True Grit

It seems like the worst happened and then I realized that of course that’s not true. There is plenty, plenty left to lose… but in terms of material possessions I can say that we lost our most prized possessions – our laptops, and in terms of sheer administrative nightmares – we lost our ID documents, AND in terms of sheer discomfort – I lost my glasses. Stolen to be exact and may the thief suffer. Suffer more than me anyway, as I move about in pain trying to get on with my life.

This isn’t a post about ruminating on what’s lost though, it’s about how we get over losing and how funny humans are that they have the power to go on. It’s about strength in physical pain and it’s about emotional strength too. I cannot say that it’s all me and that I do it alone but I am grateful for all things, circumstances and people that enable to get on. As I struggled to get on with daily life with the limited mobility, I realized that this is my challenge, my marathon. I am not one who can hike for months or climb a mountain; my body will not take that right now, those are not my achievements. My achievements are getting the daily chores done everyday and being optimistic nonetheless.

A book that helped me not only pass the time but also give me purpose and courage is Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I started reading it just in time when this disaster happened and I had nothing else to distract me. I have to say that reading about her physical endurance helped me bear my load too. I too felt strong vicariously going about my challenges, even if they were more of the getting out of bed kind rather than hiking the Pacific Crest Trail kind.

The second thing I learned from it is that we humans are funny in how we can be broken emotionally and how we can let that get in the way of everything else in our lives. Like a virus on a computer we can mess up all our programs without showing any outward signs of damage. It reminds me to be a bit kinder and a bit more understanding towards others. I don’t know if we heal from the death of loved ones but I sure know it’s not enough to just attend a funeral and pay your respects. How do you go on providing and asking for support time after time, year after year?

I remembered that saying about how the worst times in your life show you who your real friends are. I suppose that’s sort of true but as always I will see many sides in to this issue. Mainly, I believe that some people are just better at certain things than others. If you need the kind of help where you just need another pair or hands because you cannot move, only certain kinds of people will provide that. The kind of friend I do find most frustrating is the fair weather friend. They are still friends though, I mean you do need the kind of friends who will always come to your birthday party, or house party, or fondue party. You may well end up forging a bond with them over brunches and shopping and you may fool yourself into thinking that you will be there for each other when really you are the only one who follows up if the other is sick or sad. You can just lie there in your time of need while the friend chooses another party over bringing you some groceries and some entertainment.

I sound bitter about that but really I am not upset. That is just the way some people are and you need all kinds in your life. Some are just pointless in emergencies but some will be surprisingly tough and resilient… like me. đŸ™‚

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Books and celebrities

Last week I went to a talk at the LSE on Poetry and Friendship by Vikram Seth. Meeting my favourite authors (or at least getting to see them and hear them speak) is one of the best things about living in London.  I remember in 2008 when we encountered Mohsin Hamid and Kamila Shamsie among others at SOAS. This time, Vikram Seth actually made it to feel like a discussion in a living room as he talked and read out poetry. I have read his A Suitable Boy and absolutely loved it. My advice to those who are daunted by this 1400 page book is to start and not worry about finishing it. Just read a little bit each day and enjoy it while it lasts. My friend who absolutely adores Vikram Seth also gave me his mother’s autobriography, Leila Seth’s On Balance. I am reading this now and I am very happy for the long travel journeys in London because it gives me the perfect excuse to attack the fat books. I already have a pile waiting for me that I found at my cousin’s. Very excited. So far I would definitely recommend reading On Balance. There is something about reading about real people’s lives and everything they experienced. It makes me think that maybe everybody’s life is that interesting and the biographies just have to be written in an interesting way and they will be enjoyed. After all, isn’t that the whole concept of personal blogs?

A book review and a resolution

I have finished reading Chetan Bhagat’s 2 States: A story of my marriage and I must say that it is a very well-written book; extremely sweet and gripping as well as shocking at times. The story is of an inter-community marriage in India, a Punjabi marrying a Tamil to be exact. The shocking part was the racism inherent in the communities, the shallowness, the useless traditions that only serve to restrict individuality. The wonderful part was the patience and the integrity with which the protagonist handled the whole affair and how the couple carved out a place for their own ideas amidst the traditions.

It made me realise that I am a far way away from such patience. I guess I have a more uppity ‘this-is-simple-backward-and-wrong’ kind of attitude when it comes to a lot of what happens in Pakistani society. I am more comfortable in a place with inter-community, inter-racial and inter-religious marriages, where it is understood that the kids will speak 2 to 3 languages just like their parents, where diversity makes for familiar environment. After all, I live in the wonderful Bubble City where all this is possible harmoniously. (This is not sarcasm by the way. It is absolutely true.)

It also made me realise, and not for the first time, no matter how conservative my parents might be in matters of religion, in matters of the heart, they are true gems. They understand that it is possible to fall in love with anyone regardless of their background, they understand that given me and my siblings upbringing, we are better off with people who share the same thinking rather than the same ethnicity. Ever since we stepped into adulthood, there has only been support for our romantic choices and our attempts at finding partners. This whilst other parents bear down hard on their kids, threaten to cut them off, just because they dared to pick someone of their own will.

The point of remembering all of the above is this dear reader: I must remember that I have it pretty good sitting where I am and I must exercise patience and understanding when faced with people who are not as liberal as I am. This applies more to family than anything else, because like in the book, they are good at heart and usually mean well and care about you. Also, a lot more can be achieved by gently convincing than reacting and over-reacting. What do you guys think? Are there any examples when you won over the family through persuasion?

On Happiness

The earlier mentioned book Eat Pray Love is really resonating with me right now. I love everything about it, especially the search for happiness. I guess I am trying to call this ‘search for happiness’ fulfilment and I have heard that you it can be found in work. But if happiness is inside you and contentment is being still with God, surely a bad job is no obstacle to happiness? I’m confused and looking around for another more meaningful way to earn a living. Something that calls to the inner me, that I can call my life’s purpose. Instead of heading to a conference today, I headed out to the Starbucks, grabbed a Cafe Macchiato and read the rest of the book. No regrets other than a wonderment at how I am actually getting away with this and why I am running from work so badly.

As for the book, it is a masterpiece and a must-read. It made me want to travel, to achieve that inner peace, go visit an Ashram, learn how to meditate properly, eat good food and be moved by beautiful experiences all in one go. While you’re at it, check out the author’s (E Gilbert) talk on creativity on TED. I am going to stop describing here because her work has to be experienced first-hand.

Here’s a quote from her book on happiness:

I keep remembering one of my Guru’s teachings about happiness. She says that people universally tend to think that happiness is a stroke of luck, something that will maybe descend upon you like fine weather if you’re fortunate enough. But that’s not how happiness works. Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestation of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it, you must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it. If you don’t you will leak away your innate contentment. It’s easy enough to pray when you’re in distress but continuing to pray when your crisis has passed is like a sealing process, helping your soul hold tight to its good attainments.