The old Lie

I imagine the hardest part of living through a war is not being able to see the enemy as anything but just that; an enemy. I imagine the other hardest part of living through a war is realizing you had no stake in it until your way of living was turned into a small pile of chips to wager.

What they don’t tell you about war in history books (that aren’t doused in Wilfred Owen) is that war turns people pathetic. It turns people into schoolyard bullies trying to prove to the other that their prepubescent chin hairs are longer. Dignity lies in the barrel of a gun…and how far you can threaten the mass annihilation of a people in a Facebook comment.

War turns people small. Not small in a cute, cuddly way. Small like a shitty chihuahua who yelps and growls and bites really irritatingly hard. You suddenly become a groupie after a government that was the bane of your existence, and forget every single valid qualm you had against it because it gave you a distraction.

War turns people short-sighted. They say retrospect is 20/20, but not during wartime! There’s a reason history repeats itself time and time and time again because the fog of war makes it really hard to actually see what’s staring back at you in the mirror unless you have the presence of mind to air out the bathroom. Everyone loves a good nuclear war.

War turns people geographically illiterate. No, really, everyone loves a good nuclear war – especially if the targets are right next door. That won’t go over badly at all.

War turns people heartless.

Everyone loves a good nuclear war.

That won’t go over badly at all.

War turns people impractical. You know how it’s really irritating to have to go through a visa process because some jerk from your country did a really horrible thing and now you have to deal with the consequences of a country that went full War on Terror?

Yeah. That really shouldn’t be relatable.

And honestly? War turns people selfish. On the scale of the effect of war being an inconvenience <-> being disastrous skews more and more towards the latter when you start tossing poverty into the mix. You know what’s hard to do when you’re homeless, internally displaced, and living day to day – sometimes hour to hour?

Changing the filter on your Facebook profile picture to your country flag.

No, but really though, that’ll show ’em!

My parents raised me too well to let my ego dictate personal foreign policy. They also raised me to not share controversial opinions but that one is a bit harder to follow.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

A post written in poem

​as a child i listened to The Cranberries

singing anthems i could not grasp 

for Salvation & for Zombies, 

as Odes to my Family & to Saving Grace;

i am 21 & my heart aches as it connects

the dots a five year old in her father’s car

could not.

i cry for the Warchild, 

for Ridiculous Thoughts,

& sing my Daffodil Laments

(my anthem for Zombies is much the same). 

as a child my mother found me

watching the news with the grimness of 

a newly minted tween.  

i had tears in my eyes & what felt like 

a noose in my fists  

& an anger so new to my 4 foot 5 frame. 

“how do i fix it?” “you don’t.” “why?”

“you talk to others about fixing it. you trust 

others to help you do what you can’t do 

alone.”

mamma bade me speak with the softness 

of water & watch the ripples flow from me. 

with their tanks 

and their bombs  

and their bombs  

and their guns,  

watch them die in a treacherous mind’s eye. 

& spill forth water from open arms.

In defense of the fantastic

I will be the first to admit that I read fiction far more than I read non-fiction*. In her fairly successful attempt to make sure her children turned out to be fluent in English, my mother filled every bookshelf I ever had with books either bought firsthand, secondhand, or passed down from her own childhood. After a while, I took excursions away from my own bookshelves to secretly raid hers during afternoon naps or days she ended up staying at her school late.

I’m sure if she knew the kinds of books I was sneakily reading at the time, she would have made sure I stuck to my British schoolgirl books. Alas, for better or for worse, I got to read about Alexander the Great’s various and plentiful and certainly embellished indiscretions. And Cleopatra’s. And various other historical figures whose lives were probably not quite as exciting and scandalous as Valerio Massimo Manfredi would have you think.

One of the genres I found myself gravitating to were fantasy novels. I’ve mentioned before of my great, undying love for Tamora Pierce and how her heroines taught me to be independent and strong, but beyond just that it was the candid exploration of socio-political issues set against the backdrop of a world not quite but similar enough to my own. I was forced to put aside my own reality and consider the author’s presented universe, and to put my prejudices aside meant questioning my predispositions. No matter how young my thought process, it was a necessary experiment. As I revisited the same books over the years (or, hell, sometimes in the same year) the knowledge I’d acquired in the meantime found more nuance in the books, in the characters, picked out subplots that I hadn’t even seen before. I was able to then see the similarities between my world and that of the protagonist’s. Fantasy became a little less fantastic and a little more allegorical. Even the highest of fantasies (and, it must be said, probably the highest of authors) forced me to confront political truths in my own life. I might even go as far as to say that fantasy and fiction helped influence my politics.

As absurd as that sounds, why wouldn’t that be the case? We become so invested in fiction that the experiences of the characters we read about elicit visceral reactions from us: hatred, love, empathy, sadness, grief, thoughtfulness, sometimes even horror and a sense of overwhelmedness that requires us to physically remove ourselves from the experience.

Two words to this point: Red. Wedding. If you thought the show was bad…

Another thought to the same point. A Song of Ice and Fire/A Game of Thrones: Whether you watch the tv show, read the books, or both, we all know by the now the profound cultural impact George R. R. Martin has had on us. The New Yorker publishes think pieces about the series. We debate redemption arcs, commiserate over usually gory deaths, confront the stark reality that justice is not always served and the world doesn’t owe even the most honorable people anything and what even is honor? Moreover, the universe forces you to politick in your own mind in an attempt to keep up with the characters and mechanisms presented to you. People hypothesize, argue, posit theories in a way that political scientists should be awed and probably a little annoyed by. In fact, people have managed to apply this universe’s politicking to that of the real world. This isn’t just limited to the US, although that is the example that comes most readily to mind. I’ve seen Pakistanis identify major political actors in our own realm as Cerseis and Margaerys. As mundane and even vapid as it may seem, that is a disservice to humanity. We have seen and manifested reflections of our politics in various art forms for as long as we have had said art forms. If mass deliberation by virtue of social media is somehow less meritous (is this a word? It should be), then I’m happy to be vapid.

I watched 12 Angry Men with my parents earlier this evening. Originally, I had intended to only passively watch while tending to my farm in Stardew Valley, but somewhere between catching my largest eel yet and realizing how little hay I had to feed my chickens through the winter I realized this movie deserved my full attention. I was rapt, as were my parents, and it stood to make an emotive audience of us. We gasped, laughed incredulously, and when the movie ended we just sat in amazement. It didn’t matter that the movie was almost 60 years old, the black and white seemed a trivial thing to note; we had suspended our own notion of reality in favor of the one presented to us, and by the time we snapped back to our living room chasing the tail end of 2016 we had absorbed and harmonized the truths in 12 Angry Men with our own truths.

Or, as the case may be, our reasonable doubts.

After the movie I went and did some cursory research. As it turns out, it was the movie that influenced US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer’s decision to study law. Good call.

The beauty of being human is that we can find inspiration, motivation, drive, hope, outrage in so much. Fantasy for me, though, became a means of productive dissociation before I even knew what that meant. It forced me to confront difficult questions while maintaining the comfort of distance. When it did become a little too much for me, I could put down the book and mull everything over until I was ready to plunge myself back into the problems of my foster universe. And for a Pakistani kid – for a deeply traumatized 20-something year old college student – that kind of control is a savior.

And then when I’m ready, I can save entire worlds again.

*this does not make me better than anyone

At some point I’ll make a list of my favorite/most influential fantasy/fiction series 🙂 Currently reading the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson.

Edhi

I don’t know when I became aware of Abdul Sattar Edhi. I guess that’s the thing about “givens” – they have no origin, there is no place in time to which they belong, they simply are and Edhi simply was in a way we could only hope to be. Edhi was a fixture for every Pakistani. Not a day went by where you wouldn’t see an Edhi ambulance weaving its way through dusty, dangerous Pakistani traffic presumably to save a life. The stout little vans with Edhi’s name in red emblazoned across them were a sign of hope and life in a country where the former was in short supply and the latter could be construed as a lottery or a game of roulette. If anyone ever asked what they could do to change anything in Pakistan, why, donate to the Edhi Foundation of course. Whenever there was a crisis, a disaster, Edhi was one of the first to respond, casting the widest net with the least fanfare. Edhi was a reflection of the best of Pakistan.

Someone on Twitter said that Edhi was one of the few who has left behind a working institution, and not only that, but he left behind one of the few institutions anyone could trust, and so wholly at that. He created his foundation, his network of ambulances from the ground up, with hands that wanted nothing more than to service humanity for the sake of humanity. It’s no coincidence that his humanist institution was oiled better than any other institution sanctioned by the Islamic Republic; the oil he used to make the cogs turn wasn’t cut with corruption, brick dust and tribalism.

But then, this is not the time to be cynical. Using Edhi’s death to criticize inaction is not what he would have wanted. He was critical of religion as it manifested itself in Pakistan, critical of the kind of education that blew rose and jade tinted glasses for the wealthy, but he never let that criticism defeat him. He was not an exception; he was only exceptional because we chose to defer all action to people like him. He merely showed himself to be the kind of person we could all be. He showed that he could be the rule.

Past tense is unique in its ability to make one despondent. Edhi was, yes, but he will always be. He created the foundation – literally – for something beautiful.

The world has been truly horrible lately. Edhi’s passing is too much to bear in the wake of all that has happened. But maybe his death, his life, were meant to cauterize the wound. He was a beacon of hope, and even in his passing he is magnificent and benevolent in his reminder that we can be BETTER than we are.

We have not lost him. He saw to that. We can mourn his passing but he’d want us to pick ourselves up and affirm life. There is so much more we can do if only we stopped deferring to the Edhis of the world and internalized what it was that actually set him apart for ourselves.

Thank you, Edhi. May your spirit live on in the actions of the country you nurtured.

Long note: honest despair

I realize my last few blog posts have been a little more depressing than I usually put out. I try and imbue optimism in everything I write, because there’s enough sadness going around without me adding to it. And yet, here I am.

I forced myself to take a social media hiatus after some encouragement from friends. There is such a thing as too much engagement, and I had overextended my capacity to that end. That…was a sucky realization to say the least. I always thought of myself – forced the view of myself – as being impervious to emotional exhaustion. I feel, therefore I am, and I am lucky to be around so why ever stop feeling? If I want to give my life to some sort of public service, then I need to be able to power through the fatigue, muster every ounce of energy and positivity in me and somehow add to humanity’s global reserves of drive and perseverance.

Perseverance. Fortitude. Resilience.

Resilience.

Is there such a thing as being too resilient? is a question I’ve asked of Pakistan as a whole many times before. I look at when this debate first began – the night of the APS massacre – and wonder why it took that long for me to begin considering that question. As was at my emotional worst – and also at my angriest. The emotional wreckage felt welcome because of my physical distance from Pakistan. It felt like I was doing something if I was in so much pain – that there was a connection that mattered so much that it bruised no matter how far I was from home. It was comforting and despite the despair that still itched at my heart, it helped me heal.

At some point, we need to break down our shell and allow ourselves to feel the heft of lives lost and lives scattered, of normalcy shattered and routine decimated. We risk losing our humanity and capacity to empathize and mourn if we don’t let our walls down; we risk losing the opportunity to recharge.

I think I have let myself feel too much. I think I pushed myself to take in so much sorrow that I burnt myself out. Sometimes when I’m alone and I let myself be vulnerable, I cry for myself, for my family, for families I do not know, for people who have cried like I have. I cry for my own little microcosmic problems, and I cry at the sheer scale of the chaos I cannot even begin to comprehend.

And when I’m not crying, I try to fight a battle I’m not sure I picked wisely. We are all guilty of that. We pick fights out of self-righteousness in an attempt to feel vindicated, to feel any sort of productivity in the face of helplessness. We try to educate and inform, when we are the ones who want so desperately to be sat down and educated and informed. We project our own confusion, hurt, chaos of mind and heart onto others and I’m not sure if that heals anything.

And what we all need right now is to heal. Whether the wounds are global, local, personal, we need healing and kindness. Taking part in the “right” discourse can only help so much.

I suppose that’s what I’m tired of. I used to think that argument was the basis of all knowledge, and I still do believe that, but an argument requires some desire to find understanding. The dialogue I attempted to engage in was for the wrong reasons. And so I never truly let myself heal. I just held myself together with spit and gum and pretended I had recharged.

None of us really let ourselves recharge. We have forced ourself to always be “on” and ready to engage.

Screw engaging.

We have outsourced interaction unto words that are cold and impersonal.

I turned the pursuit of kindness into a game of skirmishes that I decided to ascribe intellectual properties unto.

We are – I am – so busy talking that we forget how to really feel, when our guard is down, we are broken and raw. That’s no way to recharge. You do not heal a wound by exposing it to the elements when it needs to be tended to overtime.

I’m tired, and that’s okay, but I need to do something about the fact that I exhausted all of my facilities in self-destructive perseverance.

Being too resilient is a bad thing.

At the time of writing this, I feel smaller and more helpless than I ever have. I don’t think that’s an uncommon sentiment lately, regardless of where you’re from. I find myself turning to art, music, writing but at the time of finishing this draft, an artistic Giant has been assassinated in Pakistan, and rather than taking the time to mourn him, I see my countrymen sharing videos and pictures of his ruined body. There is nothing sacred left about the horrors we as a world are facing. We have monotonized what should be held as unusual and unwelcome, for whatever reason (I have my own theories as to that).

I don’t really have a solution to my own despair, but maybe that’s the point.

Maybe there is no point, but maybe the point is loving fearlessly, whether that’s yourself or others.

There is some comfort in platitude.

Divining

some cooking tips:

1. when you cook chicken (breast, thigh or fillet)

make three thin nicks with a serrated knife
(okay, it’s more for bread than poultry
but it was the only knife within reach).
stuff rosemary in each pocket
& smell the divinity in your kitchen.


2. most things are better crushed.
take garlic, mint, ice, an empty can:
press down on the flat of your knife (or)
smush up leaves, admire your green thumb (or)
take your blender/hammer: now pulse/smash (or)
bring your foot down hard on the can
(extra points for panache)
& smell the divinity – and beer – in your kitchen.


3. don’t take offense if people ask
for salt or pepper with their food.
everyone has a different palette,
and besides, you always ask for hot sauce,
so why hold others to an unfair standard?
just bite your tongue,
nurse your ego in a separate room,
& smell the divinity of food shared in your kitchen.


4. they say that food cooked with more than five ingredients

is not as good as food cooked with three ingredients.
i’m not sure what the significance of three is,
but look: rice, meat and yogurt.
that’s three, but that does not biryani make.
now toss in the garam masala, saffron, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, fennel, bay leaves, salt, cardamom, cumin and peppercorn
& smell the divinity of your grandmother in your kitchen.


5. don’t be disheartened when you realize that english is

all you can write any poetry in.
your mother sings a silken tongue, but no good chef is the sum
of a single ingredient, however rich (or organic).
persian, arabic, turkish all threw in their loans,
but english lends itself nicely to being spun so soft
it can melt in your mouth like the best of them.
so forgive your insecurities,
& smell the divinity of poetry in your kitchen.

Short note: Happiness?

I find myself nervous when I’m too happy. There was a time I used to say without any hesitation that I am a happy person; optimistic and bold, I used to walk forward bravely into any situation, ready to handle whatever crisis came my way. My infamous “crisis head” lends itself well to unpredictable situations, and that assurance bolstered my confidence.

I don’t know if I can call myself a happy person so easily anymore. I’m still, at my core, a happy person. I’m more…frightened now. Ever since my anxiety took hold, I feel nervous about expressing happiness. I get nervous when I’m too happy, because it feels like only a matter of time before I have my happiness taken away from me. It’s easy for that train of thought to snowball into a self fulfilling prophecy and that’s…what usually happens.

I have a lot to be happy about and I know that. I doubt I will ever be an unhappy person. But I’m sad that I can’t give myself the luxury to anticipate happiness anymore. The thought of visiting Pakistan for the first time in years has me feeling nervous. What if something bad happens while I’m there? What if I’m judged for being less Pakistani than I used to be? What if my clumsy tongue stumbles over Urdu out of excitement and I fall back into a protective mantle of hushed English?

What happens if a fight breaks out in my family and I am paralyzed?

I tend to receive bad news or experience bad things when I share my happiness. Call that nazar if you’re superstitious (I know I am, a little) but I’ve been trying to hold happiness close to my chest. I feel wrong guarding it so jealously when my first instinct is to be outwardly happy and share the happiness, but I’m scared.

I guess that’s what it all boils down to. I’m tired and scared. It’s a shitty, shitty place to be, especially when you’re sleepy and it’s close to 11pm. Hopefully I can come up with something more inspirational with the sun.