Friday, 18 September 2015

the undignified silence

On the way home from school today, my daughters were nattering away in the backseat. They can be very competitive, a game which the elder one understands and dominates. She made a comment to put the little one in her place. I asked my daughter, "Was that kind? Was that necessary?". She didn't understand. 

I explained to her the idea behind this: before saying something, ask yourself if it is kind. If the answer is no, ask yourself if it is necessary. If the answer is yes, speak, but speak kindly. If it is kind but not necessary, then you can also say it. If the answer to both questions is no, then keep your words to yourself.

It got me thinking about how we use the various tools of communication at our disposal - be they words, actions, or silences. "Is it kind? Is it necessary?" is a filter you can use for all of these tools of communication, so you can use them for good, and not as weapons against others. It's a filter I myself want to use as often as possible starting now, since I know I've been ignoring it.

In my culture, expressiveness is encouraged, but only in certain forms. You'll have extremely melodramatic reactions to pretty much everything under the sun, as long as it's a trivial matter. When the turd really hits the fan, most people expect you to keep a "dignified silence".

Fortunately for me, I was not raised in this culture. I am a third-culture kid, and have had the luxury of adopting and adapting, finally creating my own culture and beliefs which are entirely unique to me. Not everyone would understand or agree with them, and that's fine by me, hence I don't discuss them with most.

Women in particular in the subcontinent are expected to keep a "dignified silence". I keep putting that term in quotation marks, because I scoff every time I come across it. What, in particular, is dignified about silence? How many hearts have been won by a stiff upper lip?

Alright, granted, if there's someone being a right twerp and doesn't deserve a response, the best and only thing to do is walk away. Then, silence is necessary, and perhaps also kind. But often, silence is the most passive aggressive weapon people use.

I chatted with a friend today who suffers from fibromyalgia - a debilitating, confounding, painful and untreatable disease. All you can do with FM is manage the pain. For a long time, this friend suffered in silence except for a few of us who knew. For starters, it took her the longest time to get diagnosed, because when you complain, people label you a "whiner", and nobody wants to have that emblazoned on their forehead, especially since people are fantastically judgmental when you complain about anything. When you start thinking about the number of people with problems that can be fixed, helped or managed who aren't getting any help because they are staying silent, it's infuriating.

The day my friend opened up about what she has on social media, she started receiving messages from people with similar symptoms, wondering if they might have FM, too. She had friends sending her good wishes, praying for her, trying to cheer her up. She found a supportive community online, providing her with both psychological and physical tips to have the best quality of life she can.

This proves that for every judgmental person who calls you a "whiner" and can't empathise, you'll find ten people who genuinely care about you, and even if they send you a smiley face, it can help you feel better. As the proverb says, "Shared sorrow is halved sorrow. Shared joy is double joy."

Lately, her physiotherapist told her, "When you suffer in silence, it means you are either staying sick or burdening one or two people in your life, which is unfair". What a fantastic point-of-view!

FM is an extreme case, and while most of us are fortunate to not have critically serious problems, everyone is carrying around their own baggage. The point is, you don't have to do it alone.

At the end of the day, whether it's your words, your actions, or your silence, ask yourself,
"Is it kind?
Is it necessary?",
before you proceed.

To be continued. 

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Of new beginnings...

Hello, all!

I'm sorry it's been so quiet on the blog. I've been spending a great deal of time working on this new venture, and it's taken up all my free time.

The picture above was taken at the Kuch Khaas Farmer's Market a couple of weeks back. While visiting Islamabad, I thought there would be no better place to launch this new chapter than their crafts market, in what is a place I call my second home. So, armed with my bag of handmade goodies, I set up my stall and got ready to be a "crafter" for the first time.

It was a lot of fun, got a bit hot, and I found a new appreciation for the people who do this every single week. There were some people who stopped and chatted, asked questions, enjoyed having a look, some just walked by without a glance, and some just smiled furtively and carried on. I'm new to this so I'm terrible at it, rather than solicit customers, I was sitting there doing more calligraphy and painting. Ah well!

I had a few people come up to me and tell me I should give Urdu calligraphy a try. I said I would love to, except that my Urdu handwriting looks conspicuously like that of a 6 year old. The most interesting exchange I had was with a middle-aged Pakistani gentleman who told me, in just about the thickest American accent (much more so than anyone I ever encountered IN the US), "I could buy this in New York, you should do some Urdu calligraphy". I couldn't say much in reply, because I'm not really that good at comebacks, I always think of the right thing to say when it's far too late. What I would have liked to tell him is, "Uncle, you can find beautiful Urdu calligraphy made by local artisans. Just visit Rana Market, they're sitting on the sidewalks. And they could really use the patronage." Those artists sell their hard work for practically a song.

That's when it occurred to me that in Islamabad you have a certain breed of people - those who move within F6, F7 and the Red Zone. They don't step anywhere outside that perimeter, and if they do, it's within the safety of their cars. Is this what Islamabad has become, or has it always been like this? I used to be much more adventurous pre-mommyhood, now if I have to go to G9 or Aabpara I won't take the kids simply because they get really fed up wandering around with me. But they still exist in my definition of Islamabad.

Moreover, the issue of identity cropped up again. I've been living in Pakistan for 11 years now, but I grew up all over the globe, which is why my Urdu took a beating. I've worked very hard to improve my oral Urdu and reading, but when I think of Urdu calligraphy, it would be like learning Chinese calligraphy for me. A challenge I'm ready to accept, mind you. What I don't understand, though, is why is there a need to make people feel smaller because they are more comfortable with a certain language? Had I grown up here, I would understand the stigma, which is why I want my children to be perfectly bilingual as they are growing up here, and luckily their school has a strong Urdu programme. Well, I guess I shouldn't expect "New York wallay uncle" to know that I didn't grow up here, but I did find the whole experience quite chuckle-worthy even if it irritated me at first.

Anyone want to help me with my Urdu script? I need all the help I can get! I have a feeling uncle still wouldn't want to buy those pieces, because, considering my favorite quote is, "When life gives you lemons, throw them at someone", I'd say my style is more "Bitchy Urdu ecards" than Bulleh Shah. *Wink!*
That's my work, right there! 

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Final Day - 40 Rules of Love / 40 Days of Love

Rule 40
“A life without love is of no account. Don’t ask yourself what kind of love you should seek, spiritual or material, divine or mundane, Eastern or Western. Divisions only lead to more divisions. Love has no labels, no definitions. It is what it is, pure and simple. Love is the water of life. And a lover is a soul of fire! The universe turns differently when fire loves water.”

Here it is... day 40. It doesn't feel like 40 days, and though this started out as an exercise in self-discipline, it became an exploration into my own mind and heart. Having to think about what each rule meant to me on a daily basis did a lot for my discipline, for sure, but it also set me off on a journey with unexpected results. 

Was there some great epiphany? Have I magically stopped yelling completely? No, let's be honest here. I'm still very much who I am, but I'm starting to make more sense to myself. I'm a little clearer on who I am and why. I know exactly what I don't want in life, and from there I'm starting to figure out what I do want. What I can and can't do without. And it's not what I suspected. 

Perhaps that's why it's fitting that all roads lead to rule 40 - "a life without love is of no account". It is important to love oneself, ones family, ones friends, and having love in return is just as necessary. 

In these uncertain times, I find that an alarming number of young people are swearing off love. It's for the naïve, the needy, the weak. Those of us who are self-aware and world-wizened know better. Right? 

Wrong. If you are with someone who has this kind of attitude, please, walk away. If you have this kind of attitude, please, do yourself a favour and get off that high horse, because you're riding it backwards no less. It is the most foolish thing to be ashamed of loving someone else too much, what are you so afraid of? 

We need to take a long hard look at ourselves, to face our fears head-on, and realize their place in the universe is just a tiny speck... exactly the same as us. And then there are the opinions society at large has of us, and guess what? That's not even a tiny speck, it's non-existent in the grand scheme of things. 

What have I learned over the last 40 days? Here are some of the bullet points, you know, since we all have ADHD these days:

- There is no cure for road rage. None. 

- Most things I yell at my kids about are just coming from me being overworked / overtired / not mentally stimulated enough / not creatively fulfilled enough, and has no actual connection to the action itself or my kids. Well, most of the time. And, in those instances, it's just not worth losing it, but it's hard not to. I'm still working on this one. 

- Sometimes, you do need to lose it, because you're trying to make your kids into good, decent, considerate human beings. Or save their life. In either of those two cases, you do what you have to in order to get the point across. That's what parenting is. 

- Tell your kids stories about your pregnancy. Their birth. The first time you saw them, held them. Their baby stories. Kids love this stuff, and there's nothing that makes you bond more than sharing those special memories. 

- You can never have enough cuddles. 

- It's hard not to judge people sometimes. It's really bad to do it, but sometimes it really is hard. Still, must keep trying. 

- Be grateful for what you have. You never know what others are going through, and if you only have small problems in your life that you can fix yourself, you're very lucky indeed. 

- If you have people who love you in your life, you are also very lucky. Try not to take them for granted. 

- There is no point in dieting and cutting back on roti at dinner if you're going to get the munchies at 11pm and eat a packet of crisps with dip and several chocolate chip cookies. Seriously, T, just eat the damn roti at dinner! Ugh. So mad at myself. 

- Exercise is vital for your brain as much as for your body, and yes, even for your creativity. 

- One weekend I was so exhausted I just couldn't get up. As a result the 6 year old made breakfast for herself and the little one. Well hey! That was a wonderful surprise. It's what we teach them to do for themselves that matters, right? No more "helicopter" parenting. 

- The signs are there. Everywhere, in everything. You just have to open your soul to see them. Tune in to the right frequency, if you will. 

- Love with all your heart. Try with all your heart. Create with all your heart. It may or may not be returned or well-received. But you try your very best regardless, because you are you, and that's what you do. 

And on that very Dr. Seuss note, it is time to bid the 40 days of love farewell. Thank you, Shams. Thank you, Rumi. 40 days might be over, but those rules are always in my mind and heart as of now, and you start to see small things around you differently. There are dualities within me that will probably always exist, I accept them but also accept the challenge to constantly work on myself. I do not want these 40 days to be over and forget everything I have learned. I will revisit the rules time and again, some more than others. I will playfully wonder, "What would Shams do?" in various situations. 

I decided for the last image that I would take a picture of the calligraphy I did in its raw form. Those tools have been my faithful companions, and I think the 40 days did the most remarkable thing bringing us back together again. 

If you've made it this far, thank you for going on this bizarre ride with me. You're awesome, and I'm high-fiving you from here. I hope you've gotten something helpful out of these 40 days, but hey, I'll settle for mildly entertained. ;) 

Friday, 15 May 2015

Day Thirty Nine

Rule 39
“While the part changes, the whole always remains the same. For every thief who departs this world, a new one is born. And every decent person who passes away is replaced by a new one. In this way not only does nothing remain the same but also nothing ever really changes. For every Sufi who dies, another is born somewhere.”

Balance. Life is all about balance. Sometimes it takes a while, but it will come. There will always be good and evil in the world, and I don't know if it's really this world that becomes more rotten each passing year, or the fact that we were unaware of it before this age of "disinformation", or maybe we were too young to understand. 

The universe is a balancing act, and so are you. My good friend always says, some people enter our lives "for a season, for a reason", and others are for life. Trouble is it's hard to tell which category people fall into. Tricky, that. 

Well, to all who have suffered heartache and heartbreak, to those of you who are going through it right now, this one's for you. This, too, shall pass. Have faith. 

cry your heart out, sweet one
there is no shame in crying
you don't have to be tough
you don't have to keep hiding

so she left you without a trace
so he broke your wounded heart
these things happen sadly
but you'll get your brand new start

i know it feels like a trial
walking through these walls of fire
cupid shot a blazing arrow alright
but it was for a funeral pyre

sometimes your heart needs to break
into a million tiny pieces
so you can build it back up stronger
get to know it, get to feel it

just promise me one little thing
when you're all cried out and done
know this, deep in your heart
that person was not the one

the one is a myth, a fairytale
to keep us warm at night
you don't need it to get back on your feet,
soon everything will be alright

promise yourself you'll always keep
an open heart and mind
no matter what anyone does to you
you will remain true and kind

there is a love that's meant for you
and it will make you forget this hell
but the one true love for all of us
is knowing to love ourselves

- tka

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Day Thirty Eight

Rule 38
“It is never too late to ask yourself, “Am I ready to change the life I am living? Am I ready to change within?” Even if a single day in your life is the same as the day before, it surely is a pity. At every moment and with each new breath, one should be renewed and renewed again. There is only one-way to be born into a new life: to die before death.

It's getting impossible to ignore the evil in the world. Yesterday, the monsters struck again. Who are these monsters? Where did they come from? Who's backing them? Too many questions, not enough plausible answers, and no solution in sight. It feels at times like the walls are closing in, and instead of becoming more accepting and peaceful, intolerance, xenophobia and hatred are on the rise. "It's always darkest before the dawn"... but it's getting harder to believe in a promised dawn, and this feeling of being helpless to stop the madness is infuriating.

As the world becomes crazier, the questions in Rule 38 are questions I've asked myself countless times. Let me sum up what growing up looks like in my brain:

Late teens / early 20's - You saw the Matrix. You read Beckett, Genet, Sartre, and now you're having one big massive existential crisis. Who am I? Am I even? We all die alooooooooneeeeeee! You have so much energy you're not sure what the heck to do with yourself most of the time.

Early to mid 20's - I'm going to conquer the world! As soon as I figure out who I am.

Post-25 - A steady paycheque would be nice, since I've kind of figured out who I am. Conquering the world was a crazy idea anyway.

Post-30 - Hello, me! I like me! Yay, finally. I think I've got this figured out. But man, I'm tired. Why am I so tired?

As 35 approaches - Wait, what? Omg omg omg 40 is coming soon, and I have nothing to show for it! I want to start a brand new career! Where did this belly come from? Shoooo! I'm totally not going through a pre-midlife crisis, this is pre-midlife enlightenment!

Tina Fey, my hero. I thought of this image because 
as I am typing this, I have a little person on my lap 
who's sucking her thumb and pinching my elbow. 
Who says we can't have it all? Pfft!

Look, it's normal not to be sure what you want to do when you grow up, but you want to hear something funny? As I grow older, I find myself being drawn back to the things I really loved growing up. Maybe our young souls know our calling perfectly, and denying it is like suffocating your soul. Just a thought. If you find yourself wanting to go back to something you always loved, why not give it a try? And if your kids have a passion, encourage them (as long as it's not pyromania or animal torture... you know). 

The fact is that pursuing our dreams is something that only the privileged can contemplate. If you are already living your dream, you are one of the lucky few, so hang on to it! Most humans on this planet are stuck doing something they hate, getting underpaid for it, possibly being exploited, and some of them may not have even had the time to ask themselves, "Hey, what are my dreams in life?" So, if you have the luxury of even entertaining that notion for a second, do the universe a favor, don't be ungrateful, and follow your dream. Why? I believe that every time a soul finds its calling, happy vibes go back into the world. Oh, don't look at me like I just spewed some hippie bs. Happiness is contagious, and the world needs more happy people to make this a happier place for those who cannot afford to follow their own dreams. You don't know yet where your dreams will take you, and how it may help others... because it's hard to do anything truly constructive when you hate what you do. 

It is never too late to reinvent yourself and your life. Just ask Madonna. B**ch never grows old.

Note: The wreath in the calligraphy is from a tutorial by the amazing Lindsey (The Postman's Knock blog). It's easily the best resource for modern calligraphy and much more!

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Day Thirty Seven

Rule 37
“God is a meticulous clock maker. So precise is His order that everything on earth happens in its own time. Neither a minute late nor a minute early. And for everyone without exception, the clock works accurately. For each there is a time to love and a time to die.”

“what my babies taught me” 

they made me stop taking myself so seriously
they made me look at myself from the outside
and look outside myself at others
they made me smile
at old treasures rediscovered through their eyes

a favorite childhood book, a song, a film
and how I love to share these with them
they made me question the meaning of what we do
does the daily grind help their future?
are test scores a measure of greatness?
they let me sing and join in
they laugh at my silliness
they tell me off when I don’t make sense

they make so much more sense
than any adult
even when they can barely speak
through giant heartfelt sobs
so why do I tell them to stop?
why lose my temper?
why not just stop my own madness
and join them in their beautiful world? 

everything has a time to be
slipping through our fingers everyday
headed towards something
soon i won't be able to carry you anymore
all-encompassing hugs, kissing little feet
new adventures await us
but right now i just want to enjoy this

dishes be damned
housework to hell
laundry get lost
we have fairies to find 
in the wild recesses of our minds

time slow down just a little, please? 
time be kind

when you're big some day
my little angels
i hope you'll read this
and know that mama is only human
she tried her best, yet faltered much
but she loves you so deeply
that it's a raging storm inside her heart

i hope i'm teaching you something of value, my girls
know this, though
you grace me with your infinite wisdom and perfect love
every single day
and teach me more than i can thank you for and you can know
and i vow, from this moment on, to tell you so.

- Tülin Khalid-Azim

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Days Thirty Five & Thirty Six

Rule 35
“In this world, it is not similarities or regularities that take us a step forward, but blunt opposites. And all the opposites in the universe are present within each and every one of us. Therefore the believer needs to meet the unbeliever residing within. And the nonbeliever should get to know the silent faithful in him. Until the day one reaches the stage of Al-Insan aI-Kamil, the perfect human being, faith is a gradual process and one that necessitates its seeming opposite: disbelief.”

A friend posted an image, a quote by Louis CK. He says, "When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don't get to decide that you didn't."

It struck me, because I had just had this conversation with my girls earlier yesterday. The little one wailed dramatically to the older one, "You hurt my feelings!", to which the older one flatly said, "No, I didn't". I had to stop the older one right there. "You can't say that. They are her feelings. If she says you hurt her feelings, then you hurt her feelings. Now say sorry." 

I'm not sure the meaning of what I was telling her actually sunk in, but this is one lesson I wish all mothers had taught their children, because there are plenty of adults who walk around as living proof that their mamas did not tell them not to be complete jerks to others. 

The quote is interesting enough, but the comments underneath it are equally good. One person said it is simple to apologize. To which another person said, even if you don't want to apologize, "don't you DARE invalidate the other person's feelings". 

You have a right to live your life, do what you like as you see fit. You have a right to think you are right no matter what you do. You, quite unfortunately, have a right to be a complete bum wipe and feel entitled to be so. You also have the right to not apologize. But like it or not, you do not have the right to decide that you did not hurt someone else's feelings. Sometimes we get even more defensive when we hurt someone's feelings inadvertently. We feel a bit self-righteous, because that was "not my intention". Still, you hurt that person. So, even if you think you're right, you have to accept that it hurt their feelings. And if you hate this situation, here's a little tip for the future: be considerate towards others. Yes, it's that simple. 

Today's rule is, to me, about acceptance once more. We need to understand all the different colors, the ones diametrically opposed to our own, before we can begin to understand ourselves and our place in the world. As for faith, if you don't question your faith, how do you know you truly believe in it? My years in school in Senegal, being put in a situation where I had to regularly stand up for my faith meant that I also had many days of questioning my faith and any other faith altogether. Those questions helped me define what I believe today, and if I have any faith, no matter what shape or form it takes or how unconventional it is, if it's there it's because it's been through several burning rings of fire. 

Rules 35 and 36 get one post, because you can't talk about one without the other. Again, you have the right to be a complete jerk, that's just the way the world works. That said, here's some food for thought...

Rule 36
“This world is erected upon the principle of reciprocity. Neither a drop of kindness nor a speck of evil will remain unreciprocated. For not the plots, deceptions, or tricks of other people. If somebody is setting a trap, remember, so is God. He is the biggest plotter. Not even a leaf stirs outside God’s knowledge. Simply and fully believe in that. Whatever God does, He does it beautifully.”

Oh snap. 

Karma is not a "new age" concept. It's not some frou-frou hippie nonsense. No, far from it. Without getting into specifics, I will only say this - I've seen karma at play. From small to big things, I've seen it work too well to deny it. Something as small as knocking a car and driving off will come back to you later on. Everything has to balance out eventually, and you will have to pay the piper, too.

So, if you discredit the feelings of others, if you make someone feel bad, if you try to disempower them by refusing to hear what they have to say, if you cheat them out of their due, if you hurt someone, let me just say it again in case Shams didn't get the message across... It WILL come back to bite you in the butt. 

For those of us who deal with wee ones, let's first try the approach that hurting others is wrong before resorting to karma right away. I think it's important children understand the difference between doing something nice for the sake of it vs. out of fear or for rewards. 

But as for the adults who never learned this lesson: look, we all have a responsibility towards each other, and don't think you can take it lightly or absolve yourself. 

Be proactive. Help out. Listen. Care. Be empathetic. Be considerate. Just be nice. I mean, how hard is it?

And if none of those is genetically programmed in you, then do the world a favor, will ya, and do it because you're selfish and don't want karma to give you a backhanded slap in the face.