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

کہنے کا نہیں؟ فبای الا ربکما تکذبان

اے دل! اے کاش کہ تو فائدہ اٹھا لے قبل اس سے کہ دیر ہو جاۓ۔۔۔

تو تم اپنے پروردگار کی کون کونے نعمت کو جھٹلاؤ گے؟

Hajj memories

Actual unedited photos from Hajj 2018

As the last month of the lunar calendar Zil Hajj, the month of the pilgrimage approaches us, my mind travels back to the year 2018. That year that we still knew nothing about Covid, when the ‘old normal’ was the ‘normal’ and when crowds thronged the lands of Hejaz and worshippers from around the world gathered at Mecca and it’s adjoining sites to perform Hajj.

That year had been tumultuous for me, to say the least. Earlier that year I had been dangerously close to falling into depression – I remember seeking guidance and direction and I remember going down an unfortunate spiral of sadness. Then, out of the blue, and at the very last moment, unexpectedly, our Hajj requests got approved and I realized that I would be going for a pilgrimage. As the news sunk in and I began preparing cautiously for Hajj, hardly daring to believe it, I knew one thing. If it actually happened, it would be a dream come true.

I had embarked on that journey broken, disinterested in life, and having lost that spark that people have come to associate with me. But there is something inexplicable, something magical about taking that journey, that tells you are still good enough, that you still matter – that the world is still good enough to give it another go. It was through those 15 days that I learnt to believe in myself again, that I decided I was going to fight the odds as best as I could.

The closeness that one feels with the Almighty there is unparalleled, being in front of Allah’s house, witnessing what the Prophets before us witnessed and praying and walking in the same places that they had – is not an experience to be taken lightly. Allah’s greatness is evident as close to two million people united as one declare ‘Labbayk Allahumma Labbyak’ which means “Here I am Oh Allah” and perform the rituals of Hajj hoping for forgiveness and salvation.

It moves the hardest of hearts and the realization of how wrong one has been and that it is time to now put things right becomes as clear as day. Through those precious days and nights I began to realize the fact that at the end of the day, what really matters is my relationship with Allah, and that one day I would return to Him.

I gradually got my mojo back, and through that journey Allah blessed me to find some amazing people who are still very close to my heart. There is something about spending a night under the stars in your Ihram and being vulnerable and disheveled – you can’t not befriend the people who support you through this. There’s a certain unity – Allah unites the hearts as you spend those special Mina nights alongside each other in a camp and wake up for Fajr together.

It was one such night that for me, remains unforgettable. So as I lay in my sofa bed in the dark, with close to 40 women in the same tent lined up on the floor next to me I looked around the tent in the darkness and wondered, “What would death be like? How snug would the qabar (grave) be? Would it be dark?” The sofa bed was snug, a little too snug, it barely fit the dimensions of my body and turning on my side was a challenge. The AC in the tent felt a little too cold but of course I couldn’t tinker with it. I took a deep breath and decided to leave the tent.

They say that the holy cities never sleep and I am delighted to say that as I walked outside the tent with my pocket Quran there was the usual hustle and bustle of people which immediately made me comfortable. While it was certainly more quiet than it would typically be at day-time, I decided to prolong my walk (even though I wasn’t carrying my bag or my phone) and wandered outside the tents’ enclosure on to the streets of Mina.

There were no cars allowed there so it seemed like a nice safe place to walk, and while it was a bit quiet, you could see people and families walking back to their tents or in transit. Lost in my thoughts I began walking while trying to remember exactly where the entrance to our enclosure was. Every single enclosure looks the same – one must be really good at navigating oneself back to Point A, or one must have a Maps app, and one must remember the numbers. Remembering the numbers is essential!

Mina, the city of tents

As expected, I had none of the above and as I meandered across the streets of Mina at 2 am I thought I shouldn’t stray too far and decided to sit on the footpath. I leaned against the wall and pulled my pocket Quran and began reading softly to myself. In that one moment, I felt more fulfilled than I ever had – I just wished the night could go on forever. Alas, I had just been reciting a few minutes when a man walked up to me and handed me a bag of food. Being interrupted from my recitation I didn’t realize what he wanted and I looked closely at the plastic bag containing a foil container (presumably biryani) some bread and juice. I looked askance at him until I realized – he was offering me charity!

When a woman is sitting on a footpath at 2 am, all alone, in attire that is dusty and scruffy one might assume she is homeless or begging or both. I probably came across as a more dignified beggar – I wasn’t even actively begging – I was just reciting the Quran so God-fearing individuals would pay heed and cough up cash. This realization dawned on me at long last and I couldn’t help laughing. I refused the food ever so politely and got up rather self-consciously from the sidewalk and dusted my clothes and cleaned my shoes. It was an embarrassed laugh, but the incident had amused me greatly and certainly brought me out of my reverie. I decided to head home lest another Good Samaritan find me and offer alms!

This part I was dreading a little bit – I am known to use Google Maps for the most obvious locations. Thankfully after some trial and error I found my way back to our enclosure – nearly ended up at the wrong one but I was safely back in my bunk which started feeling a lot more comfortable as I drifted off into a restful sleep.

Finding the way back without any major mishap was lucky and I should probably have been more careful. A visual marker of some type is beneficial – that’s where the big garbage is – something like that. But because everything in Mina looks the same, visual markers are hard to come by. Few could one up my Dad who actually kept a CLOUD as his visual marker. Yes, I’m serious. When climbing the Mount of Mercy (Jabal e Rahmat) in the plain of Arafah my Dad ascended from ‘under the big weird-looking cloud’ and once at the summit, he wanted to descend from the big, weird looking cloud – which unfortunately, had deserted him! His story of how he got lost (and somehow found) is a far more interesting recount than mine, but that dear friends, is for another time.

As I sign off, I make sincere dua for the pilgrims performing Hajj this year that may they find peace, salvation, forgiveness and closeness to Allah in this blessed journey and may their pilgrimage be accepted. And those that desire to perform the pilgrimage, Allah makes ways and means for them to do so. And I pray that my Hajj, crazy as it was, with all its adventures, somehow got accepted too. Wassalam!

And I complain about my tent…

Compassion and them vibes

The more I read, the more I understand why compassion is such a huge deal and why compassionate people are often the wisest. Also, when feeling empathy and compassion we vibrate at our highest. Vibes are important and vibes are real. Let me know what you think in the comments.

Sharing some quotes that touched my heart.

What makes laughter a great medicine

Originally written for: https://gulfnews.com/opinion/off-the-cuff/what-makes-laughter-a-great-medicine-1.80117323 25.06.21

I recently came across the book “The How of Happiness” in which the author Sonja Lyubomirsky presents scientific arguments and research on how to get and remain happier. A number of different studies quoted in the book show that our personal circumstances only account for about 10% of our happiness.

Yes, that means that the coveted job we’re after, that perfect partner or even winning the lottery would in essence make us only about 10% happier in the grand scheme of things. So where does happiness lie? According to Lyubomirsky 50% depends on our genes but that still leaves another 40% and that, she argues, depends on what we do and what we think. That aligns with my belief too — that happiness lies deep within and that our actions and thoughts make a huge difference in how happy we are. While she doesn’t give research on how humour helps with happiness, I personally feel laughter has a lot to do with how we feel.

I’m not sure how and when I began being known as the ‘class clown’ — but somehow the title has stuck and for a good few years now. I have a strong urge to break the monotony of lectures (or boring work meetings) and provide some kind of comic relief, much to the dismay of my professors/well-meaning colleagues, who by the end of the year have usually given up on me. They say what goes around comes around and sometimes, in my sessions as a trainer, I come across students that say and do the same (inappropriate) things that I would do as a student/trainee. In spite of myself I can’t help laughing and secretly applauding their guts.

It was quite early on in life that I realised that I loved laughing, and that I had an equally wonderful time making others laugh. I longed to be able to write material that gave people some kind of mirth, some kind of joy. I’ve been extremely lucky with mentors, editors and opportunities and over the years humour has become one of the genres I experiment with.

I always thought this part of me was just a silly side of me — unimportant — not really essential to who I was. It took the steam off from days that felt like pressure cookers but surely, it did not matter, or really make any kind of difference, right? The analytical, logical side, the hidden nerd that loved reading and studying, the woman of principle, the listener who wanted to be compassionate — that’s who I really was, right?

I’m starting to realise that the advice given to friends under a pile of self-deprecating jokes was particularly well received and I felt more like myself when I was laughing or trying to make others laugh. The literature that made people smile was read far more than the most serious, analytical piece I could write and the dark, satirical humour I wrote on my personal issues helped me perhaps a tad bit more than the sob-fests (which by the way I also write). Equally telling is how I would naturally gravitate towards a chuckle-inducing PG Wodehouse book than say, a serious war novel.

So, what’s the point of this whole piece? Let me just say that when life happens — being the comic is actually my relief. Yes, there are times when laughter just doesn’t cut it and sadness and tears are necessary for a complete human experience. When I hit rock bottom and I’m done processing the pain I’m feeling, the easiest way to get back up is to laugh once more.

As long as humour is in good taste and doesn’t violate the more important principles of empathy and compassion (towards self or others), for me it truly is a way out. When I’m able to crack a joke about a seemingly hopeless situation it isn’t just a silly, unimportant side of me. It’s that quintessential part of me that finds joy in the bleakest of moments and can (hopefully) spread it too.

That fateful cleanup

Originally written for: https://gulfnews.com/opinion/off-the-cuff/that-fateful-cleanup-1.77787339
Published 13.03.21

cupbord cleaning
Image credit: Shutterstock via Gulfnews.com

When I first read the following lines by Arthur Weasley (Ron’s Dad in Harry P, remember?) “Ah, yes, I collect plugs,” I was a teenager. I had smiled about it and thought “How cute.”

Molly Weasley’s husband is as different from mine as possible, but the boys have a shared love of plugs. In fact, mine has one-upped Weasley by a fair margin. He not only collects plugs, he collects wires (all colours, shapes and sizes) tools, voltmeters, solar panels, old car batteries, bulbs, inverters, electrical tape, nuts and bolts and everything in that zone that you can possibly imagine. I live in a workshop, or you could even call it a solar plant. We produce our own solar energy and someone in our family firmly believes that electrical wires add a great deal to aesthetics. Our storage areas are also packed with random power-packed devices that can blow, cut or weld, and that’s not all. We regularly receive innocuous looking packages from Amazon and even from China, because, guess what — we don’t have enough wires, bulbs and plugs.

Any empty drawer in our house seems to grow wires and it’s cronies — I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve opened a cupboard that wasn’t assigned to something in particular with the intention of keeping something in it and found that our never ending supply of plugs and co had overflowed and encroached upon that empty space too. I should add that the scientist in charge of these materials is a genius, a busy man, who couldn’t care less about how materials are kept. I mean if we can produce solar energy at home, surely, the mess shouldn’t matter right? Umm … Well, you know …

I used to be (notice the past tense?) a neat freak, someone who looked at jumbled up cables and felt nauseous. Not ideal, as you can imagine. There was this one time that I decided to ‘clean up’ one very important cupboard that belongs to my husband. Upon opening his treasure chest, I just stood staring at it for a few minutes and when I came to, I had a big garbage bag in my hand. This incident is not pretty. If you love wires, please look away.

I felt a warm sense of fulfilment and peace wash over me as I retrieved tired-looking wires, bulbs with broken filaments and tools that looked useless to me and tossed them. I found so much dirt and dust I thought I was cleaning up mini sand dunes, and lo and behold — after a full day of hard work, the cupboard looked clean. There were wires sitting nicely (UNJUMBLED!) on the shelves and devices and machinery without a speck of dust (Martha Stewart would be proud) and of course why would one need two screwdrivers of the same kind if one would suffice? Minimalists could write essays on how wonderfully I downsized his cupboard. I remained mum about this feat when I met him later that day but every time I passed by the cupboard I would give it a loving, secret look and open it up and smile while waving my arms as though to say “Here you go!” I think I might have chicken-danced at some point too.

A few days later …

“Who messed my cupboard?” he asks, while rummaging through his stuff.

“MESSED? Are you serious?” I respond incredulously, finally hoping to get due acknowledgement.

“DID SOMEONE THROW MY OLD TOOLBOX?” He says in a voice that gets ever more menacing.

“You mean helped you cleanse your mind and life of clutter as you embrace a more minimalistic life?” I say weakly.

I can’t tell you what happened next because I have feeling my editor will not allow swear words. The above happened many years ago, but its echoes have been far-reaching. We’ve spoken (read: argued) about my ‘cleaning’ many times — especially when something’s gone missing. As a result I now have selective vision that automatically blurs out the wires. Somewhere along the line, however, we learnt (nah, still learning) what compromise actually means and maybe the wires (and the man who works with them) — are cute after all!

Wa Man Yatiqillah…

Waman Yattaqillah yajallahu makhrijan wa yarzuquhu min haithu la yahtasib
Surah Talaq, Surah Number 65 Ayah 2-3 (The Quran)

‌Bismillahir Rahman Ir Raheem

وَمَن يَتَّقِ ٱللَّهَ يَجۡعَل لَّهُ ۥ مَخۡرَجً۬ا (٢)

وَيَرۡزُقۡهُ مِنۡ حَيۡثُ لَا يَحۡتَسِبُ‌ۚ وَمَن يَتَوَكَّلۡ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ فَهُوَ حَسۡبُهُ ۥۤ‌ۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ بَـٰلِغُ أَمۡرِهِۦ‌ۚ قَدۡ جَعَلَ ٱللَّهُ لِكُلِّ شَىۡءٍ۬ قَدۡرً۬ا (٣)ر


 wa many yattaqil laaha yaj’al lahoo makhrajaa
Wa yarzuqhu min haisu laa yahtasib; wa many yatawakkal ‘alal laahi fahuwa husbuh; innal laaha baalighu amrih; qad ja’alal laahu likulli shai’in qadraa

 And whosoever fears Allah and keeps his duty to Him, He will make a way for him to get out (from every difficulty).
And will provide for him from where he does not expect. And whoever relies upon Allah – then He is sufficient for him. Indeed, Allah will accomplish His purpose. Allah has already set for everything a [decreed] extent.

I just love these ayaat. They have offered hope, healing and literally a way out more times than I can count. The premise is simple — have taqwa of Allah — love Him more than anyone else, ever, and fear His displeasure and live your life in way that you are aware He is watching, aware and cognizant of everything you do. You’ll have a way out of every problem.

Allah is giving basically an open invitation — wa MAN yatiqillah — WHOEVER has taqwa of Allah, He will find a way out for you. He, in Whose power and control is everything. Then the next ayah further says that He, the great Provider will provide from where you didn’t think possible… and if you rely only on Allah, then He is ENOUGH. Ponder on that for a moment. Rely on Him and He WILL come through for you. And the ayah ends with Allah decreeing everything before hand — which means if you lost something, or didn’t receive what you thought you would, don’t worry. Allah had planned it all along, and He loves you more than anything and His plan is right and fine and perfect.

Just trust Him.

Have Taqwa of Allah and watch in wonder as you find a way out of every difficulty.

That simple. Really.

(May Allah swt allow me to understand and implement and live by this, Ameen)

Hidden lessons in a plate of fruit

1.1567266-2536433468
Image credit: shutterstock

Originally written for: https://gulfnews.com/opinion/off-the-cuff/hidden-lessons-in-a-plate-of-fruit-1.77506896 (02.03.21)


My Dad could cut fruit beautifully, perfectly and without wasting any of the fleshy bits, he could carve out a watermelon, peel and slice an orange within seconds, or go from a prickly pineapple to inviting slices – and present it on a plate so elegantly you’d be tempted to eat it all up even if you’d just had dinner. And he did this with a smile on his face, humming a tune, turning the fruit and the knife in his hands rather like an expert magician and impressing us with his dexterity, and knowing he was doing it ‘just right’. That, my friends, was when I began learning about excellence, but I just didn’t know it yet. 

So what exactly is excellence? Excellence is when we give things their due, when we pursue something like it should be pursued; mindfully, joyfully and earnestly. The exact opposite of excellence is mediocrity – mediocrity is when you shuffle through life being strictly ordinary and you couldn’t care less. Excellence is when you don’t settle, when you do something – anything – with a desire to make it count. One might think excellence is achieved only if the end product is beautiful. I think differently. 

Excellence is achieved when our thoughts and intentions are pure, when we do things for the right reasons, and we do them because we really care. The pursuit of excellence is usually born out of commitment to a higher purpose or a bigger goal and every step taken on that journey keeping the ‘eyes on the prize’ is in fact, excellence. It’s setting your own world alight, it’s knowing what you want, why you want it and it is taking meaningful, devoted steps towards it.

We typically associate excellence with some people – have you noticed? People who are generally good at something will most likely be good at everything they do, and people who are sloppy will most likely be careless or sloppy at all tasks. I’m not saying that excellence is simply an attention to detail, or a pursuit of perfection, in fact it is far greater. Excellence is an attitude of resilience, of grit, of staying focused, of believing in your goals, in yourself and then daring to be seen because you gave it your best.

This is an attitude or a trait I desperately want to acquire – I want to be someone who’s relationships – every single one of them – is cultivated with care, respect, a fulfilling of duty, sincerity, selflessness, unconditional love and therefore, excellence. I want to be someone who leaves that kind of an impact on the world, someone who lives this life making every second on the earth count. I want to have excellence in the way I use my time, in the way I parent or have conversations, in the way I do everyday tasks because I deserve nothing but excellence from me.

Here’s another thought. Excellence is failure. Yes, you read that right. Excellence is not necessarily beautiful and perfect like my Dad’s plate of fruit, and especially not in the beginning. Those that get to excellence are those who face failure chin up, with a tear and a smile that says: “I’m good enough. I CAN try one more time.”

Sometimes, it’s the process that becomes even more delightful than the outcome. Excellence is not the destination, it is the journey – and because the journey is so meaningful the end invariably becomes wonderful. It is the journey undertaken with a clear vision, with a heart that is filled with sincerity.

The pursuit of excellence can be draining, and there will be days when we mess up and are tied into mediocrity and it seems like there’s no way to get out of the rut we’re stuck in. On those days, it is essential to remember that you can still have thoughts and aspirations that are great, and these will then translate into an excellent reality. Some days, that first step, that painful phone call, or that realization which you’ve been running from could be excellence.

I didn’t realize it then, but those plates of fruit had hidden lessons. While I did learn to cut fruit and present it nicely too – I only wish I can internalize the bigger and more important lesson of excellence in every aspect of my life. 

Of a man called Listen

Originally written for https://gulfnews.com/opinion/of-a-man-called-listen-1.76800751

Published 30.1.21

couple
Image Credit: Pexels

“Umm, Listen!” I say, and my voice rings across the grocery store. Ten people look at me and I recoil with embarrassment. I look at my shoes instead — the person I am trying to reach seems far from interested. He is busy exploring the car accessories aisle while I am dealing with a shopping trolley and a toddler who thinks that the fruit yoghurt in the cart should be eaten right now. Frustrated, I try again. “Can you hold the baby, please? Listen? LISTEEEENNNN?”

Listen (AKA the husband) walks gingerly towards me, annoyed at being pulled away from all things cars and picks up the baby while I clean her up. That was us, some 10 years ago. I belong to a very traditional family, deeply rooted in desi, Pakistani culture and in my family, none of the women call their husbands by name. In his absence, the husband is referred to simply as ‘Him’ and in his presence he is called either ‘Listen’ or ‘Munnay kay Abba’ (Dad of my child).

Both my parents called each other Listen. In addition my Dad had some very amusing nicknames for my Mom, including Peahen, which indicated that he was the peacock. So naturally, when I got married, I too decided that the husband was going to be called Listen. I ended up giving him numerous nicknames too, most of them the kind I wouldn’t use in public. So in parks, groceries and with our extended family, he was Listen, and I, the shy, Eastern wife.

My children called him Baba, and then unconsciously I began calling him Baba too. It was easier to use than Listen (random people in grocery stores wouldn’t answer) and it was more acceptable publicly than my nicknames for him. All went well until one day he turned to me and said “But I’m not YOUR Baba!” I thought the guy had a point. But by then I had gotten so used to calling him Baba that I thought a derivative of it would work fine. So, I decided to call my husband Bob. I tend to play with names (I think the readers get that by now) — so Bob quickly turned to Bob-Zilla and Bob-Zola.

Now I should tell you that my husband looks nothing like a typical Bob should so while this nickname stuck for a bit, it didn’t suit him at all, and the person who noticed it most was my dear Father-in-law who was visiting. “You named my son Bob?” he asked serious, incredulous, and amused, all at the same time. “Could you not choose a more appropriate name?” he asked. Out of respect for my wonderful in-laws I dropped the Bob — and just began calling my husband Zola. As I have mentioned above, the full version was Bob-Zola, but now due to circumstances, only the Zola part became useful.

My predicament with the name doesn’t end here. The Zola (as he was referred to in those days) refused to appreciate my depth and creativity with nicknames. “ZOLA? Like seriously?” he said. It was only after this that I gave up and used his actual name to refer to him. When that happened he looked at me askance and said, “Oh, so you now call me by name? I mean, there’s no warmth or personalisation there.” I had let go of the pretence of the shy Eastern wife and it was then and there I decided that I would use his name.

As we finish over a decade and a half by each other’s sides today, I’m recalling all the fun times, the crazy names and most importantly, the companionship that we’ve been blessed with. We’ve both failed miserably at times, but the standout feature has been the vulnerability and the resilience of our relationship.

One of my long standing issues has been perfectionism and I’ve learnt that more than anyone else I will make mistakes in relationships — but I’m still worthy and lovable. I’ve learnt to be self-accountable, not self-critical — knowing the difference between the two is essential. I’m working on developing the courage to dust myself off after every setback, know that I messed up and still say sorry and not hate the ground I walk upon. I have to say that the Zola, or Bob, or Him has been just — phenomenal.

Chai and I – Part 3 (Oh Mugs!)

I’d asked about loyal readers in the last blog and I’m happy to state that I have at least 4. Two of them are me, because I read every blog at least twice to ensure that it isn’t a complete waste of time, and the third is my computer which by default reads everything. The fourth is a dear friend who must peruse everything I write – not by choice but by force (I know, I understand her plight too. She’s probably nodding vigorously over her chai as she reads this).

Which brings me to the topic at hand – it is once more, that rich brown liquid that could keep me up all night (literally, haha). We’re not done talking about Chai people. I realize this is the third part in the Chai series and I wouldn’t have written it unless I felt there is genuinely just so much to be said! For those that are curious here’s Chai and I – Part 1 and Chai and I – Part 2.

You must have heard about ‘judging a book by its cover’ but have you ever heard about judging the chai by its mug? That’s me. Let me explain. So I like to think I’m a minimalist. I don’t own a lot of bags and the only smart bags I have are gifts from people who are tired of seeing my old, battered canvas bag. I wear the same tired-looking sneakers for years and I try and make my devices last forever, long after their accessories run out of the market (this thing I’m typing on is a 2011 Macbook). I rarely invest in furniture or crockery and every time a Certain Someone wants to buy something I pipe up with: “Yes, but do we really need it? Is this necessary?” and if the Certain Someone doesn’t care or doesn’t listen and buys it anyway, I ensure that I drop snide hints about the ‘extra’ purchase for years. It’s strangely satisfying.

But I digress, don’t I? So I, the minimalist-wannabe, I err, have a little secret. Mugs. I love mugs. I guess you could say I buy mugs when no one is looking. I stare at mugs when we go shopping and fall in love with them and pick them up sneakily and put them in the shopping cart. When we’re at the counter and the mug will be found in my trolley, the Certain Someone will give me ‘The Look’. I am known to return the favor with equal enthusiasm without wasting precious time while the lady at the counter looks on encouragingly, interested in the drama unfolding before her very eyes. Then that Certain Someone will invariably say –“Oh but don’t we have enough mugs at home? Is this really NECESSARY?”

This certain person is also likely to indignantly mutter something that sounds suspiciously like ‘hypocrisy’ while I quickly pay for the purchase and act as though I really, really need that lovely mug because my last one ‘feels all wrong’ and this baby looked ‘right’.

So, what is it about mugs? What is it about looking right? I think it is safe to say we are all on the same page about the fact that chai and coffee mean a lot to me. Chai and I have sort of been like Ross and Rachel over the years (sometimes on, sometimes off) but the truth is that I love chai (coffee too – I’m promiscuous like that). How satisfying the experience is depends largely on the mug. If you give me a super karak chai in a teeny tiny pretty little china cup and I drink it, I will feel cheated. Like someone bought me a lovely dress but cut off the sleeves or something. Give me my chai in a cup that’s too wide and I will feel like something is utterly wrong with the chai itself and will want to have another one just to be sure (but that would mean too much caffeine – and we all know what that does!) Give me chai in a mug that’s too heavy and I will surreptitiously give you mean looks the whole time as though to say “I want to enjoy the chai’s personality – not feel overwhelmed by the mug, and now my arm hurts!” And if you bring the chai in a mug that’s a very dark color, that too won’t work because now I can’t appreciate the real color of the chai – the dark and dinghy din surrounding it overawes it.

image credit: pixabay

The perfect mug is tall, slim and sexy-looking. Never too white and never too dark but just a neutral color that brings out the hues and flavor of the chai. This tall mug is neither too narrow nor too wide (although I prefer it to be slightly wider from the top and narrow down as we descend). It fits nicely in the hand and has a comfortable handle. It may look like there’s a lot of chai inside it but it’s actually juuuuust the right quantity in there — not so less that you take like a sip and you’re done and left twiddling your thumbs at the lack of chai in your life, and not so much that you think: I’ve been sipping this thing for hours! WHEN does it end?! The mug could sometimes say something wacky like a quote or something, but that doesn’t really matter. I’m not picky about mugs am I? Not me!

Just looking at this tall mug full of chai or coffee takes half the pain away — I am known to look at my mugs, sniff at them (aroma!) and take pictures of them rather like a loving parent or partner. It’s a glorious feeling, to have your fingers wrapped around your favorite beverage in your favorite mug on your favorite swing chair or couch – all seems well with the world in that one precious moment, doesn’t it? In fact, served in the right mug, even sad alternatives like green tea and herbal teas begin to look a tiny bit inviting.

At the moment however, I’m in a slight problem. This lovely tall mug that I’ve loved for years has chipped; I think my dishwasher is quite talented at doing that. But that means the search for the perfect mug continues. Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s this sale on this home store and I think I know just what I need. And while I’m at it, could I get it in two colors? I mean, how do I know if I will ever find the right mug again…? And mugs matter, right? Just don’t tell him!