March 20 is World Sparrow Day!

I did not know this when I wrote about my sparrow sanctuary yesterday! Therefore it is most necessary (for our collective enjoyment and honoring of sparrows) to share some stellar photos of our resident nesting couple taken by Amu 3 days ago.

An awful thing had happened while we were in the process of moving out of our home in 2020 and had to remove the external unit of our split AC. A couple of sparrows had made a nest snuggled in a card paper bag I had wedged into the narrow space on top of the unit and there was a little fledgling in there, which tried flying in panic and ended up falling. The man who was doing the AC work seemed to be as regretful and horrified as I felt when I got to know, and it was him who immediately ran downstairs to bring it up to put back in its nest bag. Sadly, baby bird didn’t survive the trauma, and died after a day. The parent sparrows were my friends, and I should have been more mindful and protected their home and lone child, so I carried the guilt in my heart for many days afterwards, continuing to feel the occasional sharp arrow of it every time my mind went back to that incident. I tried not thinking of it as an omen, but everything is, isn’t it?

Fast forward to 2023, it’s been almost a year and a half since we moved back into our old home, and the same split has been put back in its old place. Perhaps it is in the memory of that little fledgling that I crafted a proper little birdhouse. Perhaps it is a full circle moment, now that there are new little sparrow babies, safe and protected in the same spot.

Sparrows tend to live in urban settings alongside humans, but their populations in the world have been on the decline. This thought always comes to my mind when I see sparrows now, and they feel more dear than ever.

I’m not one for proselytizing, but I honestly believe that our lives become so much richer, more in harmony, when we live with awareness of other beings and share an actual space with them. Go buy a couple of cute wooden birdhouses and put them up somewhere high around your outside space, because sparrows need homes too. ❤

The ways

In the days after Fuzzy’s passing last month, I was inspired to turn a piece of cardboard into a square box with a hole carved out on one side (since I seldom throw away anything with upcycling potential.) Perhaps the inspiration came while observing a pair of hopeful-looking sparrows hovering around. Voila! The cardboard was now a birdhouse, complete with a stick for a perch, which I hung on a pipe near the ceiling in my balcony. The very next day, the new tenants moved in. The sparrow-couple diligently flew in and out with bits of grass and little soft feathers in their tiny beaks until their nest was ready. So delightful to watch the two take ownership of their space! They flew away and twittered scoldingly at me from a safe distance if I trespassed to water the plants. The girl-sparrow must have laid her eggs very soon, for sparrow eggs take about 11-14 days to hatch, and I heard a faint cheeping ruckus emanating from the birdhouse two days ago! The babies had arrived.

If you build it, they will come. That’s the thought that went around in my head when I put up the birdhouse. It was Imbolc, with all its accompanying creativity, fresh goals and inspired spring-cleaning.

Around the same time as the nest-building sparrows, a small swarm of bees swirled around my balcony, a very unusual thing to witness, for I had never seen anything like it before. For a long while the bees swirled until eventually (much to my consternation) they congregated in a tight cluster on a bougainvillea branch in plain sight from my living room. At first, I didn’t know what I should do, did the bees need something from me? Water, food, shelter? I realized I know nothing about them, but upon taking a closer look it seemed they were honeybees. I decided I need not worry about their sting if I kept my distance and made the intention of providing them with a safe space too. I painted the word ‘sanctuary’ on a board and hung it on the fence, as if to consolidate that intention, warning everyone not to disturb them, keeping an eye to see what they would do. It turns out they’re happy to simply cluster, with or without a queen I have no idea as I cannot perceive one, and I have no clue what they’re up to. I’m content to hang out with all these birds and bees in my balcony, it feels like life has been invited in.

I planted some seeds I had saved from a dried up loofah (gifted to me by my maid’s mother last year) and watched as they sprouted their first leaves in the seedling tray, carefully transplanting them individually into small pots as they grew their true leaves and their roots grew stronger. Soon the little plants started shooting out tendril after delicate tendril, looking for support so they could climb higher and grow bigger. I tied string for the tendrils to latch on to, and filled the soil with rich homemade compost. Who knows? If I can nurture the plants right and provide the environment, I might even succeed in growing my own loofah-gourds. They’re wonderful natural exfoliators and a great organic substitute for synthetic kitchen sponges.

Waiting and seeing.

The weather is still mercifully pleasant, though it can get quite warm and sunny during the day. Daydreaming, bird-watching, cloud-gazing are lovely ways to spend time in a cozy chair by the window, sipping tea. Yesterday the most amazing thing happened. Amu and I were watching yet another sparrow couple building their nest from our window, listening to the various bird songs. I mused out loud that I missed hearing the koel’s song which has such a timeless nostalgic summer feel to it. Where does it go during the winter, and when will it be back, is what I wondered.

As if by magic or manifestation, maybe both, a koel suddenly called out from a tree opposite the balcony. They’re so good at staying hidden, one only knows their presence by their lilting voice. As we craned our necks to see where it was, this particular koel revealed itself in a flash of its distinctive black beauty, through the leaves of the roadside Conocarpus.

Nature is speaking to us all the time and it’s so cool to tune in. The ways are beautiful, endless, and each new day is an invitation. ❤

Fuzzy, and falling apart

A couple weeks ago, I really thought I was losing it. It felt like I was being run over by fear and anxiety, and I didn’t understand where it was coming from. There was a day when I had to attend an event in the evening and I tried gearing myself up for it since morning, but when the time came around to actually do my hair and sort my clothes and get ready, I just couldn’t follow through. It felt like I just couldn’t muster up the energy, my insides felt hollow, and all I could do was lie down and try to calm my nervous system, and breathe.

There are times when I have felt thus before, especially on those dreaded first days of my period when I have pulled myself together despite cramps and moodiness, dressed up and showed up, just so no one would ‘feel bad’ that I didn’t turn up for an important event in their lives. I even had to show up for my own wedding despite feeling like utter crap. That’s probably why all weddings trigger me on some level.

But lately I feel like I’ve been struggling with something that is demanding something else from me, and I need to give that feeling some more importance now, give it some space. Maybe a LOT MORE space.

It’s been a month since Fuzzy suddenly slowed down, went very still, and finally let go of the life in him. We knew this day would come, he was sixteen years old after all, and I low-key always worried about where we would bury him. But we never thought he would die so peacefully, so quietly, and that his dying would squeeze my heart quite this much, given how much trouble he gave us all his life. Who would have thought one can have a karmic relationship with a cat? And what a lesson he taught in what it means to love unconditionally. We buried him right in the middle of our courtyard, wrapped in a piece of light blue cloth along with the little dish he always used to drink milk in, and a paper crane I folded while I kept vigil for him in the night. His passing in the morning, and the manner of it, triggered memories of other deaths. There was also this profound sense of laying to rest a whole way of being, a chunk of history, along with Fuzzy.

Fuzzy’s last day in the sun

I think there is a bit of unprocessed grief stashed away in corners of my body, which comes out in unexpected ways sometimes, but predictably around my usual breakdown moments around the new moon. Sometimes I hear songs in my ears and I sing along until I realize those songs are linked with people who no longer ‘exist’, yet I feel their absent presence so very strongly in my heart, and the pain comes out in tears. I miss my mother so much, her voice, her language, her wisdom, her hands. Her humour. And I miss her spirit. I never thought I’d feel so rudderless. I still can’t believe I’ll never see her again. I so want to see her. I think that each death in my close family has taken a piece of my soul with it. But time is passing by, one day at a time, and life is going on, and I get up each day and I do some random shit till it’s night and I brush my teeth and get into bed and toss and turn with my lower back pain which is a constant, and I get up again and it’s a new day.

I’m not so sure about some things, I don’t feel very confident in my skin sometimes when I’m amongst people. Small talk feels almost painful, because I suppress all the things I’m actually interested in taking about, because I don’t like being looked at like I’m an alien, and it takes a very long time to clear the debris of social interactions from my aura, stuff that I automatically internalize unconsciously. I have come to understand that a lot of the things I judge others for are often things I’m guilty of myself. Against my better judgment, comparing myself unfavorably to others, I judge myself relentlessly and often feel like everything I do or have ever done in my life has been completely wrong. And yet..

There are many many moments when I feel completely right, grateful for everything in the present moment, focused in my thoughts and actions, filled with a sense of purpose, wonder and joy and love. My inner world feels rich and alive with possibilities, my dreams are like powerful stories to dwell on and understand. There is yoga to practice, nourishing food to be made, rest to be had, plants to be nurtured, seeds to be sown, cats to be loved and admired and groomed, my two besties to talk things out with when the negative thoughts get out of hand. Just being.

No one needs to grant me the permission to take what I need, I can simply reach out and take it. All I have to do is allow the old version of me to fall away and let the new one flourish. The new me, which is actually the oldest me ever. Sometimes I catch sight of her, and I want to reach out and give her the biggest hug. I did that once, in one of my dreams. But it was only when I woke up that I realized who that little vulnerable girl was, the one I first thought was Amu, and my heart burst with love for her.

This earth life

It’s 11 pm and I have wound myself cozily down for the night, a tad too well fed, wrapped in my warmest shawl in the thick of Karachi winter. Today has been the kind of day I am inspired to cook a lot, partly because the cold makes me hungry, partly because it’s pleasant to hang around a fire. So I whipped up a fresh salad using half the mung beans I had soaked overnight and boiled in the morning, saving the greenish water to make a spicy, lemony lentil soup. The dwindling gas supply is erratic this winter, and perhaps forevermore. It seems we didn’t really think this precious natural resource could ever run out. Now we have a portable stove/gas cylinder on standby and I pretend I’m camping in my kitchen, which makes cooking oddly a whole lot more fun despite the awkwardness of the process. (Perhaps because of it?) I need to have a little chair to sit by the stove, and a low table to keep my things on…..and I have to admit, cooking is indeed a lot more enjoyable when you’re sitting down. I confess I could cook things all day if I didn’t have to stand and do it.

I also boiled some potatoes and mashed them up with butter and a little locally-made Gruyere. But the piece de resistance had to be the gajar ka halwa I had been daydreaming about since yesterday and finally conjured up from freshly grated red carrrots, lots of milk and sugar, and a tsp of crushed cardamom seeds. The gas supply had resumed , so I slow-cooked the grated carrots, stirring frequently as the milk evaporated. I made myself a cup of coffee to sip while watching the sun go down and the clouds turn pink, as the halwa bubbled and glistened deliciously in its final stages.

Two batches of laundry were hung out to dry in the soft winter sunshine in the middle of all this cooking, multiple cats fed and cleaned up after. It had been an active, busy day but I had made an intention to get in some mindful exercise before the day was over. So on went the fairy lights, the diffuser spewed out a refreshing mist, and twilight turned into night with a 50-minute yoga practice.

I don’t know why the idea of learning to make origami paper cranes entered my head today. Of course, it was one thought that led to another and then another, but the root of the matter was an empty journal with uninspiring paper that I had put into the recycling bin earlier. I think my inner critic was chastising me for not thinking of a better use for all that unused paper. I was also a bit bored of late and in need of a new ‘project’.

So I fished out the journal from the bin, searched for a suitable tutorial on youtube and set to work. I made three perfect cranes, one after the other, but if you ask me to make one without guidance, I might flounder. It gets rather technical halfway through and I suddenly lose the logic of what leads to what, which makes me think I need to practice a lot more to create a stronger neural pathway to keep track of the folds in the paper.

In Japanese culture there is a tradition of making one thousand paper cranes as a prayer for the return to health and well-being of a sick friend or relative. There is an analogy too between that square piece of paper and ourselves. The paper starts off smooth and unwrinkled until it starts to fold and the creases keep adding up, becoming an indelible part of the paper, eventually turning it into an unfathomable sculpture.

How long will it take me to make one thousand paper cranes? 200 days, if I make five everyday. Enough time to create an enduring crease in my brain I should think.

Speaking of making the most of beautiful winter afternoons and cooking on low stoves, I’ve been joining youngest sis on her regular weekend beach forays. She loves the feeling of expanse, being near water, and going for long walks while listening to music. It has become something we both look forward to, even though the drive back is fraught with huge trucks and traffic jams. But the beach is peaceful, the waves soothing, and the earthing effect of walking barefoot on sand is incredibly grounding. We usually pack some food for a post-walk picnic when we settle down to watch the sun go down and make tea or coffee on her camping stove, folding chairs firmly planted in the sand. We leave when it starts to get dark, albeit a little reluctantly, as the feeling of freedom, fresh air and seagulls casts such a spell on the senses. I suppose it can get a bit creepy when there’s no one around but you on an empty beach, but in all my years I have only encountered fishermen, camel-men, horse-men, and groups of families with children or young people partying in the huts. I have never felt much fear of anything apart from the swarms of midges that emerge from the mangrove forest on one side of this particular sand spit, and in retrospect, I’m a little surprised at my naivete and misplaced sense of safety.

The truth is, when the universe sends you an angel to warn you of danger, you’d better trust him, and pay heed. When you start to feel uneasy, even after a lovely afternoon, leave as fast as you can. When you spot three men walking along the shoreline in your direction, don’t assume they’ll keep walking. Definitely don’t bring so much stuff with you that it slows down your escape.

We got mugged last weekend by three such men, and though none of us were hurt and thankfully Huz was also with us, it was a frightening experience which took a couple of days to stop replaying in our heads on loop. We were so vulnerable, such easy targets, and they were petty thieves with a gun. They ran away over the dunes after depriving poor Huz of his phone and wallet and didn’t come after Fatu or I, probably rode away fast on their motorbike.

This unwholesome event has left a definite crease in our paper, and I don’t know what shape the future of our freedoms will take. Will we be too scared to continue our weekend jaunts? Or will we be a whole lot more vigilant from now on? Perhaps this mugging was just waiting to happen, and perhaps there is an important lesson in it for us, to never take our safety for granted, never be complacent. Perhaps it was a lesson in how to take the good with the bad. In truth, isn’t being ‘safe’ an illusion? Anything can happen anywhere, even if you’re ‘careful’. Sometimes you’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time, couldn’t that be true?

To me, it feels like a story that wants to be told, but the details can really only be felt, deep in our bones, all the thoughts that passed through our minds, the way the very air seemed to change with the approach of menace, the way our hearts beat against our ribs, the ways we responded in the moment, and all our individual regrets at not having done all the things we could have done, throwing fistfuls of sand in their eyes, shouting loudly for help, pulling out a threatening knife….something my warrior-sister came very close to doing. She isn’t new to muggings or risky endeavours, like cycling around the city alone at night, so when she says she doesn’t feel too comfortable going anywhere alone anymore, that’s a lot.

And the protective older sister in me is super relieved. How sad is that.

Five paper cranes a day, that’s how we rewire.

Being of this world

I didn’t just turn 50 on the 4th of December, it has been more of a becoming. To become means ‘to grow to be’, and indeed it has been a journey to grow from 40 a decade ago to the place I am at now. Nope, it doesn’t seem like yesterday at all.

I love my birth month so much. It makes me want to hunker down and reflect on the year that has passed, to spend time in solitude, to welcome and enjoy the winter with cozy, warm mugs of coffee, and freshly squeezed orange juice, and carrots that are redder than any other time of year, and to buy salted pistachios and cashews and almonds from the dry fruit store/treasure house.

I want to spend my time being at the beach, going on walks there, watching the seagulls and the waves, the fishermen in boats and the ones casting nets at the shore. To feel the sun on my skin, to let the breeze play with my silvery hair, to dig my feet into the soft sand, to lie back and gaze at clouds, to look at pebbles and admire their shapes, colours and beauty.

It’s a challenge for someone like me to navigate wedding season, which coincides with December (it being seasonally the best time of year in Karachi) when there are invitations to events in settings I’m uncomfortable being in. Being social requires a lot of energy, and a lot of things which entail a lot of time spent in shopping places. And the thing is….I’m quite done with putting so much effort into activities that I don’t enjoy.

At 50, my soul feels wilder than ever, more fabulous and freer than ever, and to be honest, it wants to express its fabulousness now more than ever. But here’s the thing: it wants to express itself on its own time and space, it doesn’t want to spread itself thin. Sometimes I think it doesn’t want to spread itself AT ALL.

I thought a few times over the course of this last year of how I would like to celebrate this milestone birthday, and it made me a little anxious and a little pressured to think of how others would expect me to. The funny thing is, I don’t enjoy celebrations and I don’t enjoy being celebrated either. I almost wished no one would remember, as I didn’t want any birthday wishes. I appreciate seamless transitions, don’t I? But my heart knew what it wanted, and it gave me a nudge…and a very nice visual.

The usual suspects (Amu, Huz and Fatu) made a cute little fuss after which we packed some things and set off for the beach. I think we were all in our own head spaces that day, and that was okay. There was comfort to be had in being together, yet doing our own thing. One of the things I feel compelled to do is to clean up as much trash as I possibly can in the area we set up our base camp, I cannot feel at ease unless I do so. We even had a large rake to make the job a little easier (thanks to Huz, who made it a point to buy one.)

The others helped a little but then eventually abandoned the job to go swim in the sea, or sit peacefully and take in the golden hour. I found a large, torn fishermen’s basket abandoned along the shoreline, and decided to use it as my trash bin, slowly filling it with objects like footwear, empty gin bottles, plastic bags, toothpaste tubes, chip packets, juice boxes, straws, rope, styrofoam and other flotsam. If you’re anything like me, you’d know how committed one can get to a lost cause. And yet, when the basket was full to the brim and I looked around me, I felt and saw such a big difference. Amu remarked amusedly that I must have been a professional trash collector in a past life.

People saw me do this work, and I didn’t give much thought to whether they thought I was a loony, or if I inspired them to do something similar. What mattered was that I left the place better than I found it. There were large craters higher up in the sand, where the Olive ridleys laid their eggs, and there were so many eggshells scattered about. I smiled to think of all the little babies that must have made their instinctive path to the waiting waves, and felt even better about cleaning up. Like I had a pact with the protective nature spirits and the elementals to serve them and the original inhabitants in whatever way I could. I know I felt their welcome as soon as I entered the land of the mangroves, it felt like happiness.

The moon rose, faint at first but grew stronger as the sun went down. I took my rake and drew large concentric circles in the sand, claiming the space. We ate, drank, made merry and I couldn’t imagine a better way to have spent the day. It was perfect, even though Huz had been hangry on the way, Amu had been in a troubled mental space, Fatu had insomnia and missed Hasan, and Lums thought we were all a bit nuts. The sunset was beautiful and the twilit beach still had mysteries to reveal. I pulled a chair right up to the water and watched the shapes of little crabs scuttling along the wet sand. There was movement skimming across the surface of the water which I realized was a little flock of small birds only when they touched down on land. As it got darker, we listened to music and danced in the shallow waves that washed up gently on the shore, the tide slowly being pulled higher by the moon. The waves glowed neon with luminescent organisms.

And this was how I crossed over into my 50’s, loving my gentle, unconventional life more than ever. Isn’t it a miracle to think how rare and beautiful it is that we exist? I’m here for it all, and I will slow it down as much as I can, continuing to create my own reality in my own unique ways, so help me Great Spirit. And it was nice to read the messages on my phone as the day went by, and to remember I am loved and appreciated by humans too.

Whatever catches the light

How do I honour myself? These are the words that rippled through my mind during the course of my day, as I went from one activity to the next. I like to think I move organically from doing one thing to doing another thing, usually based on visual stimuli, and also a little bit intuition….what needs to be done today? So many things need doing, and most things need time, attention, and yes, love.

I made banana pancakes this morning. It may seem like a mundane thing for someone who has made pancakes often enough in life, but I did it differently this time. I didn’t use any measuring cups! A small shift seemingly, but for someone who follows recipes to a T and wastes a lot of time trying to be precise and perfectionist, this was huge. I felt so liberated as I mashed the bananas and whipped in the eggs and the oat flour, using just instinct to get the right consistency. This shift didn’t happen all by itself of course, it happened because I watched a guy on Youtube the day before, effortlessly whipping up a batter, all free and easy and playful, and I LOVED that, and so I channeled some of his spirit into me. Amu wandered into the kitchen as I was in the process of being playful and looked askance at my winging of the pancake recipe. Of late, she has been crowned the pancake queen of the household, or rather, the breakfast queen (that being her favorite time and meal of the day) She interrogated me about my ingredients and urged me to squeeze in some lemon juice, sprinkle in some salt and some cinnamon, use baking soda instead of baking powder, and lastly, would it be nice to add some cocoa powder? Yes, I said, not just because she looked like she needed cheering up after having beaten herself up mercilessly for all the ‘wrong’ decisions she has made over the course of the last four years of her life, but also because chocolate and bananas always taste great, and also because collaboration is the name of my game now that I’m all grown up and wise and realize my-way-or-the-highway isn’t the best way to win friends and influence people. She did look skeptical as I embedded grapes instead of non-native blueberries into the pancakes before flipping them, but the juicy fruitiness tasted wonderful to me.

The next thing was to tackle the daily accumulation of clutter in my room, which often makes me feel a bit like that guy who was cursed with the task of rolling a huge boulder up a mountain, only to watch it go tumbling back down. What was his name now? I recall Camus assigning him with a certain joie de vivre. Certainly not with defeatism!

It’s not that I’m lazy, I’m just not always very efficient about putting things away after I’ve used them, perhaps because I need to use those things every day, and honestly, who am I trying to be neat for? I know the answer, it’s me of course, I do appreciate tidy rooms, with a perfectly made bed, everything in its place, no visual clutter in sight, dust-free surfaces, clothes neatly hung or folded and kept in the cupboards.

It feels nice to tend to my clothes I think as I sort my wardrobe and fold things Kondo style, making separate piles for various items. I had not been paying attention since a few months, allowing everything to get mixed up and so I ended up wearing the same things over and over while other good things stayed hidden and unused. I took time over the task and by the time I was done, I felt nothing short of joyous! The prospect of being able to discern exactly where everything was… felt like pure magic.

Energized by this expansiveness, I wandered over to Amu’s cupboard to create some more magic. Some unworn musty outfits needed freshening, so I rinsed them out in soapy water and hung them out to drip dry gently in the yard. There’s a flow to my day now, and everything I do, it’s happening with ease, the mountain is not insurmountable after all.

Love languages, I thought, as I chopped the lettuce, washed the bokchoy, sliced the spring onions, grated the carrots, marinated the chicken, sauteed the green bell peppers and made a sauce for the wraps I wanted to have for lunch. Lately I have been noticing how my body seems to crave fresh food, literally rejecting anything it doesn’t agree with anymore and in a variety of alarming ways. Post-thyroidectomy me is learning to listen, and the message is loud and clear. Eat more plants, it says.

My windows face west, so I cannot witness the rising of the sun, but I sometimes get up to look out and see the tops of the trees across my window catch the first beautiful, golden rays. I’m grateful for this, and also for the resilience of Jimmy the unfortunate cat, who sits in the sun when he is struggling with a respiratory infection, soaking in all that solar medicine when there is nothing to do but try and breathe as well as he can, and also for the guidance that appears when I surrender control, when I unburden myself from the responsibility of keeping a creature alive and allow the Mystery to come into play, to recognize that in the world of magic, things happen when I am quiet and still. Jimmy lives!

Sisyphus, that was the name.

The god of jellyfish

I have been stung by a sea creature twice in my life, both times on the beaches of Karachi’s coastline. Fishermen from the village (who doubled as local lifeguards) would warn us to watch out for bluebottles when it was the season, and as a young person I felt a mix of terror and fascination to see those glistening, gelatinous bodies washed up on the waterline.

I was around sixteen the first time, and the only one to be stung that day. All I remember is the intense ache in my stomach as the venom made its way through my blood, and I spent the rest of that miserable afternoon doubled over in a haze of bright sunshine and pain, despite the application of onion juice as an antidote.

The second time was last year, as I circled the Sun for the forty-ninth time. I was one of a group of five people in the water, all of us in the mood to stay there till sunset. As always, it felt so beautiful to be immersed, letting wave after wave lift me off my feet and set me down again on the soft sand. That sense of bliss wasn’t destined to last very long that day though. All of a sudden, I felt something wrap itself around my hand and a multitude of painful sensations ensued, making me scream and flail my arms to shake it off. Of course, I knew immediately it was a jellyfish of some kind, the nematocysts in its tentacles releasing relentless amounts of venom-covered barbs into every bit of my skin they touched. No one knew what was happening as I shrieked and flailed, and in the drama of the moment my precious moonstone ring flew off my finger and sank into the waves.

If the rapidness of the way my dismay shifted from the agonizing sting to the loss of my ring wasn’t funny enough, how my sister responded to the stricken look on my face was hilarious. She instantly directed her focus to locating the ring under the water with her feet and quite miraculously, she found it! I have never felt such gratitude and love for Fatu’s existence as I did that day. She had been with me when I bought that ring from a tiny shop in the bazaar of Kalaam on one of our trips together.

Evening effectively destroyed, we all made our way out of the water as no one wanted to be in it anymore. What followed was a series of potential antidotes to relieve the pain in my hand which had built to excruciating levels. If you’ve ever been stung by a jellyfish, you know.

Having a painful experience, whether it is physical or emotional, can be deeply isolating, and so it was with the jellyfish sting. None of the others had ever experienced it, so even though they were concerned and kind and helpful, I had to sit alone with my shock and suffering, reflecting on the why. Slowly, like a light in the darkness, it began to feel like the universe had just delivered some kind of message to me, though I had no idea what it was. There was a great sense of consciousness, not just of my own physical existence but that of unseen creatures all around, who had as much right to be where they were as I thought I did. And my hurt and distress gave way to acceptance, with this mystical glimpse into the Great Mystery.

I didn’t see the little beast, so I don’t know if it was a bluebottle or a Portuguese man o’ war or some other kind of jellyfish. My left hand swelled up for a week, and I was left with interesting dotted scars along the back of it to remind me of what had happened. The respect I feel for the sea realm, and those who dwell there, was now mixed up with enough fear to stop me from wanting to go to the beach again let alone enter the water. It made me sad, as the beach is the only expansive landscape I have access to.

It took two months for my hand to heal and the pain to fade. I wore my battle scars with pride, they told a story…like a tattoo.

And then a year passed, the scar slowly began to disappear, we moved homes again, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, had a thyroidectomy that left me with a new scar, and Amu went on a solo trip to Nepal where she met a backpacker from Brazil, the land of the Amazon, who spoke Portuguese, and sported long hair, an earring, and a tattoo on his chest, right over his heart, and after eleven months of traveling through many different countries, he decided to make his way to Pakistan from India next door, and Amu had to write a letter of invitation for the Pakistani embassy to give him a visa, and he got it, and he bought me sarees from Delhi an hour before his flight, and we picked him up from the airport when he arrived in Karachi, and he ended up staying in our house for a month, and he turned out to be the most emotionally intelligent young man I have ever met, who learned to love desi food, and rabri was his favorite Pakistani dessert after gulab jamun, and he loved wearing shalwar qameez and talking at length with Huz about politics and Latin America and electrical circuits, and he swore not to go back if Bolsonaro won the election, but Lula won! And we all hugged and danced at the promise of it all, and we cooked together, and he said grace when we ate together, and Amu took him to St Patrick’s cathedral where she attended Mass for the first time in her life.

Why did this strange boy from Sao Paulo feel like soul family and was that why he so quickly become a comfortable presence in our home? Why did he lose his mother to Covid the same year I did? Was it her spirit that guided him to another mother when he needed one, on the other side of the planet? And what made him feel so at peace near bodies of water?

We took him to the beach, and it was in his presence that I jumped back into the sea without any fear, after more than a year, and I didn’t get stung by a jellyfish, because a little baby turtle showed up on the towel he had laid out on the sand, and after it made its way down to the water, all of us cheering him on, he told me that turtles are the natural predators of jellyfish, and I took it to be yet another sign, and the water was beautiful, and I declared him to be the Jellyfish God, not just because he broke the curse, but because the tattoo on his heart is of two dancing jellyfish, tentacles trailing over his shoulder.


This morning, I thought I’d expand the readership of my post of yesterday by sending it to a few of my cat-loving Instagram friends. As I scrolled through my DM’s picking out a handful of contacts to send the link to, I came across a friend I had messaged a couple of months ago. Out of curiosity, I opened the message to realize she hadn’t even seen it yet, let alone replied to it, which made me wonder whether she was active on Insta at all. Or had she ignored it for so long she didn’t even know it was there anymore?

The message I sent was a post by a woman we both follow, whose account is a documentation of her experiments in ice crystallography, a most fascinating and mystical glimpse into an awareness of the consciousness of water. The woman’s name is Veda Austin and she is a water researcher, author, artist and photographer with over 16.000 followers. She believes water is not a resource… is Source. Her book is called ‘The Secret Intelligence of Water’.

The post I had sent had struck me to be of significance, not the least because Veda revealed that she had been struggling with issues regarding her thyroid gland. It felt so strange and weird that I and Veda had something in common. The image accompanying the post was of a petri dish (with water from a glass she had drunk from and frozen using her special technique) showing crystals formed in the shape of a butterfly.

The thyroid gland is always described as a butterfly-shaped organ in every article you will ever read about it, and Veda didn’t understand why the frozen water showed her a butterfly until she found out that her health issues at the time involved a malfunctioning thyroid. The water knew…

My friend, let’s call her Enn, is the one who first brought my attention to the work of Masaru Emoto. It didn’t really capture my imagination back then, but it just went to show how long Enn had been aware of these concepts. Lately though, my relationship with Enn is on strange ground. I’m not sure where we’re headed, not least because she often doesn’t bother replying to my messages, or if she does, they’re often monosyllabic. The deep connection we had mutually decided we had seems to get repeatedly called into question as we both re-navigate our boundaries after years of knowing each other. Sometimes it looks an awful lot like we have lost that sense of connection. And yet…

Thirty two years ago, we had two classes in common during the two years of our A levels (Art and Business management) and even though I did not know her very well, the simple fact of us being fellow Sagittarians was enough to create a bond. She was one of the very few new people I tentatively befriended, with whom I felt relatively more at ease, and not so self-conscious, someone I could more-or-less comfortably be my middle-class self with. Those days, my solar plexus had taken a big hit, and I navigated my late teen years with the knowledge that my well-to-do friends didn’t even realize they had privileges I simply didn’t. I suppose that’s what made me hold myself a little apart from everyone, unable to reveal myself completely out of a sense of shame.

We never kept in touch after parting ways post-A’s, only to somehow re-connect in our 30’s. She had been married and divorced and was living with her parents again, while I lived with my husband and had a daughter. The re-connection brought with it a renewed sense of kinship and affinity and I loved that she lived walking distance away. Our friendship grew over the following years as we hung out, shared meals and talked over chai. I bore witness to a tumultuous relationship she went through, and I hope I was a good shoulder to cry on during those uncertain days. They broke up ultimately, she left the city and moved back to the US to pursue a masters degree, he went on to marry someone else. It was a sad time, full of heartbreak, misunderstandings and broken friendships. We didn’t speak to each other for a couple of years and lost touch again.

I’m no stranger to lost connections. Over the course of my twenties, I wrote off a bunch of friends I spent a lot of time with in school. In retrospect, using the language of today, I think I had abandonment issues. All of my friends moved away from the city, while I remained where I was. And life went on for all of us….for most of my batch-mates it was full of new experiences, new friends, new environments, new opportunities for growth. Yet they were all in other countries, where things were just….different. Better of course, I thought. I stayed in the same place, and my life didn’t change in the way it did for others. Once again, I felt less-than, unable to relate to anyone as there were no shared experiences to bind us. So I went under the radar, and stayed there, feeling happier being a loner than risk having friends again.

I found it amusing and a bit annoying that the friends who went away didn’t bother to write to me or stay in touch, but wanted to ‘meet up’ when back on home ground. I remember writing long, newsy emails to my best friend from school, only to get a short paragraph in reply. It was disappointing, and it rankled. My emails petered out, and the girl I used to talk to for hours on the phone, who warned me never to drift apart (in the last birthday card she gave me before she went off to college in the US) drifted apart.

Perhaps it’s all a question of styles of communication. I’m a dedicated communicator, a person who wrote six-page letters with paper and ink in those years without computers. I wanted my people to feel connected to me through my descriptions , and I expected the same in return. If there’s anything I adore, it’s the ability to be articulate. Of course there’s a lot more to it, time and attention being two things you can only feel in your heart, evident from the ways you are communicated with.

Now I know these are my boundaries, a much over-used word in today’s lingo, and one that has a bit of a negative feel to it, as if one must put up walls to push people away. These boundaries would perhaps be better defined as rules of engagement with others. Everyone has different rules, different deal-breakers. For me, it used to be inadequate communication, where I’d be left floundering in the dark. Tell me what’s going on with you so I can understand you, or don’t talk to me at all. Ask me questions and listen actively, and you can count on me doing the same for you. Unless of course I don’t want to.

Lately though, my boundaries are defined more in energetic terms. I feel things more in my body and i pay attention to my triggers, knowing they’re there to teach me. Ironically, it is Enn who first pointed me in the direction of not just energy work but also shadow work, her thesis for her masters degree, all such new realms for me at the time. Now, I’m a lifelong practitioner.

It’s interesting that while writing this post I have gone from doubting our friendship over unreplied messages to realizing how valuable her presence has been to me over the last six years, even though she lived in New York and I in Karachi. When we were done sorting our differences we managed to reconnect once again over long conversations on Whatsapp. I couldn’t always latch on to some of the cryptic things she said, and it frustrated me, but it always prompted me to do some research. It was the only way I could keep up with her and I learned so much as a result. She’d scoff at me if I told her she was one of my teachers. She firmly believes I am an empath with far more skills than a licensed therapist.

It is apparent to me that our connection is a psychic one, as well as a cosmic one. Fellow Sags after all, ruling planet being Jupiter and all. Jupiter, known as the planet of luck, its placement in your natal chart pointing to the area of life where you’re granted gifts and blessings, indicating your philosophical and spiritual world views, perception of wealth, and your experiences of travel and long journeys.

She once had a dream in which she saw that I had been given seven gifts by a neighbour. We still haven’t figured out the significance of this dream, but once, I had a strong craving for a Magnum, and that same night something made her get out of bed, walk to the nearest store and buy herself some. And she doesn’t even particularly care for ice cream.

Both of us have been on our own separate journeys of spiritual awakening, and both of us have embraced our natural streaks of silver hair in our individual quests to be ourselves and stand our ground. We both speak to animals, grow plants and thrive in Nature. She often messages me just when I’ve been thinking about her, and what happened this morning was no different. Within an hour of wondering why she hadn’t seen my message on Instagram for so many months, she finally replied.

I can hear you laughing, Spirit. Maybe you’re reminding me to not take things so personally? Or perhaps that our friends are really stars in our constellation. 🌟⭐✨