for my younger sister).

What I loved most about her books were the little things her characters did or wrote about that I could so relate to- and that adults wouldn't give a second thought. She has this special ability to make a reader laugh out loud, burst into tears and nibble their nails all in the same page.

So it was a significant moment today morning when I sat in a hall at the Emirates Festival of Literature, with my sister and her two school friends, all of us clutching books to be signed and almost crying of excitement waiting for her to enter any minute. In she came then, with short humble steps- a typical elderly English lady, white cropped hair, glasses perched on nose, shabbily dressed in a wide shirt, trousers and a million enormous rings and clutching on shyly to her big black bag.

She sat down on stage and instantly began talking to the audience: stories of her childhood, her ambitions of becoming a writer, the little experiences she's been through and where she gets her ideas from. It went on for an hour and although I knew it all, it was such a great feeling sitting down and having your favourite childhood author speaking right to the kid inside you. It almost felt like I was listening to an audio tape of one of her books- it hit me how similar she was to all her made-up characters.

When it was my turn in the book sign-up, I really wanted to ask her how she managed to write so accurately from a child's perspective. I wanted to tell her that her books remind me of how I used to see the world back then, so how can she so easily right all this down- does it come to her naturally, or does she have to travel in her mind and reminisce how it felt like to be a child?

But then it struck me that it would be like asking her if she still thinks like a child or is just pretending to for writing sake. So instead I just ended up telling her something she already knew, "I love your books, Jacqueline Wilson. I know you must have heard this a million times." Oh, *chuckle* I'm so pleased dear.

Have you ever met somebody who has been a big influence in your life?

(This is my hundredth post!)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Not that you'd be interested

10:30 am Leases is what we're studying this accounting class. How to classify leases. And how to account for them, but that's way easier than figuring out a lease's identity. Does the world know how much we're thinking into a simple lease? How we're analysing theories and using formulas and performing calculations to figure out what we can name the lease?   

Just how it is so much more difficult knowing yourself than knowing how to account for yourself. 


6:00 am There are three reasons it's difficult getting out of bed this morning.

First, I didn't use my usual tactic last night of putting the cell phone in the other corner of the room to force myself to get up, walk to it and make it shut up. The alarm sounds so friendly on my bed-side now that I'm comfortable having it here, singing to me. I am watching it vibrate and light up, wide-eyed. It hits me how something that happens every morning seems so interesting now, and I feel guilty for having ignored all the previous performances. But I can make up for that by appreciating it right now.

Second, my feet are too cold. Getting up would mean they'd have to touch the cold white floor before they find my slippers, and that's too much to ask from them so early in the day, even if it would just be for a few seconds.

And third, I am admiring my purple night-gown and then remember that my sister in London requested cotton ones from the Chinese pavilion in Global Village. I'm wondering whether she'll find it cute or lame if I get her the same one. The thought of not being able to predict the reaction of the closest person in the world to me is disturbing. 


5:00 pm It's that favourite part of the day when I can temporarily experience someone else's life. This time it's Jack Gladney's life from White Noise. One of those heart-stopping plunges has just woken up in the middle of the night, and it makes him think of death.

Is this what it's like, abrupt, peremptory? Shouldn't death, I thought, be a swan dive, graceful, white-winged and smooth, leaving the surface undisturbed?

I like the thought of that.


6:30 am I am standing in front of the mirror, drowning my contact lenses in solution while I read the bottle label just for the heck of it. Slide in the right one, wishing I could see invisible foreign particles -to be safe, and then quickly taking my wish back. The left one is refusing to get in properly, and I pop it back into the solution angrily. It floats happy, cackling victoriously. Then I smile at my absurdity and put it smoothly back to my eye, wondering how normal it is to imagine inanimate objects capable of feeling.


9:45 am I am standing outside with a close friend and a not-so-close one and we're making small talk. Starts with how pleasant the weather is. Ends up covering noisy neighbours, protective dads, and buildings in flames. I am trying to figure out how interested we all really are in what we're saying when I find myself talking animatedly too, and that's when I ask myself if that's how everything in life is. 


8:30 am It's easy arguing for something you don't believe in. You just have to leave your own body and watch yourself. I look at myself standing in front of the room, trying to convince my sleepy Business Communications class that communication can't be taught. It's funny. I notice how much I'm using my hands to help me explain. And I notice other things about myself that nobody can see unless they really want to, like how white the tips of my fingers have become from holding the flash cards too tightly, and how I'm looking at everyone around me just because I don't want to hold eye contact with anyone for too long. When I'm done, I slide back into myself and marvel at how well I hid my nervousness. 

12:30 pm We're not done with leases yet. But we've had a break and now that we're settling down again, the guy sitting in front of me turns around with a precious Lindt chocolate bar in his hand. "Chocolate?" he offers kindly, and I stare at the picture of mint on the cover, my heart pleading and pleading me, knowing deep inside I am going to let it down but trying anyway. And I do let it down. "No, thanks."

8:00 am My team member asks me who judges the winning team. Cigarette smell attach themselves to the words coming out of his mouth and stay there hesitating in the air. The smell makes me think of rotting lungs, black teeth and swearing. I can't help it. I bite back a cough and clear my throat instead. It takes me two minutes to reply and remind him it's not a contest. 


10:00 am I have an appointment with one of the warmest people in the world. Noorhayati is her name. Light of my life it means. Doctor Noorhayati. She welcomes me with a beaming smile in her office. I go towards her, meaning to hug her and then remember half way that it might not be the most appropriate way to greet a teacher. We end up awkwardly patting each others' arms. She wants me to speak on her behalf in a conference while she's away. And she wants me to co-author a chapter in a textbook. I feel like laughing out loud all of a sudden. I'm not sure why I get the feeling that I'm an actress on stage, faithfully keeping to my script. But then I look at the hope in her eyes, the big smile on her face and the memory book we surprised her with in our last lecture, sitting on her desk, and I want to cry instead. How selfish of me to not take on their trust. 


3:00 pm Us three sitting on the kitchen table, eating delicious fattening burgers and chips and drowning them down with Coke. My mom's thinking out loud: deep contagious thoughts. She is talking and I'm wondering if she knows how much I love her. She takes her calcium and back-pain-relieiving pills as she shares her thoughts on how cunning the pharmacuetical industry is, and how much more profitable they would be if they ran straight. I think of my accounting professor's words that same day, "It's not about knowing how to number crunch- it's about learning how to manipulate the numbers. Get to know these scams because one day you'll be a part of them." He's joking, of course, we think, as the class giggles nervously. 


Thursday, January 26, 2012

When tragedy meets indifference


The day the young boy put an end to his life, she was the only audience. It happened when she was busy collecting sea-shells. Not the typical romantic setting you have in mind though. Yes, it was a perfect day for a stroll on the sea-side. Friendly sun rays warmed the sea and sand, and kindly allowed a few cool breezes through. The water was that turquoise blue you only see in touristic posters. The few footprints that had disturbed the smoothness of the picture were wiped away with one gentle wave. Actually, given her reclusive inclining, it might just have been that nature, on her arrival, had tipped all the elements involved to be extra good to her that day. But she wasn't there to look at any of that. She needed sea-shells, and once she had what she needed, she'd be done and out of there. 

A feeble attempt at mechanizing an un-mechanizable life. And when she saw the warning signs, the boy's dysfunctional limbs, his determined plunge, his helpless screams, nothing in the mental manual she scanned told her how to deal with this unusual interruption. So she went on collecting sea-shells, giving each one a quick examination for any faults before deciding if it's a keeper. She did this while she watched his death from the corner of her eye. 

But two out-of-the-ordinary thoughts popped in her mind while she did, before she waved them away:
1. What was the last thing he told anybody, and
2. Who will be her audience? 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

IF (What it takes to tackle this world)

by Rudyard Kipling 

IF you can keep your head when all about you 
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, 
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, 
But make allowance for their doubting too; 

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, 
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies, 
Or being hated, don't give way to hating, 
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise: 

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master; 
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim; 
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster 
And treat those two impostors just the same; 

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken 
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, 
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, 
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools: 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings 
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, 
And lose, and start again at your beginnings 
And never breathe a word about your loss; 

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew 
To serve your turn long after they are gone, 
And so hold on when there is nothing in you 
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!' 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, 
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch, 
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you, 
If all men count with you, but none too much; 

If you can fill the unforgiving minute 
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run, 
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, 
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

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