The Battlefield

Life is a battlefield. I am an ancient warrior overlooking the vast canvas before me. One battle is over for now, but peace has yet to come. The war trumpets and bugles are silent but the wind echoes with the moans and screams of yesterdays. The deceased litter the landscape till the distant horizon. Life falters on unsteady feet as the injured crawl to safety. Stories of valiance and honor will be recorded by both sides and some of them will be true. Some heroes will be worthy of the commemoration given to them postmortem and many cowards will parade wearing colors they do not deserve. Life will smile upon the fearless and the fearful with equal grace. No one walks off this stage without a trial. Victory and defeat will be decided only when the war is over. The rest is just a bunch of numbers.

I am morose today. The end of a journey is a painful precipice. Struggle marks life and stagnation is death. For now I am stagnant and the stench of decay is numbing the senses. I need to keep on moving and finding more battles to fight, winning has ceased to matter. The adrenaline rush, the inner peace of valiance and the joy of the strife keep the senses motivated. As I watch life unfold before my eyes, I make a mental note of everything substantial. Friends who stood in the face of tribulation are separated from the ones who fled in times of need. One milestone covered. Enemies who showed honor, mercy and chivalry are kept in a higher order than the ones who stooped to any and every level in malice. The former may have a chance at redemption even friendship but the latter deserve complete hostility. An eye for an eye keeps the unworthy counting. The lowest forms of life are the traitors who betray us and reciprocate every act of goodness with vindication and venom. Enemies may be forgiven, cowards may be forgotten but death is the only reward of a traitor. Nothing less will suffice.

With my third eye I can visualize myself pondering over the eternal mysteries of the Universe. I am so many people in the same skin. A sage, thinking endlessly over infinite questions. A child, awed and baffled by the smallest observations. A lover, whose heart is brimming with fiery passion. A maiden with naive hopes and dreams of a happily ever after. A gallant soldier with the sword drawn and spirits ablaze, ready to take on every challenge. A healer, bubbling with compassion and empathy for the ailing and the needy. A mother with a gentle, protective maternal instinct. A poet intoxicated in the love of written and spoken words, playing incessantly with a pen. A lunatic rebellious to all other forms within me. I am lost within my own skin, I do not know how much of each I am. But every ounce makes the amalgamation unique and I know I will leave a mark on the battlefield of life.

Reflections On Life

What is life? An existence, an experience or a journey? It is perhaps an amalgamation of all three. One breathes, eats, sleeps and procreates for a basic survival. It is done by every living thing and has no higher purpose in humans than the lower animals.One can enumerate all the facets of merely living but that existence is not even a dot in the grand scheme of life and thus to me, just living is not much of a life.

Along the years one meets illness and health, birth and death, victory and defeat, war and peace, etc as unique experiences that mold and shape who we are. If any one pivotal moment is altered in our life stories, we will become different people. Every miracle and every tragedy plays a role in making or breaking our inner selves. I often imagine human lives as projects in a potter’s wheel. The invisible hands hold us gently in one cycle while they smudge our very forms in others; as the wheel turns, we take on the final shape that we were meant to be. While we mourn and lament over our losses and celebrate our successes we forget that the cycle is never ending and the ones who are below will be at the top, it is but a matter of time. All we need is the sight to see what the eyes cannot and the wisdom to understand what makes no sense at the moment. Perhaps madness is the best way to look at everything, the only way to undo the spectacles we are forced to see life through as we grow older. A little game of seeing the world topsy turvy by standing on one’s head comes to mind. The same view can be so different. Only children and a select few lunatics like myself have the capacity to change the perspective from public opinion.

Everyone we meet, the good, the bad and the inconspicuous; are all a part of our journey towards the divine.The people whom we place in the grand central positions of life; who mostly fail us but sometimes the idols are kind enough not to shatter before our eyes. The people we are born into as family and endure the worst character traits of without questioning their presence in our lives. The near and dear ones we let go of when they hurt us so irreversibly and repeat the torments without remorse. The cracks we carry within our hearts for people we have loved and lost. This is the inner circle of our hearts and souls. The ones who enter them are few and far between. The second halo is of friends, the family we hand pick and decide if they should see our inner selves without the camouflage and protection of our hardened wiser appearances. The ones who will love everything in us that is not bright or beautiful. Once again, the count is miserably low and most of the friends we form will be for a reason or a season and very scanty for a lifetime. The outer circle is the world at large. The people we work with, meet in random places and interact while we are going about our own private lives. We often search for people to transfer into the inner two circles that have such a great want of replenishing. We are all a part of each others journey and the load is made heavier or lighter by the companions one finds in life. And needless to say some of us are lucky enough to find that one soul mate who was made to fit every facet of our existence.

While we suffer and endure all the hardships and savor in the gifts of life, we seldom remember the unseen hands that scribble judgments on deeds carelessly done and words randomly spoken. I am perhaps one of the crazy few who contemplates about the chance encounters and heartfelt moments. But i know somewhere in the unseen someone smiles at my deliberation and strife for a life less ordinary. I need to share the concept of writing our own life stories: picking and choosing the hallmark moments and the pivotal people. And dropping acts of kindness in the way to be later retrieved as spiritual breadcrumbs when lost in the enchanted forest of life. If the journey ends in a six by six hole in the ground, the very fact that it was thoroughly enjoyed makes it a success. However, if a proclamation is held at the end and we are to be rewarded for the lives well lived, i would like to face my judgment smiling at all the things everyone thought silly and frivolous

Tragic Stoning Of A Pregnant Woman

I cringed as I read the newspaper today. A pregnant woman was publicly stoned to death by her family outside the Honourable High Court because she had the audacity to marry for love. With one swift peristalsis I had regurgitated my entire breakfast. Wonderful start of a beautiful day in a great country! The court premises are bounded by some of the most important buildings in the provincial capital of Pakistan. The mall road is the centre of many government buildings and prestigious offices. The huge High Court structure appeared before my eyes as I tried to imagine how someone managed to commit a crime as heinous in such a crowded and high security area. The road is infested with police officials, traffic wardens, lawyers and litigants. It is impossible to find a parking spot or run a traffic signal here. How many people must be witnessing this cruelty? In my estimation no less than fifty bystanders watched the barbarity. The question is not why those people killed a pregnant woman on the street. There are criminals in every inch of the globe and our country is no different. The most painful realization is that not one person in the spectators had the moral courage to even attempt at stopping them. I am truly beyond words and disgust.

My medical knowledge fails me when I wonder how much time it would take for a pregnant woman to be killed by stoning. It would be a matter of how she was cornered, pinned to the ground, where the stones hit her, if she lost the child in her belly or if she was simultaneously kicked and punched. To her, time must be infinite and endless as her body is battered and she is begging for help while the crowd watches her ill fate. To the murderers, it must be a matter of minutes until all their anger and hatred is imparted in full proportion to their own daughter or sister. To the crowd it must be another quick spectacle in a very busy world, something to gossip about later how they saw it all happen. The reporters reached in time to take the right shot for the newspapers. The policeman intervened quickly enough to handcuff the murderers and get their picture taken. The Edhi ambulance arrived in time to clad the poor, devastated body in the coffin garb. Everyone had a perfect timing except the small irrelevant detail that no one could save her life. I have a good mind to send a brand new set of glass bangles to the Chief Justice and the Inspector General of Police along with all their brave brigades. With women publicly stoned, someone has to wear the symbol of innocence and fragility.

I write this message for the banner holders of humanity in Pakistan. It is not a single murder outside the High Court. Your sue motto notices makes no difference whatsoever to the victims. The dead are long buried and the living are following closely in their footsteps. It is just a turning point where justice has failed in such a great degree that anyone can commit any crime anywhere and know they will get away with the right legal representation. The stoning of men and women carried on inside these legal premises is a far greater curse. People have no faith in justice because in our great country justice is not only delayed, it is adamantly denied. The system is filled to the brim with sleazy lawyers, palm greasing policemen and arrogant, power hungry politicians. And the cherry on the cake is that we have the ignorance to pretend that all is well in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. We will make several hundred roads and bridges, start a new bus or train service and will pretend to have achieved great goals. We need roads and railways too, but not when the people starve and suffer.

The country that has no legal system, where no life, property or reputation is safe, is not much of a country. It is a sordid reality and to every patriot this realization is a torture. I am putting in my word for what I believe can turn things around. We need education for every child irrespective of his economic status. An ignorant nation cannot help itself in any way. We call for speedy justice that cannot be jeopardized by political influence, power or money. We require a good healthcare system with impeccable standards and health for all. One, two, three and prosperity will follow. Is it so unachievable that we cannot find a few hundred thousand honest, capable people in Pakistan? What if we start off with a few honest teachers, lawyers, doctors, architects, scientists, etc and encourage them. Pass on the word when a good person outshines for his brilliance and service. Let us refuse nepotism and bigotry. Maybe this is just a dream, but what if enough utopians dreamed the same dream and made it happen. Let us do all of this and keep on adding our little voices to the song of prosperity. Let us scatter the mindless crowds and recreate a nation of moral, good people. Let idealism meet practicality and find the greatness that we all love to claim in our rhetorical speeches. Let us drop our stones and feel ashamed for the woman who died outside the biggest court because our national pride has died.

The Moral Compass

Life has taken a circuitous route and all roads seem to lead to the same destination. I have been blessed in many ways in life and I am ever grateful. But the hardships seem to follow endlessly and I am doomed to constant problem solving. The battles are never ending and yet every time I win, I know the war is not over. Like a philosopher king, I banish my pride to let in humility and humanity. I kneel where my soul suffers, so that I may reap the sweet fruit of rendition and wisdom. This lifestyle has taken a deep toll on my senses and here I weep with joy as the pain seeps down to the farthest recesses of the mind. I have met men of all variations along the way from the mental midgets to the intellectual giants. Some I have learned to respect for their virtues and many I have come to abhor and eventually pity for the pettiness of their minds. The smallest of them all had the highest opinions of themselves. And the most blessed creatures were blissfully unaware of their inner beauty and charm. Like lone reeds these few people stood stoically in the midst of obstacles and eventually made inhabitable the marshes they were doomed to live in. And I leaned towards the ones closest to my own reflection.

This mental exercise makes me tread on the philosophical tangents unexplored by my own intellect. I measure and weigh all the trivialities of life around me. As I pick up my pen to write, my thoughts wander to human interactions and our basic concepts of morality. We all eagerly applaud the epic examples of humanity and chivalry like Buddha, the prophets, apostles and saints in all their glory. We make demi Gods out of ordinary, humane people who lived their lives with impeccable principles and grace. And yet, when common people attempt at godliness and virtues in the real world all our collective moral canvasses fade in the background and we look upon them as simpletons or fools. Why is the moral compass so distorted in the twenty first century? Since times immemorial men have faltered and failed in their attempt at nobility and those who succeeded were burnt at the stake in their lifetimes and commemorated post mortem. I wonder if it is a genetic imprint passed on from Adam to his sons, the vanity that leads to self destruction.

I partially blame my own conditioning to a rigorous, convent education and an overzealous exposure to the fourteenth century European literature. I grew up believing in a utopian civilization that had no foundation in society. The first encounters with the real world were harsh and cruel at best and the rainbow tinted bubble burst with the maiden prick. With time and age my character took to its formative mould and no amount of tampering changed the hardened form. I decided that if cloud nine exists inside my mind only, I will adamantly refuse to step down. If I am the last person on the planet practising the moral compass so enthusiastically applauded in scriptures and fiction, then I may very well stick ardently to the creed. My disbelief will make the last traces of this element disappear from this sordid world. Despite this chivalrous claim, I know I have met many others like myself preaching humanity and compassion. It is up to each and every one of us to keep the torch ablaze and to pass on a kinder, more considerate culture to the next generation. All the tortuous journeys seem to end at crossroads where the same choices present themselves and I choose the ones that seem right. No one has a claim to absolute wisdom but the inner voice knows the basic difference of good or evil and right or wrong without fail. And it is in that childish simplicity I hope to breathe my last and join all the heroic martyrs of yesteryears.

He Said, She Said

We met after three months at the Annual Parents Day in our daughter’s school. I was wearing bright, gaudy colours and high heels contrary to my usual conservative dressing. My best friend said it would make me feel better. I let my hair fall loosely on my shoulders and chatted with an old time friend. People may have gossiped but no one knew we had separated. He was wearing the navy blue striped suit he wore the first time we went out for a formal dinner. My heart froze when I saw him approaching and the first thought in my head was please God don’t let him make a scene in front of all these people. But he was smiling with a strange dazed expression on his face, very close to when we met for the first time. I smiled back and greeted him like it was actually the first time we were meeting. We strolled off to a far corner of the arena, perhaps I wanted to be alone with him or maybe I was just afraid of being overheard by other parents.

‘I never knew you were this beautiful. You have changed immensely’. He said.

I smiled. ‘I was always a butterfly, but you never noticed. I just unfolded my wings now and you think I have changed. I had all these colours wrapped up in my cocoon all the while we were together’. I said.

He looked away with a distant expression. It was as if a trance had been broken. He wanted to make things right but I started off at the wrong foot and his ego took over. It seemed like the world had frozen and I was reliving old moments over and over again. The last arguments spun inside my head.

‘I have never known a woman like you; if I had I would have known how to handle you’. He said.

I replied. ‘What makes you think you can handle any woman at all. We are people not things that can be handled or manhandled. All you did was show your character and that was the end of our relationship. What makes you think you can do it right by manipulation.’

He winced visibly. ‘I was just trying to say I miss you and you are lashing out at me.’

‘Then say it in simple plain words, my dear. We women are simple straightforward creatures. All we need is a man to say ‘I love you, I am sorry, I will be there for you, do not worry while I am there’ and mean all of the above. Is that too much to ask?’ I sighed.

‘Women and simple don’t go together. You cry at the smallest things, make an issue out of absolutely nothing at all, love people who hurt you all the time and take everything at a magnanimous scale no matter how minuscule the problem. Look at us, you overreacted to everything I said, did, didn’t say and didn’t do!’ he yelled.

‘Oh, I see. Just because I skipped the expected drama and told you to be honest, your volume has gone up by several hundred decibels. Excellent! How many issues are small for you? Adultery, lies, dishonesty, manipulation and eventual absentia in the most critical moments are small matters? What is a big deal with you? Your favourite team winning the game, the new car everyone is talking about, your android phone or your weekend buddies and their rhetoric?’ I retorted.

‘Goodness! There we go again. You hate everything that I love in my life. What has my buddies got to do with us not getting along?’ he said.

‘See what I mean darling. All you heard was the last few words. And that is the bottom line. I tell you what I want of you to make me happy and you turn a deaf ear to it. The only time you listen is when I am yelling and making no sense what so ever. Why can we not have a casual conversation without the darned self mutilation?’ I screamed.

The tears came and then I just didn’t want to say anything at all. There was no point in telling him what I felt. It happened every time I tried to talk to him. Either he would stomp away angrily and be distant for days or he would cuddle me without really understanding what I was saying. It was never about winning an argument. All I want is for him to understand me the way I understand him. I know he doesn’t litter on purpose, he is too tired and lazy when he gets home from office and he is used to his Mom picking up after him. So, I bundle up his shoes, socks, tie and shirt from different parts of the house and put them in place. I know he cannot decide if the shirts need to be ironed or washed so he leaves them on the sofa. I pick them up and sort them accordingly. I know he loves the spicy fried food when it’s raining so I make him a special treat every day if even I don’t have an ounce of energy. I understand that he ogles at beautiful women so I dress up for him with utmost care even on days when I want to roam around in my pyjamas. When I do all of this and so much more without him asking why cannot he take the extra effort to find out why I am sulking today. I know he has trouble remembering anniversaries and birthdays but he can put up an alert on his cell phone like he does for all of his friend’s hangouts. He can randomly get flowers from the street vendor on his way home and just whisper I love you when I am feeling low. Is that such a difficult thing to do?

We parted without a single kind word or goodbye. He left early for work and i drove back home. I went quietly to bed and he thought I was angry. The next day I woke up at dawn and made him breakfast with a smiling face. Being hurt does not mean I love him any less or I would stop doing everything I do for him every day.

‘I love you darling.’ He said kissing me goodbye.

‘I love you too hubby.’ I smiled.

He drove off but his mind was a haze. ‘I will never understand women. What does she want anyway? Last night it was like we have come to the verge of insanity and now she is pretending to be an angel. Why can she not understand that I am not one of her girls? Guys will always be guys. Big deal I forgot our anniversary! We are still married aren’t we? It’s not like I forgot she is my wife. I lied to her last time because I lost track of time playing poker with the guys and I thought she’d be mad if I told her. So I said I was working late and she chatted with my colleague’s wife and found out. Why should she interrogate me or other people about my whereabouts? I am a big boy and I can stay out if I want to. If we were better friends I would have easily told her I was out with the guys. The only thing she thinks about is me having an affair. Why would I want another woman in my life, I am sick and tired of just one! She wants to change everything about me that she used to adore. She nags like a grandma and then insists that she is doing so for my own good. I wanted a wife not another mother. And then the tears! No matter how illogical the argument, the last resort of winning is tears. If I give in immediately, it saves the next few days of headache. And if god forbid, I yell back, she will be a nun for the next two weeks. Why can’t she be the same innocent dear girl I met and fell in love with? She never argued, talked back or yelled. Has she changed or was all that an act? How in God’s name can anyone be happy in a marriage like this?’ He pondered.

‘Hey, I am working late at the office today. The boss wants some work done speedily. Please have dinner without me.’ He said as he drove out of his office to the club.

‘ Oh honey, I was hoping we could go meet Mom and Dad today. It is Dad’s birthday.’ I pleaded.

What the heck, he thought. She must have called her Mom and shared all the details and now she is trapping me into a lecture by her parents. ‘I am sorry, but I cannot leave work commitments. Why don’t you go ahead and I will see them some other time.’

I called Mom and said I am not feeling well today. We will come by this weekend and celebrate Dad’s birthday. The truth was too embarrassing to share. How could I tell my parents that the man I defied everyone to marry doesn’t love me any more? He came home very late and I had already gone to bed. He fiddled with his phone while I pretended to sleep. He was upset why I didn’t greet him and make him feel better. I was angry that he had missed such an auspicious day again. Like every anniversary, birthday and Valentine’s I was still alone trying to keep the romance alive. Our marriage breathed its last today. It may linger on for years but the silence will grow exponentially and love will wither in the same proportion.

Somewhere along the way, in what he said and she said love was lost and forgotten. Two worlds that merged out of adoration emerged lost and barren. The backlash of spoken words hurt deeply and somewhere along the way things were misunderstood in abundance. We forget that men and women are just different. They have to find a common ground and build a system of communication. Nothing less will work. What holds marriages together is not romance, it is understanding and compassion. I hope this little piece helps people think what their spouse is thinking before they react or overreact to anything. The rest is a smooth drive downhill.

Against All Odds

The death of the will to live is a much bigger tragedy than the death of a living being. A bird with a broken wing may fly someday if the bones are even partly repaired but if the will to fly is dead, healthy wings are as useless as broken ones. It has taken a long tedious journey for me to realize that many people will come along in life and try and repair the broken wings, but the ones who heal the spirit are few and far between. One has to be left stranded in the valley of despondency and destitution to understand how bleak hope can be sometimes. And the mirage of hope, no matter how minuscule, somehow keeps the weary traveler going. It only takes that little dream of reaching the water hole to keep on dragging one foot behind the other. All survivors know for certain there were times when their minds told them that it was all useless and giving up was the easiest available option. The insanity of hope despite the odds makes ordinary people heroes and mavericks. Today I write about the thin line where courage meets lunacy.
I started off on a lonely road when I lost my father to an untimely demise last year. I realized that many people whom we thought were his friends or allies were nothing but thugs, thieves and vagabonds. And then, there were the handful of people who stood in the face of tribulations and shined out like new pennies in a worthless world. Sometimes they helped with their thoughts, words or deeds and mostly just the awareness that everyone is not deceptive or sordid kept us going. The hardest part was coming to terms with the knowledge that we can be such bad judges of character. There were some people who were loved unconditionally but they neither deserved that dedication nor reciprocated it. The lowest point was where we were deceived by one of our own. The term family became redefined and I realized that just having blood relations with people do not make them one of a kind. Sometimes the genetic mutations within families make one wonder how any connection can be made between people of such different elements. Nature has the gift of creating life from death in a never ending cycle. The death of old relations gave birth to new ones that I will be forever thankful for.
A great uncle was complementing me on my courage and endurance during a very tough period of my life and I caught myself smiling thoughtlessly. When you succeed despite the odds, the flow of congratulations and commendations seems worthless. The best satiation is in the realization that you are made of stronger mettle than you gave yourself credit for. The mind, heart and soul do not require any medals or acknowledgements, all one needs is the sense of deep satiation that one has survived from a thousand mile journey and the lessons learnt along the way will be carried for the uncountable miles ahead. While everyone keeps on telling me I have done well and need to relax for a bit, my soul is getting ready for another journey, a rough ride to an impossible destination. If I can accomplish so much on my own, I wonder how much change I can bring to the lives of those who do not have enough strength or will to survive in desperate times. All heroes have one common ailment, they are heroes for life. They will continue to be the banner holders of love, integrity, courage and faith until that one last mission when the statistical game will no longer be in their favor and they will be laid to rest among bleeding wreaths of roses. One can win or lose against the odds but the fact that one went down fighting makes a world of difference. I will never cease to see the silver lining in the bleakest of hours and I will never stop trying until I make the world a better place for my unborn children.

Slander And Mischief

I stand at a crucial precipice today. Life has become a warzone. Unnumbered hardships wait around every corner; every nook and crevice harbors enemies and false friends. They say they will annihilate my very existence with enmity and slander. I smile valiantly. It must be very hard for people to make up lies about honorable people just to win their side of the arguments. It must be a smoldering ember of hatred within their bosoms that makes them say cruel words. Their defamation shows that I have won way before the actual dual even started. It is easiest to sort out your true friends from your enemies and hypocrites when a bad word of gossip travels. The people whose hearts are with you stand up for you and fight in your absence, and those who pass on the words do you the undeniable favor of leaving your life without any further tests. I do not claim absolute wisdom but I know there never was a story, real or concocted, between good and evil where evil won and goodness suffered. It all boils down to a happily ever after, if even the reward starts long after we cease to be.

I have always lived my life from a third person perspective, trying incessantly to please my family, friends, mentors, saints and God. I have always felt cheated and judged by social skepticism. Words like ‘too good to be true’ and ‘Mother Teresa’ have been reiterated so many times that I have come to deeply abhor the underlying metaphor. I heard the worst words in the world today and I suddenly felt free. I do not need to prove my purity, innocence or goodness anymore. I can be as human as the next person. I will never be rewarded for doing everything good I feel within my essence and am compelled to do, at least not from the mortal world. Any sin or wrongdoings will also be punished by an Omnipotent and I will not allow any person to persecute me anymore. Today was an important turning point in my attitude. I have always taken too many right turns in my life. No wonder I have always felt lost in circles. I have finally decided to take a couple of left turns as well. Sometimes, if not often, I will indulge in things that make me happy, provided I do not hurt or abuse any other person’s rights or liberty. This one moment of clarity has lifted a huge burden off my chest. I can be who I am without any guilt or remorse. I am free and I have every right to be so.

We all suffer from hatred, jealousy, gossip and meanness of others and sometimes these things hurt more deeply than any physical assault. It is necessary to remember that not everyone’s opinion counts; for every hundred false friends and foes, one true friend who stands by your side tips the balance in your favor. Unfortunately, sometimes even our own families do not love us the way we deserve to be loved; other than sheer humanity and kindness we do not owe those people any courtesy that they do not reciprocate. People who cannot love us unconditionally must be taught a code of ethics to love and regard us conditionally. If they do not comply they must endure a penalty of some sort, be it a physical or emotional detachment or sometimes complete cut off from our inner circle of life. As I ponder upon these sad musings I realize that more than love and care, the complicated intricacies of human relationships need our attention. There will always be hearts we will not be able to mould no matter how deeply we love them or how generously we share our blessings with them. These relationships are not our losses or failures; they are the misfortune of those souls who cannot understand unconditional love.

As I write these lines, the wisdom of the ages touches my heart and heals my heartache. I know deep within that as there have been people who have loved me for no reason at all, there will be others who will hate me for the same unexplainable rationale. I for one can only thank God for giving me the former, ask him to help me to forgive the latter and seek wisdom to know the difference between the two. As I reiterate my feelings I am thinking of some beautiful people and many ugly ones and saying a silent prayer for each and everyone. May I still remain a blessing for the good and the bad alike and may I teach some souls to love, who have never been blessed with this feeling. The slander and mischief of people is just another way of testing our mettle and courage. Even though I wish no one would do something as low and mean as this, I know there will always be people like that. I write today’s lines in dedication to a very hurt soul I met today, hoping and praying that if even one person changes his ways and stops hurting other people, maybe the world will after all be a better place for our children.