Monday, 23 February 2015

for Poppy, with love

On Saturday night, we lost one of the greats. Shayan Afzal Khan, affectionately known to all of us as "Poppy", lost her long and bravely fought battle with cancer. Of the many things we learned from this remarkable lady, whom I am proud to call my mentor and friend, it was to live life with passion. Never back down. Focus on the positive. Encourage and empower those who need it, and recognize that sometimes those who don't seem to need it actually do the most. Fight for what is right, but always with graceful words. Be inclusive. Have a big heart, and if it isn't big, stretch it beyond its comfort zone. Smile, though your heart is breaking. Wear bright colors, they will make you feel better. Dress up! Dance to your heart's content. Read, read, read. Ask the right questions. Ask yourself what YOU can do to help. Don't forget your manners but don't let them get in the way of having fun, either. Be polite. Be brave. Be loving.

A poppy is the symbol of remembrance for veterans. She was a warrior of the best kind, a warrior of thoughts and words - a Poppy to remember, always and forever. She leaves behind her two beautiful warriors, her daughters, who have inherited her grace and strength in spades. She lives on through them, and through Kuch Khaas - the Centre for Arts, Culture and Dialogue, in Islamabad. Your chair may be empty, Poppy, but your spirit fills this space. We have been sitting here for the last two days, soaking up your essence, sharing memories, remembering your perfume, your big water glass full of ice throughout the year, your red lip crayon in the pen holder on your desk, the scrunchie and puzzle ring you would always be fidgeting with... by remembering these small details, by keeping them alive, we get some small comfort. When we start crying, we remind ourselves that if you were here, you'd tell us off and tell us to cheer up, chin up, smile and laugh. This life is too short to be sad.

To the bravest of them all. Here's to you, our warrior. 

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

moral compass

While driving this morning, I saw three high-school age boys on a motorbike. While zig-zagging through cars, not wearing helmets, they drove past a fruit seller pushing his cart, which is when the one at the back decided to take the racket in his hand and smack a bunch of bananas off the cart. The bananas flew on the road while the poor fruit seller scrambled to pick them up (here we pay per banana, so it's not a cheap fruit for a poor person, and it must have cost him a fair bit) as cars flew past. The boys were laughing heartily. I felt my blood boil, so I sped up and rolled down my window, ready to give them a piece of my mind, but they were speeding away through cars, so I had no choice but to yell to myself and honk angrily at them, saying in Urdu, "Aren't you ashamed? He's a poor man!", hoping they could hear my shouts. They just looked mildly confused by my incessant honking, but couldn't hear a word, and I already knew that if they could hear me they'd point at me and laugh. Still, I wish I could have told them off, their laughing at me doesn't bother me at all.

My mother was in the car with me, and urged me to stop trying to catch up. She was equally furious at them, but felt it was futile.

I said, "I would love to teach them some manners, since their mothers clearly didn't!"
My mother said, "Who knows, maybe their poor mothers tried, but they didn't learn."
"I refuse to believe any child with a proper upbringing would do that to a poor fruit seller", was my reply.

We then talked about the fruit sellers who go to the "mandi" early in the morning to get the fruit and sell it around the city. It's a hard life, and I can't imagine they earn well. By this point we had reached school to pick up the kids.

It got me thinking, though... What kind of person does that? This was one small example on the road, a mean-spirited action towards a poor person whom that kid had nothing against. What kind of home does that kid come from, what has he been taught? Does he have any moral compass to speak of?

The responsibility of raising a decent human being is daunting to me. At times, I am sure I am failing miserably at it because while trying to teach right from wrong these days I'm mostly losing my temper and being a bad example.

One of my older child's first teachers told me that, according to research, we have the first seven years to instil right and wrong in a child. By that point, the essence of who they will become is set. That's terrifying, because you assume that as they grow and become better at communicating, you will be able to reason with them more effectively. If you think about it, though, it makes sense that their moral compass sets itself as they perceive and understand the world, in their rapid development and early years stages. The question is, how do we make it unquestionably and irrevocably point North?

I don't have the answers for this. All I feel I can do is to talk to them, explain to them, why something is wrong, and hope it sinks in somewhere. Not for fear of punishment, or fear of failure, but that wrong is wrong because it hurts someone else, or it's dishonest, or... and you fill in the blanks as you are confronted with one difficult situation after another. I don't shy from telling my kids if I have made that same mistake. Their mother is human, they might as well know it from now. Half the time I'm muddling through this myself.

All I do know is this. These little human beings we've brought into this world will one day go out there, and they will either be spreading and doing good, or throwing fruit off a seller's cart. I would never forgive myself if it were the latter.