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?

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!

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!

Confessions of a hackneyed homeschooling mum

Originally written for: https://gulfnews.com/opinion/off-the-cuff/confessions-of-a-hackneyed-homeschooling-mum-1.72694519

If there was one thing that I disliked (abhorred, more like) as a child, it was homework. All day long at school, starting from 8 in the morning, they would make us toil and learn.

During the gruelling day, breaks were few and far in between and sports were extremely limited as well. Once home, all I wanted to do was have fun. I wanted to run around, play hide and seek, go swimming, play cricket and sometimes even climb trees and of course annoy my sisters.

My biggest problem was homework. I somehow got through school — sometimes grumbling and sometimes pretending to be sick or sleeping, but sadly, little seems to have changed even after I am a grown up and am expected to bring up intelligent, homework-loving, conscientious children.

I’ve now had a glimpse of what homeschooling might be like and believe it or not — it’s growing on me. The attention my little one gets from me, me learning to be patient and kinder, my child feeling a real sense of achievement and me being there to watch and enjoy that with her — I wonder why I wasted so much time

– Mehmudah Rehman

Our once a week homework in Year 1 for my little one at the start of this Academic Year was treated with displeasure (bordering on contempt).

I would look at the task online, do a little gag when my child wasn’t looking and then clear my throat and in true Julie Andrews (the impeccable Fraulein Maria) style, I would smile brightly and say, “Right, shall we get cracking on this then?”

The next few minutes would be a mix of hard work and utter denial. Hard work because I am after all a qualified teacher (so in theory, I should be really good at this stuff) and denial — of the fact that I might be quite good at teaching other people’s children but have little patience when it comes to my own.

Two pages of squiggly handwriting

I would plead and bribe and encourage and one or two pages of squiggly handwriting (with a coloured drawing to boot!) would be done and I would forget all about homework and its evils until the next 6 days.

The week would pass in a blur of my own assignments, lectures and classes, school runs and chores. Then corona happened and our lives turned upside down.

Suddenly, the once a week homework turned into 10 or more ‘tasks’ that I had to do everyday with my 5 year old on See-saw, the app whose notifications would pop up on my phone and make me recoil and cover my face with my hands. “No! Not another homework! I firmly refuse to watch any more videos on phonics!” I would say to myself.

Every morning a ping on my phone would signal the avalanche of assignments. I can be a very able and accomplished procrastinator, so I decided to hold off the homework for as long as I could.

Excuses ran out
I acted like the indignant and perpetually busy mother on my WhatsApp groups (Why am I paying the school when I am expected to teach?) and of course since I was doing some work from home the excuse of the working mom seemed just fine, too. Until, of course, realisation kicked in and my excuses ran out.

What the past few months have taught me about my daughter and myself has been invaluable. I’ve learnt that the responsibility of bringing up my child and making sure she has all the knowledge and skills she needs has always been mine and no one else’s.

Yes, her teachers and school can give the parents a helping hand, but we can’t ‘outsource’ childcare and forget about it. The fact that fractions scare her has always been my problem, but I just didn’t have the time (or the realisation) to actually understand why the problem exists and help her out.

I’ve now had a glimpse of what homeschooling might be like and believe it or not — it’s growing on me. The attention my little one gets from me, me learning to be patient and kinder, my child feeling a real sense of achievement and me being there to watch and enjoy that with her — I wonder why I wasted so much time.

I would be lying if I said I truly enjoy homework, but it isn’t all bad. I’m aware of where my child stands now — what she enjoys, what she dislikes and what she might need help with. Now, if you will excuse me, we’ve got some skip counting to practice.

Forgotten Corona Heroes

blessings

It’s the sweltering month of September, and I’m in a bad mood. No, I think the three children in the back would say that I am in a vile, dangerous mood. We have to stop for groceries on the way back from school and the traffic is especially horrible because it’s a Thursday. “Mom, I missed after-school basketball today, couldn’t you have come a bit later for me? I could make the team you know.” I could think up of a thousand sarcastic and angry replies to that – something along the lines of “Yes, I’m your maid and driver. I’ll battle all this traffic twice, and cook and clean at home too, for good measure! And I haven’t just finished a long day at work, no why would I do that!?”

I take a deep breath and reply with clenched teeth: “I’m sorry. I have to go to work all weekend and your sister has a play date later today,” I reply. The AC is cranked up high but it still feels unbearably hot as the harsh sunlight hits my hands at the steering wheel. There is fighting in the backseat, and the little person sitting on the car seat first broke into small sobs, but now, there is an out and out tantrum in full swing. The green light slips into yellow just as my car was about to go and I slap my hands on the steering wheel in despair. I turn my neck back and my eyes flash. “Just wait till we get home…” I say in a sinister voice.

I wonder why I took three hungry children with me to the grocery store. I mean why would anyone do that to herself? There’s uniform clad children running amok in the store and there are some eyebrow raising and potentially problematic items (read: junk) that they are now carrying. The children are already eating cookies they picked up in the bakery area. I remind them that they haven’t washed their hands but offer the sanitizer in my bag and let them eat and tell them to keep the wrapper safe in the cart. We then collect the items on my list and after all the weighing and selection and waiting we are done. “I hate doing groceries,” I complain as we walk back to the car, laden with bags. We reach home and the children and I carry the groceries inside and my life finally has some semblance and order as I put everything away and the children wash up.

Cut back to this fateful year of 2020, April 2020, to be exact and supplies at home are thinning fast. It’s been two weeks since I left the house and for the children, it has easily been an entire month. The last time we did groceries about a week back was on an app on my phone and we couldn’t get a delivery slot until two days later from when I ordered it. A guy on a motorbike had come all the way to my doorstep, wearing a decidedly worn out mask and yellowed gloves. His eyes looked tired. He made minimal conversation as he took the payment and sped off.

If you’ve watched the YouTube videos on how to disinfect groceries you probably know what it’s like when there are grocery bags on your doorsteps. We disinfect everything with rubbing alcohol before bringing it inside. Then the process of washing all the produce with vinegar is absolutely exhausting and because I ordered a lot, we barely have enough storage space. This was last week. This week, however, I feel like I might have to step out and buy some essentials like meat, which I never order online.

Going out in this corona world feels – sad and scary. Sad, scary and different. People turn away from each other and the human face, you just can’t see it anymore. As I drive off to the grocery store it feels strangely quiet, there’s practically no traffic and whomever you see in other cars is covered up with masks. Inside the store, it feels a bit like a hospital as everyone has their temperature checked before walking in. A guy further down the aisle from me coughs and I panic and bolt off to another aisle. It’s stressful, to say the least. I have a lot on my list and I’m determined to buy everything I possibly can, as taking the risk of leaving the house again very soon doesn’t excite me.

My cart is chock full as I wait in the long line at the cashier. Seems like many people have been thinking along the same lines as myself – the queue ahead shows people want to stock up as much as possible. The lady at the cash counter is easily eight months pregnant and looks drained. Almost mechanically she scans the groceries and I can only see her eyes above her tightly plastered face-mask, but boy, the eyes say so much. Imagine having to touch and scan every item in that store, imagine having to stand on your feet so many hours a day while putting yourself and your baby at risk. Imagine not having a choice, imagine having to put in the hours, or not having bread on the table. Its finally my turn and as I lift a big bag of rice and put it on the conveyor belt I ask her not to worry about picking it up and putting it in a grocery bag. In a place like Dubai, we are spoilt. People fill in our gas at petrol stations, our groceries are put into bags by others and we enjoy a more luxurious lifestyle than many places in the world.

I think of the food delivery services that have picked up and I suddenly remember that I saw a lot of delivery riders on the road. Your Zomatos, Deliveroos, Talabats and restaurant and supermarket delivery guys – those businesses have picked up and the riders have no choice but to not #stayhomestaysafe so you and I can. The courier guys. The Amazon delivery guys. The security guard in your buiding. The policemen that still patrol the city day and night. The overwhelmed cashiers forced to handle the biggest contaminants – cards and currency. The people stocking up the shelves at the grocery stores, having to work long hours now because of the upswing in demand and having no more personal protective equipment than disposable gloves and a possibly reused many times over face-mask – do you know how scarce and expensive they are? The people who are not blue-collar workers but their companies won’t let them work from home, like my husband? I’m sure there are many other people you and I know who don’t have a choice. The people who are rarely celebrated, each of who is a hero in their own right.

The other day we had a leaky sink and a problem with our bell so the maintenance guys came in. Mask, check. Gloves, check. They just did their job with minimal of fuss and I wondered about their families back home. They are heads of families, they are breadwinners, they mean the whole world to some people and as they potter around from house to house fixing people’s lights and sinks I wonder who celebrates them. Their incomes run families and the maintenance guy (now a regular in our house) says we just trust God and do the best we can in terms of protection. He pulls out his phone and shows me a short video of his teenage son giving a confident, fiery speech. I notice his eyes water just a tiny bit with pride, or is that fear? Oh God, please protect this man, and all the other heroes like him, I say under my breath.

heroes

If you log on to Google, the homepage has a red heart and some medical supplies as #weareallinthistogether and a heartwarming message to support and celebrate all the doctors, nurses and paramedics around the world fighting the coronavirus. We certainly should be grateful to every one of these people and pray for their and their families’ safety and wellbeing. I personally know some great doctors and waste no opportunity in letting them know how selfless they are and what a wonderful job they are doing. But shouldn’t we also look out for the people that have no way of observing the lockdown? What about the construction workers of Dubai, who go about their business like nothing ever happened? What about each and every person who cannot take a break because the authorities do not allow it – or because if they do not work, their family will go hungry? These are truly unprecedented times and the challenges that loom ahead would have been unfathomable even six months ago.

I think back wistfully to the after school grocery trips and children that could run amok in grocery stores and eat a cookie while at it, too. I think about how I hated grocery shopping and yet all I had to do was buy stuff, and put it away and enjoy the blessings it brought. My life has changed and so has everyone else’s – but why did it take such a paradigm shift to make me appreciate all that I took for granted? And the scarier bit – what else am I taking for granted right now in this moment that can be taken away if I don’t understand that it is in fact a blessing? Has the time not come for me to appreciate the relationships that I have, the joys that still surround me if only I paid attention? To sign off, I’m sending out a heartfelt prayer for all those people (and the hospital staff top this list, surely!) who take these huge risks day in and day out just so I can #stayhomestaysafe.

Fourteen years later…

Life’s challenges were never so clear to me as they are now. Perhaps there is something about spending more time in this world, becoming more aware of everything around you and figuring out where you stand and what it is that you are really pursuing.

Roughly fourteen years ago I became a man’s wife. I was suddenly expected to be a caring, intelligent partner and with time, a parent. A mother who was meant to know how everything was done and who was someone to look up to. On a personal level I was going through myriad challenges. I was young, raw and not exactly angry but unpleasantly surprised with life and with the people around me. I had no idea how to be this wonderful partner and much less – how on earth – to be a mother, a somewhat okay mother. Fourteen years later the ignorance is still very much there, but for so long, somehow – and only God knows how – I stand as someone who this far seems to be doing alright. At any rate I haven’t killed anyone and I haven’t killed myself either. 🙂

If I were to talk about some of the more important lessons I hope to have learnt by now, the first of them would be that Allah swt lives on. He doesn’t die, He doesn’t even feel sleepy or tired, He doesn’t get sick, He doesn’t move to another country and He’s the One and Only Protective Friend and Guardian who doesn’t spill your secrets and doesn’t let you down. Calling upon Him is never expensive and private conversations can go on forever. Parents’ – the people you love and count on eventually fall sick, fade away and move on from this world. Friends can let you down and people can break you – both in distance as well as in nearness. But Allah swt, the All-Seer, the All-Knower, the One who doesn’t judge You because of how wealthy you might be or how perfect your body looks, listens to you every single time, understands you and calms you down. He is the Only One who has stood by me through the good and the challenging times, the One worthy of absolute love and trust, the One Who washes and enlightens my heart every time it darkens and then allows me to hope some more for an even better tomorrow.

hadith image, islamic quote

The next thing that’s started making sense is that there isn’t any real satisfaction, success or peace, or indeed lasting victory in getting laurels from the world. Sure, it’s a wonderful ‘I’m-floating-on-air’ kind of feeling when you see your name in print – but then once that’s over – then what? All creative people (writers, artists, poets etc) know that you are only as good as your last article/book/piece. Lasting peace and happiness comes from realizing that it is indeed Allah swt, His obedience and His remembrance that strengthens the heart, actualizes the soul’s existence and pours forth a shining bright light on the path ahead, illuminating the correct way in a maze of bewildering and overwhelming directions. Peace and happiness increases manifold when you perceive those around you with love, compassion and totally clean-slate forgiveness.

At a very deep level, marriage, first, for me, was about acceptance, as are so many things in life. Your partner might be an excellent person, and a righteous individual but if the two of you can’t stand each other there isn’t much in the relationship except random moments of passion that might exist. People fall in and out of love all the time but acceptance, I feel, is the more important one. There has to come a time when you stop blaming and shaming yourself, your partner or your parents or life and simply accept things and give thanks for whatever good is already manifest and for whatever khayr the Almighty has in store for you. A little bit of gratitude goes a very long way. Things begin to change. Acceptance gradually transforms into gratefulness. Giving thanks gives way to love. And love begets mercy and compassion, which finally transports you to a form of communication higher than love.

When no words are necessary between the two of you and when a gentle touch, a short but meaningful text or a tender back rub might mean so much more than just that. When you start caring about the other person and you’re not entirely sure why or when it started happening but you now understand the importance of their presence in your life and wouldn’t want it any other way. Understanding means being unselfish and letting the other person have their time and space if they need it.

One of the most essential ingredients of a good relationship is humility and ensuring that your ego doesn’t destroy you, both when you are right and more importantly when you are the one who you erred. One must question oneself all the time and make small but conscious efforts every single day to water the family tree.

daisies

My husband is a great man. He really is. And I don’t say that just because he’s put up with me for all these years – although that in and of itself has got to be pretty remarkable. He’s a strong man with insides of steel because he takes all the personality assassination I do of him, digests it, takes whatever benefit he can from my ruthless analysis, discards the rest and then forgives me wholeheartedly. He then renews his vow to stay by my side forever. Yes, I know. I’m incredibly blessed. Alhamdulillah.

As for me, I’ve always found it a bit hard to totally forgive and forget, barring now when I’m finally learning that there’s absolutely nothing cool about being permanently hurt and there’s this incredible feeling of liberation and happiness when you just – let go. Intelligent people move on and embrace each day as an opportunity to receive and radiate all things good and positive.

My husband’s also a really creative guy. He can create power from a bunch of tired looking wires and solar panels and he can probably fix everything from broken glasses to a broken fridge – not impeccably, mind you, but good enough to get you by for a bit. He also loves breaking things apart and enjoys discovering how they work and how and when they don’t. I’m happy to say that he’s now learning to curb this same desire with the wife!

I’d like to sign off with a final piece of advice to myself and anyone else who might care for it. Always notice the little things. If she folds your laundry and puts it away remember to say thank you and mean it. If he clears the sink while you get your assignment done a smile and an “OMG what would I do without you” doesn’t hurt at all. Be respectful and don’t say things you wouldn’t say to a friend. Lastly remember Allah put you in their life for a reason and them in yours for an equally powerful one. Set time aside for just the two of you and remember that the joy, the happiness of the moments today require much thankfulness and acknowledgement. And for when things aren’t so hunky-dory, it pays to be patient and knowing that it too, shall pass. And we’re all going to return to Allah anyway. 🙂

And seek help thorugh patience and prayer

Anxious men in the passenger seat

wife driving

Originally written for Gulf News “Off the Cuff” http://gulfnews.com/opinion/off-cuff/anxious-men-in-the-passenger-seat-1.1871220

There are certain things you remember about your childhood that were an integral part of growing up. For me, one such thing was that funny little tomato-red Daihatsu Charade that we once owned. The car was a 1985 model that Dad had purchased refurbished, which meant we became its owners some 10 years after it was born.

It made funny noises when you drove it (stick-shift) and the trunk closed with an earth-shattering jolt. Pulling the windows up and down was good exercise for the biceps and if you got lucky, the air conditioner would sometimes work. This strange object, however, came in handy when I wanted to learn to drive.

After a few lessons of the basics, I decided to take my parents out for a ride. Bad idea, I know. Dad was a bundle of nerves as I took the car outside the gate, and he covered his face with his hands. A car sped along in the opposite direction and he jumped. “Can’t you see that car?” he said frantically. “We are on the other side Papa, please relax,” I told him.

Mum murmured in agreement from the back seat. Dad ground his teeth. I tried to laugh valiantly but found this first ride with him distinctly confidence-draining as I tried to reassure him that everything would be fine.

We were driving along the main road happily and I could sense him relaxing just a tiny bit. It was almost as though he had resigned himself to the fact that he wouldn’t look up much and we would all make it home in one piece. I was pleased that he wasn’t quite as excited as before and things started to get a little more pleasant. We finally turned home and as everything had gone well without any trouble whatsoever, I decided this was my time to speak. “Well, I’m quite okay driving, aren’t I? Look at you guys, you don’t trust me at all!”

Dad almost looked sorry and he was about to say something, but I’ll never know what it was because at that precise moment I banged the rear of the car while reversing into our unopened front gate, which I had presumed was open. Typical. Dad felt vindicated and the “I told you so” lecture that followed was positively grating. Fast forward a few years and I drive every day, sometimes for long distances. It has become second nature. I would even say that I enjoy it (minus the traffic, of course) and ferrying the girls around town is part of my job description. Yet, my husband recoils with apprehension every time he sits with me in the passenger seat.

We are driving to the airport to drop him off. “Change lanes, we need to take the next exit,” he says. I roll my eyes. “Thanks, but I kind of know the way,” I respond coolly. He shrugs. When I finally do change lanes he shakes his head in despair and wonders how much to say because he is travelling after all and making up over the phone might prove a little tricky. He (wisely) restrains himself from speaking about the details of my lane-changing abilities, but I notice from the corner of my eye, he looks extremely stressed. I don’t know about you, but the men in my life generally hyperventilate when I’m driving.

I enjoy speeding every now and then (the engine roar is so satisfying) but sadly my husband doesn’t agree. “No wonder the fuel costs as much as it does and do you realise how unsafe this is?” he says pointedly as I let it rip. I slow down because we need to pick up something on the way and the only parking available near the grocery store is parallel. Herein lies my real test. I take a deep breath and try it — five times out of ten I manage to do it and at other times, the car just doesn’t seem to obey. Sadly, this time the car ends up jutting out at a strange angle and he smiles vindictively. “You bribed them to pass your driving test, didn’t you?” He breathes easy and I scowl. He picks up the grocery and then knocks at my window. “I’m driving,” he tells me.

The man who looked completely distraught moments ago is now happy and relaxed and shows the girls how we take off in an aeroplane by going full throttle and making the engine thunder. My eyebrows almost disappear into my hairline. It’s nostalgic. I remember that red Charade and Dad. I smile wryly. Until he learns to relax in the passenger seat, I really don’t mind being chauffeured around by my man, especially if there’s parallel parking around.

 

So why should I fast anyway?

Originally written for Gulf News Opinion http://gulfnews.com/opinion/thinkers/so-why-should-i-fast-anyway-1.1850796

dates iftar

The clock strikes four and I gulp down the water quickly. I hear the distant call of the Fajr (dawn) prayer and realise that for the next 15 hours, I can neither eat nor drink anything. I think warily of the fact that the girls have school almost half this Ramadan and pick-ups must be braved in the searing heat. It’s not the food I mind giving up, I say grudgingly to myself, it’s the water and the caffeine — and the sleep that gets interrupted when I wake up to eat the pre-dawn meal. I’m a grouch early in the morning and the idea of not being able to get a long lie-in irks me.

“Why must I fast anyway?” I ask myself in a moment of restless, bleary-eyed grumpiness. There’s a voice inside me that tells me to come to my senses, but another stronger voice pipes up, “Because everyone fasts during Ramadan”. I complete the Fajr prayer lazily and throw dirty looks at the clock that just doesn’t seem to move on. As the day wears on, my mood thankfully improves, much to the relief of my family. The conscience is uncomfortably guilty as I question myself again, this time wide-awake and pleasant enough — why, at any rate, do we fast in Ramadan?

The obvious answer of course would be that because Allah commanded us in the Quran to do so. He also told us that He intends ease for us and not difficulty, and that those who are unable to fast due to reasons such as ill-health, travelling and child birth are exempt from doing so. There is also great reward in paradise for those who fast. Just that should be enough for someone of sound faith to want to fast, but I want to delve deeper into this question.

Let me, for starters, examine my relationship with God. When things are going well, I don’t really talk to Him much. I pray mechanically, almost like I just want to tick off a task in my day. But when the going gets tough, I earnestly talk to Him, in the darkness of the night and during the day when no one but Him understands my whispered pleas. When I feel inadequate, unable to do everything that’s expected of me, I reach out to Him and tell Him everything, safe in the knowledge that His mercy is greater than His wrath and that He, alone will not judge me.

One thing about people is that they’re quick to judge you. Say, a woman might be having an illicit affair and people would condemn her for being a two-faced hypocrite, but the only One who knows her full story and still has the door of mercy and forgiveness open for her is Allah. When you’re in the wrong — say things you dearly regret and actions that you’d give anything to eradicate — Allah is the One and only who understands you and still loves you and appreciates the fact that you came back and said sorry. Just the thought is emancipating.

Another beautiful thing about this relationship is that Allah knows me better than anyone, imperfections and all. He still loves me and listens to me every time I need to talk — no matter even if it is too trivial and I can be myself. He takes care of my requests, provided I ask like I really mean them. Even while I prayed and fasted like it was a chore, He continued to bless me with every passing day with gifts such as a functioning body, my family and countless other things.

I feel like a very selfish person — all I seem to care about is MY comfort, MY coffee and MY entertainment. I feel shallow, insincere — but one thing I do not feel is despair, because I know that the moment I reciprocate the love He shows me, Allah will give me another chance.

Outward signs of practising religion are indeed a part of it, but the actions are weightless if the conviction of faith isn’t behind them. I reflect upon the fact that I have this One friend that I have counted on in every moment of need and found Him to be true and incredibly caring and merciful. He continues to love me despite the fact that I mess up way too often. The more I know Him, the more thankful I am to Him and the more I want to show Him my love and devotion too. From hereon, I will fast because I want to, because He said so, because it is a privilege to be able to worship Him in the way He wants me to.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

Originally written for Gulf News “Off the Cuff” published March 27, 2016

http://gulfnews.com/opinion/off-cuff/what-doesn-t-kill-you-makes-you-stronger-1.1698786

negativepeople

Bullying is real. Bullying in schools, in the workplace and even in homes, is a reality that many of us go through. My 10-year-old has recently become the target of it in school and as I heard her recount her experiences, I felt like a little schoolgirl myself, all over again. I had that uncomfortable, familiar feeling of being hot in the face, feeling the redness creep up my cheeks as it consumed my insides and made them writhe, as though I wouldn’t be able to face anyone ever again. What my girl went through at school is a form of psychological abuse.

The bullying did not, (this time) come from her peers. It came from above — a teacher. The woman first developed a bond with my daughter, gave her extra responsibilities and then, gave her an unwarranted personality analysis (twice in two weeks), which explained exactly all that was supposedly wrong with my daughter’s mental make-up. That she was outspoken, over the top and didn’t feel “right”. That her bubbly nature was simply not what people were looking for and she would never be successful/appreciated in life because she was a little too “in your face”.

All this and more was said to her under the premise of “because I want to make your life better”. Understandably, she was shaken and began to cry and has not wanted to return to school since. My daughter is a sensitive, emotional girl and her self-esteem has taken a beating.

I could rage and storm and complain to the management and I feel like doing so, and may well complain at some stage. But on the other hand, I could give my daughter strategies to deal with this and prepare her for the big bad world. As our tete–a–tete went on, I noticed a hopeful and inquiring look in her eyes, as though she expected me to somehow make it all better. I’m just desperately trying to do this parenting thing right, and sometimes it’s more challenging than anything else in the world.

Finding internal strength

A response such as “that really hurt my feelings and I wish you wouldn’t speak to me like that” to a bullying superior at school or work may just backfire because research proves that responding to a bullying superior irks them, and they go about making your life more difficult than before.

Being extra nice to them does not work either and possibly the only thing that really helps is finding internal strength to still have confidence in yourself and to tell yourself that you are still good, and valuable and worthy, no matter what anyone else might think — and to distance yourself from the bully as much as possible.

There’s that nagging feeling at the back of your mind “what if everything she said was true? What if I really am a worthless person?” That’s when you realise that the negativity really did make an impression inside your head. I looked my little girl in the eyes and told her that she needed to understand and accept the fact that she had been emotionally abused, and that the abuser probably has too many skeletons in the closet herself.

We know nothing about the lives of people, about how much they may have on their plate at any given point of time, and what prompted them to commit actions that are cruel or passive-aggression. Unless we truly forgive them and detach ourselves mentally from the situation in a healthy way, we cannot move on. And moving on is essential for healing.

As is another thing — counting your blessings and remembering that there are so many precious things in life other than this one person and how he or she feels about you — and that they cannot get inside your head unless you allow them to. Connecting with yourself and God on a deeply spiritual level and finding that inner peace and satisfaction helps bring balance back to life.

I can’t help feeling like my daughter has had to grow up a little too soon over the past few weeks, but I’m sure there’s some good in it — however painful it may seem right now. I want my girls to grow up strong, independent women and I will leave the decision of responding to this teacher to my daughter.

All I want for her is to know that her parents and her family will stand by her no matter what and appreciate her for who she is, love her to bits and are very proud of her. I want her empowered with self-belief, backed by our love and appreciation. And to anyone out there who’s being bullied right now as we speak, let me tell you one thing. You’re wonderful.