Wednesday, 24 December 2014


Something that all languages have in common is that they all possess reservoirs of lethal words designed to hurt. Often these words might not be dangerous by themselves, but when coupled with a harsh tone and dressed in resentment, they are more hurtful than physical blows.

These words don’t hurt in the same way. They bear down on you differently based on the time, style of deliver, and who unleashes them on you. There are the blunt words which hurt without leaving a mark to show. The sharp words are so swift that you don’t even realize that you are suddenly bleeding inside. The paper cut words that come when you least expect it. Then there are the words that choke, they slowly accumulate and curl themselves around you, strangling you a little more each day till taking another breath hurts you physically.

I see words when I watch people talk. As they projectile out of mouths I can see how perfectly coated they are in resentment.  I see them slap and strangle, cut and choke. I see them hitting the other person and extracting a reaction of the same or more magnitude. These words never die or disappear. They are just hanging in the air. Often they launch themselves into unknown crevices of your being, only to declare themselves the moment before you crash. Did I say they never help? They don’t.  
These words have their own sounds too as they go about wreaking havoc. There’s crack of the whip word, the slicing knife word, the crushing wood word, the shattering glass word, the slap on the face word. Do you hear them? Strain your ears a little more, you will.

All these words hurt, but at least they are honest about their intent. The one I detest is the deceitful word. The one masquerading to be on your side, when all along it was just chipping at the corner s of your sanity, eating away whatever peace of mind you had. They are the worst.
Wait, maybe not. The worst words, the most lethal ones, are the words of mass destruction. The ones which destroy everything, cut through all relations, wipe away years of trust, and crush all dreams. They leave no love behind. And, most of important of all, they ensure that every single heart in the vicinity is also scarred for life. Yes, they are the worst.

Where do these words spring from though? Surely they don’t exist in a vacuum! Maybe finding the story of that word will cause it to let its guard down. Maybe these words need to be caught midair, before they hit you. Maybe they need to be examined for what they really are- flying debris of hurt.
But there are other words too, thankfully, to help us cope.

The kind word, the loving word, words of solace, the words that envelop you in a warm embrace even when you are breaking into a million pieces. These are the words that we need more than anything at this point in time. Maybe your word can be the first one in this new story that we weave for ourselves. Or maybe you can look in and change the story of your word. If nothing less, maybe you can hold back your broken word and nurture it till you heal. Whatever you choose, let it be only the good word that escapes your lips today. 

Sunday, 19 October 2014


One of my highlights from the Kasaragod trip a week ago, was the quality time I got to spend with my grandparents. Well, more like granduncle and aunt. My mother grew up with her uncle and aunt, so that became home for her. And for me, that meant an extra set of grandparents! Woohoo!

My granduncle (uppapa) is one of the most charming and inspiring man I know.  At 84, he’s one of the most energetic people around. At 6ft, my uppapa stands tall in my childhood memories. I remember him as someone who’s always on the move, always occupied. For the brief moments he was not doing something, or helping someone out, or treating his patients, he could be found relaxing on the antique reclining chair in the living room , listening to his transistor radio. When he wasn’t around, us grandkids would gather around that wooden reclining chair and take turns pretending to be him. When he was at the hospital, we used to sneak into  his consulting room to look at the scary injections and play doctor with his stethoscope.

I have observed that most of the septuagenarians and octogenarians I know have slowly lost interest in life and living. (Granted many of them are suffering from some of the other ailment that makes life difficult). Uppapa, however, is different. Each time I see him, he seems more and more enthusiastic about life. This time I wanted to know what drives him to be so upbeat all the time, so I spent most of the days in Kasaragod just talking to him.

One thing that is true of most grandparents is their enthusiasm to share their stories with us. They are in fact waiting to talk to someone about the life they led, reminisce those they loved and lost, of their childhood mischief. Nostalgia does tend to bear down on you when not shared. My grandma never misses an opportunity to show me pictures of relatives I can never keep track of. She says it is so that this precious knowledge of how people are tied together is not lost with her passing away. It makes me sad to hear her say that, but also inspired to see someone put in that much effort to preserve the memory of a loved one.Similarly, Uppapa also loves talking about his heydays (If you ask me though, he is still in his heydays!). I used to spend tea time with him talking about his work. Power-cuts are the norm in the evenings, all other activity ceases for that while. Often we would sit on the verandah in the dark, seeing each others faces only when the occasional vehicle passed by. Talking to uppapa in such a setting is enchanting, as he begins narrating his stories…

Uppapa studied in Madras Medical College, the only Medical college in South India at that time. His parents were landlords and were not keen on him pursuing a profession that did not carry with it the glamour it does now. He, however, was insistent and got through medical college in four years.  While his colleagues moved to Europe and the US in search of greener pastures, Uppapa came back to Kasaragod. As the only son, he was still required to look after the family land.

He was one of the few doctors in Kasaragod at that time and slowly people came to recognize him. He soon married my grandaunt (mammima) and was well settled in no time. Family circumstances changed and in the 70s he took up a job in Libya for a few years.  He still speaks about the hospitality and warmth of the Libyan people and how accepting and tolerant they were of all faiths. Libya then was a comfortable place to live in, everyone had a house, access to healthcare and education for all children. After a few years there, he wired some of his savings back home and with the rest he decided to travel Europe. It was a spontaneous trip. With all his baggage he went to Athens, left it in a locker and then made his way to England. He visited France, Switzerland, Belgium and couple of other countries he doesn’t remember now. He especially loved England and said he found London cheaper than New Delhi at that time! I was shocked when he said the cheapest place to shop then was Oxford street (What?!). He returned with lots of memories and a few ‘Angrezi’ trinkets that are now resting somewhere in the attic of the ancestral home.

Uppapa is the kind who believes work is worship, so he never actually stopped working. One evening he told me, “I never lost the will to live, and that urge to earn and support my family. I feel that if I stop working now I will just die.” So this 84 year old man has a busier schedule than most other working folks I know. He still drives. In the mornings he performs a few minor surgeries. Afternoons are spent consulting and evenings visiting and treating the residents of a government run Oldage home. I am pretty sure he’s older than most of the residents there!

Uppapa, I think, was born way ahead of his time. He still wants to travel and experience new things. When in discussion with him, I often find myself surprised at how progressive his views are on…basically everything! Be it education or women’s rights or marriage or religion and spirituality, he always manages to stump me with what he has to say.

What I wrote here fails miserably to capture the essence of who Uppapa is. Each time I talk to him, I realize the futility of attempts to convey his dynamism, his thirst for life, his drive to help others, his desire to leave the world with no regrets. How can one actually elucidate a life lived fully for eight decades(and continuing) serving others and manage to do justice to it?

So this is just a faltering attempt to let the world know of this great man than I am proud to call my Uppapa. I am sure that even a glimpse of who he is, is enough to be inspired. 

Saturday, 26 July 2014



Alhamdulillah, we are almost there! After almost a month of fasting we bid farewell to this blessed month with this festival of family, food, and lots of fun.
Muslims across the globe will wait eagerly tomorrow night to spot the crescent. Then some moon-fighting will follow with people eventually celebrating it together anyway. Kids will run around excited about the celebrations, some will burst crackers and dream about the Eidi (Gift money) they will get after the eid prayers. The ladies in the house will get their hands henna-ed, everyone has that one cousin who makes your hand look pretty for once. The cousins congregate in the hall, the mothers busy in preparations for the feast the next day. Snacks for breakfast and delicious biriyani for lunch. Some of the more daring cousins attempt to sneak into the kitchen and smuggle a few snacks out for the rest of us, but most of the times their efforts get foiled. The dads and uncles begin their calls to relatives abroad 'Did you spot the moon in Saudi/Dubai/ America?".

The ironing board witnesses its busiest day yet as one after the other the members of the household iron their Eid clothes (some grudgingly).
And then, eventually, the parents shush their children and order us to sleep. "We will wake you up at 5 tomorrow. No excuses. Now lights off!".
We don't actually sleep...

The next morning, as promised, we are woken up at 5. Some members (*cough* Shereef *cough*), pretend to wake up and then go sleep in another room. Till my dad storms in and literally peels him away from the bed. The girls wash off their henna and the little ones run around the house showing off the orange-red patterns to their parents.
The house slowly fills with the aroma of the frying Samosas, unnakayas and pazham poris (Plantain fries). Mothers of toddlers run behind them with the clothes in one hand and shoes in the other.There are long queues outside the bathrooms for the early morning shower,which some take as a sign to sleep 5 minutes more (*cough* Shereef *cough*).

My grandmother gets ready and calls me to ask if I need some talcum powder to put on my face (I am dark, so talcum powder will apparently make me fair-or 'full of colour'). She then calls all the grand kids to hand out the eidi. At this point none of us are really excited about grandma's eidi, because it's a whole process! First she has to bring all of us in, then the eldest grandchild (me) will be beckoned to bring out her bag, then unzip it and remove a handbag, within which is a purse, within which is an envelope. There are about thousand rupees in there, as she slowly but surely counts it a few times. From that she pulls out 250 Rupees which is to be shared by her 10 grand kids. Yes, my grandma hasn't realized that the value has changed, significantly, over the last few decades. (Once she gave my brother and me 100 bucks to share among ourselves, and she asked me to keep the extra rupee because I am the oldest and her favourite).

The logistics of the trip to the Eidgaah are decided. As we try different permutations and combinations of getting 20+ people into three cars. There is a final check to see if the kids are in (and whether they are actually our kid) and off we go to the Mosque/ Prayer ground. My favourite eid gah was 2 years ago, when we prayed at the beach. Something very special as we heard the Qur'an being recited along with calming sounds of the waves lapping the shore.

The Eid prayers done, we all head back (again after a headcount to ensure no cousin is left behind) to lunch spread awaiting us.
Since my mom is from one end of Kerala, and my dad from the other end and we are settled somewhere in the middle- our Eid spread is a mix of two different culinary styles. There is, of course, biriyani , chicken fry, Kozhi Kaddumbu. Sometimes we have a 'Sadhya', which is traditionally a vegetarian meal on a plantain leaf. But we make some adjustments and add some chicken and fish in there. How else will it work?
The meal is finished off with 'Paayasam', which is a creamy milk dessert. Some cousins throw a fit about biting into a raisin..again. Everyone retreats to the living room with cups of 'Sulaimani' (lemon tea), cousins on the carpet and soon grandpa dozes off. Eventually the rest of us follow suite and the house settles into this peaceful post-celebration buzz.
The sultry Kerala afternoon hangs heavy on us, and eventually it will rain.

Some Eids back home, I would be annoyed at the noise in the house, but now I kind of crave it. Okay, I crave it a lot. The whole of it. The crying toddlers, the henna nights with my cousins, the eidi, the aroma of biriyani filling the air, the Eidi count and the fights afterwards. Mostly, family. This Eid I will be away from my huge, loud, messy family of oddballs, but will be with them in spirit. Alhamdulillah, I have family away from home to celebrate Eid here! Wishing everyone a blessed Eid!

Friday, 25 July 2014

The End of Ramadan...

Today is the last Friday of Ramadan. 27 days have flown by. I entered Ramadan with so much hope and many prayers, like everyone else, for new beginnings and happy endings. An intense desire to cleanse myself from within through this fasting and remembrance of God. And now we are here, as Ramadan slowly makes its way out, I desperately DESPERATELY want to hold on to it. The 3 am suhoors and late night iftaars. The Jum'ah prayers with multilingual sermons, the intimate encounters with the Qur'an, as I fall in love with again and again.

This Ramadan has been similar but also very different on many accounts. It's the first Ramadan I fasted alone. And I've realized that I'll do everything in my power NOT to have another Ramadan without company. I want to be able to share my Iftar, pray Taraweeh in Jam'ah and be woken up for groggy family suhoors. This Ramadan made me thankful for my umma and uppa - you guys are the reason I love this month so much. You made it special for us. And now, when I am not with you guys, I realize how much of the ease I felt in previous Ramadans was because of you. You never let us know hardship, and for that I am ever grateful. This is an intense gratitude that comes from my heart and makes me well up with tears every time. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

This Ramadan has not all been easy too. As much as it has been about new beginnings, it has also been about ends-bloody ends- for many. The end of innocence, the end of hopes and dreams and wishes. This month saw so much death and destruction. The blood of men, women, and children whose names were erased as they became numbers. It has been a painful month, for those living through the horrors of genocide, plane crashes, and every other incident that results from the slow death of humanity. It has also taken a toll on those watching it unfold from the comfort of their homes. As we see the numbers rising- 200-400-700- we begin to unravel. Undone.
This month I have mourned the deaths of hundreds of my brothers and sisters in humanity. I have felt helpless, angry, and frustrated at my inability to do anything.

But last night was different, today is different. I saw the beginning of something which will blossom into freedom. The culmination of all the stones thrown, the bones broken, the children dead, I see a people rising against oppression, and in my own way I rise with them. I felt peace last night, as I rested my forehead on the ground, thanking God and asking Him for help. It is He alone we turn to and it is He who gives respite. And then I stayed awake to greet the morning, a beautiful morning with a soft, glowing sun. And as I stood there, watching it gracefully make its way up, I felt it in my bones that there is something better in store for all this pain, these tears, this loss. 'Verily after hardship comes ease'.

A while ago, I stood near my window and watched it rain. As a gentle wind caressed my face, and my outstretched hands felt the first drops of rain, I felt hopeful. I closed my eyes and I was at home with family, I was in Malaysia with friends, I was in Palestine with the little kids. Wherever we are, rain doesn't discriminate.
It's with sadness that I bid farewell to this blessed month, but my heart is also content. For Ramadan may be ending, but it is not The End. Not yet.

Friday, 18 July 2014

The Same...

You said these domes invade your skies,
And my clothes offend your freedom
Which you so cherished.
You claim
My smile doesn't reach your eyes
Nor my hand out there
Waiting for you 
To shake
And let peace prevail
When I tell you, 

My scarf, these domes, our extended hand
Don't mean any harm
And I'm in no need of saving because
No freedom was infringed when I chose modesty
No oppression encountered till I was asked to shed
What I protect.
I will shed, though.
I will shed inhibition, fear and uncertainties; and
I will reveal.
I will reveal, when we bring down the fence,
You and me,
We are just the same.

Monday, 14 July 2014

My Beloved...

My beloved,
To call you that, is an injustice in itself, for loving you is not an active choice where you are the passive recipient. Darling, my love is imperfect but in all its forms, it belongs to you.
I was whole and then you came along. I knew I loved you even before you were born. With the first cry I became yours. Loving you was then a compulsion- a biological impulse-where each atom in my being was attuned to you and every movement of yours. You said ‘mama’ and my heart soared, You fell and I cried, Your tiny fingers wrapped around my index finger to walk and I found direction. Each action of yours found its outcome in me.
In knowing you,I discovered the depths of love itself. Love then became a selfish act, for in loving you I found myself.
My beloved, You came from me, and as you left, you took a part of me. In losing you, I am undone.
The bullet went through your body and tore my soul. It’s as though my heart has stopped beating and what remains instead is perpetual pain. A heavy pain now resides inside and refuses to cease. Pain that cuts even when I breathe. Each day I drown deeper in waves of sorrow that crushes my bones and constrict my lungs. So tight I cannot breathe. So tight not even your name escapes my lips.
I sought you in my dreams, but even sleep refuses respite. In waking moments, I count the seconds down and cling to what remains of your scent. Darling, the day the echoes of your laughter fade away, I too will come your way.
Image courtesy: PressTv

Monday, 7 July 2014

Ramadan and Family

There's chaos at home with mum dashing back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room, making sure the plates are set, the lemon juice is chilled enough, the dates are ready and the guests are alive. Meanwhile, my brothers and I strain our ears to hear the Maghrib adhan.
The whole family- with the grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins- is seated around the table, hands hovering around their choice of snack/drink to open their fast with. My grandfather is concentrating on his watch and at 6.27 pm lets us know it's time. Dig in.
It's a sultry Malaysian evening. The chatter in the Masjid slowly dies down as we hear the Imam clear his throat. Then as the melodious call to prayer reverberates, we take a sip of the sweet rose syrup drink and bite into delicious 'curry puffs'.
It's 9.23 pm on a cool summer night in London. I am in my small student room, keeping an eye on my mobile screen as I make a few du'as. 9.24: a date and a sip of water. Iftar by myself.

I am a social person (on good days) and love surrounding myself with people. However, I have grown to love moments of solitude too. I enjoy spending time alone just getting to know myself (sounds so narcissistic). I have travelled alone and loved it. Explored a new city by myself and loved that too. So I wasn't too fazed by the prospect of fasting in Ramadan by myself. My dad had mentioned once how he found fasting alone quite dull, but I never gave it much thought.
This is the first time I've had to go about Ramadan without a fellow- faster (?) and I must say it's not as easy as I thought it would. Of course, the fasting bit is not the problem as everyone has to do it on their own. What got to me was not being able to sit with someone and share my suhoor/ iftar.

This Ramadan I realize the value of family and community. Spirituality in Ramadan is not just a matter of working on your relationship with God, but also about strengthening your bond with the people around you. I hadn't realized what a difference it makes to have one more person with you to share a simple meal at an odd hour. Or how much I regret not going to all the Taraweeh prayers (night prayers) at the mosque. I miss the quick iftar, Maghrib, light dinner and the walk to the masjid. I miss meeting and greeting people there, then standing as a congregation and praying. I miss being surrounded by the warmth of my family at the end of the day.

So when I got a chance to spend two days with my cousin, Salma, after a week of fasting alone, I was reminded once again of the unacknowledged role of our family in our mental well-being. We need them. I need my parents and my (pesky) brothers. Though I don't make it clear always and don't say it often enough, my family makes life more meaningful for me. And not just family, friends too! If it weren't for my room mate Chalani and my wonderful friends back in Malaysia, I am sure I would have gone insane at some point. I think it's the same for most of us- family and friends who are family are the reason we are who we are. They are the reason we are able to get through Monday morning blues and stay alive for yet another weekend. Thank God for them!

Today's Reflection: Ramadan makes me grateful for the people in my life- for a loving family and good friends. You guys are an assortment of oddballs (just like me!), but what would life be without you?

So you, reading this, yes YOU! I am thankful for having you in my life. And I am sure there are others who appreciate knowing you and love you for who you are, so stay that way! 

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Just A Date?

I have been fasting the whole month of Ramadan since the age of 11 or 12. Before that, my Ramadan was mostly of half fasts-breaking my fast 5-6 hours before the adults. I remember one episode in particular where sunset was around 6 pm and I decided that fasting until 5 was the maximum I can do. So I broke my fast literally one hour before iftaar. Talk about patience.
Other fond memories include Iftaar parties with the extended family. The kids restless, exerting all their energies into praying the sun would just drop down from the sky, so they could polish off the yummy samosas beckoning them from the over laden table. Ramadan at Grandma's meant delicious Pathiri (rice flour bread) topped with coconut milk and her Spicy Chicken Curry
. When I look back now, Ramadan has always been of abundance. Alhamdulillah. Every Iftar we were fulfilled and maybe even overfilled (some to the extent that it was difficult for them to get up for prayers from where they were seated!).

In all these memories, however, my fondest memory of Ramadan is quite different. I was 17 years old, and awestruck. I was at the Masjidul Haram in Mecca in the last few days of Ramadan. Everything around me at that time inspired me. I was just blown away by the people- Oh God The People!- and their dedication. Malaysian women in their bright baju kurungs, Pakistani uncles in their kurtas and topis, Iranian ladies in their Chadors... Men and women of all shades and shapes and sizes worshiping alongside me, circumambulating around the Kaaba. All there for one reason alone- God. It was inspiring and humbling all at once

Pic courtesy Yahya Adel Ibrahim

The atmosphere in Ramadan is quite different in this area. Usually, we hear of 'Ramadan Road Rage' and 'Hangry Hisses' , but what I saw was a competition to do more and more good among the believers. We were staying in a hotel not far away from the Masjid, our walk was about 10-15 minutes, taking us past hawkers selling 'Islamic Goods' like prayer clothes, rugs, Qur'an copies etc, tiny juice shops, kebab shops with heavenly aromas wafting out, almost pulling us in by hand (or nose?). What we also saw was people on the street corners handing out free laban (yogurt drink), dates, and other Iftar snacks to all passersby. There were so many of them! Some of them came in cars filled with cartons of juice boxes, waiting to help out anyone in need.
However, the most humbling experience of all was another episode. We were seated on one of the plush rugs in the Masjid, having just finished some of the more strenuous activities of the 'Umra. Naturally, we were tired, thirsty and just waiting for the call of prayer to let us know its time to break the fast. So we're sitting there, just counting the seconds when an old lady next to me nudges me. I don't remember her name or her face, neither do I recall where she came from. What she did next blew me away. She had three dates and a glass of water with her to break her fast. Of this she gave one date to me and the other to the lady sitting on her other side. We didn't know each others' languages, she spoke in smiles. She didn't know me, and we will probably never meet her again, but that day she was so kind as to split what little she had with a complete stranger. Just because we shared belief in a God who asks us to be generous with each other.

More than 5 Ramadans have passed since then, but I still remember that lady. Not a face or a name. What comes to mind is the beauty of her soul. Today, the third day of Ramadan, has been a little difficult for me. By midday I was extremely tired and now I have a severely parched throat and a mild headache. And I haven't even stepped out of my room all day! So all I can think about today is that lady who probably herself was tired after a long day, and yet, was kind enough to think about the needs of the person next to her. And that humbles me.
Fasting is not for myself. This hunger is not for me. This parched throat doesn't say anything about me. This discomfort is a nudge to think beyond myself. A call to share, whatever I have- even if it is a couple of dates.

Today's reflection- Most of us live lives of abundance. Of plenitude in all aspects. However, how rich is our heart? What have we given in order to grow? And by given, I don't mean emptying out our spare change and walking away. I mean really giving, stepping over our needs and greed and looking out for the person who probably needs it more?
Isn't now the time? Aren't you the person?

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Why fast in Ramadan?

Ramadan is around the corner again! Naturally, Muslims around the globe are excited about this month and eager to welcome it. Some of my non Muslim friends might be confused as to why we are so excited about a month where we basically keep off food and water for a good chunk of the day. I have been asked this question a few times before so I thought I'd write a post just to explain it for those who might be interested.

Ramadan is one of the holy months for Muslims. Fasting in this month is obligatory for all adult Muslims who are physically able to do so (pregnant women, nursing mothers and the sick are exempt from it). It constitutes the third pillar of Islam.

"It was in the month of Ramadan that the Qur'an was revealed as a guidance for the mankind, clear messages giving guidance and distinguishing between right and wrong. So any one of you who sees in that month should fast, and anyone who is ill or on a journey should make up the lost days by fasting on other days later. God wants ease for you, not hardship. He wants you to complete the prescribed period and to glorify Him for having guided you, so that you may be thankful." [Qur'an, 2:185]

Fasting was prescribed to us as a spiritual and physical cleanser. I find this month all the more meaningful in the current context where we are increasingly subjecting our minds to the toxic trash propagated by pop culture and our bodies to harmful processed "foods". The physical act of fasting from food is coupled with the mental exercise of fasting from negativity, anger, and self-destructive rhetoric. We are asked to be patient and restrain ourselves from letting our emotions rule our actions. It's a month that acts as a springboard for physical and mental self discipline. Ramadan is the ideal opportunity to break an addiction or at least get started on the journey.

Fasting in Ramadan is a lesson in empathy. When we go through the day knowing there is food right in front of us that we could just grab and eat but can't, we are reminded of millions of our poor brothers and sisters around the world whose everyday reality is hunger and thirst. We are reminded of children born into poverty with hunger as their sole companion and of parents who give away a part of themselves each day in their quest to provide their young ones with a square meal a day. Fasting forces us to empathise and then works as a call to action. It tells us "now you know what hunger feels like. So do something for those who fast involuntarily everyday." It tells us charity is not our benevolence but rather our responsibility to humanity.

Fasting leads to gratitude for what we have, no matter how little it is. That moment when after 16-18 hours of fasting you see the sun set and take that first sip of water-you feel this wave of gratitude and relief wash over you. And nothing can ever replace that feeling of gratefulness as cool liquid cascades down your parched throat and quenches your thirst. Nothing comes close to the feeling of gratitude as you sit around a table with your family sharing a delicious meal lovingly put together by your mother. It sounds really outlandish, but keeping away from food and water throughout the day helps put into perspective all the small blessings in our life that we take for granted- like the privilege of having a loving family, a warm community, a healthy body and a million other things that go unnoticed in the hustle and bustle of everyday. It's hard to encapsulate that feeling in mere words, the feeling of a kind of joyful exhaustion, Of solace in the knowledge that this is not in vain, that this abstinence will lead to growth. Who knew that keeping away from physical nourishment would lead to replenishment of the soul?! 

Ramadan is about reevaluating our life and reconnecting with our goals. It's a sad reality that life gets in the way of our aspirations and dreams. Work, education, and now even social media get in the way and slowly erode our vision for ourselves. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong in working for that perfect job or struggling for that degree. But at what cost? I often feel that as a society we place undue emphasis on material success. But the tradeoffs to reach "the top" are just not worth it. Fasting helps us put these things into perspective. It gives one the time to acknowledge what truly matters- our sense of self, our family and friends, our community- and motivates us to work towards solidifying those aspects rather than jumping blindly into the rat race to nowhere.

Above all, fasting is a spiritual exercise that makes one conscious of God as they go about the day. No one forces 1.5 billion people to go hungry and thirsty from dawn till dusk for 30 days, and yet we still do it. Why? Why fast when no one can really determine if you are actually doing it or not? Just one answer-for God. Fasting is for God. And what is one month of fasting really when we look at the other 11 months that the One blesses us with? God doesn't need us to fast, but we still do it for the million blessings sent our way. Not even a lifetime of fasting is enough to repay the blessing of being able to see, of the sense of touch and the ability to tell hot from cold, of being loved and loving back.
I realize this has evolved into a mini essay, but it's hard not to be excited! If you have any questions about Ramadan, please feel free to message me and insha Allah I'll try to help. In a world where people are increasingly alienated from each other, efforts to understand each other and what makes us will hopefully benefit us in more ways than we can imagine.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The Girl Who Locked Away Memories

I remember the girl who forgot... 
They spoke often of her, of how she travelled lands seeking moments to collect. She walked backwards extracting footprints from the past. She stored memories in jars, filled pages with scribbles, and labelled pictures in ornate albums. At times, like beads, she strung these memories into beautiful necklaces; bright pink, calming blues, and fiery red made their way as the gloomy grays were left behind. And then, gently, she locked them away in velvet vaults.
They spoke often of the girl who pressed memories like flowers, to take out some day and mull over the past. She dove into obscure corners of her mind, emerging with smiles. In embellished treasure chests she stored them, these memories. She hoped to take them out on gloomy days and feel them in her palms, Run trembling fingers over the smooth surfaces, and will time to take her back.
But as she inspected moments worthy of remembrance, a thousand others slipped by. 
So they spoke often of the girl who, in remembering, forgot what it was to live. 

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Leave No Love Behind

And so it begins,
an osmosis of hate
Saffron~ Green~ Saffron
Dripping Red again.
Here, Breathe waves of hate
Wait, let reason drown.
Now surface into air,
set aflame what remains.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Seducing a City

Getting to know a city is quite like seducing someone. It's an unusual comparison, I know, but if you really want to know a city- to feel the rise and fall of its breath and listen to the unique beat of its pulse- you need to give it time to respond to your touch. It's a gradual process, and you need to tread softly as you trade the boulevards for hidden alleys and the shopping malls for gardens. Go to the places where most don't tend to go, where the city is herself the most. Go to the corners, find old lamp posts, look at the cracks and you will find her. Seek the nooks where beauty lies but isn't perceived. They are essential- they are the city's beauty spots. Discover them, caress them, covet them.
Wait and you will see the city come alive to your touch. Hear her sighs as the leaves rustle in an abandoned park. Hear her pleasure in the lone musician's violin notes. Hear her haste in the constant rumble of engines and footsteps and the taken-for-granted chaos of everyday life.
Then hear her sob when she is torn down, ripped apart and sold to those who do not care. Console her as she whimpers in pain. Embrace her and let her know you love her, as she is, warts and all.
Do this and before you know it, She will be yours.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Hunger Strikes

credit: UNHCR Photo Download.

When hunger strikes
Bullets become morsels and 
The war rages on,
The cause forgotten as
Brother kills brother and humanity weeps.
The sky mourns as streets turn red.
What was this for? I forget,
Memory now a contested terrain
Because our lives are tethered to puppeteers
plotting and planning proxy-wars,
Betting our lives for their gains.
Snap. My sister falls
Snap. Our mother wails
What was left of my soul seep out of my face
But the war rages on.
As my eyes begin to fade
I dream of soft bread, crumbling in my mouth,
cool milk cascading down parched throat
Of that lingering sweetness of a meal
where fear isn’t doled out with tea and
Death isn't an uninvited dinner guest.
But my right to dream has long been seized,
So here,
Take what remains of me.

Look Inside

O man, you set forth to chart the seven skies,
seeking that elusive light,
night and day and night tumble on,
and you, you still trudge along.

You have reached the end of space and travelled back
yearning a glimpse of what the heart demands
Many a trinket have you picked on this lonely path
and yet, there remains the widening void.

O man, you set forth to chart the seven skies,
And yet, you forgot to look inside
Sakinah, was there-waiting- all along.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Conversing with familiar strangers...

After weeks of poring over books and journal articles in my dingy room (without actually registering what I am reading), I stepped outside for a change. With a few books I headed to the Trafalgar Square. It was a sunny morning so I decided to grab a cuppa coffee and a scone and sit outside the square café. My intention was to get to the reading material right away but I couldn't help but lean back and soak in the sun and the life around. It's funny because in India and Malaysia I used to hide from the sun. Here I've come to appreciate that wonderful sensation that is the sun on skin. 

So there I was, out on a wooden bench, for once my mind off what I need to be doing or I haven't done. I felt happy as I let the laughter around me drown my internal deadlines. The square is a nice place to sit by yourself on a clear Sunday. You'll see families walking around, young couples with prams, harrowed mothers chasing their kids, couples lost in each others eyes and, of course, noisy teenagers goofing around. There were two twin boys running around as their parents filmed them, the mother occasionally stepping in as one twin pushed the other on to the floor or pulled at his hair. A middle aged couple sat in front of me, holding hands and looking across the square, occasionally leaning into each other for a quick kiss.

After a while I spot three old ladies walking towards the café, their arms interlinked. I hope they would sit next to me, and they do! As I try to focus on the book, I can't help but overhear their conversation. As one of them goes inside to get them drinks the two ladies next to me start talking about their grandchildren.
"What are your grandchildren doing Helen?"
"Your grandchildren, Helen, where are they?"
"Timothy is teaching English. Somewhere in South America. I think he can speak English."

I smile at that and look on at the children chasing around pigeons. One boy in particular was intently following a pigeon, till the pigeon stopped and he tried to jump on it. As the scared pigeon flew away, the boy looked around for his next target.

"Helen, don't you remember coming to the square for the demonstrations?"
"I don't remember much, dear. Why are we here?"
"We are just here to look around. Then we'll meet Philip. He'll take you out for dinner."
"Philip is coming? Do you know where? Because I don't know."
"It happens, Helen, we are old now."
"We have lived too long. I thought I'd be dead by now."
"But I'm too young to die!"

As the third lady comes back with their drinks I decide to start a conversation with them. I've been here long enough to realize that talking about the weather is a good place to start off.
"It's a good day, isn't it?"
"Oh it's lovely! The sun is just wonderful. Hard to believe we had strong gales a few days ago. Well, I think it's global warming. Why can't people understand that? We are doing so much harm to the planet that the earth is trying to shake us off."

And there begins what would turn out to be the most interesting conversation I've had in a while, with Helen, Macy and Ann. 

"Have you three known each other for long?"
"Oh yes dear, we are very old." says Macy with a laugh.
"We have been coming here together for years. We used to demonstrate for peace here. You remember the protests in 2003? Against the Iraq war? We were here for that"
"Tony Blair and George Bush, they are the real terrorists." chips in Ann.
"We came here for the demonstration to free Nelson Mandela too. The place was thronging with people. And the next day when I went to my class I was elated to hear a teacher in the next class play songs of African freedom."
"David. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, he is a hypocrite. As a young Tory he used to walk around with badges saying 'Hang Mandela' and he went to South Africa to support the apartheid, what right does he have now to go to Mandela's funeral?"
"I came here for the memorial services with my grandson, I was so excited for him. He has never been to anything like this."
"We are always campaigning. Have you heard of Wool against Weapons? This wonderful lady, Jaine, started this by herself and now it has spread all over the UK. We are knitting a 7 mile long pink scarf to protest against government spending on nuclear warheads."
"What are we doing here?"asks Helen.
"We are waiting for Phillip, Helen. He should be here in 5 minutes."

The conversation then shifts back to Helen as the other two try to see if she remembers anything.
"You remember us, right, Helen?"
"Just about'" and then Helen turns to me and says with a sheepish smile "I used to be clever."
"You used to be very clever, Helen" says Ann.
"You are young, aren't you?" Helen asks me.
"Oh she is very young, Helen"
"You make use of your time, darling. Old age will come before you realize. Every decade in your life will go faster than the one before." And with that Ann sets me thinking.

We are quiet for a while as we sip on our tea and coffee. The square is more crowded now as the sun shines even brighter on us. I laugh as I see three brothers, all under 6, chase each other and when one stops they topple over each other. The youngest one sits on the older ones face as the father just stands there with a pram, a look of resignation on his face. A little girl dressed in red and white polka dots with pink fairy wings hops along and Ann exclaims 'She looks like a lady bird!"
Helen looks down and greets a pigeon next to her "Hello there!"

They get excited when they find out I am from Kerala.
"I've heard that's the best place in India! The women there are very strong. It is sad that in some other parts of India women are not valued as much. I heard a case where a woman aborted four fetuses when she found out they were females. That is horrible. Especially because I think women are superior than men. Even logically, we are the ones who procreate so nature favours us over men. Nature doesn't need very many men to progress." That is some food for thought.
"I've been to a nice restaurant which has Kerala food. I can't have the spices though."
"When is Phillip coming?"

Ann says to me she has always wanted to go to Kerala but somehow it never worked out. "I've travelled to some other places, though. I've been to Egypt and Greece...and Istanbul. That was wonderful. The first time I went I saw these beautiful murals and in their souks, they sold these handmade art. But the last time I went, the markets were selling these trashy items that we can get here as well. That is really sad."

At one point I mention that I have a blog where I write about being 'Brown in Britain'. Macy gets excited and tells me about a poet friend of hers-Richard Berry- who writes about race and discrimination. And then she surprises me by quoting from memory snippets of a poem that he wrote to comfort a young girl who complained to him that she was being bullied for being a different colour. I came back and looked it up. The poem is called 'Okay, Brown Girl Okay'. This is the para she quoted from-

Josie, Josie, I am okay
being brown. I remember,
all the time bright-sky and brown-earth
work together, like married
making forests and food and flowers and rain.
And they would like to say to you:
grow and grow brightly, brown girl.
Write and read and play and work.
Ride bus or train or boat or airplane
like thousands and thousands and thousands
of people, who are brown and white
and black and pale-lemon color.
All the time, brown girl Josie is okay.

As Macy notes down my blog address, Ann confesses that she hasn't kept up with technology or 'anything new'.
"The world is changing too fast. In my childhood change happened at a slower pace, and there was stability because of that. Now it is scary how fast things are moving. It is not good for human beings because we are now working under so much pressure. Even when you are in the tube you see people looking at their screens and not noticing anything going on around them. Nothing remains the same."
Helen smiles at me again and says "I used to be clever."

And so our conversation flowed from global warming to empowerment of women to nuclear warhead to the African National Congress. These three ladies made a lovely Sunday even lovelier and more meaningful. Soon it was time for them to leave. Helen was surprised to find out they are going to meet Phillip. 'He is coming?". They wished me luck and we went our different ways.

People around us are walking stories, just waiting to be heard. I am thankful I was there when these beautiful ladies decided to draw me into their lives for that short while we were together, sharing a beautiful day. I may never meet them again, but their words and warm smiles will always remain with me.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

On Writing: Part 2

(When I feel like I should be writing something, but can't figure out what, I usually end up writing about writing itself. Yes, I am a little crazy. You can read the first installment of crazy here.) 

I am having some trouble with this writing business again. What I feel refuses, adamantly, to tie itself down to words. Every time I plead for coherence, my thoughts run amok and hide in forgotten crevices of my brain. The worst thing is, I can hear them giggling. Pushing back annoyance, I try to tempt them out with offers of finding new friends. But stubborn that they are, they refuse to  budge. So at this moment, what I feel is not expressed in what you just read, or what I might write in future. My thoughts have eloped now to someplace where words can only dream of reaching. Despite all this maddening hide-n- seek, writing remains my 'safest' mode of communication. When talking I have a tendency of letting my emotions get the better of me. So what I intend to say and what I end up blurting out have a huge gap which almost always translates into some very awkward silences.

Writing, on the other hand, allows you to process the senseless chaos in your mind and let it out in a, somewhat, coherent fashion. Be it pen on paper, or fingers tapping away on the keyboard, there is something very therapeutic in writing as an exercise. So I find myself looking for reasons to write, sometimes I might have some ideas which reluctantly agree to settle down with words that aren’t their choice and in sentences they are clearly not comfortable expressing themselves in. At other times, like now, I sit down to write the first thing that comes to my mind. Just for the sake of it. If it’s blank I coax them out with the shadow of an idea and once chatter within begins, it’s difficult for my fingers to catch up with the madness inside and button them into a written, readable form.

Credit:  Robbert van der Steeg. CC BY-SA 2.0

At times, like a child (high on sugar) in a toyshop, I go wild and run in all directions. Suddenly there are ideas calling out to me from everywhere, promising me that they are the Next Big Thing. Why can’t they come one at a time, and knock for heaven’s sake?! I do my best to cater to the calls coming from all around and finally burn out and, frustrated, just try to shut it all out. Oh but once you’ve provoked the dragon, you can’t will it to go back to sleep. The clatter doesn’t cease so I go online and after some mindless surfing on YouTube, the most restless of brain cells have been numbed into a harmless buzz. This, I like.

I then take a calm stroll and occasionally stop to (after some mental acrobatics) take a whiff of thoughts which are bursting with potential yet restrained acknowledging the possibility of them never materializing for the lack of good words. Good words, I realize, are like Good men (or at least what is said of them), they are already spoken for or non-existent. It’s frustrating, to say the least, when you possess a seed of an idea that you know has greatness in it but can’t bring to blossom for the lack of those damn words!

So is there any way to get around this conundrum that all writers,at some point or the other, are faced with? Is there another mode of communication that can encapsulate things which refuse to reveal themselves with mere words? For expressing free-spirited thoughts which are so cocky in their own perfection that they prefer nakedness to the humble rags that the writers can (barely) provide? To this end, I propose funding a research on how to seduce good ideas out of one’s mind. A research so intense that these damned things won’t know what hit ‘em. So writers, take your pens (and your keyboards out), crack your words, and together we will work till the last standing thought relents and dances to our tunes. Let the (mind)game begin!

Monday, 6 January 2014

That Moment

There are some moments in life which are so vivid that they etch themselves into your being. Moments so fleeting that if you’d chosen to blink instead you would have missed them altogether. They dawn on you when you least expect it, at the most insignificant of times, following no particular pattern.

These unannounced visitors stay with you. You guard them fiercely, for losing them would mean losing a part of your self. So you store them in the deepest part of your being. Cushion them and cover it so well that no jolt will stir them from that state of rest. Life around you may fall into absolute madness but even in constant chaos, these moments you preserved stay still. So still that you’d almost forget they are there at all. But they are. Waiting for you to come back. Dust your insides and uncover them. Remove the layers, one by one, and savour the excitement you feel at the prospect of rediscovering something you’d forgotten. Let yourself be whisked away into another reality.

You will remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when it happened. Maybe reading a book, maybe taking a walk outside, or maybe nothing at all. Smile at the memory of not knowing a minute before how, in a while, something in you will change forever. Sometimes for the better, sometimes not. As you twirl around that moment in your palm, feel its contours and marvel at the intricate design. Smile. Sigh.

All of us have had these moments. And they are as different as it can get. For some it may be a smile shared with a stranger on the bus, a spontaneous outing to have ice cream with a loved one, watching your baby sleep after a long day at work or just sitting still and realizing you are happy, right here. Just where you are.

I experienced one such moment a few days ago. I was on the train going somewhere and was engrossed in a book. A little into the journey, when we’d made our way out of the maze of grey buildings and into the open, I happened to look up and what I saw, took my breath away. There it was, the clear sky, blue, dressed in silky strands of white clouds intertwined with the warms rays of the sun. From the right to the left, stretching out into the horizons was this incredible scene. The sky was a canvas for creative clouds, arranging themselves into this piece of art. Surreal art.

My initial impulse was to whip out my camera and click away. Capture it, store it forever. But then I stopped. This was the moment. And I didn't want to live it through a lens. So I just looked and kept looking. Letting it all in. Feeling so unbelievably happy and grateful and blessed to have this moment for myself. For once, I was glad I was alone to witness something beautiful. Because a shared word or even a sigh could have taken away from that magic.

And when I was about to leave that last stretch of beautiful sky behind, I took this because mere words are never enough to describe raw beauty and what it makes you feel.