Sunday, June 30, 2013

Can ignorance be bliss?

"Ignorance is bliss" some people say. Not always, but I can definitely defend this expression using life as a kid. Kids are ignorant, and they're happy, and alot of this happiness wouldn't amount to the same if they were looking at their life through educated, adult eyes.

When I was a kid, we moved from London to Dubai and life flipped a one-eighty degrees. Everything was new: from the yellow sky to the multitude of fast-food that was suddenly permissible, from small colourful classrooms to huge confusing ones, from silent house-lined roads to high-rise buildings on streets that never shut up. 

As we slowly started to settle into our new city, the friends and acquaintances that I expected would quickly replace the many we had had in London weren't coming. "We don't know them yet- how can I send you to a house I know nothing about?"- explained my mom every time I huffed away after a rejected birthday party invite. 

One very ordinary morning brought a knock on the door. A wobbly woman stood there, dressed in an over-sized shirt, trousers that did nothing to complement her figure, and a hijab shabbily tied around her head in haste. A boy my age and a girl two years younger cluttered around her legs. "Ah! You have a new friend now!" she bellowed, eyeing me top to bottom, before shoving them to me with a laugh. "Yalla, go play! Leave me alone with khala our neighbour!' She stepped in uninvited and unnoticed by my mother, who was busy staring at my new friends' bare and dirty feet in horror. Little did she know how accustomed my mother's sparking-clean floor would soon become to their rough feet. 

Our visitor came from a flat two floors beneath us: Palestinian, and one of two wives to a man, from an Iraqi village we had never heard of, whose face hadn't learnt how to smile. Their two-roomed apartment was cramped with two families and a zillion of objects, boxes and equipment in no discernible pattern. Zaid and Israa spoke a coarse hybrid of Palestinian-Iraqi dialect and had a wide vocabulary of words that even the walls of our own house would shrink away from. They rang the bell two or three times at uncustomary times of the day to play with us, always with an update on the status back home before letting themselves in. 
"We're bored."
"Mama said to get out off her sight"
"The television is broken."
"They're having a fight." 
Zaid would occasionally grab the garbage bin mid-conversation to spit in. He and his sister were more comfortable walking around our house than we ourselves were. They'd barge into the kitchen for a snack and peek into rooms to see what everyone else was up to. In our family, my father's afternoon nap-time was holy and had to be respected with utmost silence, but any attempts at hushing them up would be met with "Okay, don't worry, I'll go listen at his door to make sure he's asleep first."

My mother, courteous as she is, allowed the kids inside everyday, and from time to time, their mother herself, who like her children thought it perfectly normal to invite herself into my parents' bedroom and spread the collection of latest clothes she'd brought on their bed for display. But her pursed lips and tight smile spoke volumes of the inner debate inside her- between being the polite, good neighbour and between not allowing this clearly un-cultured family from getting too close. This worry intensified after we went to a clothes store once (they had spotted us climbing into the car and hurried over to join us) and I ended up running between clothing racks playing hide and seek, avoiding my mother's glares.

I remember the day they moved out. Zaid and Israa came over to say their goodbyes. They were exceptionally quiet. My sister and I tried to soften up the atmosphere by cracking a few jokes. They laughed but I noticed their eyes shined with tears. All I could see then was that these kids didn't follow the same rules we did. That hadn't come in the way of our play-time. I was blind to all the socio-economic differences between us- to the completely different background their family came from and the strikingly mismatched way we had been reared. 

And that is why I say sometimes ignorance can be bliss. Because if it was not for the blind innocence of kids, Zaid and Israa would never have been able to play with us. They wouldn't have had an escape from the awful environment they faced at home, and they wouldn't have been able to witness a stable family. When they cross my mind, I wonder where they are, what they're doing, and hope they're okay, but deep down, I know if I ever did meet them, the adult me wouldn't be able to ignore the gulf of differences between us. 



28 comments:

  1. A very touching account of your life....

    But, well... Ignorance can be bliss in many ways.... Knowing is a true horror!

    Imagine your own little story- taking a step further.. imagine never knowing the fact that there is a gulf of differences between your families,,,,

    Imagine not knowing poverty, not knowing hatred and war and terrorism- imagine being ignorant to all of it--

    Doesn't the world look such a blissful place to live in?

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  2. Such a deep analysis of the zaid and israa sessions!

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  3. Wow! What a wonderfully told story. It's the sort of tale that merits a "Where Are They Now?" epilogue but real life isn't like that, is it?

    Thank you for sharing.

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  4. Awww, this made me quite sad :( you're right, ignorance over some things would make adulthood simpler .. but I guess all that positive with the negative is part of growing up :(

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  5. Thanks for sharing. When I read stories like this, I sometimes wonder how things would be different for people who met and lost touch years ago if more social networking opportunities, such as Facebook or blogging, were available then.

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  6. Ignorance is bliss. But it is also ignorance. I don't know what I'd pick. The hardships won't go away ignorance or no ignorance.
    Thanks for sharing. :)

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  7. :/ I agree wholeheartedly. I don't think I've had an experience to look back on and notice just how incredibly 'ignorant' I was - not off the top of my head, anyhow - but I still miss the innocence of being a kid either way, and all the not knowing that you can get away with without feeling bad about it later on...

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  8. Has to be the best thing I had read in a long time. I know how we sometimes put up with people to be polite, but you know, the most unlikable people need to be liked the most. I wish I could act upon that though.

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    1. "the most unlikable people need to be liked the most'
      :)

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  9. Sometimes one good role model is all it takes for a life to change.

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  10. I know that there were people in Hyderabad who raised their children with more restrictions than our parents did, but again there were people who did not have any reservations and as a result we would be confused but my grandma would explain to me that it is not easy to teach children every thing. Like Kelly Louise says we need to teach them by being examples.

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  11. Yes, the adult in you and in all of us won't allow the heart enough slack to reach out and touch another. But on the contrary, I won't say ignorance is bliss either because well, it's just stupid, being happy only because you're unaware of the horrors that exist in the everyday reality of others. What would truly be right (and ideal) would be to acknowledge this gulf of differences and but not let it bind you. I know, its borderline unreal.

    Wonderful post! I'd like to be a regular reader now. ;)

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  12. While it was clear that their presence wreaked havoc, it was admirable for your mum and the whole family to still welcome them in your home. Your place was a safe haven for those kids even for a short time. They only have sweet memories of that time, I'm sure.

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  13. what a beautiful story you shared--yes it can be bliss!

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  14. Ah, sometimes. . . .You cannot do everything and help everyone. I think your family gave that family some good things, you did not just shut the door and say "go away." Good story with a good lesson for all of us.

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  15. I don't think the kids that you described in your story, or others like them, are ever truly ignorant. Of the differences that lie between them and pretty much what they think is the rest of the world. Kids are sometimes more intuitive and understanding to the unspoken. I wish I had grown up ignorant, for a little while longer at least, but no such luck. In some ways, I am glad I was not ignorant for long - I knew exactly what I want and did not want out of my life from a very early age. It then becomes one of those things that does not fade away with time. :)

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    1. Thanks for your insightful comment. I agree with what you say and I think you misunderstood what I was implying in my post: I meant to describe myself as ignorant of the differences between us, not the kids as generally ignorant people.

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  16. Yes, ignorance IS sometimes bliss though not always. Cultural and socioeconomic boundaries are best kept away from children till they become old enough to understand for themselves and decide the good and bad.
    But some things should be talked about for excessive protection is more harm than good. There comes a day when it is shattered and you are left all confused.

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  17. Personal experiences teach you a lot, if you are willing to learn. It often requires you to see between the folds. Such a sad and beautiful story!

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  18. We all usually have that childhood story...of a friend made in the most unlikely situation ever,of kindness shown by people whom we think to be underprivileged or uncultured...'tis sad we forget that when we 'grow up'.
    Ignorance is bliss indeed.

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  19. Oh, wow. I can only admire your mum for the way she dealt with such a situation. It is so unfortunate how socio-economic differences often create barriers in what could be a lovely friendship. This post made me sad :(

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  20. Whoa. I loved this post. I loved the descriptions. For a moment I could feel myself among those clothing racks playing Hide n seek.

    Sadly, such socio-economic differences and caste difference and all this kind of shizz exists everywhere. Even here in Pakistan. Our house maid lives behind our home in the servant quarters, she has three sons and even though my mother tries her best that we send the same food that we cook at our own home to our maid's home too and all that, nut one can see the sparkle in the eyes of her three sons as they look at my brother's bicycle or notice how we drive off in a car every time rather than talking a walk as they do.. Which is why our parents have asked us to befriend the three lil' boys, do homework with them and not make them feel left out. But *sigh* the difference is there, even though those lil' ones are 'ignorant' of it at this point in time...

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  21. It's sad how differences can melt or harden as people age. Things would be simpler and happier if certain things could be ignored.

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  22. The sharp contrast in upbringing can be something that can endear people to others, as well as repel them. I feel better having read this.

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  23. This post made me cry. And I'm at work. I can't be sitting here, crying at the computer. :)

    This post also made me smile and laugh at the innocence of those young kids. I remember when I myself was young, I had no idea that we were poor. No clue whatsoever. I pray my own kids don't realize the financial stress we are currently in, I pray they don't realize what I didn't realize then.

    We are blessed with so much, I hope that is the sentiment they are left with now and when they age.

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  24. Oh, wow.. Nicely written! Can't agree more with how different our perspectives become over time, how truly judgmental we become.. hmm, but hey, at least you guys had fun as kids :)

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