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.
Life teaches priceless lessons along the way. We are taught in our kindergarten years to recognize colors. And there comes a time when we consider ourselves masters at identifying each and every shade in the palette. Blue, green, red, black, brown, yellow and white are all crystal clear images in our minds. The clarity taught at those tender years is not merely an education, it is our ancestors’ attempt to give their children something to cling on to when the colors start merging and the lines between them seem muddled. These thoughts have been lurking in my mind for many years now and finally my pen has chosen to shed some light on them.
As one grows older the definitions and meanings seem to be conditional and perspective at best. Anything can be anything and anyone can be anyone, all one needs is to be able to change the paradigm of observation. As a perfectionist I would love to cling on to ideals of good and evil, beauty and ugliness, intelligence and folly, worthiness and triviality. But then again, aside from religious, moral or hypothetical ideals, I know of no person who is absolutely good with no amalgamation of evil in him. I have never come across untainted intelligence, morality or character. Everything is relative and thus it seems humanity is more inclined towards error and imperfection. The ideals impregnated in our young minds are to override the natural ease to sin and err. Thus, the necessity of a formative inculcation of morals, ethics and character makes complete sense in a world that does not encourage it.
The obligations imposed on nobility of character seem an additional encumbrance and inconvenience in life. However when we observe the heroic and amazing outcomes from such circumstances, we see humanity rise above its mundane standards as heroes and saints are born. The life of any exemplary human being is embedded with trials and tribulations, but the fact remains that the story of this life far transcends the biological age of the person. The legend always outlives the hero and as the story is told and retold to infuse the positive character of the protagonist in the minds of the masses, the hero grows to magnanimous proportion. We tend to add fiction to the fact and forget that the life when lived was a day-to-day struggle, with immeasurable misery, deceit and sorrow. The glory is mostly posthumous and rarely the heroes are commemorated in their lifetimes.
All this observation reminds me of the famous poem by Robert Frost. The road less travelled by has always been my personal favorite. When we chose to live exemplary lives and be better than everyone around us, we forget that we must make extraordinary sacrifices and give up on the dream of a normal life. To get exceptional rewards one must forego the common pleasures and not complain about the deprivation of ordinary joys. A hero at a warfront loses life or limb to pay for the medals of courage and endurance. A saint practices abstinence from simple indulgences to rise above his congregation. It makes complete sense that we humans need the presence of a God and religion in our lives to justify the hardships endured, hoping for a reward in the hereafter. Otherwise all the collective stories of deities, moral and ethical standards are a futile effort to make the world more inhabitable for our future generations. There are a hundred shades of gray in a life where we were taught to expect black and white. The only way we can get pure white or pure black is to remove all other colors that muddle our canvas. All those other shades are the colors of life one has to forgo to become larger than life.
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.
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.
I did not sleep a wink last night. Some nights are endless and their darkness does not slip away with the first rays of the Sun. I cried incessantly until the tears ran dry. The night sky was seemingly peaceful with a majestic full moon and a light breeze. But my heart was in a raging storm and the calm outside did little to soothe me. My mind lapsed in and out of distant memories with an instant smile playing on my lips. All of my siblings playing together in our childhood home with the sense of security of a fortress. Our self-devised games still make me smile at the innovation and genius we all shared. The universe could not peek into that little piece of heaven. That is the home I always fly back to in my dreams with us at an age where we were young, naive and together. Each of us was similar in some ways and so different in others; yet we could love despite the differences. The long corridor with bedrooms on both sides is one of my favorite rendezvous for my soul when I sleep. As a little girl I used to love walking from room to room just to see what everyone was doing and then find a hiding place behind the curtains in the drawing room box window or in the staircase to scribble a quick poem or a note in my diary. I always remember that home with its endless chatter and hustle and bustle. It is a place that heals and haunts me at the same time.
I strolled in the garden, looking at the familiar constellations and warm tears were sliding off my face. My mind moved from one time to another in an instant. The same home was a dark, horrid nightmare the day you died. I remember holding your hand all night as the ice froze my feet and I was begging for you to wake up. I prayed so hard I thought my heart would cave in. That was the last time I truly prayed to God. I could not sleep for weeks after your passing as I kept hearing someone crying and would spend endless nights checking on the entire family one by one. I want to believe that was you. Our universe had just shattered and I knew the pieces would never fit back again. I always followed you like a shadow while you lived; when I buried your clothes in my favorite veil, my life went six feet under as well. The entire next year I remember nothing but darkness and the silence in our home. I would walk like a ghost through the same rooms, finding everyone there but you. The sadness had seeped in every crevice and corner and the silence was deafening. From the moment you stopped breathing, I endeavored to fill the hole in my heart with your name on it. It grows every day and I cannot find anyone or anything that can bridge it. One day I will come to terms with this sordid reality of life that some ailments are incurable and some wounds never heal
I have been mourning you for decades and the grief creeps in from the most unpredictable places. I remember a security check at the airport where they looked at my wallet as I carried a jocund conversation answering endless questions. The lady at the security line looked at your picture and said this handsome young man just went by before a few passengers. To her surprise I cried inconsolably and could not find the words to tell her what I would give for that to be true. After a few minutes of irrepressible tears I was able to tell her that you had passed away a long time ago. For no reason at all I just remembered her face tonight and her disbelief that someone can be so placid in one instant and so broken the next. No one can understand the torture of grieving someone wrongfully taken from you without being able to say goodbye. Some things in life cannot be unseen or unheard and when you pass through those gates of hell, there is no return to normal life. One goes through life carrying the shards of a broken self with grace, smiling through the intolerable pain. The anguish does not lessen; we grow bigger around it and learn to be more discreet and sensible about the pain.
Twilight shone through the night as I slipped back into my bedroom before my family woke up. I washed my face and made a cup of extra strong coffee to help me tackle another day. If someone asked me if I had been crying I would have smiled and said why would I cry? I will smile more than usual today, finding the time to stop and greet random people at work. I do not know how many other people are fighting battles within their hearts that no one knows of. The least I can do is to be kind to the pain that I cannot help alleviate. This makes me good at what I do as a healer. I can sense the hole in other people when I see their eyes. My sleepless night was because of a cruel reminder that many people lack the empathy and humanity to be kind to others. I met such a sordid specimen of cruelty yesterday and cringed from the heartless banter spewing hatred and slander. I was always compassionate and helpful since childhood but now I can truly claim empathy. I can feel the pain that others go through because I have my own as a constant reminder. I will sleep better tonight and may be tomorrow will be a brighter day. For now, my sleepless night is peaceful again while the demons within are exorcised.
If I did not know any better I would think I am in love with you. Even though I do not miss you per se, I keep on reminiscing of you every day. When I see or hear something interesting I fantasize about how it would make you think or feel. This brings a strange sense of fulfillment that I cannot fathom. I reprimand myself on this thinking process as I fundamentally know you are incapable of forming any meaningful emotional attachment or interaction with anyone. All my mental capabilities are nullified by my emotional quotient. Even though my mind discerns well that at best you are no good for me, my heart still plays with the fantasy of you being more than an integral part of my life. I often find myself having a dialogue with you on subjects that we never even skimmed. This leaves me isolated in a world that exists only in my dreams and will never see the light of day. I am so tempted to meet you and say everything regardless of the consequences and let you shatter the last fragment of hope that hangs by a thread; but then the heart is a coward when its dreams are at stake. When we meet in person, I am deliberately formal and appropriate in our interactions. I wonder what would you say if you knew what I really felt or thought.
Sometimes I try to decipher between what we actually shared verses what I have shared with you within the privacy of my mind. I smile at my emotional simplicity balanced precariously on the brink of madness. For some primal reason beyond my grasp, to my heart you are the splitting image of the man of my dreams and to my head you are the devil incarnate. Complicated just becomes more convoluted. I even have a picture of you tucked away in my pink poetry book along with the scarlet rose you picked for me one day eons ago. I play with the crisp dried flower gently and quietly on days when I want to sort out this fixation. I have not had the courage to crumble it in my fist and toss it in a trash can, but I still flirt with the idea that one day I will be able to do this without any remorse. That day will come after many moons if it ever dawns at all. Your photograph is yellowed from time but I can still see the laughter lines creeping under your raven eyes as you pose with a devil may care smile. It’s your signature expression that has the boyish innocence merged with manly indifference. Some days this makes me smile and on others it torments me to the core.
As I sit in my office writing these lines I am amused and irritated at the same time. I have the power to call you and speak to you but I intentionally hold back. Intellectually I know you have none of the attributes that I dream of and the more I interact with you, my thoughts will be lucid and my head will clearly dominate this discourse. But my heart wins the argument every time because I do not feel this strongly with random people. I do not want to lose this euphoria and giddiness of love that numbs away the sordid realities of the world. You are my opioid fix to the agony of life. You are my favorite book that I am reading for the first time. Like a great classic, I want to read it all in one night but I am afraid when I turn the last pages I will crave for the curiosity and the satiation. So I linger on the chapters, reading slowly, ravishing in the plot and letting my mind wander in the possibilities of what might unfold next. Knowing when I finish it, I will let myself forget the words so I can come back and read it all over again for the first time. Only a true book lover and avid reader will understand my dilemma. So I surrender to my craving for you and I let you be the white noise in my days of strife until I can replace your thought with someone worthy of my love.
I am a very deeply compassionate person. One of my worst traits is the capacity to forgive people who were never sorry to begin with. This habit brings me on the brink of disaster when I reinforce negativity by trying to play the peacemaker. It is true that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Today I spent most of my day thinking, rethinking and rationalizing my own thought processes. If there is to be a fix to a bad situation, it must begin with my own self. I have to change my core philosophy before I can solve complex problems like people and relationships. I have to understand the ground reality that everything cannot be mended and sometimes when things are broken, it is all right to let them stay damaged and toss them away. Some things are not worth wasting your time, energy and peace of mind on. I have to learn that some people will be a disappointment from the day you meet them till the last nanosecond you spend with them. There is nothing that can be done on my end that will make up for who they are. Some things and some relationships are meant to stay broken. Sometimes the happiest ending is a goodbye forever. Compassion can stay in the heart while wisdom can prevail.
Having said that, there are some people you never forget to mention in your prayers even when they have hurt you deeply and irrevocably. Before God you kneel in prayer, know that they have wronged you, forgive them and pray for them to grow into a version of themselves that is remorseful for their words and actions in a distant past. The forgiveness is an act of kindness for your own heart and soul so you do not get engulfed in the anger and bitterness of yesteryears. There is a great salvation in letting bygones be bygones. Even though you vividly remember every spoken syllable, every hostile gesture and every inflicted torture, you choose to let those torments fade in your memory and only stay as a transient recollection. Those horrific reminiscences become fleeting images as if you were looking out of a car window as the scenes fly past without invading your peace of mind. It is easier said than done but as you detach yourself from the imagery, the pain is numbed and you are no longer a victim to the circumstance. You can almost speak of the entire sordid past in a third person perspective and analyze it with perspicacity. It is a fascinating destination where all your demons transform into interesting specimens that you can scrutinize and disentangle without losing precious sleep over them.
On that note, I must write about today. As is usual with myself, I spend long endless hours in an inner conversation that the world knows nothing of. I am in a silent quest to become the best version of myself possible and I keep on pushing myself to limits that I know are challenging for me physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Every milestone that I touch gives me a sense of achievement that brings me closer to nirvana. I have felt very satiated and accomplished in the last year and I found myself visiting a broken relationship that was hard for me to address. So I decided to be the bigger person and try and close the void. If my forgiveness and empathy can heal some hearts, I am more than willing to bury the hatchet. There are days when you realize that good intentions alone mean nothing when they are received by a tarnished heart. I ended up opening a can of worms, brimming with venom and vindication. I heard zero remorse and a sense of entitlement from someone who has never bothered to apologize for past actions and words. It dawned upon me that some people will always have a version of the truth in their mind that makes their behavior acceptable to them. During a short, deeply disappointing conversation I learnt a very valuable lesson. A verse from the bible called the serenity prayer came to mind and I found myself immersed in a sad pensive mood. Compassion has to be directed towards ourselves when faced with callous people and we need to know when to salvage ourselves from them. Some things are broken for a reason and are meant to stay broken. We need to know when to stop trying to pick up the pieces and walk away without any regrets for our own serenity.
I often catch my breath when I rediscover myself. One of my favorite activities is looking at old photographs and memorabilia to relive memories forever lost to time. For fleeting moments I can be with people who no longer exist and in times that can never be returned. In those seconds, my heart is flawless again and the world is as perfect as it should have been. There is infinite joy and thankfulness in my soul and I have no worries except the fear of losing this paradise. Then the beautiful bubble pops and I wake up and realize that you are not alive; the world is cold again and nothing I can do or say will change that loss. My universe shatters in a million fragments and I kneel in a prayer with no words, just tears. No one sees my torment but the omnipotent and the world keeps on rejoicing with my smiles and laughter while I incessantly grieve inside. I often wonder how I can be so blissful and mournful at the same time. Like two facets of a coin the faces never really merge, its one or the other, ready to flip. An old movie we watched together, a silly toy we played with, your hand written notes, reminiscence of your anecdotes, a melodious tune or a mere mention of your name can trigger a cascade of joy or misery that is beyond my comprehension. How can one person bring so much happiness and anguish at the same time?
When I started to write today, I wanted to share a completely different thought process. But somehow as soon as I started writing, the words took over and I just followed my frivolous heart. The truth is I have always been a poet and a dreamer, either floating on cloud nine or lost in murky thoughts and fantasied that have little touch with reality. Last week I rediscovered another window to my soul that I thought was closed forever. I forced myself to go for a swim again like I used to when my brother was alive. For many months I had returned from the parking lot and never entered the arena. I drove myself to the pool and reluctantly stepped in. The water felt chilly and uncomfortable but I decided to at least attempt and see what I could achieve. It has been a really long time since I did my fifty laps in one hour. It was a lifetime ago. I kicked off and swam my first twenty five yards. A small voice inside my heart said; let’s see if I can do it.
Some hard rock song was blaring loudly on the music system and then suddenly the next song started playing which was ‘take my breath away’ from Top Gun. I loved Tom Cruise in that movie. I had to stop and listen and then suddenly, the world changed. I was twenty years old at the Gymkhana pool in Lahore. My father and brothers had just dropped off me and my sisters to swim with friends and have fun for the next few hours. There were no worries in the world, we were protected, loved and honored like princesses. Our favorite music would be playing, servers will bring our snacks by the pool and we will work out, play and chat to our hearts content. Summer vacations were the best time of the year. We were eager to get back home. We siblings were such amazing close friends that there never was any room for others. We would watch movies together, ride bikes for hours, play silly, self-devised games, read books from the huge home or club library, play with the mini zoo of pets or find the most unique activities in a time when the world was free of any flaws.
I was startled from my trance when the lifeguard asked me to wrap up my workout as it was nearing closing time. I glanced at my watch; I had been swimming for two and a half hours. Every muscle in my body hurt except my heart. Somehow the song triggered a memory of times that never lasted more than a minute before I drowned in the depths of sorrow for all that is lost. As I drove back, a friend texted me asking where I was and I replied, “In heaven”. I smiled as I knew he would not understand why I said that. I just found a way of filling the hole in my heart. I discovered my mind can float away to Neverland when my body is working out in the pool. Somehow the fifty laps in one hour have become my reservoir for endorphins within a week. I had to force myself to rest today so I could talk to myself and document this miracle. I will return to my time capsule tomorrow to meet my younger self, my friends and my family from long, long ago. And everything will be okay again. I will be able to smile without a reason and feel inner warmth in a dreary, cold world.
The heartbreak of parting does not originate from moments well lived and spent together. It comes from the reinterpretation of the same minutes that once imparted unmeasurable joy into colors of remorse and grief. Once these colors change, there is no going back to prior shades. The metamorphosis is so irreversible that no apology can redress the insult. Like shattered crystal, the shards will never fit back in place and the reflection will never be flawless again. The analogies I can concoct are infinite but truly, the loss and the damage is at a much more substantial and deeper level. Parting does not just eliminate a memory of someone, it takes away a part of your inner self and disfigures that version of you to never love in that manner again. It is like a phantom limb that will continue to hurt deeply even when you amputate it and control the damage. The mind will not forget the limb that has been surgically excised and the heart will not accept the change for a while. The hope of salvaging something from the rubble is naive and at some point the futility of the effort dawns upon you and you stop digging in the dirt.
A true friend knows the weight of your silence as you walk away. He dreads the day when no words flow between you and the silent void grows. He comprehends that all love and compassion has been drained dry by the time silence ensued in the first place. And even then, in that arid spell, he knows you tried very hard to save and salvage the benevolence. Too many people fail to listen for the soundless retreat because there are not many true friends. It is after miles and years of distance, they realize that you have gone out of sight and out of mind. You have picked up your heart, soul, mind and body and moved on after grieving the death of a relationship. The mourning was so silent that the shadows still lurk around the necropolis unsure if the funeral is still ongoing. The heart will carry some memories but forget to remember most of them. Initially it is an active effort to not remember and then you slowly start to forgo effortlessly; until the day comes when you forget that you forgot anything.
It will be years before I disregard you completely, but I know I will as I have forgotten other individuals in the past. People who were center stage moved to the sidelines only to be encroached by the shadows of reminiscence. Sometimes I catch a glimpse of a face or hear a name and cannot place where I have heard or seen them before. Familiarity is lost in a busy world and it is not worth a transient reflection. I am surprised how little effort it took to remove some people from my life while others were a herculean task. No matter how great the love and the affection, the heart does move on. The pain will cease and new joys will take the place of old ones, new friend will fill the familiar spot on the couch and life will effortlessly charge on. It hurts today as it has always hurt when I have finally decided to leave. The pain is a reminder to myself that family and friends are priceless and one must do everything in his or her power to try and salvage relationships. It is also a part of the inevitable grieving process of amalgamation with elements that do not agree with your own. The heartbreak of parting comes from mourning a part of yourself that you buried in the same grave as the lost love, friendship or relation.
This has been a very experience rich year. While the world has been cooped up in quarantine, I have been among hundreds of thousands of health professionals and frontline workers fighting the global war against Covid 19. While I contemplate over my very long list of New Year resolutions, I am astounded at the ones I completed from last year despite the odds. I want to wish all of my family, friends and colleagues a very Happy 2021. May you and your loved ones be blessed with long, healthy, prosperous lives filled to the brim with love, hope, faith, kindness and peace. Amen. I hope we all grow to being more compassionate, caring, empathic, confident and empowering people. I hope we can talk about the darkest, deepest recesses of our souls with the hope of shining some light in them and emerging as better human beings. As always, I will lead by example and talk of my own transgressions and weaknesses in the hope I can seek forgiveness of anyone whom I might have deliberately or unintentionally hurt as I went through a difficult journey. This has been a difficult year for all of us and we have faced obstacles of epic proportions and survived. A round of applause is due for just being here and for every time we wore a mask or used hand sanitizer to keep complete strangers safe from any infection we could possibly carry to them. Anyone who did this, has been a man or woman of God and has been selfless and kind to others.
This year has shown me facets of my own character I did not know existed. I have seen death of my patients and social contacts close up and personal; yet paused a moment to pray that may this not be the fate of myself or those near and dear to my heart. I have watched ICU patients suffer in a solitary confinement and even pass away without a hand to hold, a hug or a kiss from their loved ones. I have felt heartbroken for them but also felt gratitude for being spared the tragedy and remorse for feeling relieved while witnessing someone else’s pain. I have felt selfless and selfish at the same time. I have followed the wellbeing and safety of estranged friends and family who have hurt me deeply in the past but my heart has not stopped caring for them. I have found myself worrying for their safety and praying for their health and longevity. I have found amazing friendships that will last a lifetime with people who have emerged as caring and dependable and have earnt my utmost trust through their words and actions. I have lost some people who I had placed in the highest of esteem and they fell from grace and I could no longer love or respect them. I have mourned the loss of relationships that drifted apart because apologies were not rendered where they were due and words were spoken without regard of the effect they will have. I have mourned some people who are still alive and walked away knowing their lives are never going to cross paths with mine. This has been a year of astounding love and infinite heartbreak.
In general, this time last year, I promised myself that I will be stronger, more dependable and more resilient in a year. I will take up any work that needs to be done, I will change lives where I can with my thoughts, words and actions. I will be an ambassador of peace and love to everyone that crosses my path without giving any consideration to their conduct towards myself or my loved ones. I have partially fulfilled this resolution as I have been unable to fully forgive transgressions and sometimes though the words and actions endorse forgiveness, when I am knelt in prayer my words stumble at some names and I am unable to wish them well. Hopefully in another year I will be more grateful for what I have and more thoughtful in what I share. I had planned on using my solitude to rekindle long forgotten passions that I had given up to care for my family. I discovered that I had never been at a loss, and with all the leisure time I had I missed family time more than any other activity. It was refreshing to know that I still have my priorities straight and more options have not made me drift away from the people in my inner circle. If anything, the distance has brought us closer.
As the last few hours of 2020 come to an end, I can hear the fireworks and music outside my home. People celebrate in their own ways. Here I am, knelt in prayer pondering over lessons learnt, lives lost , and hope ablaze. For all the people who succumbed to the disease, I think of the ones we saved. The stories of courage and endurance we witness daily in our busy hospital schedule are remarkable. The hard work of the doctors, scientists and paramedics working around the clock fueling this gigantic machine deserve a heartfelt standing ovation. It is true that all heroes do not wear capes. I have had my first dose of the vaccine and due for the second one in a week. I am thankful to be at least partly safe from the horrors of a disease we will always remember. I am hopeful we will be passing on this safety net to the entire world. I am praying better sense will prevail and people will get the vaccine when it is offered to them. I have only seen my family three times this year as I had to get tested and drive eleven endless hours to visit them. I have learnt many lessons this year and the value of home and family is at the top of the stack. I have had to struggle with social isolation and overwork and realize that no matter how comfortable the abode, it is worthless without people to share it with. I have learnt the value of life, health, friendship, sincerity and simplicity. I always valued people over things, but this year taught me that things are worthless if they are not shared with loved ones. I have stumbled onto great friendships and great deceptions, realizing that both are necessary to remind us of our inner strength of character. I have been tempted and betrayed painfully and overcome the sting of both. The most important take away message of this year was humility and gratitude towards a creator who has blessed me more than I deserve and given me a chance to give back to the world a fraction of the generosity He has bestowed upon me. It is true that one can see everything clearly in hindsight, this year has been hands down twenty-twenty!
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.
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.
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!