Life lessons after nine years of marriage

Originally written for: http://gulfnews.com/opinions/offthecuff/life-lessons-after-nine-years-of-marriage-1.1294813

Life lessons, every step of the way

Life lessons, every step of the way

So it’s been nine years since we tied the knot. It seems like only yesterday I stumbled awkwardly towards the stage in impossibly high heels, struggling with the dress and wondering why you couldn’t get married in jeans. As a kid I had always told my family, “I will get married in jeans and a T-shirt!” Needless to say, things don’t always go according to plan, and if I were to say that the last nine years have been anything I could have imagined or planned out, I would be lying.

I will take this opportunity to reflect on some of the most valuable lessons that I hope to have absorbed over the past few years. It should be noted that this article is not in any way marriage advice, simply because the person writing it is still a work in progress and is in no way qualified to give it. It is in fact a mere contemplation of my own understanding of relationships.

Easily the most important lesson that comes to mind is: it’s not always about me. Once you get that abnormally large obstruction called ‘ego’ out of the way, you are open to admitting your own misgivings, learning and moving on. And when you look beyond yourself, you begin to understand the other person. It takes a lot of emotional depth to not judge a person who behaves badly. There are days when arguments spiral out of control, times when it appears that people are picking on you without a reason. On days like those, for a moment stop thinking about how unbearably wronged you feel. The other person might have had a disastrous day, try putting yourself in their place. And oh – if you learn to forgive, you’d save yourself a lot of unnecessary stress and probably a few white hairs too.

Living in the same space with another person requires a tremendous amount of adjustment. You both need your space, and the freedom to pursue your hobbies without the interference or involvement of your spouse. Adjustment also means putting up with your partners quirks – there comes a point when you stop complaining about your partner’s habits simply because you have realised the importance of having a harmonious household. You stop making those snide comments about the unmade bed not because you’ve stopped caring about it but mostly because you don’t want your children to see you bickering over little things. You let the little matter of him not putting the sugar bowl back slide, too. You’re not always quiet though – you’re just more choosy about when your open your mouth. You pick your battles. You can certainly make yourself heard when it really matters, and with good effect too!

If I were to take this discussion further and enter the realm of that inexplicable feeling called love, my input on that would be far too sarcastic and cynical to be palatable. Suffice it to say that in a relationship, what you give is what you get, and especially when you start out, invest in your bond in a positive way. By invest I mean learn to tolerate the other person, be decent, try to get along – and brownie points if you smile when you do that! 

Possibly the single greatest factor in making me positive when things have looked bleak is learning to be thankful for my blessings. It’s easy to overlook blessings such as eyesight and a warm bed, and it’s easy to forget that you are better off than millions of others. Life is full of ups and downs and when you hit rock bottom, remember that it could have been worse. That realisation gives you the strength to go on, and it helps you stop wallowing in that pit of ugly comfort called self-pity. Learning to be happy, staying happy and letting your contagious feeling of positivity spill over others is a win-win for everyone.

I’d like to conclude with the thought that it’s still early days and I am learning. With every day, I discover new reasons to be happy and hopeful and conversely, I stumble upon reasons to be the opposite.

The road ahead seems anything but simple and I fall frequently and embarrass myself with painful regularity. It’s nice to have a hand to lift you up when you do fall, and it’s nice to know that there is someone you can count on. Life, despite its overwhelming (scary?) sense of responsibility is infused with meaning and I wouldn’t change it for anything. Here’s to many more happy, meaningful, and satisfying years together.

Change of heart for the winter season

Originally written for: http://gulfnews.com/opinions/offthecuff/change-of-heart-for-the-winter-season-1.1276731

(Late upload :/)

Image via dawn.com

Image via dawn.com (people in Karachi warm their hands)

I have always loved winters. I’ve romanticised hot coffee on a cold winter night, and I’ve waxed lyrical on snow. I have a new story to tell, a sort of confession to make. I don’t like the cold at all. Perhaps my recent experience in Karachi had something to do with it.

Karachi is a coastal city in Pakistan and the winters there usually range from pleasant to slightly cold, somewhat like Dubai. A day or two of very cold weather (if the Quetta winds blow) is expected, but it is generally pretty comfortable, and all you need is a good sweater or hoodie to keep you warm. Children in school wear their cardigans in the morning, but they’re discarded carelessly into their backpacks as the day wears on. By late afternoon you start feeling a bit chilly again, but as you sip a cup of piping hot chai (sometimes accompanied with pakoras ( fried snack) – sort of falafel) you’re warm and dandy again. All in all, it sounds like a nice way to spend your winter break. This time round though, things were different. An icy cold spell that lasted more than a week had taken over the city.

I don’t remember the last time furious, freezing winds blew so relentlessly — morning, night and noon, transforming our porch into a waste ground for dirt and stray leaves. It was a case of getting the children to wear multiple layers underneath their sweaters, and then begging them to keep their shoes and socks on even inside the house. My biggest challenge however, was taking, and getting the kids to take showers.

It’s not like you don’t get hot water in the taps, but you have to let the water run for a while before the warm water starts trickling down. Then you hope and pray that the gas heater stays on the entire length of your bath because recently Karachi has been experiencing a gas shortage, and gas water heaters that are commonly used there become useful only if the gas supply is healthy.

Then when you’re finally done (gasping for dear life if the water suddenly went cold half way) you bundle yourself up in towels and come out. The room is extremely cold because no one (understandably) has heating in their homes in Karachi. But this time minimum temperatures hovered around 5 degrees Celsius and your teeth chatter as you locate your warmest-ever clothes — which incidentally, cater to the normal winters of Dubai or Karachi and are not nearly warm enough. The cycle repeats itself in a far more agonising way when you want to get the kids to take a bath, who insist that warm water does not exist.

Too cold for comfort

Homes are open and airy — windows that give the impression of being tightly shut will all too willingly let in the cold draught and you will finally realise the obvious: Karachi and the people who live there, are simply not equipped to handle seriously cold winters.

After all, in New York for instance, temperatures plunge way, way below Karachi and yet life seems to carry on as usual. That’s because homes are heated, the seat that you sit on as you drive is heated, and you’re usually wearing a huge North Face jacket and boots that keep the cold out. But in a place like my hometown, a winter this cold is unexpected. It leaves you scratching your head in confusion as you wonder why you didn’t pack more warm clothes for the kids, who of course end up falling sick. The heater you plug into the socket blows out your fuse because the switch wasn’t designed to handle 2000 watts. Facepalm.

On your final day in the city you notice, (somewhat suspiciously) that the weather is better. One thing however, makes it all worth the while. I’d gladly have stayed much longer (weather notwithstanding) if I could have. “Sweetheart, you’re leaving so soon? I’ll miss you,” Dad says quietly. My eyes are moist, and suddenly things fall in the balance. Being able to see my father has surely been the biggest blessing of all, leaving me to wonder if I do complain a tad bit too much.

Then which of the favours of your Lord will you deny?

favours of your lord

I look up in wonder at the sky,

I want to connect and I want to say so much,

I want to say sorry and I want to give thanks,

Words fail me my Lord; I somehow go blank.

 

My own silliness and my own mistakes line up before me,

All too obvious in hindsight, ironically,

Incredulous, I know how You still didn’t let me fall,

Oh Allah, You listened even when I was unable to call.

 

I made promises, and I vowed to mend my ways,

I broke my word countless times, but to You is all praise,

You didn’t judge me – you dealt with mercy and with love,

A love so complete, so powerful, that I am unworthy of.

 

You bless me my Rabb, with every passing moment,

I while away this wonderful gift of life in thankless enjoyment,

A discomfort so deep nestles within my humiliated heart,

I’ve taken things for granted and I haven’t played my part.

 

But does it matter ya Allah, if I say sorry yet another time?

Is there a way to fully convey the ghastliness of my crimes?

Is there a way to turn back, when I know I’ve ventured too far out?

Allah I know You understand the profound embarrassment that I speak about.

 

But I talk to You this day with hope and with yearning,

Knowing that to the Most Forgiving, Most Merciful I am turning,

Who forgives, forgets, cleanses me, even when I’m wrong, so wrong,

Please hold me once more Ya Allah — to You I belong.

 

I’ve messed up time and again, and I’ve not amended myself,

Yet there’s no despair in Your mercy, You said so Yourself,

I need miracles, I need more chances, and I need Your helping hand,

Mercy that befits You my Lord, indeed You are grand!

 

Don’t let me down, don’t let me turn astray,

Why I am unable to bend and why is it that I cannot pray?

I call on You in humility, defeated, undone by my own madness,

Still holding on to the ultimate hope of Your greatness.

 

My Lord words fail me again everything seems inadequate,

But You comprehend what lies beneath my tears, unstoppable and adamant,

I’ll leave it at that, Wallahu Aleemum Bi Dhaat is Sudoor,

My heart, and all its dirt and blackness — awaits your dazzling Noor.

Going back home will never be the same…

Originally written for: http://gulfnews.com/opinions/offthecuff/going-back-home-will-never-be-the-same-1.1267375

My head is bent low over my phone, and I am totally absorbed as my fingers nimbly tap the screen with a definite sense of purpose. I look busy; indeed it would be easy to (mistakenly) think that I am in fact the CEO of a large corporation. Of course I am faking it. There’s no one I am chatting to, and absolutely no one that I am emailing at this time of the evening. Yet, what else can I do to inconspicuously merge with the decor at this woebegone party where I feel about as comfortable as a ballet dancer on a football pitch? Thank God for internet and for smartphones!

Soon enough though, a long lost cousin wanders up to my chair, the chair that I have carefully chosen which is to the extreme left of the hall, hidden behind a large table. My attempts at blending with the decor do not appear to be working particularly well and I pretend to be delighted as we catch up. I steal an anxious glance at my phone but remain resolutely polite. She finally walks away and I breathe out.

So you’ve probably guessed that I’m not quite the party animal, to put it mildly. When we go home for the holidays, I find that there are parties to attend left, right and centre. Everyone who was single is getting married, those that got married last year are going to have a baby, and those that aren’t celebrating something decide to throw a party for no particular reason except sheer boredom. That means yours truly must attend parties, armed with the right gifts, and smile till the cheeks hurt and know just what to say to the million relatives and acquaintances omnipresent in such places.

I am usually squirming in discomfort at social gatherings, but the fact that they eat up valuable vacation time when I go back home annoys me. My main reason for travelling to Karachi is to meet my dad, my sister and her family, and my inlaws too. I do sometimes go on shopping excursions as well (persuaded by said sister), but the fact that I truly and sincerely hate shopping hardly helps. This time, as I get ready for a short trip back home, I am hoping to spend some quality time with the family.

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Bringing back memories

There is of course another thing about my hometown that attracts me.

The house. The big old rambling house that I grew up in, the place that has always felt like home, for as far back as I can remember. Each room reminds me of countless anecdotes and stories growing up and the old mosaic floors and the big desktop computer look as though they belong to another era. Yet no place in the world could be as cozy as this unique haven of security. But this time, by a strange twist of fate, I won’t be visiting the house.

My father, now being the only occupant of the once full house decided to sell it. He now lives in a much smaller, but far more manageable house and I can no longer walk into ‘my room’ and feel 16 again. One thing about the house was that you could practically feel mum everywhere — the curtains, the furniture, the kitchen, even the crockery would remind one incessantly of mum. It feels as though a great chunk of bittersweet memories have gone away with the house.

I wonder if the new place will feel anything like home. It has been a few months since the house has been sold off, yet whenever I dream about mum, or about the family, I invariably find myself in the old house. It is weird because the place doesn’t even belong to us anymore. Between the parties and family time, I wonder if I’ll have time to just drive over to the old place and gaze at the huge, ancient tamarind tree that hides the facade of the structure. I hope the people who live there now realise what a special place it is.

PS: For more on the house, and for its photos, click here: http://mehmudahrehman.wordpress.com/2011/08/04/d8-i-miss-you/

Flowers in Dubai

Hey All!

I hope life’s been treating you well. The Dubai Miracle Garden opened recently to visitors. It is a pretty amazing place and has more flowers than I have ever seen in one place! My pics don’t really do justice, but I hope you like them all the same.

-Mehmudah

Lots of people... lots of flowers

Lots of people… lots of flowers

 

 

Ask dusk approached, I thought I'd try and get a silhouette

Ask dusk approached, I thought I’d try and get a silhouette

 

 

I liked this one though. Simple things are often the best.

I liked this one though. Simple things are often the best.

 

 

With a point and shoot and bad light, this wasn't a particularly easy pic to take. It's not as good as I would have liked but it's a start :)

With a point and shoot and bad light, this wasn’t a particularly easy pic to take. It’s not as good as I would have liked but it’s a start :)

 

 

There were lots of flowered things.. a clock, a car, a house (this one) and many other things made of flowers. I was in a bad mood that day and feeling sick too. Plus it was nearly twilight so my camera suffered.

There were lots of flowered things.. a clock, a car, a house (this one) and many other things made of flowers. I was in a bad mood that day and feeling sick too. Plus it was nearly twilight and we left quickly… so not many pics…

 

I realize I am being apologetic about my pictures lol! I love this photo :)

I realize I am being apologetic about my pictures lol! I love this photo :)

 

 

I don't really like this one (various reasons) but I'm uploading it to show you the amount of flowers...

I don’t really like this one (various reasons) but I’m uploading it to show you the amount of flowers.

 

 

The park was nicely structured..

The park was nicely structured.

 

 

Sea of flowers... good weather too :)

Sea of flowers… good weather too :)

For more information: http://www.dubaimiraclegarden.com

Don’t sweat the small stuff :)

Originally written for: http://gulfnews.com/opinions/offthecuff/don-t-sweat-the-small-stuff-1.1259237

perfectionist-prayersmall

Image via source

Perfectionists are eccentrics in their own special way. They obsess over carefully written lists, they worry about specks of dust behind the telly that somehow escaped their watchful eyes and they secretly hate their own cooking because it’s never good enough to meet their standards. They find a true, quiet, internal sort of joy in looking at things such as a perfect manicure, an impeccable outfit, an excellent photograph or a beautifully written piece of literature and revel in its utter flawlessness.

Possibly the person who suffers most is they themselves. Their way of dissecting and taking apart their own achievements and abilities in a most ruthless manner leaves them with little self-satisfaction. Self-esteem can be questionable because they never seem to forgive themselves, and expect too much from themselves. The same attitude of measuring people against pre-conceived parameters in their own heads spills into their social interactions and often hinders relationships. Preoccupation with details is another idiosyncrasy – they can be found doing things over and over again until every little thing is exactly in place. Life with such people can be somewhat tedious. I would know, because for most of my life, I have been – you guessed it – a perfectionist.

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I’ve been the host hyperventilating before the party because “nothing looks right” and “everything tastes horrible” and more often than not, I will forget to enjoy myself. I’ve done and redone lengthy assignments because “something doesn’t seem right” and the way I treat the kitchen sink? Let’s not even go there. And you (and surely, my girls) don’t want to get me started on how I feel about dirty fingernails and disorganised bookshelves. Things on my side, however, miraculously appear to be taking a turn for the better.

I’m not sure why, but gladly, some of my OCD tendencies are relaxing. It could be because the better half has been on the prayer mat overtime beseeching the Lord to help me forget about the open toothpaste tube and dirty clothes that never seem to land in the hamper, or it could be the fact that life is never perfect and a sensible part of me has given up trying to make it so.

Why, after all, can’t one be happy, and truly content with how things are, today and right now? The world is a magical, exciting place and sometimes things that you can’t possibly explain or analyse happen. Life defies every law it has ever set and to go with the flow is the way to live it.

A friend of mine inspires me – her mind and body are designed in a way that stress glides off her as though it was the water falling off a beautiful green leaf when you water the plant. Only a few droplets of water remain on the leaf even when you water the plant thoroughly – that’s how little she worries even when times are tough. Her attitude to life is ‘yalla mashy halik’ as they say in Arabic. As for me, for most of my life I’ve been like the soil, absorbing the stress as though it were water. I truly admire people who are happy-go-lucky and just thinking about them makes me feel refreshed.

It is true that people who are conscious about every little detail will probably have neater homes and could be more organised in the way they run their lives. But surely, it makes far more sense to achieve that balance in life, when you are not all over the place and disorganised and yet you don’t spend precious time stacking your DVD’s alphabetically every week (yes, I’ve been guilty of such silliness in the past but not anymore, thankfully)!

I feel a giddy sense of relief – almost as though I were floating or hovering over a pleasant, peaceful garden in glorious weather, when I say the following to myself: I am no longer an obsessive, compulsive perfectionist who is never good enough. I am happy with me right now, today, at this very moment, (bad hair days, muffin tops and all) because there is way more to life than sweating the small stuff. I’m certainly nowhere near perfect, and never will be – but you know what? For once in my life, that is fine.

Still waiting to get a bite…

Originally published here: http://gulfnews.com/opinions/offthecuff/still-waiting-to-get-a-bite-1.1247838

IMG_5441

It was a lovely sight… you could actually see hundreds of fish!

Fish hate me. It’s either that or just the fact that I’m really, really bad at fishing. How else would you explain the fact that I was unable to catch a single fish in a place where the sea was so full of fish you could actually see them beneath the clear waters?

The recent Eid holiday saw better weather in the UAE than we’ve had in months, and that meant only one thing: explore the outdoors and leave the malls for another time! As we drove along the Sharjah corniche, we saw a multitude of people fishing. Rods were stuck into the sand, kept still for a bite as families enjoyed picnics and barbeques.

It seemed idyllic – catch your own dinner, grill it over the coals, and live it up! But we did not own any angling equipment and neither did we have any information on how to go about organizing our little fishing picnic.

IMG_5434

Crabs made a threesome

After some Googling and Youtubing, we became the proud owners of a brand new carbon fishing rod, complete with extra fishing lines, (so the whole family could fish together) plus hooks and sinkers – the whole lot to get us started! The guy who sold it to us was a fishing enthusiast whose latest fantasy was catching sharks. He talked us through the basics (I think he saw our enthusiasm coupled with complete lack of angling know-how) and had pity on us.

 The spot we chose was perfect for fishing. In the pristine, unspoilt waters of Dibba port, we could clearly see that the area was teeming with marine life. There were schools of fish visible to the naked eye, swimming over plants and rocks on the sea-bed. Around us local fishermen were catching lots of fish (their dinner I presume) without even breaking a sweat. If this wasn’t a great place to get started and boost our confidence, I don’t know what was.

The rod was cast, the hopes were up. Every little jerk of the line conjured up visions of a large fish that I would surely catch. The extra lines were also thrown into the water – with a little help from YouTube, we knew exactly how to set up the hook, line and sinker. Excitedly, we waited for a bite. And waited… and waited.

Dibba port

Dibba port

Around us people were catching fish after fish, indeed one fisherman actually had a plastic bag that was full of his catch for the day! And we were casting our lines again and again, hoping to get lucky. Smiles waned a little; the sun suddenly began feeling hot. Mental images of the big fish evaporated, I would now settle with a small fish (any of the little ones I could see in the water, would do – you can’t call me choosy) but every time there was tension in the rods it was invariably because some smart fish ate my bait and didn’t get caught in the hook, or because the sinker got stuck between the rock crevices.

After a long time, we decided we had had enough. The others around us also had enough, mostly because they had caught sufficient fish and sundown was approaching. As we were about to pack away, the unthinkable happened. My husband’s fishing line twitched. In spite of myself, I started getting excited. The kids began cheering — did we finally catch something? Or was it one those moments when the sinker gets stuck somewhere and your heart begins beating faster and you pull back your line – only to find your hook and sinker gone?

Check out the clearly visible marine life...

Check out the clearly visible marine life…

 Slowly, he pulled in the line. We held our collective breaths as a tiny fish, no larger than my finger had somehow entangled its fin in my husband’s hook. Photos of the catch were taken, celebrations followed as the little blue fish wriggled helplessly (and slimily) from the hook. It certainly did not look edible, and the local fishermen confirmed that. As we let it go back into the sea, I realised angling could be addictive, and it teaches you so much about life.

Sometimes all the planning in the world can’t beat plain good luck, and waiting patiently usually yields results. And the idea that spending time outdoors helps you bond as a family? I’ve fallen for it — hook, line and sinker!

(Photos and text by me)

Questions to Self.

Kids, work and home is mad busy as always. There are days when I feel so unsure of everything — and days when I feel things are finally falling into place. There are dreams, there are aspirations, but most of all there is a realization that time is running out.

Days turn into weeks, weeks slip into months and a frantic sense of urgency surrounds me. The girls are growing up, I’m growing older. Am I becoming a better person? Have I brought them up the right way? Would Allah be happy with me if I died right now? Have I even made a sincere effort to do my job in this world right? Am I getting lost in petty ego battles and politics? How did I become a better human being than I was yesterday? Will I change the world someday? Am I making a difference in the lives of those around me, and those near and dear to me? As a human being would I inspire anyone in positive way?

My intentions. Only the Lord knows my intentions. I wish they were always clean and pure.

I’m here in this world for a reason.

Art of dealing with exam agony

Originally published in Gulf News “Off the Cuff” on 26th August 2013. Late upload… sorry guys

http://gulfnews.com/opinions/offthecuff/art-of-dealing-with-exam-agony-1.1223937

Gladly, my exam papers wren't quite so blank !

Gladly, my exam papers wren’t quite so blank ! :)

There are some moments in life when you feel an overwhelming sense of relief. In particular, the relief felt after you finish your last exam is something special.

As I exited the examination hall after being done with my finals at last (smirking as I walked past the invigilators who had looked so intimidating only hours earlier) all I could think was: “I am a free human being again! It’s over!”

I relate the experience to the culmination of a long and demanding pregnancy, at the end of which the baby, which had hitherto been a happy and active resident of your ever-increasing belly, finally decides to make a move. It’s another matter that raising the child itself is another, even tougher exam, but I suppose you get the gist.

The weeks after the exam — when one is waiting for the results — are pure agony. Sometimes, the results are more distressing than the waiting period, whilst sometimes the grades one gets are a big relief.

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For me, Maths was consistently a leading cause of pain (calculus, my teacher and the thick textbook were all beyond my comprehension), whilst subjects such as English language, literature and Urdu made my school life look somewhat respectable.

I was in awe of my more able peers who were completely disappointed with their results: “Can you believe I got 91 per cent in Maths? There’s no way I lost 9 per cent! There has to be a problem with this!”

Statements such as this would come from those scholarly souls who would have, in a most frenzied air, claimed right before the Economics exam that “I studied the Macro chapters only twice! I read all the others three times, hopefully we won’t get a question on macro!”

This statement, said to someone like myself, who had barely gone through the book not too long ago, over strong, black coffee, was hardly comforting.

I’m recounting all this because I recently went back to school after a long break, and took my teacher training exams, and attempted to do a Bachelors as well.

Weeks before the exams I was filled with a strange anxiety. The stress was so great that after every 30 minutes of studying I would require roughly 25 minutes of entertainment to compose myself and stave off a nervous breakdown. That Sigmund Freud’s notorious stages of infantile sexuality were punctuated with an episode of Friends was not merely coincidence, but a careful plan, which I am sad to admit, did not work particularly well.

I suppose I should pass, (hopefully!), but I am sure I could have done a better job if Chandler, Ross and Co hadn’t eaten into my limited time available for studying. I told my father about my unique studying plan after the papers and I found him chuckling with delight because apparently, I had carried on the family tradition. Pray what, Dad, is this family tradition? I asked.

It turns out that dad was to appear for his Chartered Accountancy finals. The past four years had been enjoyed thoroughly by a young man with an insatiable appetite for fun, who was busy discovering the vibrant city of London and beyond. Studying, predictably enough, was rather low in his list of priorities.

Right before the finals he enrolled for an exclusive crammer course during which students were directed to take classes for the subjects they were weak in. Looking into his syllabi, he realised he needed to revise every single subject.

To give himself some peace of mind at such a nerve-wracking juncture in life, he indulged himself by smoking heavily, reading a multitude of Agatha Christie mysteries and taking whatever classes he could. And finally when the crammer course was done, he decided he needed to “let the dust settle down” (Dad, was it the lessons or was it Agatha Christie?) and for three days straight, he watched movies!

Then he took his exams and surprising managed to clear the finals in his first attempt. He wasn’t the only one wide-eyed. On the day after the results, he received a letter from one of his professors. It read:

“Dear Mr Rehman,

In the list of candidates that have successfully passed the examination there appears to be a name very similar to yours. Could it possibly be you?”

Dad wrote back with a response that was characteristically tongue-in-cheek and somewhat audacious.

I’ll sign off with a little prayer that I will clear my exams too, content in the knowledge that my study habits are but a genetic hand-me-down, that will, hopefully not pass on to my girls!