On a Rainy New Year’s Day

Have you ever seen earthworms swimming on a flooded pavement?

Well, neither have I, until the afternoon of January 1st, 2021. I don’t know which make me cringe more, the sight of those hapless earthworms or the sudden realisation that I had been walking through the same ankle high water in my flip-flops.

January 1st, 2021 will be remembered for the torrential shower as I made my way to Masjid Assyafaah for solat jumaat, for the sight of those earthworms, for the wind blowing my umbrella upwards, for having my trousers drenched, for the subsequent cold but thankfully also for the warm plate of mutton briyani with uncle Muz after.

The first three days of 2021 have been somewhat surreal, cold and rainy. I haven’t decide if it is symbolic of the new year, whether it is optimistic or foreboding..

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She was gifted, with words, expression and feeling…

“I look like a five year old boy. Sorry about that.”

When she arrived in an orange sweater, khaki shorts and slippers, he laughed. His sons were seven and four. “You have a pretty decent fashion sense,” he quipped.

“Yeah? Ok, maybe twelve then,” she laughed.

The last time they met, she suggested that they could meet every two weeks or so. Yet, it had been nearly a month and a half since.

They chatted over lunch. He had basil chicken – or was it chicken basil? – while she, not feeling too hungry, opted for some cheese sticks and mushroom soup, laughing at the choice. She found humour in having just ordered what a twelve year old would probably have ordered. In spite of the jokes about her age, and the fact that he was fifteen years older, they enjoyed each other’s company, talking about poetry and Islam, about their thoughts on love and commitment, about the idea of memory and loss, about pain and other seemingly random things.

In between mouthfuls of cold spaghetti, he indulged himself in recounting his experiences in past relationships, disguised as he confessed, under the guise enlightening a younger soul, on the complexities of love and commitment. She saw through it of course. She was as intelligent as she was attractive, and as she admitted, emotionally and intellectually matured.

Years ago as an assignment for his literature class, she brought a poem to his attention. Truth be told, he wasn’t that good as a literature teacher. He was grossly under-exposed to poetry, and most times never knew exactly what he was teaching. Even as his student, he always felt she knew more about poetry than he did. She was gifted, with words, expression and feeling. He never knew, or will know how hard she tries, but in writing, she always seemed to do it effortlessly.

If the boy who draws
lets you look over his shoulder.
If the poet
smiles
and shows you her words.
If the girl who sings for the shower only,
hums a song
in front of you.
Know that you’re no longer a person
but the air
and dust
that fills their lungs.
When the world perishes,
and all things cease to exist,
you’ll remain inside an ink stain,
a paint brush,
a song.

He took out his own writing, the one that he had written under thirty minutes in a dash of inspiration. Feeling eager but equally nervous, he wonders if she remembered that poem she submitted to him all those years ago.

On Using Violence and Threats on My Children

Yesterday, as we sat sipping overpriced coffee while chatting about life and literature, my friend opened up to me an incident that she witnessed not too long ago:

He had her in a head-lock, and he put his hand, curled up into a fist, just beside her face. He didn’t punch her. But he did that as if to say, “I could punch you if I wanted to.” He could have given her a black eye you know, or disfigured her for life…

That anecdote left quite an impression on me. It made me reflect a lot on my own use of threats on my children. How many times have I emotionally blackmailed my children, or threatened them, even if I don’t beat them?

He is the scariest person I know. He could flip anytime. He would be ok one moment, and suddenly, he would be really scary.

“I wonder if my children would say the same thing about me when they’re older,” I told my friend.

So yesterday, while driving home and in a very pensive mood, I called home just to make small talk with my four year old, the same adorable one who has anger issues that has more than once, made me upset.

So yesterday, I resolved not to get upset, or angry, to talk nicely, to reason instead of threaten. Perhaps as if in appreciation, the not-so-little on continuously and randomly gave me kisses at night…

On The Liberties of Historical Fiction…

Over the weekend I had a conversation with a friend, sharing with her my latest and rather impulsive choice of novel to read. I also shared with her some of my reservations on reading this particular novel. The first is that often writers take liberties on characterising historical figures. Writers give them a voice, agency and motivation – a lot of which of course are imagined. To some extent, I am willing to gloss this over if the writer shows through his or her work evidence of research to capture the zeitgeist of the period, the way certain period dramas are able to do so for the television or the big screen.

My reservation on reading this novel stems from the concern, or even fear that Sufis of the past (whether great or insignificant in the blot of history) will be depicted through the lens of today, that in writing for a modern audience, will indeed pander to the sensibilities and desires of modern times in order for them to relate to the past. Think of all the inspirational Instagram posts quoting Rumi on love and life – almost completely devoid of its original Islamic contexts.

Having read 75 pages of the novel thus far (an achievement in itself) I am afraid my hunch was correct. In the early part of the novel where I’m at, the great Sufi, Shams Tabrizi seems impetuous in his quest to find his spiritual companion – almost as impetuous as the teenage daughter of the protagonist who had declared to her parents her decision to get married to the love of her life who she met some eight months before.

Other than that, the novel reads smoothly once you overcome the multiple narrators and the constant switching between past and present. I don’t feel like I’m invested in the novel as yet, but it hasn’t proven to be a bore either. Reading it over sips of latte seems to do the trick. I think I’m enjoying the set-up (reading over coffee) more than the novel itself.

On Reading Again…

Would you believe it? I bought this book (on impulse) because Imran Khan had recommended it. Yes, Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, had shared a picture of this book on his Facebook page earlier this month, recommending it to the youth of the country.

He said: “An inspirational book about divine love, Sufism, Rumi & his Murshid Shams Tabriz. I read it a few years back and was deeply inspired.”

Almost immediately, and with no good explanation, I was on Book Depository and purchased a copy for myself. I have no idea who the writer is, nor what the book is about. But if Imran Khan had deemed it to be inspiring, then perhaps it is just what I need to get me out of this slump of mine.

Yesterday, The Forty Rules of Love arrived in my mailbox. Today, I celebrate a small victory that involved a decision to ditch my laptop and bring this book out instead, enjoying the first twenty or so pages with a warm mug of cafe latte at Starbucks.