Monday, October 12, 2009

With the Moon on their Wings

In Loving Memory of Haris Sajid Malik...

Remember when we were kids and when we would play cricket in the garage or on the street and when one of us took the bat and got bowled over on the first ball and would start screaming No, No, That was the try-ball! Now that I look back and smile over that innocence (or lack of fair-play), the inner me, the sadder, wiser, inner me sighs and I hear myself wish a wish; that we could scream at life itself and refuse to play along and call our past a try-ball and ask for another chance. A chance to make amends. A chance to cut our rough corners earlier and become prudent quicker. A chance to strengthen friendships. A chance to tell them more. To listen to them more. To share with them more. More than we already had. Really, how badly I wish now I could get another chance.

A part of me has died today with the death of Haris. In my shelf there are books I borrowed from him and never returned. By my side I had a friend whose loyalty I had so overlooked. But that is such a cliché, no? You live your life all for yourself and one day through a devastating flick of its deathly wand, death reminds you that life is such a fickle friend. And then all you are left with is memories. And regrets.

Each moment of life, taken on its own, is imprisoned. So ridiculously obstructed. It is a fragment, and as such, orphaned from its meaning, like torn pages of a book scattered by the wind. Only and only with the profound affection, that comes with unyielding friendship, are we able to cohere the sense of everyday life. With friends, the mundane becomes marvelous. Simple looks spectacular. They give you reasons to hope for a wholeness in which all things would be redeemed and complete. With friends, we are transformed from ugly ducklings to wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings. But what happens when all of it melts into a dollop of disbelief and life sounds like a sham and you lose the will to take life for what it is? What happens when you lose a friend? Why didn’t they teach us that in school? Algebra, History – what about grief?

As the years pass, we witness death more often. And that is with everyone. So I learnt today, how everyone must learn to expect it. You can either do that, or else, live our day in pretense but some horrible day, you will be in for sudden shock, ludicrous denial, impractical bargaining, debilitating guilt, nauseous anger, lethal depression and gruesome resignation.

The hours spent in mourning are of course the saddest of our lives. Probably the ugliest too. Imagine a music professor who would start the class by playing a chord on the piano and asking his students to write down the notes. One day, he played the ugliest chord imaginable and none of his students could guess the note. Some even refuse to call it music. Many closed their ears. Then he played the entire piece. It was Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. The sounds fought their way into a crescendo of complexity culminating in the agonizing tension of that chord...and then smoothly resolved back into the sweetest baroque harmony of an end-weighted trajectory.

All the students gasped and shook their heads at their naivety. The work was probably the most famous of all Beethoven's piano sonatas. How could they not identify it? How could they have thought it was incongruous?

And that is what Haris, my dear friend, taught me through his demise. Death is congruent with life. It falls into the equation, perfectly. It teaches lessons to growing up kids and makes them shake their heads at their naivety. Death holds in it, secrets that life fails to tell us. It leaves behind grief, anger and denial. But also a reminder that their was no try-ball. It takes a person to eternal sleep. But also tries to wake up those who are left behind living and mourning.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Wish Maker: A review

When TIME magazine reviewed and recommended Ali Sethi's The Wish Maker, I knew I had to read this one. I looked at the cover jacket and I knew I had to buy this one just for the sake of the cover design alone.

The Wish Maker is ambitious. It is such an easy read and yet you keep feeling the writer is trying hard to reach the levels of an epic. A coming of age story that ,through flashbacks, spans several decades, it follows the lives of Zaki, a teenager in the '90s, his family and their struggles. The pillars of the story are the three women: Zaki's grandmother, mother and cousin-sister Samar Api who become vessels of a narration of a nation

A reason I would graciously give this book an extra star: it's set in Lahore. My Lahore. It is woven in such an effortless way, it takes you within itself, through the times, into a Lahore that I had grown up in. The author is so obviously in love with the city.

Admittedly, the book did disappoint me at some levels. Firstly, it was inconsequential. The characters grew. But they failed to evolve. The narration continues. But the story refused to resolve. There were junctures where I felt myself saying No man, don't do this. Stop the rumbling. Get to the story. I wish the story had culminated into soething more convincing.

Ali Sethi is a name to watch out for. His sophomore book, I hope, would be a treat to read; and I'm already looking forward to that!

Friday, August 21, 2009

My Salad Days

My salad days

"Cheese has no place in a garden salad!" My two-thousand-rupees-an-hour nutritionist told me for the umpteenth time as I pleaded with her to bend some rules.

"But it's dairy! And very nutritious! For my bones…"

"But it does not grow in a garden…"

"Well, cows eat grass!"

"That does not make them vegetables."

My heart bled as she printed out my diet plan. Thirty days on a complete detox salad diet: to get my stagnant bowels going and to slash down the lipids that had happily colonised the fertile lands of my belly. And all this to a person who used to think eating raw food was the next best thing to suicide!

"And don't forget to wash your vegetables thoroughly…"

"Don't worry, even the maggots can't live long on that stuff," I grimaced and banged the door behind me.


No, I am not spoilt. And no, I don't belong to a dysfunctional family of binge eaters. It's in our genes. Mine. Yours too. Our culprit: Evolution! Salad prejudice dates back to just a few million years ago when our untamed ancestors would kill beasts and relish the flesh. Only a bad day at hunting meant the family had to eat something that grew out of earth. And well, the bad hunters were no longer 'alpha' males. They wouldn't get any hot chics. And would die without kids. BAM! Nature's way to kick out bad genes!

But then, whatever brought the greens back 'in'? I failed to understand. And to find an answer, I braced myself for a particularly unpleasant and disagreeable culinary journey: "How to make a salad edible?"

My biggest concern, the cause of my insomnia, was of course the bitter truth that I had to be my own guinea pig. To like or to loathe, to adore or to abhor, to eat or to puke -- I had to first munch on the veggies. I felt like that man captured by savage cannibals, who had him tied up as their leader announced, "Council will offer you two choices: death, or salad."

The man said with surprise, "Salad? Really? Does that in your language mean some barbaric assaults using rocks and spears?"

"No, dumbo! Salad means lettuce, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers and carrots…"

"Carrots?" Screamed the man. "Give me death!"

"You got it," said the leader. "Bring the salad, guys!"


Needless to say, the products of mother earth let me down. The tomatoes squirted blood; the onions reeked of ammonia; the carrots looked weirdly hairy; lettuce and cabbage, ordinary and bland; radishes gave me so much gas, I was airborne for the rest of the day. Downcast and disillusioned, I tried, in vain, to forget my failed foray into the world of cellulose. Strangely, the malfunction had added in my mind, a bizarre element of mystery and respect and reverence for the veggies. Salads must have suffered a long, hard time reaching the recognition as a full participant in our meal-time activities. Once demoted to just as a side dish for people who were either watching their figure or recovering from a medical problem, it must have taken quite a cooking revolution to pronounce salads as 'appetizers'. That, and a lot of persistence from salad makers and lovers that has really made the salad what it is today. Suddenly, I so wanted to enjoy my salads. I desperately wanted myself to feel good about not only eating healthy, but also about participating in one of the great culinary success stories.

With a new zeal, I decided to start with the basics. With loving hands, I selected a stunning, emerald-hued cucumber. With gentle moves, I peeled it off. With affectionate strokes, I sliced it into little discs of subtle freshness. A squeeze of lemon juice for the tang of mischief; a sprinkle of salt for the hint of politeness; a pinch of black peppers for the trace of warmth. With the fondness of a prince, I brought my tranquil princess to my lips. Keen to fall in love with it, I chewed it with concern; soaking up, taking in, every flavor, every taste.

And I spat out.

The cucumber was bitter!


Monday, August 10, 2009

The Silly Joy over the Death of my Cells!

Ah! An unparalleled friend, this happiness over the loss of 2 inches off your belly! Right now, this feeling could defy death's existence; purify sorrow's presence; strengthen my weakness; enlighten my strength!

Fitting into an old pair of jeans: this is something I had never ever experienced before! And for once, knowing that you are doing the right thing and feeling like doing it again and again; this too is new. And all of it, the death of my adipocytes; suddenly justifies the hours of treadmill and saying no to great-tasting, mouth-watering, artery-clogging food.

There's a looooooong road ahead. And I hope I don't fall complacent. But I'm happy; to rise on judgment day; I won't need a crane, now!

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Mentalist

Rigsby: What is this?
Van Pelt: That is healthy and nutritious snacking.
Rigsby: I'm gonna die.

Patrick: Can't sleep alone, huh?
Fricke: Some people use cocoa and a good book. I use beautiful women.

Mrs. Elkins: How can you be so cold?
Patrick: Practice.

Philip Handler: I guess, uh, you must be bad cop.
Teresa Lisbon: I try.

(Crisp one-liners at their best!
~The Mentalist)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The "Tail" of a Graduation

I am a graduate today! The University of The Punjab ("two" many "THEs") confers BSc. degree to Med students after they have appeared in an English Language examination, after two years of Med school.'s graduation day!

Not a very glamorous one though. No throwing caps, no family-shots, no speeches, no nothing. Just a very routine day. Guess what highlight-of-the-day was; A cat! In South Medical Ward, Mayo Hospital. Walking, strolling with graceful majesty, rubbing its tail with bed legs, meowing ominously to patients with Chronic Liver Disease or Pulmonary Oedema or Meningitis.

Thanks to massive renovations and extension works at home, World War III could take place and Ammi Abbu would be clueless. So I expect no celebrations, really. Ammi rather gave me a reality check this evening. There' s a huge pile of washed, unironed laundry lying on my bed, covered with a sheet. She actually thought it was me, sleeping. And kept scolding the laundry about missed prayers and wasted time.

Ker lo gull!

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Plateful of Memories

Midday. The sun is so hot, so near to earth, it seems it would burn the edges of the day itself. Hot days like these remind you of the over-simplified stories your grade-2 teacher (Miss may I go to the washroom, Miss may I come in, Miss please get a side) would tell you about the creation of earth. "The sun used to be the only planet. One day it was so hot the sun blew up into small pieces. One of which was our earth"


Memories! It just struck me. Isn't it great that we don't have a perfect memory? Imagine running every second of your entire life in your mind, driving you nuts! I guess our memories are not basically for remembering details; rather almost everything we remember about our past is likely to be highly inaccurate in detail. Our memories are probably for telling ourselves stories about our past. It's all so flawed; a narrative filled with lessons, a filtered account of what amused or distressed us and nothing but... Definitely not a recording of what actually happened. What we remember is either what we choose to remember or are unable to forget. I

And hence I wonder what affiliation my daadi ma had with zarda. Even after the incurable dementia of Alzheimer's had dragged her into the blurred misery of confusion and language break down, she would remember the recipe of our traditional sweet rice. Really. All short and long term memory gone.

But what still remained with her, till the end of days, was almonds, raisins, cardamoms, sugar and ghee...