Originally written for: https://gulfnews.com/opinion/off-the-cuff/that-fateful-cleanup-1.77787339
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!
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)
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.
Originally written for https://gulfnews.com/opinion/of-a-man-called-listen-1.76800751
“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.
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.
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!
All good things in life that are unhealthy and lots of fun (meaning you should keep away from them or consume them in limited quantities) such as chocolate, coke, coffee, cinnamon rolls, cake, chips, cookies,
cigaret —well, you get my point – these things all seem to begin with a C. Chai (tea, but I prefer to call it Chai) also begins with C. It had to. Obviously.
For the uninitiated, I wrote an article titled Chai and I some ten years ago. Loyal readers (are there any? Can you please get in touch? Do you lot actually exist?) might remember that piece where I spoke about how I can’t function without my morning caffeine and how I am hopelessly addicted to caffeine after consuming it ‘every alternate Sunday’. I also cited research stating how awesome chai is. Ten years later, things look very different.
The love affair has become decidedly troublesome and the relationship has soured. The beverage that I counted on to get me through the day has now become a guilty pleasure – something I look at with glassy eyes and say “No, thanks, I’m good, I don’t want Chai,” in a small, miserable voice if someone asks “Would you like a cuppa?”
The problem, dear friends, is that I am highly sensitive to caffeine. For those who know me personally will agree that I am a ball of nervous energy, perpetually excited, over the top, larger than life WITHOUT any caffeine at all in my system. When I was younger I could take it better – but now, as soon as I consume caffeine, I get ‘high’. Like really high.
So a person who is already fairly ‘high’ gets another dose and hits the ceiling. In goes the chai and I become dangerously talkative, crack all the inappropriate jokes you can imagine and generally feel like a million dollars, and then some. I also feel like I can cook, clean and take a class on the side – while calling my aunt in Pakistan and belting out a tune just because. I had mentioned that I can think and write over chai – that’s still true, but sometimes, the caffeine hits me so hard that I actually get jittery and have to run to the loo every few minutes because the diuretic takes effect too. But yes, any kind of creative work on chocolate, chai and coffee is precious.
One could argue that I could simply have decaf or ‘low-power’ chai, but that would be a disgrace. Give me Chai with Zafran or Malbari Masala Chai or desi chaska Pakistani doodh patti and I’ll love you but if you hand me some watery concoction pretending to be chai I shall feel personally offended. My daughter suggested I could go for coffee instead and I rolled my eyes so that they disappeared into my eyebrows for a good five seconds. COFFEE!! Why would anyone even mention that in my presence? It’s like talking about meat in front of a lion that’s on a diet from his favourite food. If chai does all this to me, imagine what coffee might do? A good strong brew, Caffe Nero (one of the best coffees in Dubai, in my opinion) oh my God, here I come…. Sigh.
So as I was saying, the caffeine sensitivity doesn’t end there. Taken anywhere after 3pm the chai (or more obviously coffee) will affect me so strongly I will be unable to sleep at night and will be goggling around the room like an idiot in bed at 10 pm wondering why the bedside lamp is so beautiful and if I could write on all the beautiful colours and hues and how they are made and if I could hold the rays of light in my hand … I think you get my point. So that leaves me with only one option. Cut back on the caffeine.
Dear reader, it breaks my heart into a million little pieces as I inform you, that I, Mehmudah Rehman, the one who happily gulped down her morning chai like a life-giving elixir, has all but given it up. Mornings now begin with a sober cup of green tea (low caffeine) with lemon and chai is reserved for days when I think I will really need it – if I’ve had a bad night, or if I am under the weather, or if the craving gets too bad. Sometimes I’ll have it three days in a row and feel like I ‘cheated’ because the morning high will last well into the evening – so much so that sometimes I’m unable to relax even for an afternoon nap! As for coffee, if it was possible to fall in love after the first heartbreak and get more severely heartbroken again, that’s what our relationship is like. The aroma, the flavor, the high, the LOVE, the froth, the artisan stuff – oh dear – I should stop writing. I want to sleep tonight. Cheers. Keep chugging this stuff people. While you still can. Meanwhile, I will go brew my self a non-caffeinated chamomile tea and pretend to love it.
So, sometimes we do stuff, and it’s like we didn’t do it at all. It feels like you made a gargantuan effort, with no yield. It can dishearten you, it can make you feel like “What does it matter if I do it or not, anyway?”
So this is a note to self (and my readers) that don’t give up. Every little bit, every little drop counts. Every act of worship, every act of kindness, every tear, every time you fixed your intentions, every time you gave thanks and for sure, every time you did something for the sake of Allah, is noted, seen and written down.
You might not get a receipt for it but just know in your heart that HE DOES SEE IT!!! And He will allow you to find that which you are seeking. So seeker of love, seeker of truth, seeker of a happy ending, seek! It’s your effort that counts. The effort IS the result. That is the answer to your prayers.
Sometimes results don’t come through immediately. Remember, He is the master of timing. Things will begin to manifest when they’re meant to. Trust me on this one.
Signing off with one of my favourite duas from the Quran: