Sunday, 31 January 2016

The Connector in Our Midst

Yesterday I met one of my father's Airforce course mates. If you meet them both, you'd be surprised at how they ever got along. They are just polar opposites in their personalities. My dad is the kind who gets restless after spending just one day bound to home. He's the happiest when he is travelling and meeting family and friends. Jacob uncle, on the other hand, would rather stay home and read a book or watch a documentary. Yet they have been close friends for more than 30 years. Longer than I have been alive. 
Last year my parents had a mini-vacation in Singapore. In those three days my dad managed to get two of his friends who are settled there but hadn't met each other for years, to come for lunch. In that short time, he made two people get in touch again. 
This has been the case for most of the people my father has invited into his life. He nurtures his friendships and relations meticulously, ensuring he is always there for them. And they are there for him too. At my wedding, dad's friends outnumbered my friends by a HUGE margin.
I have wondered often how he does that. Mostly because I can't network at the scale he operates on. I see it as real, consistent, hard work. But, over time, I think I have come to understand how he does it. 
Years ago I read a book by Malcolm Gladwell called 'Tipping Point'. While I was too young to appreciate the wisdom and ideas in the book, somethings did stay with me, like the three archetypes of people- Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen. Connectors are the ones who, obviously, connect. They are the links between social groups. The ones you turn to when you want to get introduced to someone. They are the 'social glue' that hold different circles together. 
No points for guessing what my dad is. He is a born connector. Which translates into- Shereef and I having one of his college course mates as our local guardian while we studied in Malaysia. That when we go on trips we usually have at least one person he knows in that city. That we have access to knowledge from a wide range of industries. That even after marriage, and moving to Saudi Arabia (of all places), I have one of my dad's friends living just 15 minutes away from my house.
Dad obviously wants his connector talents to be passed on to his children. Unfortunately, I think it has rubbed off only on Shereef so far. Bilal and I still need to put considerable effort in widening our circles. While I do get annoyed at times because of the pressure by dad to meet more people, keep in touch, and build bridges for other people to meet, I think that ultimately my life has been richer for it. I have my father to thank for my incredibly diverse friend circle. And more than that my mother who has made it possible for my father to be this way by opening our home and hearts to family and friends to come and stay. She has been the gracious host to dad's endless last minute parties. She has embraced his family as hers. Even the connector needs that one person he can come back to, and that's my mother. 
Here's to my parents, An odd, odd couple who have somehow made it work against all odds and brought to life three quirky children on the way. Thank you. heart emoticon

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The Umbilical Cord

The umbilical cord
Once cut
From the navel
Till it dries into
Forgotten anatomy
Unless you were born
Into a label
The Umbilical Cord then
Bleeds and never leaves as
It ties you to your mother,
her mother, your foremothers
and stretches to reveal
the outlines of pain
engraved on your backs and
the blood on your bones
So when other mothers feed
their unborn what they need,
the Othered Mothers seek
inherited deeds to teach their child
the skill of unravelling Umbilical Cords 
morphed into nooses
that kill you by the inch.
The child,
born as a footnote to a
history of oppression that spills,
unchecked, into the present,
isn’t afforded the privilege of forgetting
his roots unless he demands
a hand to escape his pre-dug grave,
an opportunity to become human again;
Then it's his duty to discount the rusty chains
shackled to his ankles,
to ignore the dusty cords that hang
his shadows every day
With rage and centuries of hate
‘It’s no great news’ they say,
Till the day,
forced to accept the noose
wound around his neck,
constricting each breath,
choking lungs labeled by ancient men,
the one born in the margins
turns a headline in death.

Friday, 15 January 2016

The Big Little Things

Once upon a time, in a far away land, lived a people who did not care for the Little Things. They cared so little for the Little Things that soon the not-so-little things became mere Little Things too. One may wonder what took up all their attention, so much so that they stopped caring for the poor Little Things. Well, it was the Big Things- much much bigger-happening in lands across the sea. If that wasn’t enough to divert the attention, some among them would walk around with seals in their hands and mark others’ foreheads with bright red labels that read ‘NOT US’. Then another group made a different seal in neon green that said ‘ANTI NOT US’. Soon they declared that those without a seal need to be hunted down as they don’t belong anywhere, hence proving dangerous. So they squabbled on, over these Big Things- the happenings of far away lands and If not that then the color coded seals they’d invented just a few days back. 

The Big Things took so much of their time that one day the Little Things decided they couldn’t take it anymore and slowly faded out of their lives. The people didn’t notice it on the first day. Neither the second. Then on the third day they realized something was amiss. 

The wife did not smile at her husband through her sleepy eyes, neither did he turn to cuddle her. The husband did not smell the fresh coffee brewing in the kitchen. The kids did not come running to squeeze them in a warm hug. The neighbor didn’t say hello in the elevator, gone was the friendly smile. The roses in the garden were as perky as ever but had no scent whatsoever. The sky was clear but the sun didn’t shine. The breeze refused to play with the hair. The birds went about their business without chirping their songs. The trees stood proud, offering no shade. And just like that the world had lost all its colour and smell and flavor. 

While the men and women were busy debating, disrupting, and deconstructing the Big Things, the Little Things had slowly stepped away. The Little Things took with them all the hues that make the rainbow stretch and all the notes that made music just yesterday and all the joy that made life worth living everyday. And the people? They never truly learned how to live without the Little Things, so they invented Bigger Things to make the Big Things seem Little. 
The End.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

The House

The House was a spectacular sight. Even in the yellowed photo I carried around, it stood tall and proud, reveling in its own grandeur. No one knew for sure how old it was. At the last count, five generations of family had lived and died there, each leaving a mark only my grandmother could tell. 
Each night before my eyes grew heavy with sleep, she would stroke my head on her lap and tell me The House was alive, that it grew when youth was unwillingly handed down before each generation folded into itself. It was true, because as its dwellers multiplied, The House stretched till each person found his place. With babies new rooms were born, the rooms expanded when the elders died, and eventually the kitchen and bathrooms were invited inside. 
I still see it, The House. In my dreams the coconut trees dance with the wind, and branches from the twin mango trees settle on the brick roof. I hear the mangoes falling on the roof with a loud thud, rolling down the sloped roof, and the cheers erupting when one of the children deftly catches the juicy prize. I smell the raw mangoes being pickled in the kitchen; I see the red chilies spread out to dry out under the scorching midday sun; I hear my grandma chasing me away when I venture too close to the well in the backyard. And I don’t want the dream to end. 
The House was kind to its inhabitants, but each generation was less grateful than the previous one. My grandma was the last of its protectors, so they waited for her to die to dissect The House. But she didn’t die; she chose to fade in front of our eyes. It wasn’t sudden, but I still remember the shock as it hit me that she was now half her size. Old age reached her legs first. They would refuse to cooperate when she wanted to walk. She wasn’t very stubborn and let them have their way. The regret set in only after her legs forgot to walk, but by then it was too late. 
She prided herself on her ability to retrieve dates and names and numbers at any given time. Ask her ‘Velliamma when was Rafi mama born?’ and you could see her eyes light up as she prepared to dive deep into the recesses of her mind to grab a date which was now a pearl in a hidden oyster that lay under so many other memories that she’d rather forget. But she would still emerge, memory soaked, a smile on her face and the date in her open palm. 
As the years settled into the wrinkles around her now toothless smile, memory became murkier. ‘Grandma what’s Khadeeja ammayi’s first born’s name?’, and she’d ask back ‘Who’s Khadeeja?’. Soon the answers didn’t match the questions and it wasn’t long before blankness engulfed her and she was a shell a step away from crumbling into nothingness. 
Before they could tear apart The House, a faraway King’s sprained ankle triggered war and our family bore the battle scars. Rebels and loyalists that came from the same womb now couldn’t share the same roof. Since my father, the youngest one, had returned to his Lord, my mother and I were disposable. 
Years later my mother told my children, stroking their heads on her lap, that the house had lived through floods, droughts, and centuries of nature's fury, but it couldn’t survive its own children who tore it down. 
When we were told to leave, I ran to the attic while my mother fell on their feet, begging them to let us be. I climbed up the creaky wooden stairs and dug out the photo album buried under the dust carpet that hid stories of the many lives lived in The House. And before my uncle barged in and dragged me out by my hair, I stole a single picture of the only place I called home.