11 things I know about me

Man, it’s been a while. I know Instagram is apparently the best blogging software out there, (and I’ve been thinking about it) but for me, nothing at all beats the comfort and the catharsis of writing on my own blog. A proper webpage. Yeah, I’m pretty old school. Which brings me to the topic at hand today – me.

So this is a post where I do some self-reflection on who I am and some things that I’ve figured out about myself. Why should you read this? Honestly, you shouldn’t. Hahahah. Okay, scratch that, this read will help you think about who you are and why and what are some of the things you’ve figured out about yourself. And why is knowing oneself so important? Anyone care to share in the comments?

Okay, here goes.

  • I’m still a work in progress and will always be.

Sometimes I used to think – one day, I will become wiser, smarter, thinner and so on. The truth is I’m still working towards becoming all that. There are days when I feel I got a little bit wiser and stronger than I was yesterday but the journey to self development never ends. There will always be more rungs on the ladder left to tackle. The struggle is never over, until we make it in the next life. And you know what? This half-baked, work-in-progress kinda Mehmudah, I like her. Unabashedly, unashamedly.

  • I’m deeply introverted

Except for the ones that truly know me, this may come as a bit of a surprise. I’m a loner at heart and I love ‘me time’, where I just sit/walk and think and write. Many times, I keep my phone far away and miss important calls and messages because ‘I’m done’. Sometimes, company tires me out and I’d rather hide in my little corner. Sometimes, it’s hard for me to keep up basic conversations and reply to phone calls and messages. At the same time, I love people. I love listening to people, talking and laughing and asking millions of questions. Isn’t it the contrast within ourselves that makes us beautiful?

  • I can be emotional but I’d rather be logical

I take things to heart and sometimes, I’m not as objective and logical as I would like to be. I think practice makes perfect. I can work on being a little less emotional and a little more logical. I really do value people who are kind and give good advice.

  • I can’t – or won’t – do fiction

There was a time when I devoured fiction – I read anything and everything I could get my hands on, and I read non-stop. I just mentioned I’m an emotional person and I would get deeply invested in the stories of the characters. The better the quality of the writing, the bigger mess I became, because, obviously, good books make you cry, laugh and worry. As a result I’d have to finish the book immediately to know if the hero was going to be okay in the end so I could relax. That’s why I would become a ball of nerves until the story ended and I would read fat books in a matter of hours. I decided it was taking a toll on me (on my eyes too) and I was no longer going to feel terrible about what happened in a book. Therefore, I don’t do fiction. I do read self-help books, audiobooks and podcasts and book summaries too. I also love reading good humorous pieces and lots of high quality articles.

  • If I call you mine, I mean it

I guess most people are like that. I’m fiercely loyal and I will defend my tribe as best as I can. If I love someone, then that’s it.

  • I dislike shopping

Anxiety, stress, waste of time, waste of money is ambling around aimlessly in the shops. If I have a clear list in my hand or even in my mind I don’t hate it so much. I think shopping makes one feel a massive sense of FOMO. I love those days where I pop into a mall, go to the exact place I need to go, pick up what I need and get out of there. I don’t feel at home in malls, I’m always on tenterhooks wondering how soon I can leave. Sometimes, I think I’m done with everything and on my way to the exit I’ll spot something that we need and I’ll roll my eyes and go like “Oh my God not again I don’t want to hit the shops again!” That kind of thing. However, I don’t mind shopping for presents too much, particularly if I know what I’m looking for. Also if I’m buying a gift for someone I truly like, then it’s doable.

  • I hate conflict and uncomfortable situations

Enough said. I don’t like conflict but if the situation demands I may give someone a piece of my mind. I mostly avoid such scenarios. Chances are, if someone annoys me and I can avoid them, I will.

  • I love beautiful early mornings

I live for winter mornings. Outside of winter too, early mornings are my thing. There’s an insane amount of barakah in the early hours, you get so much done. Great time for meditation, thinking, praying, recitation and exercise. And a yummy breakfast! I love breakfasts! I wish I could bake my own sourdough bread but my starter just doesn’t seem to get going, sadly.

  • I’m pretty boring

Simple, boring person who (mostly) doesn’t enjoy gossip. I don’t listen to music (or at least try not to) and I don’t watch movies. I will sometimes watch a TV series if it’s highly recommended. The Sherlock Granada series has been a long standing favorite.

  • I’m a complete nerd

I just adore learning new stuff and old stuff, teaching it and learning some more. New ideas, discovering old truths and exploring and debunking pre-conceived notions and so much more. Oh God yes I love being a nerd. I also love doing assignments (not my children’s projects though) and I love making my work look beautiful.

  • I’m a junkie

Please refer to my numerous chai blogs for this one 🙂 I’ve recently discovered Yerba Mate tea and I love it!

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a wrap. Obviously, there are many more things about me that I know. They might even be more important than the stuff mentioned here. But some aren’t the most positive and it’s better for me to quietly work on them instead of announcing them, and some are not blog worthy. In any case hope you enjoyed this and let me know some of the things you’ve figured out about yourself, too!

‘Til next time – enjoy the winter.

Why writing always, always helps

I blow away a layer of dust from an old diary and cautiously open it. There’s my name in bubble writing on the first page and as I flip the pages, the life of a 12 year-old girl opens up in front of me. Entries are sporadic at best, but whatever I read is full of emotion. There are some pages with the date written on the top left and only a half-sentence. I wonder why I wrote nothing more that day.

There’s hardly any text that clearly describes what I’m feeling/going through at that point, it’s mostly wrapped up in verse. And yeah, there’s a ton of doodles. Two and a half decades later, my diaries look eerily similar. A ton of poetry and a ton of doodling and no real text that starts with Dear Diary. I never wrote to my diary. I always wrote to Him who I thought would read my diary.

I’m not overly surprised to find that I can still be childlike and vulnerable (I still relate very well to my 12 yo self) but I’m also impressed by how hard I tried to use big words and sound really smart. Haha. Sometimes the difficult words are impossibly pretentious and the sentence structure could use a bit of help in places. But what really strikes me is that the idea has remained largely the same.

When in trouble, write.

Which is why this quote from Robin Sharma really hit me. In his book ‘The Everyday Hero Manifesto’ Sharma writes about the 40 things he wishes he’d known at 40. Here’s a picture. All 40 of them are great but when I read number 26 I did a double take.

Oh my God yes. I’ve been journal-praying ever since I started writing. I just didn’t realize it.

I always thought putting pen to paper somehow made everything better, but I wasn’t sure why it worked so incredibly well, every single time. Yes, writing about something strips it of any drama and you can consolidate what happened in a very organized way and you can analyze, break it down, explore different angles (perfect for those who need to think things through to make sense of them). So it definitely helps that way. But it also helps because as RS put it: ITS A PRAYER!

A part of me wants to say duuuuhhhh to myself. All those diaries — even the ones I got rid of (yes I got rid of quite a few because those memories I did not want to keep), I was speaking to Allah and telling Him everything. So empowering. So liberating.

I’m noticing a gradual change in my diary entries over the years. Instead of addressing Allah indirectly, now many entries begin with Dear Allah. It’s probably become one of my favorite ways to make dua, and to praise Allah. And every prayer is heard. Thank you Robin, I couldn’t agree more.

So, to anyone who stopped by to read this — please write to Allah. He reads the letters every time. Even when you think what you wrote is rubbish and no one cares. He does.

Allah gives us just what we need — when we need it.

This beautiful quote from Rumi needs a moment from us to pause and reflect on. “Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor.”

It’s the ultimate expression on positivity and hope, the utterly unshakeable belief that whatever happens, has happened or will happen is the best thing that could ever have taken place. It emphatically drives home the point that the One Who wrote everything, wrote for me only that which is good for me. Scratch that — not just good for me but IDEAL, THE BEST for me.

A little pondering over this quote brings about a complete change in mindset. Let me give you an example. Let me give you an everyday example, something that you and I can easily relate to. Say you planned to go the mall, do groceries and maybe pick up a sweater you needed. But right before you leave, you get a long but important phone call (which you take against your better judgment) and then as soon as you are ready to leave your baby needs a diaper change. Then you roll your eyes and do what needs doing and then as you’re about to leave, the maintenance guys hit the doorbell for a long due plumbing job, or the neighbour drops by to share her lovely Aloo ki bhujiya with you. Long story short — the grocery doesn’t happen, the sweater isn’t bought and now it’s time for baby to nap. So the obvious reaction to this would be frustration and annoyance and a sinking feeling along the line of “I’ll never get anything done!”

On the other hand if you act like this was all rigged so you could live your absolute best life — you could think to yourself: “Thank God for that phone call! I’ve been running away from that for ages. Box ticked, needed to speak to so and so. Whew. And baby hadn’t gone since the morning, what if she’d needed a diaper change right in the middle of groceries? Oh and thank God for the leaky toilet that is now fixed — it really was getting on my nerves. And I hadn’t seen my neighbour in so long. I had no idea her mom is going through cancer. I can be there for her. Also, do I really NEED that sweater? What’s wrong with the olive green thing from two years back? And yes, I’m ordering the groceries online!”

Just a small change in how we think and suddenly we’re not frustrated anymore.

This aligns so beautifully with a hadith from our beloved Prophet Muhammed (SAWS)

عَجَبًا لِأَمْرِ الْمُؤْمِنِ إِنَّ أَمْرَهُ كُلَّهُ خَيْرٌ وَلَيْسَ ذَاكَ لِأَحَدٍ إِلَّا لِلْمُؤْمِنِ إِنْ أَصَابَتْهُ سَرَّاءُ شَكَرَ فَكَانَ خَيْرًا لَهُ وَإِنْ أَصَابَتْهُ ضَرَّاءُ صَبَرَ فَكَانَ خَيْرًا لَهُ

Wondrous is the affair of the believer for there is good for him in every matter and this is not the case with anyone except the believer. If he is happy, then he thanks Allah and thus there is good for him, and if he is harmed, then he shows patience and thus there is good for him.

Source: Sahih Muslim 2999, Grade: Sahih

As always, my beloved Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) said it best. Most concise, most complete speech ever, alayhis salaat u wassalam.

As I sign off, just a quick note to say winters are approaching. Temps are cooling down and all I want is a pen and a book and some tea/coffee and endless hours to walk, write, meditate and just — be.

Watch this space. It feels like the blog and I are rekindling our relationship.

The truth.

Something I penned yesterday. Growing more courageous and sharing more than I ever did before.

سوچا وہ کہ دوں جو ہے میرے دل میں
بتا دوں وہ سارا جو آیا لبوں پہ
اپنی حقیقت سے پردہ اٹھاؤں
ساری کہانی میں تم کو سناؤں

ہوں تو مسلماں پر لاکھوں خدا ہیں
کبھی نفس اور کبھی دنیا الہ ہے
آرس ہے مجھ کو تھکن سے ہوں ڈرتا
کوئی دے محبت تو اس پہ ہوں مرتا

مرا مشغلہ تو وقت کا ضیاع ہے
ڈھانپا ہے سر کیا دل میں حیا ہے
کھوٹ و نفاق میرے اندر بسا ہے
ایمان ہے دل میں یا کوئی خلاء ہے

صبر و شکر کہنے کو تو ہوں کرتا
آزماۓ خدا تو آہیں ہوں بھرتا
یہ ہر بار کا اک رونا ہے میرا
کیوں تو خفا کیا بگاڑا ہے تیرا

یہ موقعِ غور و فکر ہے اے انساں
بوجھ و سمجھ ہے لکن ہے تو ناداں
ہو تھوڑا سا غم یا تھوڑی سی مشکل
تو ہوتا ہے باغی ٹوٹا تیرا دل

سوچو ذرہ جو سفر تہ کیا ہے
آیا تو خود سے کہ لایا گیا ہے
یہ بزمِ دنیا آخر سجی کیوں
محلت یہاں پر تجھ کو ملی کیوں

کلامِ خدا سے تعلق کو جوڑو
رحمٰن ہے وہ منہ اس سے نا موڑو
جو ہو چکا اور جو ہو رہا ہے
ہر چیز پر کن اس نے ہی کہا ہے

کیا جس نے پیدا مجھے اور تمہیں بھی
بنائی یہ دنیا یہ رات و دن بھی
یہ موسم بہاراں یہ جاڑا و صحرا
ہے اس کی حکومت اسی کا ہے پہرا

وہ ہے ذاتِ باری وہ میرا خدا ہے
وہ ہے اک اکیلا وہ بالکل جدا ہے
بنا لفظ کی وہ باتیں ہے سنتا
جو دل سے پکارو کرم ہے وہ کرتا

دل میں جو جھانکو وہ مسکن ہے اس کا
زمیں آسماں پر قبضہ ہے جس کا
چیونٹی کے قدموں کی چاپ سنے جو
پتوں کے گرنے کو جان سکے جو

تیرے دل کی حالت کی اس کو خبر ہے
اسی پر عیاں تیرا ہر اک صبر ہے
سوالوں کے تیرے جوابوں کو جانے
ملیں گے خزانے اگر تو جو مانے

یاروں سے بڑھ کر یار وہی تو
کرتا ہے تجھ سے پیار وہی تو
بھاگا جو اس سے جاۓ کہاں تو
چھوڑ اب ہر اک شکوہ و گلہ تو 

کرو یاد اس دن کو جس دن ہے جانا
چلے گا نا اس دن ترا کوئی بہانا
جو کرنی سو بھرنی یاد رکھو تم
توبہ ہوں کرتا اس سے کہو تم

I have a problem with Fawad Khan

If you don’t know who Fawad Khan is you live under a big, giant rock. The man is a heartthrob, a superstar and women go weak in the knees thinking about him. He’s one of our most popular exports to India and if you have ever watched a Pakistani drama you know the hype a drama called Humsafar created. Fawad Khan played the leading man and oozed charm and irresistibility.

I didn’t watch most of Humsafar — almost a decade after it was released I did catch some episodes to see what all the fuss was about. I’m not going to comment on whether the typical evil-saas miskeen-bahu drama and the dim witted-useless-hero-who-doesn’t-trust-his-wife plot was anything to write home about but I did understand the fan following that Khan commands. I guess you could say he’s a big deal (understatement) and he has an unmistakable aura.

No, I didn’t start writing this blog to discuss Khan’s looks or talent (he’s obviously gifted, duh). I happened to watch a recent interview of him in which he said some questionable things. Before I go on I should add that Fawad Khan did an Indian movie called ‘Kapoor and Sons’ back in 2016 in which he played a homosexual man. Wikipedia outlines the plot very clearly, and it’s disturbing. I think to myself — Bollywood needed a guy to play a gay man and they choose a Pakistani Muslim man with a huge fan following and he agrees to do it? Why, though? When the movie was released and I came to know about Fawad Khan’s role I was pretty disappointed. The interview he gave recently made things clear.

During the said interview, Khan states that one shouldn’t be preachy when making film or drama and that his job is basically a 9-5 and he’s just putting food on the table. He doesn’t think too much about legacy and he doesn’t think his work will change the world. So the project choices he makes, as long as he makes good money and connections out of it, he’ll do them if he can. Entertainment is entertainment and should be taken as such. Period. Disclaimer: I’m not quoting him exactly but this was the overall message.

Sorry Fawad Khan, but I have a huge problem with that. The entertainment industry is precisely what changes the world. First, in a subtle way by normalizing what we thought was wrong and then by openly endorsing it. If there is one thing that shaped my thinking as a child and even as an adult it was stories, whether they be told by my amazing father on the dining table, or in the form of books or on screen. I got a lot of my rights and wrongs from books and TV. (Gladly, we had some quality books and some quality movies and tv shows growing up). Storytelling is an extremely powerful medium that shapes lives, personalities, dreams, everything!

If an actor/entertainer in today’s day and age (and that too of Khan’s caliber and reach) can say that his work doesn’t really make a difference, he’s either extremely naive or just another rat in the race. Seriously, what’s the motivation? Money? Power? Fame? If he doesn’t think about his legacy, that doesn’t mean he isn’t leaving one. Just so he could make the right connections on the other side of the border, he plays a homosexual man? Isn’t that a type of preaching too?

Aren’t you in effect transmitting a message to the public — hey look, this guy was homosexual, but very cool, smart and successful and came out of the closet and his family accepted him (eventually). So here’s what I think. Every single thing we put out there be it the form of film, drama, music, social media posts or anything on the world wide web we are peddling some kind of an ideology, leaving an idelible effect on the consumers of our content. As users and consumers of this technology we have to be extra careful because all of us are creating ‘footprints on the sands of time’ (you see what I did there lol) and we better make sure they’re worthwhile.

Think about the Egyptian civilization. How did we learn about them? Their art opened up the ancient world for us. Artists are dangerous people. They shape thinking, they dictate the norms we follow and they end up becoming role models and their work stays around forever. Those who think ‘entertainment is entertainment’ would do well to remember that a 5 inch screen selling entertainment is where our children (and ourselves) learn everything. I’m appalled at the lack of sense of responsibility Khan casually portrayed in the interview. If all entertainers thought like him, we would hardly ever get to see any meaningful work! What made me even more disgusted were the comments swooning over him — pretty gag-worthy.

Someone reading this blog might think why I suddenly brought up a 2016 movie but with how fast and how aggressively the LGBTQ agenda is being mainstreamed (especially in Pakistan) one must connect the dots. There were efforts happening way before the 2018 bill was passed to help the LGBTQ cause. It isn’t mere coincidence that this stuff is happening — every cog in the wheel has played its part. Now, if you openly speak up against the LGBTQ agenda, you may be labelled a homophobe. This didn’t happen overnight. It’s almost as though quoting the Quran or the hadith against the ‘pride’ is insensitive. It’s not. Just because the media endorses LGBTQ+ it doesn’t make it right. One must read and research and ensure there is clarity.

The entertainment industry isn’t going away anywhere and we need to find (and create) better role models and stars than those who will peddle just about any ideology for some fame, connections and fortune. Remember when Ronaldo pushed the coke aside and chose water and how coke suffered huge losses? Influencers have a huge role to play and saying their work doesn’t make a difference is, well, baloney.

Rant over.

Can’t believe I’m putting this up here

In some ways this is is a first. I’ve never been as old as I am right now (obvious consequences of surviving another birthday) and I’ve never put up on the blog what I’m about to right now. 

*nervous laughter*

Only a select few family members and friends know that I attempt to write Urdu poetry every now and then. It’s tricky and I’m still learning to write it and it’s taking a lot of courage for me to finally put it up here. It’s a very important part of me, flaws and all. As most readers are aware I regularly write poetry and pieces in English (some poetry has even been shared here), but Urdu is a deeper language and it has a humble, endearing soulfulness that I can’t seem to find in English.

You might wonder why I don’t share my Urdu poetry more…

Some of it is rubbish and sometimes I say the stuff I don’t want anyone to read. I write letters in Urdu poetry too. For the very first time on this blog let me share something I wrote this morning. It needs editing and tons of improvement. But here goes anyway. 


کچھ ایسا کر کہ جاؤں میں رب راضی کر جاؤں میں
کروں باتیں بیاں اس کی دلوں میں گھر کر جاؤں میں


تمنا ہے کہ گھر پہ اس کے جلد جاؤں میں
کہوں لبیک اور کعبے کا چکر لگاؤں میں
منظر ہو وہ ایسا جس کی مجھ کو تلاش ہے
 ملے اوقات سے زیادہ یاری اس کی پاؤں میں


کچھ ایسا کر کہ جاؤں میں رب راضی کر جاؤں میں


رب کی رحمتوں سے ٹوٹے دلوں کو مناؤں میں
نہ ہوں پھر تلخیاں اس ڈھنگ سے رشتے نبھاؤں میں
ہو ایسا صبر کہ رب خود ہی مجھ پر مسکرا اٹھے
توکل از خلیل اللہ دل میں سجاؤں میں


کچھ ایسا کر کہ جاؤں میں رب راضی کر جاؤں میں


جھکتے سر میں ایسا کیف و سرور پاؤں میں
کہ اٹھے سر تو منزل کو رو برو پاؤں میں
کہ اس کے قرب کا کانٹا لگا ہو دل میں میرے یوں
کہ سفرِ زندگی بے خوف و خدشہ کرتی جاؤں میں


کچھ ایسا کر کہ جاؤں میں رب راضی کر جاؤں میں


لفظوں کے سہارے بات کو اپنی بتاؤں میں
لکن احساس کو حرفوں کے اندر بن نا پاؤں میں
رس ٹپکے جو نینوں سے مکمل بات ہو جاۓ
دل ہی دل میں قصے سب اس کو سناؤں میں


کچھ ایسا کر کہ جاؤں میں رب راضی کر جاؤں میں


شورِ زندگی سے جس پہر الجھ جاؤں میں
ان رنگینیوں سے روشنی سے تھک سی جاؤں میں
مری تنہائی ہو اور یاد اس کی مہک اٹھے
مرا سر یوں جھکے کہ اس کو پھر نا اٹھاؤں میں


کچھ ایسا کر کہ جاؤں میں رب راضی کر جاؤں میں


ہیں کچھ راز کی باتیں کہ جن کو کہ نا پاؤں میں
اور وہ راز ہی کیا جو کہ کر بتلاؤں میں
ہے وہ عشق کی منزل کہ سائل چلتا رہتا ہے
ہے اک کائنات ایسی کہ جس میں ڈوب جاؤں میں


کچھ ایسا کر کہ جاؤں میں رب راضی کر جاؤں میں


جن دوریوں مجبوریوں نے مجھ کو گھیرا ہے
میرے سجدوں کی لذت کیا خیالوں کا بسیرا ہے
خدایا سمت بدلے اور ترے ساۓ میں آؤں میں
بہت ہے فاصلہ جس کو تہ کر کہ آؤں میں


کچھ ایسا کر کہ جاؤں میں رب راضی کر جاؤں میں


ہے میرا دل یہ میری روح حبِ جاہ سے میلی
جو تیرا نام لکھا ہے پھر سے روشنی پھیلی
مجھے رستہ دکھاؤ تم مجھے اپنا بناؤ تم
کہ قلبِ مطمئن دنیا میں جیتے جی پاؤں میں


کچھ ایسا کر کہ جاؤں میں رب راضی کر جاؤں میں


جو تیری راہ سے بھٹکا ٹھکانہ اس کا دوزخ ہے
دن اس کا پریشاں ہے راتیں اس کی بوجھل ہیں
ملاقاتیں وہ خلوت کی نصیبوں سے ہی ملتی ہیں
 دوں کچھ طول باتوں کو غمِ دل سناؤں میں 


کچھ ایسا کر کہ جاؤں میں رب راضی کر جاؤں میں


جو ڈھونڈو تم اگر رب کو موتی پیار کے بانٹو تم 
نہ کینہ دل میں تم رکھو دلوں کو چین بخشو تم 
کسی کا درد اپنا ایک دن کر کے تو دیکھو تم
خدا جو اجر دے اس کو بیاں کر نا پاؤں میں


کچھ ایسا کر کہ جاؤں میں رب راضی کر جاؤں میں


جمی تیری نگاہیں عبد پر تو کس کی کی پوجا
منزل شہرتِ دنیا تیری کیا تو نے یہ سوچا
نیت صاف ہو تو منزلیں یوں پاس آتی ہیں
اسی کو جان کر اپنا خلوصِ دل دکھاؤں میں


کچھ ایسا کر کہ جاؤں میں رب راضی کر جاؤں میں


جو لغزشیں خطائیں ہیں وہی تو معاف ہے کرتا
جو مانو تم اگر غلطی بھرم اللہ ہے رکھتا
یہ سودا ہے کہ گھاٹے کا  یہاں پر شبہ نہیں
تجارت ہے یہ اک ایسی خود کو سکھاؤں میں


کچھ ایسا کر کہ جاؤں میں رب راضی کر جاؤں میں
کروں باتیں بیاں اس کی دلوں میں گھر کر جاؤں میں

Day 3 – Kashmir – Questions that inspire

By Mehmudah Rehman
(Scroll down for pictures)
 
I hear the rain pattering outside as I wake up to a beautiful but humid Muzaffarabad morning. After a quick breakfast, we make our way to Dr Mubina’s house in which is in a picturesque outskirt of the city and from there we set out on the 2-hour journey to the HOPE school.
 
The winding roads go higher and higher and around me is the most serene, untouched natural beauty that I have ever come across. Mostly the roads are paved, but in some places due to landslides roads are broken and the car ride is bumpy. My daughters sigh and gasp collectively as the car veers dangerously close to the edge of the roads. As we look down at lush green mountain sides with coniferous trees standing tall, the tongue voluntarily utters praises to the Creator. I shudder to think of what would happen should the driver err slightly to the right; the fall would be steeper than I’d like to imagine. He drives calmly, and slowly but surely, we ascend the mountains. The air begins to get cooler and the scenery around us gets even more stunning. Pine trees are now replaced by Deodar Cedar trees and Dr Mubina helps us understand the topography of the region.
 
The car begins to slow down, and we find ourselves in a small village in the mountains. There are plenty of maize plantations and fruit trees sway to the rhythm of the wind. I spot a guava hanging from a tree and a little further off, I see a pear tree. We walk down the side of the road and down some rocky steps. What I see next literally takes my breath away.
 
In the middle of the jungle, surrounded on all four sides with stunning un-spoilt natural beauty is the HOPE Home School. We are given a hero’s welcome and the delighted children hand me a beautiful bouquet while some others shower us with rose petals. Dark clouds seem to be forming overhead and the teachers want the show to begin without further ado. In the next hour or so we witness the children of the mountain give in some stellar performances. There are folk dances, a funny news skit (clearly, the sense of humor is spot on) and there is one a hard-hitting speech about the importance of teachers, but what touches the heart the most and moistens the eyes are the patriotic songs about protecting one’s land which brings to life the plight of the Kashmiri people.
 
Each child wants to prove a point, every performance is special. Their shoes might be a little broken, but their hearts are as open and pristine as the mountains they live in. I feel the enthusiasm of the children like a palpable vibe, and I can’t help myself as I sing along and applaud generously. Sitting next to me Dr Mubina tells me that coming here to the villages of the mountains, the heart gets softer – when you are surrounded by the granite and the buildings of the city, it hardens the heart. As I reflect on this wise thought, the slight rain continues, but our young performers remain unfazed and at the end of the show, an award ceremony takes place. Children who have done exceptionally well academically are acknowledged and a community leader appreciates and thanks HOPE for doing so much for these children.
 
While Muzaffarabad is a city dotted with several small schools, very few are up on the mountains. The journey we undertook to reach the school showed us how hard it must have been to establish the institution there and then to continuously monitor it for quality and assistance. HOPE’s work and presence in the rural communities is commendable, they provide not only an education to children, who quite simply, would not have been able to go to school had the school not been there, but they also actively mentor their students. We are served chai and snacks by the staff team, many of whom have been with HOPE for many years.
 
Mrs Fozia Rizwan, the HOPE coordinator who looks after all of HOPE schools in Kashmir (more than 10) as well their hospitals and vocational centers, has mentored these women and helped them become breadwinners, too. She smiles as she tells me that these children and teachers have now become like family. “Sometimes, I have to reason with them and cajole them, other times I just to hear them out and help them, and at times I have to be a little strict – at other times I have to applaud and appreciate them.” The skills and the dedication that one needs in order to work with these people and communities is truly remarkable and Mrs Fozia is a vital cog in the network that HOPE has created in these breathtaking valleys.
 
Dr Mubina has mentored her team exceptionally well, everyone works with a selfless spirit, but at the same time, there is professionalism and common sense at play when working with the local people. Later as we hand out gifts and snacks to children, their smiles mean the world tp us and the joy we feel is unparalleled. I’m extremely thankful to Dr Mubina and her amazing team for taking us to this awe-inspiring journey where we got to experience, firsthand, the hospitality of the Kashmiri people, and the delight of interacting with them.

Back in Dubai, I asked my daughters to reflect on the experience. My eldest who is 16, said that she always thought a simple life would be boring and not fun, however, in the villages, life was simple but very satisfying. She said she really liked how people did not care about brands, cars or shoes and you were appreciated for simply being yourself. She also felt that the nature was breathtakingly beautiful and breathing in the fresh air and smelling the greenery was lovely. The best part, she said, was that it was all real – nothing artificial. I observe a longing to want to return to the village and just — be.

My 13 year old reflected on how happy the children of the mountains were and how they did not care about the fact that their schools were just some chairs and dirt. They looked so happy and grateful even though sometimes there was no electricity for hours. She felt that we aren’t grateful enough for everything we have — even in our state of the art dazzling school campuses we are annoyed, cranky and focus on what we don’t have. She said she felt gratitude.

My 8 year old said that the bathrooms were really bad, and she’s glad to have a clean bathroom with good sanitation. She also brought many of her gifts and things to the mountains to share with the children and she said she felt happy sharing and that she really does have so much stuff.
 
There are some key moments in life which make you wonder why you have been created, and where you are going. Some people have more years in their life, while some have more life in their years. This experience with HOPE has helped us ask ourselves these great existential questions and inwardly reflect on how we have lived so far, and where we go next. The meaningfulness of life we experienced in those few days in Kashmir trumps anything I have ever witnessed before. For it is when you live for others that you truly live. I can’t thank HOPE and Dr Mubina enough for the inspiration, and most importantly, for helping us ask the right questions.

A trip to remember!

Anti-Ramadaning and other Ramadan problems

Ramadan 2022

Ramadan – my favorite time of the year. The month associated with some of my most beautiful memories. There are some key moments in life which make you feel like you have taken a few steps towards the ultimate goal of self-actualization and for me those golden moments have, more often than not, been found in the blessed nights of this month. Ramadan and I go a long way. If it weren’t for the Ramadans in my life, things would have been very, very different. There are too many memories, too much history (and umm.. Too Much Information) that I could talk about, but suffice to say this has been a very special month for me historically. But as of now, I’m … Anti-Ramadaning.

If you don’t know what Anti-Ramadaning means, I don’t blame you. A couple of days ago, even I didn’t know what it meant, but now that I have coined this term, I can explain. It is an umbrella term that includes many things such as (but not limited to):

  • the frustration of not being able to fast
  • glancing enviously at the hubby, kids and friends who can fast
  • not fulfilling quran, nawafil, dua and tahajjud goals like you’d planned
  • watching TV (documentaries, cat videos and even serials) when you can do zikr
  • twiddling thumbs

So basically, I have started this Ramadan feeling very – unfulfilled. I have always associated Ramadan with a deep feeling of fulfilment and contentment but this time, I feel like I don’t ‘belong’. Like everyone has a happy secret that they’re sharing and I can’t be a part of it.

For the uninitiated, my little one is only about 4 months old and I happen to be her primary source of nutrition. I miss fasting. Last year when Ramadan came around, I was pregnant and pretty sick so fasting was completely out of the question. The year before that, I had broken my foot and while I could still fast, I couldn’t stand or walk much and standing in prayer was difficult if not impossible. So was cooking for the family.

This is the third year running when Ramadan does not feel like usual. As I snack on almonds and ignore the urge to watch ‘just a little bit’ of the Grenada Sherlock Holmes series while my kids complain about how hungry they are and repeatedly ask how many more hours there are to iftar, I’m a wee bit – annoyed. So, I think to myself – what if I do fast? What’s the worst that could happen? An image of a fussy and disturbed baby that doesn’t seem to calm down enters my mind, and me at the edge of my wits, wondering how to handle the situation. Perhaps fasting is really not an option, I concur. Reciting extra quran, praying my fard with ihsaan, extra nawafil and charity is definitely doable. Except I’m Anti-Ramadaning, remember?

It’s like a silent rebellion, like the teenager in me (which never seems to go away completely by the way) is saying “Yeah, whatever” (the shrug of the shoulders while you’re at it) and that (un)happy comfortable place of “I AM like that. Go figure.”

True, the devils have been chained in the month of Ramadan, but I don’t seem to require their services – I seem to be great at this stuff myself. Is it rebellion? Is it because I’m lazy? Is it because I have a small baby and that can scatter-brain you a little bit sometimes? Or is it just that I’m not as spiritual/nice/____ (fill in the blank) as I’d hoped to be? Could it be the fact that I feel like what good is my small little ibadah, when people fast, pray in the mosque and basically do things I do in a year in a single night? The fard prayer I muster up sleepily because the baby didn’t sleep well at night and I don’t feel that awesome spiritual “Ramadan feeling” while people cry buckets during salah? Really, what is up with me?

The writer types (and the reader types – more specifically, my blog reader types) would know that I overthink and analyze things to death in order to make sense of them. I chop the sausage (the sausage being my problem) in my head to tiny little cubes, each symmetrically perfect and equal. And then I chop them some more and examine them from every side and wonder how the light reflects on them on a certain angle. Yeah, I overthink stuff. So as I analyze why this Ramadan I haven’t been my best and why I’m coining terms like Anti-Ramadaning of course I would have to blog about it and you my dear reader, just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. If I were you, I’d leave now.

Obviously, I haven’t thought this through. I haven’t yet touched upon the fact that Ramadan is between me and Allah and my Rabb is far more Merciful than I can ever imagine. Perhaps my frustration at not being able to fast translates into rewards that I know nothing about and perhaps the spirituality and closeness that I crave is elusive for now, but just around the corner. It’s almost like the invitation is open and all I need is the courage to accept myself, and know that I will be accepted too, no matter how broken I am. Perhaps the five fard salahs I manage with some level of mindfulness are far more important than I can understand. Perhaps my longing will become my salvation.

Let me just make it clear – I’m not planning to read the entire tafseer this Ramadan or even close — but I do really hope and pray for His closeness, His forgiveness and the one missing element – IHSAN. I want to do this right. I want to pull myself out whatever this Anti-Ramadaning is and collect, coin by coin, my treasure which will serve me in this life as well as the akhirah. It hasn’t been perfect but I’m willing to try again. I’m going to try again, and I know Allah acknowledges every step we take towards Him.

Abu Dharr (RA) reported that the Prophet SAWS said that Allah swt says: Whoever draws close to Me by the length of a hand, I will draw close to him by the length of an arm. Whoever draws close to Me the by length of an arm, I will draw close to him by the length of a fathom. Whoever comes to Me walking, I will come to him running. Whoever meets Me with enough sins to fill the earth, not associating any partners with Me, I will meet him with as much forgiveness.”

Tired, frustrated, annoyed with myself I might be oh Allah but I am taking that first step. Please hold me tight for it feels like I might falter. And time is running out.

It’s that time of the year again…

Sometimes I like to think of my life as a brightly colored package, wrapped up in the most gorgeous hues, and filled with an assortment of different colors, textures and materials. I pull out new things everyday – there’s spontaneity, surprises, joys, heartbreaks, laughter and tears and a deep silence too, not the foreboding kind, but the silence that in my mind is a light pastel green, the kind that makes you want to listen in a little bit more and revel in the sheer tranquility of it.

The package is large and completely randomly shaped – but it is beautiful. The colours are bright in places and completely sober in some others, yet, the result isn’t confusion. The cacophony is harmonious somehow – interesting, joyful even. The imperfections, the flaws, even the one garish colour that stands out from the side – surprisingly – all come together to form this very unique and striking looking package I call life.

It is packed with the experiences I get to live through, the people I can call my own and love wholeheartedly, the relationships that form the quintessential web upon which the whole package stands – and very importantly, it contains the lessons that have been (and will be) completely indispensible in my journey. As I conclude another year on the earth today, I examine this mix and feel extremely grateful and privileged for the life that I have been given.

For those who know me personally will know that it is not just around my birthday that I feel reflective, but it has become a sort of habit to formally recount some realizations on important dates just to point out things to myself that I feel like I have understood and would like to remember.

So here are some of the most important truths that have started making sense and that I would like to live by and remember. Perhaps this blog might be around far longer than my innings and if the girls come across it someday, it might bring a smile to their faces and they might just understand the person I was that bit better.

I may have jotted down these points before (and more eloquently) but then, that is the beauty of having a personal blog – I can do so once again, and unapologetically too! 🙂

  1. Acceptance and Contentment
    There is something completely mind-blowing that happens when you accept the hand that’s been dealt out to you. Without fanfare or drama or complaint – you accept who you are, who the people around you are, and the life that you live and work with it – not against it. Once you get past that stage of acceptance, something overwhelmingly beautiful called Contentment finds its way inside your heart and soul, and once that happens, the only way to go is up. There is a catch though. Acceptance must be wholehearted. You know that little cranny in your heart that still questions the decree and you pretend it doesn’t exist? Yeah, that one, that too, wash it away with the rain that is contentment. And when you’re deeply content, gratitude is but natural, right?

  2. The intention matters
    So you might not have done all that you are capable of, and you might not have made the impact that you dearly wanted to, or left the legacy that you so desired to, but remember it is the intention that counts for something. The burning desire to make that difference, that, in and of itself, will guide you. Don’t lose hope or give up that easily. Let that fire burn. It will lead to something good. Don’t dismiss the power of a sincere intention.
  3. Know Thyself
    Think of life as being on a grand game show that you need to get through and get to the other end. Let’s say you’re watching this game show – and Participant A has a huge pool to cross. What if Participant A doesn’t know swimming? What would you advise? I’d say that Participant A get on with it and use any extra time to learn those skills so he can safely cross the pool. Another thing – maybe the participant is a very able jumper and might want to take the route with more jumps than pools.
    The only way they’d take these decisions correctly is if they are aware of their strengths and areas of development. Point I’m trying to make is – know who you are – the great, the good, and the not so great – and work around your strengths and weaknesses. Develop yourself, but knowing yourself first is essential.
  4. Forgive
    I know it sounds clichéd, but yeah, forgive, forget and move on. And do so with real compassion and cleanse from within. And remember, the person most deserving of that kindness is you. And you’re worthy of love and forgiveness from yourself.
  5. Give it time
    This is one of those things that I’ve learnt with experience – things don’t happen immediately. They don’t fall into place as we snap our fingers. Often the process of things sorting out can be long and tedious. It’s okay. Give it another day, another week, maybe another year. And sometimes they don’t work out as you’d initially wanted them to. That’s okay too. When you give it enough time, you realize not everything matters that much. And that brings me to my next point.
  6. Not everything matters
    Most things, most losses, most reactions, most possessions, most ego-hurting episodes don’t really matter. Always focus on that which truly counts in the grand scheme of things and learn to become a decent judge of that. What actually matters is how happy Allah swt is with you. Where you end up in the next life matters. Relationships matter. How kind and compassionate you are and how people don’t get hurt with your actions or words matters. Whether or not you’re happy with yourself matters. I’m starting to figure out that when my eyes are on the prize, things that once seemed to matter so much just fall by the wayside. Focus.
  7. Take the first step
    Yes, brilliant, you’ve got that lovely intention. Back it up with some kind of action. All it takes is that small first step. Don’t be afraid to take that step.

That wraps it up friends. There are probably many more things, but these are the ones that spring to mind for now. Nothing groundbreaking, nothing that you haven’t read before but all the same, things I’m starting to understand and hope to remember as I move on in this journey.

Who knows when the story ends?

کیا واقعی سب کچھ بدل چکا ہے؟

دبئی میں پہلا لاک ڈاؤن مارچ ۲۰۲۰ میں لگا تھا۔ کووڈ نے رفتہ رفتہ دنیا کو اپنی لپیٹ میں لے لیا اور پچھلے ڈیڑھ سال میں کبھی خوف، کبھی مایوسی، کبھی زوم میٹنگز، کبھی ویکسین سے پیدا ہونے والی امید، کبھی خاموش مولز اور کبھی گھر پر گھٹ کر بیٹھنے سے تنگ لوگوں کا شاپنگ سینٹرز اور پارکس میں ہجوم ۔۔۔ سب ہی کچھ کورونا وائرس نے ہمیں دکھا دیا۔ گو کہ کووڈ کے بعد کی زندگی نہایت مختلف ہے اور کل کیا ہو گا یہ کوئی نہیں جانتا۔

اک وقت آیا تھا یوں معلوم ہوتا تھا کہ سائنسی ایجادات اور ویکسین اس وباء سے ہماری جان بخشی کرا دینگے لیکن کورونا نے خود پر اک نیا روپ چڑھا لیا۔ یہ اب ڈیلٹا کی شکل میں دنیا پر نۓ جوش سے حملہ آور ہے۔ دنیا بھر میں کووڈ کے کیسز میں اضافہ ہو رہا ہے اور بہت سے ممالک ایک بار پھر لاک ڈاؤن نافذ کر رہے ہیں۔

میں چہرے سے اپنا ماسک تھوڑا سا سرکاتی ہوں اور اک لمبی سانس لیتی ہوں۔ اسپتال میں سوشل ڈسٹنسنگ تو بس نام کی ہے، میں خود سے کہتی ہوں اور کووڈ ویکسین لگوانے والوں کی لمبی قطار میں بیٹھ جاتی ہوں۔ اے خدا دنیا کتنی بدل چکی ہے۔ حج تو حج لگتا ہی نہیں اور جانے کب پاکستان کی فلائٹیں کھلیں گی۔ جانے کب دنیا پھر سے سیف ہو گی، کیا زندگی پھر کبھی نارمل ہو گی؟ کون کب اس بیماری کی زد میں آ کر دنیا چھوڑ جاۓ گا، کون اس بیماری سے جنگ میں بظاہر تو جیت چکا ہے لیکن اندر سے بدن کھوکھلا ہو چکا ہے اور آخر کون جانتا ہے کہ ویکسین کے سائڈ افکٹ کچھ سال بعد کیا ہوںگے؟ اور ان جانے والوں کا کیا جو کچھ زیادہ ہی جلدی کوچ کر گۓ اور ٹوٹے دل اور ادھوری زندگیاں چھوڑ گۓ؟

انہیں خیالوں نے مجھے گھیرا ہوا ہے کہ یکایک میری نظر ایک ضعیف آدمی کی جانب پڑتی ہے۔ میری طرح یہ صاحب بھی ویکسین کی قطار میں بیٹھ کر انتظار کر رہے ہیں لیکن اپنی کرسی پر بیٹھ کر یہ نماز پڑھ رہے ہیں۔ ان کا چہرہ یوں تو نہایت تھکا ہوا ہے ہے اور اس پر کافی جھریاں بھی ہیں لیکن ان کی شکل پر اک عجیب سا سکون دکھائی دیتا ہے جیسے واقعی کوئی خوف یا غم انہیں کبھی لاحق نا ہوا ہو۔

سچ ہی تو ہے ۔۔ کووڈ نے جہاں بہت کچھ بدل دیا ہے وہاں ابھی بھی بہت سارا کچھ بالکل ویسا ہی ہے۔ اللہ کے سامنے سجدہ ریز ہونے کی لذت اب بھی وہی ہے اور روزہ رکھ کر افطار میں پانی پینا بھی ویسا ہی ہے۔ ساحلِ سمندر پر چلتی ٹھنڈی ہوا اور گرمیوں کی بارش کی وہ چہرے پر گرتی پہلی بوندیں بھی ویسی ہی ہیں۔ کعبے کا تقدس اور مدینے کا سکون اب بھی ویسا ہے۔

رات کے آخری پہر میں بیدار ہو کر رب تعالی کے آگے اقرارِ جرم کر کے اس پر آہ و زاری کرنا اب بھی ویسا ہی ہے۔ معصوم بچوں کی مسکراہٹ اور ان کے ننھے ہاتھوں کا گردن پر لپٹ جانا بھی تو ویسا ہے۔ رشتوں میں لغزشیں اور معافی تلافی اور محبت تو اب بھی ہے۔ کسی دوست سے بات کر کے دل کا کھل اٹھنا بھی تو ویسا ہی ہے اور کسی کے لۓ چپکے سے دعا مانگ کر ان کی آواز میں تازگی سننا بھی تو ویسا ہی ہے۔ اپنی کوئی پسندیدہ شے بغیر کسی کو بتاۓ، بغیر خود سے تذکرہ کۓ اللہ کی خاطر قربان کر دینا بھی ممکن ہے۔ اللہ کا نام لے کر اس کا مزہ چند لمحوں تک لیتے رہنا اور قرآن کی تلاوت حقیقتاً ربیعِ قلب بن جانا اور پھر اس کا قلب میں اتر جانا تو اب بھی ممکن ہے۔

خدا سے باتیں کرنا، میرا اس ذکر کرنے پر اس کا مجھے یاد کرنا اور اس سے ایک دن ملنے کی آس رکھنا بھی تو ویسا ہی ہے نا۔ درود شریف کی چاشنی بھی تو اسی طرح روح میں گھلتی ہے اور نامِ محمد (صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم) تو اب بھی دنیا بھر میں رحمت کا پیغام ہے۔ اور تو اور ۔ موت سے ملنا بھی عین اسی وقت پر ہوگا جس وقت پر لوح و قلم میں لکھا ہے اور اسی طرح ہو گا اور اسی حال میں ہو گا۔ یہ جو چند لمحے مل گۓ ہیں یہاں پر کیوں نا انہیں شکرگذاری اور عشق کی ان راہوں پر چلتے ہوۓ گزاروں جہاں ناکامی ممکن ہی نہیں؟

ہاں۔ کووڈ بہت کچھ بدل چکا ہے مگر جو چیزیں سچ مچ اہم ہیں وہ تو اب بھی میسر ہیں۔ کیا یہ موقع الحمدللّٰہ

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