Tuesday, September 25, 2012


I have just pulled my head out of the novel it's been buried in for the past ten days. Setting Roots back amongst its family of books, I have to sit down on my bed for a while, sift through a jumbled mess of thoughts and emotions (any engineer reading this to take up my desperately-needed thought-washing-machine?).

Through the muddle and disarray of thoughts is a lingering truth: I am exhausted. Living a seven-generation saga, one stocked to saturation with heartbreak, anguish and pride, is too much to handle. Here's another truth: I am overwhelmed. Kunta Kinte, from the 1700s, trying the best he can to pass on his roots to his daughter, springing to a story eternalized. And this: how important it is to keep your Roots alive.

Everybody has their own family saga to tell. When my parents hand me down stories of our ancestors, again and again, I know it is not just like any other thing they tell me. It is an act of preservation. I have a role to play in this, a duty to keep it going through the generations.


There are so many names to remember. So many stories. I wish I could commit it all to memory with a wave of a wand. Great people- ancestors who freed their people from occupiers. Ancestors who wrote volumes and volumes. Ancestors who paved the way to further research in their fields. Poets and scholars and politicians. It does not fill me with pride like I expect it to- it humbles me. Makes me feel so small in this lineage. And then: my father repeatedly tracing his finger over the family tree he has proudly framed and covered. "Forty-six generations between you and the Messenger" It makes me smile. My roots.


Friday, September 21, 2012

The Human Squeezers

You often say, "I would give, but only to the deserving."

The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture.

They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.

I recently came across Khalil Gibran's thoughts on giving.
It sounded beautiful.

As I read it again, living the inspiration, I thought about what a good feeling it is to give. To feel useful. To know that you helped someone in need and their life is a tiny bit brighter because of you. Isn't that enough of a reward? Being useful is an extraordinary feeling. It's almost miraculous. A staggeringly pleasing sensation that spreads warmth, giddiness and all the positive adjectives you can think of throughout you. People who feel useful walk around beaming with springy steps, slightly-raised heads and light hearts.

Then I thought about how it feels being used  and all the butterflies, rainbows and mini-unicorns that were dancing around me instantly vanished back to Lalaland.

Nobody likes feeling used. I don't care what Gibran thinks.

Some people look at you but it's not a human being with a life and interests of their own that they're seeing. They're looking at a tool, and wondering how best to use it. I call them: the squeezers. Squeezers on constant look out for ways they can squeeze out their wants from you. Whether the squeezing inconveniences you or not,

The very frightening aspect of squeezers is that they usually are not even aware they are squeezers. Yes! It could be you or I or that bloke across the street! It starts off with a favour or two, but soon it turns into dependency. And before they know it, they are looking at everyone around them the same way corporations regard the public, measuring up people by the extent of their utility.

This post isn't going to give you tips on how to deal with squeezers.* It's more about how to identify if you are a squeezer, and what you can do about it.

Here is a simple test to find out:

Don't get me wrong: I do believe that only through helping each other can we rise above our current selves. But there is a gargantuan difference between a world where people are voluntarily being useful to each other and a world where some thrive at the cost of others. It is very important to know the difference. As a general rule, just never make anyone do something for you what you can do for yourself. 

A famous Arabic proverb goes:
ما حك جلدك مثل ظفرك، فتولى انت جميع امرك
Nothing scratches your skin like your own fingernails, so take charge of all your affairs.

*Firstly because I am nobody to talk. Secondly because there's no shortage of the 'How to say No' content around the web. Thirdly because although being used sucks, there is a certain noble feel about not letting others down even if it involves letting yourself down. And fourthly because, depending on your intentions, in the words of Mother Teresa 'It was between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway'

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.

I've never been good at writing fiction. It's an area I need much practice in and would really appreciate your suggestions and constructive criticism. How would you improve on this?

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.

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