My Cup Of Tea


I know I love my tea, the first cup to the umpteenth cup, I just know when it’s brewed right it will make me feel better instantly. It need not have any biscuits, cake or snacks with it, just my cup and five minutes of silence while I sip it, indulging in the taste and the aroma and pondering over eternal mysteries of the Universe. I do not even need company, fancy silverware or any embellishments whatsoever. It is my happy place that is so attainable with so little effort. Any time I feel low or sad, I pick up a cup and within two minutes I have a magical blend that will take my mind away from everything that is bothering me. There are very few maladies that a warm cup of well brewed tea will not heal. It is a Chinese balm for raw and aching nerves. I have endured days so hard and insufferable that they could make grown men cry. I have survived through those excruciating times by just convincing my heart that tonight I will have a long chat with the Omnipotent under the starry sky while I sip my tea and everything will be bright and sunny tomorrow. It has always worked. My long walks, my night skies, my ever listening god and my tea. If I can throw in a good book or melodious music, heaven is in my grasp.

Likewise, I know I love you. The mere realization that you exist outside of my flights of fancy makes life bearable. The words that come out of your mouth and make me hold my breath, which are not a figment of my imagination makes me dance with joy. The fact that our shared ideas and thoughts have not been manufactured in my writer’s guild is a liberation of my soul on a cosmic level. I do not know how to stop loving you. My heart would cave in if I even tried or so it feels. I watch myself from a third person perspective and see the effect your presence and absence has had on me. When I was with you, life was perfect if even for a fraction of a second. I had no other wish in my heart. When you left, I was very lost and heartbroken; then I found my way out of the darkness as my friends and family reached out to hold and comfort me. I had the rare opportunity to see all the silver linings that I had stopped believing in while I was being cynical and pragmatic in life. You gave me that perspective. People close to me were consoling me for my loss, but I was rejoicing in this immense pain. I had grown numb over the years, sheltering my heart from the pain and suffering of love. Finding solace in the less demanding pursuits of my heart and soul. I had stopped writing the deep, soulful songs of youth and my pen had grown used to caution and care, writing well perhaps but only to an audience that knew nothing of the chaos below the calm. You brought the madness back to the sanity. I had shifted to earth shades in everything in my life. You reintroduced all the vibrant colors to my palette, the bold red, the sunny yellow and the peaceful green.  I had steered away from poetry in music as that made me remember the times when I immersed myself in those things and had a rose tinted view of the universe. I have listened to songs after years and cried and laughed at the memories it stirred. This journey is like looking into a kaleidoscope with all the colors merging into shapes and forms I never knew existed. As long as I can see and appreciate colors, I know I will always love you.

It was so silly of me to think I can be a hopeless romantic and protect my heart from falling miserably in love with the splitting image of the man of my dreams. The right person will see through the armor in two seconds and start a conversation that will linger for years while we smile incessantly like children at play. I am smiling again, not because we can be together but knowing that I can still love at this capacity of insanity. I thought life and people had taken that away from me. I still have stars that shine in my eyes, carefree songs to sing in the rain and butterflies in my stomach. I can still hold the world in the palm of my hand and feel eternity in an hour. The heart and soul is beyond aging and decay. A mentor once described me as a magical being who he fears may burn her wings one day. I smiled then because I thought that was such a fatuous thing to say. I smile today because he was right in his fear but wrong in his prediction; my wings have sustained more fire breathing dragons than I ever imagined. The hope that somewhere out there is someone as insane as myself watching the night sky, talking to a God that could not care less, brings blissful tears to my eyes. There is still hope of a tomorrow till I breathe the fresh scent of wet soil in the rain, feel the ocean spray on my face and let the wind play wildly with my dark tresses. I am a romantic soul, walking on a lone beach waiting for someone like you. I have known and adored him as long as I have lived and I will wait for him as long as we both shall live. That is an epic love story that need not have a union or reunion planned.

I always defined myself as a poet who became a doctor. Today I am the doctor who realized after years of hibernation that she was first and foremost a poet from her toddler years. No amount of education and sophistication took the wildness out of the heart and the naiveté out of the soul. My essence is still as untarnished as the Universe I connect with and this feeling of purity and virginity leaves me amused for no reason at all despite all the pain I witnessed in many years. I am getting better and better at controlling my thoughts and feelings and that is an achievement I am proud of. It is hard to tame a wild stallion and my heart is one of the wildest I have seen. More importantly though, I have not lost the capacity to lose control when needed, to laugh without reservation, play like a child, pray like a saint, cry without remorse and love without any strings attached. I am still juvenile at heart and the world is incapable of corrupting that freedom and nirvana. I thank you for your friendship, no matter how brief and for the heartache, no matter how deep. I love you because you helped me get back the giddiness and euphoria of love that I so easily let go of every time my heart is hurt. As I walk in the rain today, I have a brisk memory of your face but my mind does not say your name, it is searching for another face and that is the innocence of my heart. I am in love with the idea of being in love, anything else is just not my cup of tea.

Scorched


I had convinced my heart that there will never be heartache again. I am well beyond the point in life where I will let another person hurt me deeply and affect my solitude. I find good people, make great friends and keep my heart stowed away safely. I have deep meaningful conversations with amazing people, work with brilliant minds, play with innocent hands and hold the frail ones. My life is beautiful and complete. I do not need an amiable stranger ruining the calm I have finally managed to bring to my ocean. I work long hours, volunteer to humanistic causes, pay my debt to God, family and society and sleep like a baby at night. I write poetry as well and keep the passionate pieces in my little pink book and share the less crazy ones with friends and my followers, get good compliments, some very thought provoking dialogues and I am satiated. I have everything I love with me, with the reins of my life in the hands I trust would never let me down, who have my best interest at heart; my own hands. I am a very wise girl now. Or so I thought.

Then I met you. The well balanced, soft spoken, private man with a beautiful life of your own. The first time we met, I felt a ripple in my soul. I looked at you and found nothing out of the ordinary. You could be any guy next door. Excellent physician, good person and a random chance acquaintance. I was not looking and you were not the one if even I started looking. Looks are deceiving; had you been like anyone else I had known in my life, I would have had my guard up. I would have been more cautious and less trusting. I guess since there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, I didn’t see the storm coming. That makes the two of us. We met socially once and forgot about each other for months. I made some major changes in my life and moved closer to you. I dropped by as a social curtesy at work. And that was it. Nothing happened. You were nice and I was thankful for your civility. I kept a graceful distance with a senior colleague whom I will not be seeing at all. Maybe say hello when we pass by each other in the corridors of the hospital or a random chance encounter in the parking lot. My head was still not turned. I was the way I like to be, safe and stable. My head in control of my very irrational heart. All I want from life is a reasonable life partner and have kids whom I can love with all of my heart.

Several months went by with a few occasional meetings and random conversations about work and people we know. I was touched by your thoughtfulness on multiple occasions and I thought that was part of your caring, paternalistic mannerism. You are a sensible and sensitive person. I had been socially isolated for a little while and one day we talked more than usual. I found deeper wisdom and kindness than I am used to finding in people and I thought you would be a good friend. A safe person to trust and be with while life goes on as usual. We started talking about more personal experiences and texting more than routine social niceties. I liked your company and found the conversations very intelligent and entertaining. We had the capacity to change gears from professional matters to politics, religion and international affairs without any discomfort. Our communication was impeccable from day one but with the reservations removed and this new comfort zone, there was no bounds to our benevolence. I was still having trouble asking for any favors at all with the fear of tainting the possibility of a good friendship with mundane needs. I did not want to be viewed as a damsel in distress and jeopardize our equal footing as friends and colleagues. Social graces aside, in a platonic relationship, my being a girl should not get me any additional favors than one would expect from a same gender friend. Needless to say, your chivalry and gentleman’s mannerisms did not go unnoticed. We talked, we texted but the meetings were still few and far between. Often, as I walked past your office I felt the urge to drop by but would reprimand myself and keep a safe perimeter where your social curtesy is not taxed by my need of good company. I refused lunches and meet ups for the same reason. I believe fools rush in where angels fear to tread. If you like what you have, never rush towards it, you may lose it all together. I knew my head is always right!

And then we come to the last couple months. We started swaying a little. Maybe it was the euphoria of a new found friendship where one feels free and boundless. You can be who you are without fear of being judged or embarrassed. You feel safe with someone and just forget that swimmers drown more frequently because they feel safe in the water more often. You went through a major loss in life and I found myself consoling you. Moved by your kindness, I felt I owed you the support to grieve at such a hard time. I communicated more often knowing it is harder for strong men to grieve with their families as they have this façade of strength they are shackled with. You were yielding and craving for that consolation. I am a mother goose at heart and if I’m needed I stay to nurture. Our verbiage changed and we started texting more informally than before. My head started wagging a warning finger at me long before my heart realized where this was going. I continued texting but refused to meet for a while always with a perfectly valid excuse at hand. I had started paying more attention to little details about you in our last few encounters and was shocked when one night I woke from a vivid dream. I told you I had a dream about you but did not share the details saying it was classified. We were together in a very passionate moment and I woke up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat; ecstatic and terrified at the same time. I stayed up that night and had a long chat with my heart. Somewhere in all the commonplace conversations we had opened a Pandora’s box of chemistry that we both had buried deeply long ago. It needed to be put to rest again, neither of us afford a roller coaster ride at this point in life.

I was still under the impression that you were completely unaware of my newfound feelings. I wanted it to stay that way. You were more thoughtful and communicative every day and I thought it was because you appreciated my support. Then one day you invited me to your home for dinner. I was petrified and almost declined the offer. I know my heart and when it is about to go on a wild goose chase I usually run as fast as I can in the opposite direction. I wanted to run away that day. I took extra time dressing up worrying I had nothing to wear among an infinite collection of clothes that I usually love. I drove around your home for a while thinking of some excuse to not show up but then I realized I wasn’t the only guest and my fear dissipated. I was one guest in a large dinner gathering and that meant no one would notice my agony. We barely saw each other that night, but when I did I averted my eyes and tried very hard to not have more than a civil conversation. It was only later that I realized you were going through the same dilemma. I could sense being watched and I saw you wander in and out of view several times. Later you said I was looking beautiful in black and my heart stopped. There were so many people there, we never sat down to a conversation and you remembered what I was wearing. You had to be watching. The rest was downhill for my heart and uphill for my head.

I found some pictures of you online, and tried to convince myself how your life is perfect without me and I need to disappear before this turns into something we both might regret. Every time I had a moment to myself, I ended up wanting to see your face just one more time. I love your eyes, they are kind and wise. I love your smile, it is so endearing. I know I am not a teenager, I don’t get smitten by anybody and you are no prince charming. But then, there was my heart being an idiot on its own time with no hope of paying any heed to my desperate calls for sanity. I thought okay, the giddiness and euphoria of love is back. It’s all right as long as everything remains between my heart and my head; no one will be hurt and I will smile a little bit more until this phase passes and we are just friends again. Your texts with suggestive jokes and affectionate nuances was adding fuel to fire. I knew we are both sensible and there will never be anything more than a little playfulness. As long as you are unaware of what is going on in my head and heart we will be fine. But then, you were always available, always checking on me, thoughtful in the smallest ways, so willing to drop by, go places, stay and talk for long conversations in the middle of very busy days. I needed that company and attention, we have excellent chemistry and deep understanding of each other’s needs. I let my senses ravish in the flood of feelings. You were a long awaited rain shower in the middle of the desert. I could not have welcomed or appreciated anything more than this. I loved every moment of it. My head disagreed only to the part where there was no future for us except an imminent heart ache.  I was jumping off a cliff and the view was spectacular!

Then one day you came to meet me at my home. My heart was beating like a locomotive. I felt like a child out of her mind with joy and agony. I could not breathe, could not think or function at that level of stress. I had earlier cut myself in my jitteriness. But when you entered my abode, I composed myself and entertained you like any other friend. I switched on the news on television so that you could not hear the thunder of my heartbeat. I thought this will be catharsis for my soul and I will overcome this insane infatuation. Everything went well except you would not look at me at all. You kept watching the news. I looked at your silhouette against my living room window and smiled. The love, chemistry and intense emotions were all in my over active imagination, there is nothing here. When I told you I had hurt myself I saw immense worry and pain on your face. I loved that concern and thanked God you did not know how or why I was hurt. You were a priceless friend whose trust I cannot afford to jeopardize. We talked like two strangers forced to socialize and I wondered if the person who texts me all day is someone else. I was relieved as my own heartbeat stabilized and I finally shook my head at my very silly heart. I am a silly poet at the end of the day, daydreaming over every breeze, flower and butterfly. I am a fool at heart. After you left, I turned on some light music, washed the dishes and talked my heart out of these insane musings. We are good friends who will become very obnoxious and clumsy if we ever dare to stumble onto romance. This was the end of it. My heart agreed.

And then your messages began to change. More endearing, romantic and suggestive. Talking of love and romance, teasing, flirting and playing. Talking of dreams, longings and yearnings.  I was completely confused. Unsure if you sensed my feelings and were teasing me or were the sentiments mutual. I played along; sometimes cautious, sometimes candid, laughing over small anecdotes, sharing jokes, just enjoying the ride, with the hope that this euphoria will last forever. I still had the mental resilience to let go and walk away as one would of any game no matter how entertaining. One day we decided to go out for lunch, as usual I was unable to enjoy a meal, my natural shyness overriding every time I have gone out with you to eat. We decided to drive around for a bit, listening to music. I found out we loved the same songs and vocalist. The drive was transformed in a strange bonding where I remembered old songs I had not listened to for a long time and ravishing in the moments of shared silence, companionship and laughter. Neither of us wanted to turn back but then you took me back to work saying, welcome to reality and drove away. I spent the rest of the day in a daze. My head was numb, unable to process what just happened. Did we just connect and realize that there was a possibility of us being together? I know that was not possible, but then did I really know what was going on in your life? I was confused but elated. My heart was ecstatic. I was on cloud nine floating in immeasurable happiness. Every time I had a doubt in my head, you sent an endearing message and my heart would smile. We were both playing with fire and loving it.

And then the day before yesterday. I was missing you so much. We had talked about what we loved and wanted to do and how we will share everything we loved one by one. We still hadn’t enjoyed rain together and we both love it. I tried to focus my mind on something else but I could not. I kept wanting to meet you but the fear of the unknown was exponential. It was raining hard and after hours of walking alone in the rain you asked if I wanted you to come and see me. I said yes and I thought you would decline. My clothes were drenched from the rain and my hair was wet. You said you’ll be there in twenty minutes and I rushed back home to change my dress and dry my hair. I barely switched on the television and you were there. We talked and laughed for a while. You came at the slightest suggestion but started watching tv again. I reprimanded you this time and said why can’t we have conversations that we have on text face to face. We started talking and I said I don’t understand our chemistry.  You leaned over me with your face next to mine, eyes almost touching my lashes and lips so close I could feel your breath. You said, ‘you understand our chemistry”. I melted at that moment, I had no strength of mind, heart or body left as I heard your words. You love me too, you feel it too. I could not have cared less if I walked off the cliff at that moment and my life ended. It was music to my ears. I thought you were going to kiss me, I badly wanted you to. My hands were aching to hold you. That moment lasted forever but then you slid away from me. I could not hear your words over the thunder of my heart beat, I could not find my voice. It was a fleeting moment that passed and then fear gripped me as you went on to say how nothing was possible between us.

Emotional lability is a force to be reckoned with. I did not sum up the situation at all, it seemed like you wanted to be with me, primed me to that moment, only to walk away. This time I came closer, held your hand and tried to make myself understand what just happened. That was when I realized that you have been facing the same trial and tribulation that I have been tortured with ever since we came closer. We have this immense priceless chemistry that our life has no room for. We sat there holding hands, knowing that one misstep will take away the only chance we have of being with each other as friends. We were both burning with desire, trying to rationalize our feelings. Finally you had the strength to leave and I let you go. You said if I asked you to stay you will no longer be able to hold back and then there will be nothing left to salvage. As you walked out of my door my heart shattered at my feet, you turned back and asked if you should go. I said I am at the last straw, hugged you and asked you to leave, knowing that if we stay together tonight, we will never be friends again and there is no hope of anything else as well.

I felt like every goodbye I had ever heard was being said at the same time. My heart was ripped in my chest. It hurt so unbelievably badly that I spent the next few hours sitting by the door unable to process a single thought, tears streaming down my face and neck till my dress was soaked. Heartache took on a new meaning. It was not the raw, sore, achy feeling in the chest that made you sad. It was physical pain that did not let you breathe. I did not know love was capable of hurting so badly. I did not know I was in love. We have been texting again, more wisely, less frequently. But now I am not telling you how I feel. I’m hiding my pain and feelings. I feel like I have made a complete fool of myself with the only saving grace that you do not know the depth of my sorrow. It’s been two days since, I have not had a full meal or a good night’s sleep. My eyes are sore and blood shot from incessant crying. I have not been able to think through anything that has happened since we met. I’ve been trying to mimic normalcy as I come to work, nibble some food and dose off for a bit at night. I am still mourning you deeply, I’m still trying to understand the loss of something I never thought I had. There should have been a transition between knowing I was loved and losing that love. There was none. For the first time in my life I feel repulsed at my heart’s imprudence. Right now I need a shoulder to cry on and you are my only friend in town. So I have no one to console me in this hard time. It has been raining tonight and I have been sitting in the rain at night, letting my tears be washed away as I watch the night sky, looking for an omnipotent who sent this misery for me. I spent my entire life searching the universe for someone who shares my wisdom, passion, strength and vulnerability; I found that chemistry and compatibility in you. All that faith, endurance and commitment ended in a flame that flickered for a fleeting moment but never burnt before it was extinguished. And yet my heart is scorched.

The Road To Delhi


There is a saying in my native language Urdu that everyone tells you the way to Delhi, no one walks with you. I always thought it was a very rude generalization to call everyone selfish and self-centered. The truth of the matter is that there are still a few good men and women that make the world beautiful.

I have been struggling to understand people all my life. In times of dire need there have been three kinds of people. One who refused to help at all, second those who mislead and gave hope of something they were not moving a finger to cause and the last but rare kind were people who were truly altruistic and helped genuinely. I have always met the first two kinds in abundance but only one of the last kind is enough in any ordeal. And interestingly enough, as I am unable to completely understand the liars, cheats and bigots, I am also unable to comprehend the compassionate, the kind and the merciful. I guess, they are intrinsically who they are. Roses spread fragrance to all irrespective of the people who tend to them or those who pick them off their lifeline; and the thorns prick even the hands that tend loving care to them.

Today as I rejoice one of the biggest achievements in my life, I smile upon the generosity and kindness of a dear friend who did not only give me sound advice for my future journey, but also held my hand and lead me into the initial miles of despair, fear and loneliness. Where everyone else were magnanimous enough to point out the ordeals and the obstacles, he chose to show me my strengths and virtues. I have stepped onto a new journey of life and I realize that if I want to be exceptional I will have to surround myself with people like him and also continue to be one of his kind.

In my life, I have always helped anyone who asked, irrespective of any differences between us. One of the most proudly worn medals of my past are the memories of rivals and adversaries seeking aid in dire need for themselves or their families. I have always humbly kneeled in their aid, even when their requests were unreasonable. If a friend had made the same demand I would have simply refused. I am humbled by the honor they give me by sharing their weakness. While anyone else would have expected ridicule from an opponent, they saw my humanity greatly exceeded any personal opinions and gave me the opportunity to serve even when my heart disagreed. I often think of all those people in days when I am downcast and seek kindness from God as I have shown to his people. Never has He ever let me down. I have faced more trials and tribulations than most of the people I know, but I have also seen more miracles and blessings than all of them.

Of the remaining two types of people I prefer someone saying no I cannot help or I will not help. That ends a painful conversation and one is spared the embarrassment of repeated queries. They are like bitter medicine which leaves a temporary corrupt taste in the mouth but eventually one does not feel bad about the refusal. Like any crossroad we chose not to take in life, those people are forever removed from our lives and our memories.

However, the worst are the ones who make false promises and claim to be friends. Actually they are deriving pleasure and strength from our weakness and repetitive requests of assistance. All they do is come up with one excuse after another and dilatory tactics just to keep you engaged and hoping for help that will never arrive. Like pond scum these people are bottom feeders and cling to the distress of others for their own sadistic rejuvenation. As I write these lines I remember many faces of this category of people. I have travelled halfway across the world and I am truly awed at the commonality between this group across all ages, races and cultures. The cascade of lies and false promises followed by lame, half-witted excuses. And the cherry on the cake is the favors they ask in return for pretending to assist you. I have finally understood that only one treatment should be given to all these people. They should be ignored and forgotten and left to their devices. Nothing shatters a self-centered, megalomaniac as much as being condemned unheard. Your silence echoes in their minds forever.

Today, I write these lines for the benefit of people like myself who were brought up believing in the intrinsic goodness in others. It is a life lesson I have learnt after too much heart ache and head ache. Do not take people for granted. When someone is kind to you, remember that kindness is not synonymous with stupidity. Reciprocate it with honor, generosity, and gratitude. When someone is unkind to you, do not fool yourself by providing a psychological or conditional excuse for him. When someone chooses to ignore, harm or hurt you, never allow misbehavior to become a habit. Do not cross oceans for people who will not cross puddles for you. Despite meeting all kinds of despicable people, I still do not believe in an eye for an eye. Even today when I walk away from someone’s life, I leave with kindness. That person may not deserve this kindness but I am kneeling in humility to God for making me so different from those people and giving myself a reason to smile years later. I have never regretted this magnanimity.

Last but not the least, be very wise in the people you surround yourself with. You do not need a crowd of people in a lifeboat, likewise you do not need more than a handful in your private inner circle. They should be the people who will die for you as you will for them. Pick, sow and nourish those ties with tender care. Make sure you read characters before you believe in claims of love or sincerity. Characters seldom change, they are merely revealed in hardships and in ecstasy. I have had my heart and soul scorched by trusting people to be better than they were. I expected thorns to be roses and hurt myself. Now I know that if I want perfect blossoms I will still be hurt by a myriad of thorns but I will not return empty handed.

The road to Delhi is long and tedious, but it is the only way you will distinguish clearly between false and true friends. When you stand knee deep in a quagmire, miraculously people reveal themselves. Many will stand back and watch you go down and if you are lucky you will find the ones who will not only lend you a helping hand but will risk their lives to save yours. Holding that hand, come out of the quicksand and never go within ten mile radius of people who avoided you like the plague when you needed them. And of course, trust in God. His plan is much, much bigger and better than what you thought. Just pray, work and smile, and one day the thousand mile journey will be over and you will be left with heroic stories to tell your grandchildren. Little will they know that the protagonist is you in all of your stories… welcome to Delhi!

A Little Girl In The Park


After a long, tiring day at work I left early for home. I felt too depressed and overwhelmed as I drove past a beautiful maple tree just turning colors in the fall. Most other trees had already shed their leaves for the winter. The lone maple made me smile and I turned back to sit in its shade for a while. The tree was in a little park that had a pond with geese swimming in it. A luxury they will not be able to enjoy much longer in winter. Watching these beautiful birds play in the water, blissfully unaware of the approaching winter made me shed a few tears of lamentation. I feel so lost at times and it’s like every good deed and loving relationship stings me in the end. As I thought of so many painful memories my cheeks were wet with warm tears. I clumsily looked for a tissue to wipe my face.

I heard a tiny voice right next to me, “Why are you crying? Are you hurt?” There was a sweet little girl, no older than five years, standing right next to me holding a zip lock bag with breadcrumbs in her hand. I smiled at the worried look on the child’s face and said, “No, I was just a little sad today. She said, “Why?” I sighed and looked for a simple explanation to give my gentle friend. “Because today is my Dad’s birthday and he is not with me.” She processed my answer for a minute and said, “Is he at work?” Why don’t you tell Mommy to call him?” I smiled again. “No darling, he is with God and Mommy cannot call him either.” She instantly replied, “Then why don’t you ask God to let you talk to him? Just tell him I will say Happy Birthday and I love you and I will be a good girl. ” I laughed heartily at the child’s innocence. “Well that is a great idea, you know what I will do just that. Thank you for helping me. What is your name?” She watched me as I cheered up and showered her with words. “My mommy says I should not talk to strangers, are you a stranger?” I said, “No, I am Amber, I am not a stranger. You can tell me your name and ask Mommy if it’s okay to talk to me.” She looked behind us and I saw an elderly lady keeping a keen eye on us. I waived and she waved back. The child broke into infectious laughter. “Grandma knows you!” I said well when we are done talking we can go say hi to your grandma too.

As we sat there feeding the ducks, the child taught me a very valuable lesson that I often tend to forget. She said,” You are not sad any more, are you?” I smiled and said, “I was sad until you came here and now even though I am still hurting in my heart but not so much. Thank you for being my angel friend.” She looked at me closely and asked why I was still sad. I said “because I have not been able to make of my life what I wanted to make of it.” She asked, “Why?” I said because I was always busy fixing the problems of people I love and I did not make the time to solve my own problems.” She asked, “Why?” I said, “Because every time I tried to make a decision for my welfare, it crossed paths with the happiness or priorities of someone I loved and I felt guilty and selfish for putting my happiness before theirs.” She kept looking at my face and said, “Why?”

The child kept on asking the same question repeatedly and I kept answering in different ways. After what seemed like a long time I heard a slight rustle behind me and I saw her grandma had joined in on our conversation. I smiled somewhat embarrassed and said you have the most precious angel here. She looked at me with wise old eyes and said, “Did she help you talk to yourself?” Surprised I said, yes. She said I have been coming to this park with her for two years now and she keeps on asking the same simple hearted questions and I keep on finding the most elaborate answers to complex problems. Children have the simplicity and honesty of a mirror and they help us see the truth without any fabrication or lies. The questions we forget to ask ourselves, our children ask us. As I waved my little angel goodbye and slowly walked towards the parking lot I felt a huge burden lift off my heart. Maybe life is just a handful of innocent questions and simple answers and we make it so much more convoluted than it ever needs to be. Maybe all that seems so pivotal today will not even be a substantial memory tomorrow. Maybe the child within just needs a similar companion to bring out the beauty in simple and small things in life. All these queries and doubts will one day make complete sense and I will breath my last wondering why I could not solve a riddle as simple as this!

A Dream Of Death


It was a dark dismal place. I remember no faces, just forms. There was a crowd of spectators. I was in excruciating pain and yet I could not scream. My lungs were bursting with the desire to blow out all the frustration but I could barely breathe. I wanted to listen to what the crowd was saying but my mind kept on replaying old memories, the good ones and the bad ones all in a nonsensical collage. There I was taking my first few faltered steps as a toddler and then came the day of graduation. The seconds ticked when I almost drowned and could see the light coming into the swimming pool and didn’t have the energy to kick myself back to the surface. The day I met him and saw his smile for the first time. The moment when my father died. Everything was connected and yet disconnected in mere moments. My eyes were open wide but I saw nothing of any consequence. Perhaps it was the tears or the warm gush of blood from my forehead. I will never know what glistened on my face, but I could smell the unmistakable reek of blood, sweat and fear. I knew I was hurt and the fear should be in my heart. But my mind was frozen in the past and the present was nothing but a haze. The heightened pain caused my delirium as a blessing and I could separate the physical agony from the mental torture. I was watching in awe as the execution proceeded. The thought that all my memories and ideas and words will be wiped clean and I will be lowered into a hole in the ground and people will tell the story of my demise in every way except what I would have written it as. I smiled in my head. My face was incapable of making the muscular effort to do so.

There was one glimpse that shone through all the mist. I kept on seeing my brother among the faceless crowds. My long deceased brother was watching with tears rolling down his face. He was always closest to my heart and aware of all my joys and miseries. I blinked away the scarlet blood to try and catch another glimpse of him. Maybe he was there after all or maybe I was about to join him in the afterlife. The very thought of reuniting with my dear departed made me cry and laugh at the same time. It sounded like a wild cry and I heard the crowd hush down. The prisoner was maybe asking for mercy. I breathed slowly and deeply. Mercy was not to be asked or expected of the vile. Why would I seek ease where there is none left to offer. Why would I attempt to save my life that was already wasted? I have always had a high nose and my courage has lingered on the brink of madness. I saw an ethereal light surrounding me and then there was no pain, no suffering and no crowd. For moments I kept searching for some vision or sound or smell and I found nothing but a very white spotless canvas in an eerie silence. But my mind was still active and thinking am I dead. Is this how it ends? Where are the angels and the relatives and the promised gardens? There was nothing but a white out.

From a distance I heard some mumbling and I strained every ounce of my energy to find some sign of the here or the hereafter. And then, I woke up. All the lights, colors and sounds came flooding back and I was in my room with warm sweat and tears staining my face and pillow. I will never know until the moment arrives if it was just a bad dream or as is usual with my dreams another premonition of what is to come in future. I splashed cold water over my face and brushed away the dark locks where moments ago I felt matted blood and crumbled bone on my forehead. The dream was too real to be a mere figment of my imagination and yet I cannot think of any situation where I would be so tortured and executed. I breathed deeply and smiled at the face in the mirror. I still have time to smile, breath and speak until that day. No one will stop me until my time comes. I may be dying soon, but so is everyone in the world. And if I know myself, that day too I will be in a haze, smiling for memories that only my mind could pull out and play with. I will be a dreamer and a poet till the end.

 

The Glyphosate Controversy


What is the crux of the Glyphosate controversy? Some corporations insist that this is just a harmless chemical in the most widely used herbicide while some scientist and activists disagree. When I found out about the debate I applied common sense and looked for the usual suspects. The David versus Goliath battles have been going on between banner holders of humanity and the corporate giants since times immemorial. The question is who gains what out of his stance? The corporations have invested millions of dollars in launching and advertising products that have finally paid off by becoming a household name and a necessity in our everyday lives. Their stakes are so high that we can and do understand their reluctance in owning up to any problems that may arise in those popular products. But the question arises if human life and suffering is worth more than all this money or is it just collateral damage in a money driven society? I reminisce upon the Ellen Brocovich vs. Proctor and Gamble case and wonder if she had been silenced or discouraged how many more fatalities would have happened? It may be an extreme example but not an uncommon one. As a medical professional I cannot ever forget the images of the Thalidomide babies imprinted in my memory from medical school. Those families will never forget that product. It produced babies with fins. Someone was irresponsible enough to think that the collateral damage will only happen to other people and they will be safe. What is safety if the lines are all muddled? How do you ensure you will not be harmed by a chemical that has not been tested by a third party who has nothing to gain out of its failure or success?

Someone very heartily debated that the pioneers of tobacco industry are in the frontline of the battle against cancer so why can’t the corporations making herbicides test their effects on human health? I winced as a physician because I know for a fact that the cigarette is a fine human invention where forty carcinogens are combined in a small, thin roll of tobacco. I will not say it CAN KILL you because the truth is IT WILL KILL you. And no amount of million dollar advertising or advocating will change this blatant fact. I remember one of my patients who had been a chain smoker for forty years, debating endlessly  the harmlessness of smoking while we were counselling him on the extreme procedure we were about to perform to remove his jaw and most of his tongue for the fungating oral cancer he had. It was as if he was brain washed and could not see past his obsession and addiction. I also remember sitting by his bedside after the procedure when tears were rolling down his cheeks and he kept shaking his head. If it was not for humane reasons and patient privacy, I would have loved to share the effects of smoking as a counter ad campaign against the advertisement of beautiful girls and handsome boys smoking while having the time of their lives. That party would have ended there.

Coming back to Glyphosate, GMOs and the whole charade. Do we know for a fact that they are turning up in our foods, mother’s milk, body fluids and environment? The answer is yes. What is the level of toxicity? When asked of the corporations they quoted a very high figure that seemed impossible for anyone to be exposed to. If even we paid heed to that quoted number, I know that a lot of symptoms can precede death. Lethal dose is not the question, the actual point is that if tiny traces of this chemical are found in our food, water and environment every day, what amount are we accumulating from the womb to the grave? Do we know for a fact that Glyphosate has harmful effects on human health? The answer is painfully obscure. The people who gain millions of dollars by selling these products are also pretending to study the effects of these products on human health. No one in their right mind would trust these studies. As a physician I would advocate one universal line of action only. Whenever you want to truly judge the efficacy or toxicity of any drug, chemical or product, let the researchers be unbiased and neutral personnel who are not paid by the beneficiaries of those brands. It is impertinent to understand that we and our children will only learn after decades how we were affected by this. In hindsight no one can minimize the suffering of a nuclear holocaust or Thalidomide. It becomes a scientific, medical and human nightmare that we shamefully whisper to the next generation of scientists and doctors only to forget the lesson as soon as the next corporation versus humanity debate arises.

Managing The Ailing Pakistan


After sixty eight years of independence from the British Raj we stand tall as a nation of proud Pakistanis. We have produced some of the finest brawns and brains in the world and contributed immensely to international sports, music, literature, science and technology. We have always reflected unlimited tenacity and perseverance in impossible times. The question remains that if we have all the talent and spirit in the world what is holding us back? The answer is simple, the country is run by Goons and imbeciles. But in a nutshell this answer is not enough. It may be a very true observation, but it is not a solution to our problems. Most politicians around the globe are sleazy, dishonest, back stabbing liars and cheats. Ours are no different. And the ones who are of upright character are known and loved as leaders like Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the father of our nation. As a doctor, I have learnt the value of interpreting complex data into simple understandable terms and then finding simple step by step solutions to myriads of difficulties. That is known as a management plan. And I propose one for my country to be resuscitated after saving it from the Goons and idiots that refuse to step down from the Government and just let the poor country breathe.
To begin with we must understand the basics ourselves. It is not easy being a small country like Pakistan with vindictive and venomous neighbors. From the very beginning we were cheated out of our rightful land, rivers and assets at the time of Independence in 1947, thanks to the penultimate leniency and love of Lord Mountbatten for the Indian side. We will not stoop into the details of how his beloved Lady Mountbatten had her heart and much more leaning towards Nehru. History has a way of preserving truths, even the ones nations choose to forget. For us it’s like sitting next to a bully in school, knowing you have to perform at an optimum even though you will be threatened, harassed, beaten and cheated in every way possible and if and when you turn to others for help, you will face mockery, slander and scandalous lies. Kashmir has been one of the sore spots ever since and the human rights claims of the United Nations is mocked and ridiculed by the great democracy of India every day. Unfortunately, the world turns a blind eye to bullies. So, ill-fated as this historical background is, I would like to put it in a coffin, nail it down and bury it for good after befitting mourning rituals. There you go, history is dead and gone and tomorrow is another day. Let’s get back to life and work and make today and tomorrow count. Point one of my agenda is to just stop cribbing.
Primarily we need to know what problems we have. I will reiterate this soft reminder that no country or nation on this planet can claim of not having any one of these issues. The proportions or severity of ailments may vary but the symptoms are predominantly universal. So, any chest thumping, ridicule or criticism by other nations is juvenile and perverted. Poverty, illiteracy, corruption, law and order issues, injustice, terrorism, food and water shortage, bad and unaffordable healthcare, power breakdowns, bad governance, natural calamities are the first scoop from a brimming cup. These problems are humongous individually but when clustered together they seem unsurmountable. So, I propose breaking them down and taking them up one by one and even fragmenting them further and finding hundreds of thousands of small workable solutions than an Abracadabra that will just make them poof away. Anyone who tells you how horrible life is, give them a piece of paper and ask them to propose a solution. He who is not providing a solution is a part of the problem. From cleaning a trash heap outside your house to building airplanes. Let’s do it. Ask yourself what you can do. Can you plant a tree in your house? While you are at it, pick a fruit tree like Guava or Citrus. It will cost nothing, grow with minimum care and will need a very small spot in your home. I see it as a mini food stamp. Can a nation of two hundred million people starve if every person just grew a tree in their home?
Now, the ground reality is that things are not as simple as well. We have politicians who are antisocial, runaway schoolboys. They will trash entire cities so that they can play with and park their fancy buses and trains but they will not build bridges and dams for the long term welfare of the country. People will starve and die without medical aid while they buy fancy villas and palaces around the world. They will lie to the nation about internationally signed treaties and business deals imagining they will live forever and enjoy the money they are hoarding. They will seek political asylum in foreign countries and run criminal mafias from abroad. If they had been educated properly and had picked up a single book of world history they would know that even Alexander the Great left the world empty handed. The good news is, they will all wither and die like their predecessors. The seeds of crime, apathy and terrorism they sow today will be reaped by them and their children tomorrow. And the reigns will come to our children one day. So let us educate our children, protect them and make them capable of being heroes and leaders. Teach them the difference between these petty politicians and true leaders. Of course I will educate my child and so will you. But the nation will prosper and the world will be a better place if I also remember to educate the child of the criminal and the beggar. This collateral education will ensure that my child is not harmed in life by a criminal and he does not spend his life giving his hard earned money as alms to the beggars. They can and will work together towards a better future. Anyone who smiles at the simple heartedness of my dream makes me cry for the death of his dreams. How will you ever achieve anything if you do not have the will or the desire to achieve it?
Now back to basics. We have an upcoming water shortage and we need dams to store the bulk of monsoon water that causes annual floods and devastates crops, villages and infrastructure. What if the politicians don’t make big dams like Mangala or Tarbela because they are too stupid to do anything remotely useful. Can we have water reservoirs in every village? Maybe if I allocate a few acres of my land, dig trenches and push the sand towards the sides to make embankments, add concrete and rocks. Don’t I have a free water reserve after the monsoon is over? How hard is that? I know it can be made but I am no engineer. Where are our hundreds and thousands of bright engineers working around the globe in reputable organizations? Come and fix this small glitch and make a contribution of your engineering excellence. Let us make mini dams and dam the political circus. Once we do that, we will make small grid stations for hydroelectricity, build solar parks and give cheap electricity to everyone. And if we have water and electricity, our fields will grow crops. It is inevitable. So, water and food go hand in hand in a primarily agricultural country. If we do it on our own, maybe the few people in power with workable ganglions will follow our lead.
The next on my list is crime, corruption and justice. I have written on the subject before and I will reiterate my take on this. Human beings harm each other if left unchecked. Period. We need laws to be implemented and we need good governance. We have some excellent policemen, lawyers and judges in the system. Is each and every one corrupt, vile and ignorant? That cannot be possible. For every ten corrupt officers of the state, if one honest lawyer takes up one case on moral grounds per year and strives to get a positive verdict we will accumulate positive citations over the years. If every judge decides to expedite justice and not let the lawyers use dilatory tactics, justice will prevail. If one out of ten policemen decides to discourage criminals, the law will be respected. And when criminals are handed out punishments, the crime rate will go down. All of these are mathematical certainties. When these rules have been followed in the past, the law and order situation has improved. So why do we have a national memory loss for all the good things that worked. When you feel better doing something, for the love of God keep doing it!
Now on my very personal area on healthcare. I have recently been exposed to the metamorphosis in healthcare and I will proudly say that whatever should be done is being done now. The University of Health Sciences and the Pakistan Medical Association have some amazing people with great insight and vision. I have had the good fortune to meet some of the pioneers who are changing the face of healthcare in our country. The encouragement of continued medical education, discouragement of quackery and introduction of an elaborate plan of action is up and running. The effects may be slow but will trickle down from the tertiary care to the primary care and things will improve. However, all doctors practicing in other countries, myself included, have the moral obligation to commit a part of our time and talent to the country that made us who we are. The poor patients that we examined, operated upon and studied for our medical licensure deserve a fraction of our gratitude. We have free clinics or colleges in every city and village and I am sure when you visit back home, you will find one near you to dedicate a week or two of your free services to. It is your choice whether you teach medical students or treat patients but just dropping nickels and dimes in donation bins is not enough. We paid petty change to get our degrees in Pakistan as compared to the hundred thousand dollar medical school loans in other countries. We owe this to Pakistan. Let’s teach and treat.
Last but not the least is education. Even though we have small schools cropping out of every nook and corner of the country there is a great difference between the quality of education being delivered in various institutions. The lack of standardized education in the Government sector has come under scrutiny time and time again. The Ivy League private schools with the rich clientele are producing ignorance of a new variety. We do not need foreign educated individuals who consider themselves above the common man and unfortunately are more illiterate to their own culture, literature and language than the children from the Government schools are to Cambridge syllabus. We need to improve the syllabi and bridge the divide between these two extremes. When we emphasize that the quality of education be improved in low income group schooling, we must also inculcate national pride in our elitist schools and tell them that if your children quote Shakespeare and scoff at Mirza Ghalib, you are not imparting good education at all. So when we educate our children, it is important to make sure the children of our servants and staff are also being sent to school.
My dream is to have every child in school in my lifetime and if I can afford it, I will pay the family a stipend of one thousand rupees per child and give two wholesome meals during the school day so that the incentive for education does not struggle against poverty. Every child who comes to school will be fed, clothed, vaccinated and seen regularly by a Pediatrician. The parents just need to send them to school. And somewhere among these little girls and boys, we will sow the seeds of future doctors, engineers, scientists, leaders, artists, musicians, writers, sportsmen and philanthropists. We will teach them to dream big but walk with small steps until they are strong enough to take big strides and carry the torch of humanity, morality and goodness for future generations. These are boundless oceans of dreams, hopes and aspirations. We may not be able to make them come true individually but if each of us carry a small handful we can pitch in and make the world proud and thankful that the small country of Pakistan was created by a great leader and visionary in 1947.

Pakistan Zindabad! Qaid e Azam Zindabad!

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Au Revoir


There comes a time in life when one starts assessing one’s decisions over the years. A part of our mind finds solace in the integrity and morality of our selections but a greater wisdom passes judgment on when we should have plunged in deeply and when we should have watched from dry land like everyone else around us. We are humans and when we opt to make all the right choices all the time, we have a tendency to get lost and be damned to a sainthood status. One might be going to Heavan after death but sainthood does not offer much of a life. Among many muddled thoughts, I am at a point in time where I am questioning everything about my life. I have never made a bad decision or taken off at a whim. I regret the excess of righteousness and wisdom that I have practiced in my life. And while I ponder endlessly over how I could have taken a different course in my journey, I know that I never had a choice. I am who I am. From earliest childhood memories, I watch myself as a third person observer. If a four year old kid can save her candy from school for her younger brother, she is showing her natural spirit of generosity. Unfortunately, the child who gets the free candy will never remember the sacrifice it involved. Today I am sharing one of my worst tribulations in life. The curse of selflessness.

I have been hurt time and time again by people I can die for. The worst part is my own inability to hate them or return their meanness in the same coins. I am a Type A personality and have always been able to achieve what I aim for but where my heart kneels all the wisdom in the world fails to teach me self-preservation. I have been cheated over and over again by the same people and every time my emotional attachment leaves me helpless. I am condemned to running to their aid even when I know they are only crying wolf to manipulate my love. At times I am angry and I tell myself I will never let them fool me again but even the thought of their pain makes me suffer and I can only ease my own affliction by helping them. It has become a vicious cycle and I know I must break it for my own sanity. People who do not love you cannot be taught to care if even they have blood relations to you. Unfortunately we are manipulated in worst ways only by people who know how deeply we love them. I need to learn to be selfish and self-centered once in a while.

A friend was making fun of how I seem to be a trouble magnet. I was saddened when I heard this perspective. I am a problem solver. Naturally people turn to me for their deepest concerns and seek my help and advice. I have helped friends and foes alike and kept their secrets buried deeply in my bosom. The worst part is that I take problem solving for my family and friends so seriously that after a while they forget that the trouble was never mine to begin with and when I took to tackling it head on, I did it with such dedication and commitment that everyone forgot I was helping them and not myself. I remember watching cartoons in my childhood where the protagonist is be fooled by someone and only realizes it later and feels a donkey’s head instead of his own. I have felt like that so often that I wonder if that is the actual head I carry around. I wish I could ask why kindness and gentility is considered synonymous with stupidity and cowardice. I wonder if there is a solution to such a basic personality disorder. I have the martyr syndrome and whenever trouble arrives guess who opens the door. I wanted to tell my dear friend that I am not cursed, only over blessed and excess of everything is bad.

Last but not the least is my intrinsic ability to rationalize and cajole the worst case scenario to a more palatable alternate version. I could love a madman and call him slightly eccentric. I have the tendency to see silver linings in clouds of nuclear holocaust. I have such unflinching optimism that life has to let me down and like so many people close to my heart, it never fails at that. Today, I am purging my heart and soul of all the things that make me extremely proud of who I am but hurt me immensely every day. I need to learn to step down from the pedestal and live on a human level. I need to let go of my high expectations of myself and give myself the same leeway I offer everyone else. Most importantly, I need to steer away from people who do not understand or reciprocate my love. While I write these lines I can feel the burden lifting as if just shouting at the top of your lungs somehow makes you breathe better. No science involved. I am sending out this self-analytical rhetoric into the void and all I wish to hear is that it’s okay if you don’t measure up sometime. God knows nobody else does either. I want to reach out to all those who love me and advise me off and on about how I should change my own reaction if I cannot change the people who hurt me. I hear you and this is my solemn undertaking that I take your advice to heart. And to the ones who have unanimously let me down and made a habit of it, this is the final score. I am taking charge of my life and putting an infinite distance between us if you do not change for the better. Someone who truly loves me suffers because I suffer at your hand. I am choosing that love over the love I have for you. Au revoir!

Massacre At Peshawar School


I have been trying to write a few thoughts on the horrific events of 16th December 2014 in Army Public School in Peshawar but my pen refuses to budge. The death of a child is a tragedy beyond the grasp of human intellect. The inhuman, barbaric massacre of a hundred and thirty six children is incredible. I watched the footage and the pictures in disbelief. The dear, innocent faces smeared in blood were impossible for a complete stranger to view. I wonder how the parents received the dead bodies of children they had dropped off at school a few hours ago. I wonder what mutated version of humans can do this atrocity to young school children. The nation is shell shocked at this tragic disaster. I want to share a few thoughts about what I saw, felt, heard and eventually thought.

The course of events unraveled as six fanatic gunmen entered in an army run institution in Peshawar. They called forth the kids whose parents were in the army and then one by one they executed them with AK47 rounds to the heads and faces. Many faces were beyond identification and blood and brains were scattered all over. Those who ran for their lives had bullet wounds to other parts of their bodies as well. Some children were spared because they were covered by dead bodies of their classmates heaped over them. Only one student of grade nine and one of grade seven survived the massacre. Most of the killing was done in the school auditorium. Where this story has the most ugly fiends and monsters on a killing spree, it also has some unsung heroes. A twenty four year old teacher stood between the mass murderers and her pupils. She was burnt alive by them and even during that painful ordeal she was shouting for her students to run and save their lives. A young, newly married woman had the heart of a lioness. The principal of the APS school was saved by soldiers of the Pakistan army and brought to safe grounds outside the school but she went back in saying my children are being killed. She was shot dead but she managed to save many lives in her heroic act of sacrifice.

I am awed and inspired by the bravery of all the teachers and children who lost their lives or limbs in this sad time. There is a footage of Lady Reading Hospital where one section is cordoned off and has countless bodies of children lying side by side with their families weeping at their martyrs. Almost every head is heavily bandaged. As a doctor I know what insane amount of work load must have befallen the staff of the Government Hospital. The countless number of injured had to be treated and stabilized. This is an act of kindness for the parents to cover the brutal wounds on the heads and faces of the deceased. But how does the staff doing all this service look at humanity with respect again. We live in a world where people can kill in the name of religion, country, social class or family. We live in a sordid world and if I had the choice I would go back to wherever I came from happily. Not much of a world we have. Everyone who has experienced this catastrophe suffers from post-traumatic stress.

There is one last video where the carcasses of six crazy men, none of them of Pakistani origin, are being shown to the spectators. They have been killed by the gallant soldiers of Pakistan army. One of them has an ugly satanic tattoo on his back. They all look like the monsters they truly were. And I think of one thing only. Good riddance. These are not Muslims, these are not Pakistanis and these are not humans. Period. No one with even an ounce of humanity, honor or faith can do what these barbarians did. However, there is a very important lesson for the rest of the world in this incident. We in Pakistan are at ground zero of the aftermath of the war on terror. We have been killed in more numbers and in more brutal ways than any other victims of terrorism. We are not part of their damn groups, we are the target of countless bombings, shootings and hatred. These people have attacked children of the army personnel fighting the war against terrorism. What hurts most is that these worms slither and crawl among us, killing our own and the world finds fault with our dear country. We may be many things but we do not support terrorists. This one incident is a huge neon sign for the world to connect the dots. The world is a global village now. What happens to one nation spreads like a plague and affects others. Whoever is behind the funding, strategy, training, recruiting and implementation of these ghastly plans needs to be thrown off the planet. Nothing less would solve this humongous problem. This is my little note of random thoughts at one of the most harrowing incidents I will ever watch or hear of. Please help us stop similar atrocities across the globe. Enough is enough and we will take it no more.