The time turner

Around three weeks ago, a childhood friend of mine made up her mind to go visit our old teacher from the Mama school days and announced it on our class group chat, urging those of us who live here to join her on this expedition. No one responded, including myself. Some of us who live elsewhere in the world said they wished they could, and expressed their great regard and respect for said teacher, sending their love and good wishes. I was reminded of our collective, unspoken acknowledgement of the profound and lasting influence this teacher had in our lives. Old memories started to creep into the present.

I knew it was futile to hope I could slip through the cracks, for the next day my friend messaged me separately to tell me how excited our teacher was at the prospect of meeting up, and asked me to join her. Asked so directly, I didn’t have the heart to say no. So I responded with an overly enthusiastic ‘yes!’ to make up for my lack of actual enthusiasm, and even tried to rally others on the group to come along. In the end, it ended up being five of us, a decent number.

There were many days to go till the actual event, where I swung from kicking myself for not saying no, but also strangely animated by the prospect. It had been thirty three years after all since we last saw each other as teacher and student, and safe to say a lot of life had happened. Last year though, she got to know through my friend about my thyroid cancer diagnosis and subsequent surgery and I was surprised out of my skin when I received a concerned and loving message from her out of the blue. It was so strange to feel a sense that she cared, when I didn’t even expect to be remembered.

Ms. T turned up at my school from India when I was in class 7, to teach us Geography and English literature. My batch was her very first experience as a teacher in Pakistan, and she saw us through for four years or so till we sat for our O levels and passed out of school. She was a young woman in her early 30’s, carried herself with a graceful ethnic air that was all her own, bangles on her brown forearm, beautiful cotton saris she seemed to float down the corridors in, shiny dark hair swept into a low bun at the back of her neck. She would bend it ever so slightly while gazing at your face and listening intently before responding to anything you had to say. Her smile often looked as if there was something sardonic going on in her head, quintessentially enigmatic. But it was the way she enunciated her words and her unfloundering grasp of her subject that held our respect. The way she explained topography, or the trickier passages in multiple Shakespeare plays, and Jane Austen. I don’t think anyone could have done a better job at making us not only understand all of it, but also enjoy it. Being in her class made us want to do better, be better, her approval was all-important, whether we knew it or not. I was never as ashamed as I was when I inexplicably flunked a Geography test when it was one of my favorite subjects.

So it made perfect sense that after leaving school, I never wanted to see her again. I didn’t want her to judge me for not making anything of myself. It goes to show how much of a failure I thought I was through my twenties and thirties. I honestly felt like my biggest achievement in life was giving birth to Amu (I still think it is.) I don’t think I could ever have imagined that my child would grow up one day and be taught English literature by the very same, albeit older, Ms. T.

Apparently Ms. T had resigned from my old school after eleven years there and switched to teaching at the college section of the school Amu was in. I was thrilled when I got to know, for I wanted Amu to experience the greatness of Ms. T. However, Amu seemed to have a very different impression. The Ms. T she experienced wasn’t the impeccable, charismatic creature from my memory. This one was old and old-fashioned, the subject of cruel teenage derision in her class.

This was a rude shock, an invalidating blow to my ego, a personal affront almost. Could it be true that Ms. T was no longer cool in this very different world? I spotted her at a parent-teacher meeting, a long line of parents waiting to discuss their child with her, and it upset me a bit to see her in this environment, as if she didn’t belong here. I stood in the same line and you can call me strange, but I didn’t want to meet her in this way. What if she couldn’t recall me? I would melt into a puddle of disappointment and shame. I remember trying to catch her eye from a distance, ready to wave with a bright acknowledging smile on my face if she beamed with recognition in my direction. I imagined it to be a moment like in the movies, time standing still, nostalgic music on cue.

But she was totally preoccupied with the parent stream in that huge hall, and I quietly slipped out the door without making the effort to meet, a strange mix of regret and relief. Relief because I wouldn’t have to answer that dreaded question… ‘What do you do Munira?’

I can’t believe I once used to be the class joker. No one in my class remembers me as ‘the quiet sort’. Hence, no one can fathom why I’d be squeamish about meeting up.

But when the time came, I went with the flow, dressed up and showed up. My friend picked me up to go to Ms. T’s house, partly so there would be no way I could back out last minute. She had bought a bunch of flowers and I put together a heaping dish of my signature dahi baray to take with me. We picked up some more goodies and another one of my classmates on the way. Ms T. had provided a very detailed set of instructions to her house as she didn’t quite know how to send a pin. I almost wore a cotton sari to honor her legacy and this special occasion. It was adorable and touching to know Ms T. was so thrilled to have us visit her, she had insisted on cooking lunch for us.

Her door was wide open when we reached her place in a sprawling apartment complex on the other side of town. I half expected to find her wearing a sari, but she was in a shalwar kameez, apologetic for not getting up from her seat, the first indication of her age. I reached down to give her a hug, holding her hands while she asked how I was. She was probably as taken aback by my appearance as I was by hers, but we both covered it up rather well, and it soon felt as if no time had passed and we were all still who we always were. We may be 50 years old, but we would forever be her class of giggling teenage students.

The five of us ended up spending a delightful afternoon reconnecting with Ms. T over a very delicious, lovingly prepared lunch. She had made each and every thing herself, from the biryani to the mango chutney and raita she served with it, and the huge bowl of fruit custard for dessert. It was so delightful and gratifying to eat food actually cooked by this woman we idolized, to hear this idolized woman declare that we were always a special lot to her, as were all the batches she taught in her eleven years at our school, superior even, to the students she came across at the more prestigious school that she switched to. How do teachers have the capacity to remember not only the names of long ago students, but also their idiosyncrasies?

As for me, my fear of being judged for my own perceived lack of worldly accolades was gone. It simply didn’t matter anymore, it never did. What mattered was that I wanted to meet Ms. T for her sake, to know who she was. What mattered was my presence, that I could tell she loved my dahi baray because that’s all she ate, that she noted the tarka of rye and karipatta I made the effort to do. It mattered to know that she grew up in Calcutta, the place where my husband was born, to witness her aging body and her grayed hair, to meet the elder sister she lived with and listen to their teaching stories, their experience of life, to know that she loved to cook for guests, that she was fierce about retaining her strength and ability to go on, to continue navigating life post retirement. That we could never ever address her by her first name, as a friend, that her entire identity and self worth was tied up in being called Ms. T.

I went to this meetup with trepidation that there would be nothing to talk about, and I left with reluctance because so much had been left undiscussed, like a portal had opened up to allow us in momentarily and it was poised to close behind us the moment we left Ms. T’s home.

Getting to the core

Since the last couple of nights, the hamstring muscles of my right leg have been feeling tight enough to cause discomfort, due to which I’ve been having trouble getting to sleep. This bothers me on many levels, but especially because our bodies NEED sleep for repair and restoration every night. A little search online led me to find out that hamstrings tend to tighten when they are trying to protect your back. So why did my back need protection? Well, it’s because I have been experiencing pain for months, and I’ve been doing yoga to help with that…only it hasn’t really been working. I’ve also noticed other pains cropping up, in my heels and my knees. Last night I finally understood what the problem actually was though, and the clue lay in the feeling of weakness I have also lately been experiencing in my middle body as I toss and turn at night. A little voice inside me whispered…it’s not about your back or your knees or your feet my child……it’s about your core.

This little voice was all I needed to hear to guide me to seek out a very short 10 minute core yoga routine that would target the abs, and as I practiced I came to realize how much I’ve been neglecting them. Or perhaps it’s the 50’s telling me to wake up and get busy doing some real work.

It’s very easy to overlook one’s core muscles apparently, and I can’t believe I am guilty of this, knowing all I know, having heard countless instructors talk about strengthening your core to strengthen your back. And yet, I’ve never really delved into the actual anatomy of my core muscles, what they are, how many there are, and what function they each perform to keep my entire trunk working properly. Another little search provided me with all of this crucial info.

I also realize that I’ve been using my back to lift heavy things instead of my core muscles, so it’s been a loop of misuse. it’s one thing to have information stored away in your brain and quite a different thing to begin to grasp just how connected everything is. Feet, knees, hamstrings, glutes, spine, core, all working in glorious cohesion, and one weak link affects all the others. The thing to pinpoint is…what is that weakest link? Hint: It’s not where the pain manifests …

So here’s to committing myself to a much more intentional, aware and targeted daily workout routine for a month and see what difference that makes, not only to my overall strength, but also my nightly sleep. Quite excited about this! It’s time to stop scrolling fitness reels and mindlessly consuming content on Instagram and consciously put into practice all the wisdom I glean now instead of saving posts to look at later. I never visit later.

In other news, I acknowledged the loss of two very old trees I used to know, one a majestic gulmohar I used to climb and hang out in between the ages of 8 and 12. This tree died a very tragic death, apparently due to an underground gas leak that killed many trees in the entire neighbourhood. The other was a very tall and old jamun, diagonally across the’ gulmohar, which harboured a lot of birds and dropped a lot of fruit on the road below. Heaven help your car if it was parked underneath. The people who lived in the house behind this tree had it chopped down a couple of years ago, but for some reason I registered the absence of it yesterday when I happened to park my car in that corner after a long time. Without the protective foliage of both these old trees, the street outside my old home felt hot and inhospitable in the mid morning sun, as if a deeply familiar place had become a stranger. It used to be really beautiful once, with the vermilion flowers of the gulmohar and the cool shade of the jamun.

Eldest Sis said that when the neighbours chopped down that tree, they found a hollow in it filled with socks. The socks had all been stolen from the clothesline in her balcony and deposited in the tree hollow by crows. What a cute thought 😊

Jimmy has not returned. My ambivalence has given way to a deep grief that we may actually never see him again. It’s strange sometimes to realize how alone we are in feeling our feels. A few evenings ago I actually socialized and those who know me well asked how my cats were doing. I mentioned Fuzzy’s death and the loss of Jimmy but talking about it fell short of the depth of sadness felt, and my voice trailed off when I realized these things can’t really be conveyed…and I make peace with this. It boils down to this: Jimmy was love, and his presence in and around our home had a value that only those who loved him could feel, and this feeling is precious to me and the only other person privy to this very visceral knowledge is Amu, for which I am very grateful. Huz shares the sadness too in his own way. Together we will keep our love-flame lit, that eternal one that binds us all.


It’s been a week since Jimmy and Minnie had a very physical fight, the kind which leaves behind clumps of fur, detached claws (!) and puddles of pee in its wake.

It has also been a week since Amu brought home a very pathetic little malnourished puppy. He was standing by the road all alone, dazed and weak, looking rather abandoned. So we cared for him as well as we could, figured out a way to feed him, bathing him gently with baby shampoo to remove a multitude of fleas, keeping him warm, cozy and safe from the harshness of the streets. It felt good to see him so clean, to watch him sleep, at peace without the relentless fleas. But he remained inconsolable, crying in a most human-baby-like way. He had such soft ears, such potential to grow up and be beautiful, such an unusual gray coat. And how extraordinary to be fostering someone other than a cat, much to the horror of our resident lot. Except Jimmy of course, who was unfazed by this new presence.

Fading puppies exhibit signs, and this one showed them all. We found his mother and slightly healthier brother close to where he was found and placed him on the sidewalk to see how he would be received. The mother sniffed him with recognition but barked loudly if he tried coming close. His little brother did totter up to him to cuddle, and that was heartwarming, but the mothers treatment of him simply broke our hearts. Of course, her rejection was quite natural; this little puppy was not healthy, and she herself is rather thin and bony-looking, so she had to conserve her scant resources for the survival of the fittest as it were. We had no choice but to take him back home for the night, and he cried himself to sleep, fading some more, only quiet if he was cuddled. Of course I was more than happy to cuddle him, but sadly, he needed his own mother. His bowels finally released everything that he had eaten, and that was the last sign.

Puppy and Jimmy

There is always a lot to think about in situations like this. Sure, we can rush to a vet, get x-rays, blood tests, drips, medicines….but the understanding has always led to this: sick little animals come to us for some love, and in doing so they help us feel the depth of it. It’s not always about trying to save them, they’re usually beyond saving anyway. We live an urban life, but we are part of Nature, and we will all return to Mother Earth won’t we, hard though it is to imagine. I visualized him melting back into Her. And so it came to be that we wrapped the puppy in soft flannel and placed him back where he was found, in a heap of leaves. Let his mother hear him cry, he belongs to her, and we don’t need to tear ourselves up witnessing his slow death. We lingered nearby for a long time, just being there for him a little longer, reluctant abandoners, mommy dog still invested in the other one. As we finally turned away to go back home without him, I don’t think I was mistaken in sensing her gratitude for our kindness to one of her own, even if he wasn’t destined to live. I wonder if his only purpose in this short life was to make us be kind, to make us love him with all our hearts. I didn’t expect to see him again, but one of the last things we saw him do was get up and try and get closer to his brother, tiny tail wagging, and then he fell over and crawled back to flop again on his flannel cloth. He wasn’t there anymore when we drove by the next day.

“We’re all just walking each other home.”

Jimmy, our cherished outside cat also came to teach us how to be kind and loving more than a year ago, but has been missing for a week now, ever since that skirmish with Minnie. I’m beginning to think something strange and mysterious happened between them, for ever since he disappeared, she has taken over the courtyard, almost as if their higher selves came to some sort of agreement about exchanging lives. It’s hard to explain, really. All we know is, he was last seen with another cat.

One should stop looking for lost cats and start looking for the other half of their shadow, said Haruki Murakami. That’s kind of what I did when Minnie got lost a couple of years ago, and came back a whole month later as if from the ether. I don’t know where Jimmy could possibly have gone, he has simply vanished into thin air and I don’t know how to feel anymore, for as lovable as he is, taking care of Jimmoo has been a fraught and often expensive affair, full of drama and stress. For the first time in a year, I have a poop-and-pee-free outside area and it feels rather relaxed. I admit I have often wished him to simply be gone…and now he has. I won’t be going looking for him. He appeared out of the blue, and back into the blue he has gone. If he ever chooses to return, I will probably feel something somewhere between relief and despair. If he doesn’t, I will never forget the abundance of love he bestowed on us, the simple joy of his companionship.

What’s strange is how quickly Minnie is back romping her favorite spots, almost as if she knows he won’t be back anytime soon. Are all these cats in cahoots? Is Minnie really in on what’s going on behind the scenes?

Life seems to be in great flux from day to day, one never knows what’s going to happen next.

The great reset

It’s a peaceful time of year, it being Ramadan, and Amu and I are surprising ourselves with a willingness to fast which heretofore did not exist. Methinks this willingness has a lot to do with a dawning understanding that it is not a punishment after all, but a gift we have the ability to give our bodies. To be fair to myself, if I had known the science before, my spirituality might have kicked in sooner.

Somehow, miraculously, my migraines aren’t getting triggered this year, and I wonder how much of this has to do with setting true intentions and keeping a very positive mindset. I don’t know man. I had to figure out the best time to take my hormone pill (optimally an hour before eating anything, once every 24 hours) so I set my alarm for 3:30, I pop a pill with a glug of water, go back to sleep for another half an hour, then get up and organize sehri, which has been strangely fun, maybe because I have such companionable company, and a lot because of the greater focus on mindful nutrition. I don’t know what it is, but we’re halfway through the month, and we’re still at it, not giving up. Clearly, there has been a Great Shift.

Of course it helps that iftar is reeeaaalllyy something to look forward to, and I spend a large portion of my afternoons thinking about and preparing lovely simple meals. Most people would probably be greatly disappointed at the lack of pakoras and samosas on my table though. Early on, I decided fried things didn’t quite see eye-to-eye with my gut biome, appetizing though they were, as the cheese balls I happily gobbled on the first evening ultimately made me quite nauseous the rest of the night.

I surprise myself by beginning to see why people are so sad to reach the end of the month. I’m weirdly enjoying this upheaval of my entire day-to-day, sleeping away the mornings, awake most of the night. It all feels quite special, no stress about anything at all, and no obligation to be performative. It’s an inward time of feeling, and healing. I continue fetching-water-chopping-wood, delighting in the sunny blooms of the loofah vines.

At the beginning of the month, Sis #1 happened to get her legs x-rayed, to find that her bones were totally out of alignment. We had all been witness to her increasingly unsteady gait after a couple of knee dislocations, for years we watched her walk like a wobbling duck, but none of us thought of taking her hand and marching her to a good chiropracter, simply took her word for it when she insisted she just needed to lose some weight. These x-rays have proved to be a wake up call, prompting her to finally give herself some love, some rest, some intensive treatment. I’m putting my faith in her body’s ability to re-align itself, so that she doesn’t need both her knees immediately replaced as per the doctor’s advice.

Sis #2 had a wake up call with her teeth and gums, which were in desperate need of help. But there is a tendency in many of us to put things off till push comes to shove, heaven knows I’m ignoring my lower back as we speak. Who the hell knows what’s going on there? In her case, it was shaky teeth and a very painful mouth which finally compelled her to go see a dentist who diagnosed her with gingivitis, something if left untreated can cause serious permanent damage, so it’s very good that she is now looking after herself more.

Meanwhile, Minnie injured her mouth while chewing a bone and before things went from bad to worse we took her to the vet where she received a few shots and was very much better the very next day. Jimmy Choo has a spasming urethra and not crystals blocking his passage as we had first thought, but he needs some ALP to relax his muscles so that he can urinate easily. It is not easy to medicate this particular cat. All three cats have fleas, and the price of the only effective flea spray in the market, already expensive to begin with, has tripled, like most imported goods. We still have to buy it of course, as there is no local alternative.

The baby sparrow fell out of the nest and died a few days later, something we realized when the sparrow-couple abandoned the nest. The balcony fell quiet, until another sparrow couple took up residence in the other birdhouse, but I’m trying not to get emotionally involved this time.

The friend I felt disconnected from, left the city and I didn’t say goodbye. It is possible we may be estranged. I set some energetic boundaries and she sensed it and stepped back. No explanations asked, none given. And I’m cool with that.

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.