Under the net

“There’s something fishy about describing people’s feelings,” said Hugo. “All these descriptions are so dramatic.”

“What’s wrong with that?” I said.

“Only,” said Hugo, “that it means that things are falsified from the start. If I say afterwards that I felt such and such, say that I felt ‘apprehensive’–well, this just isn’t true.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I didn’t feel this,” said Hugo. “I didn’t feel anything of that kind at the time at all. This is just something I say afterwards.”

“But suppose I try hard to be accurate,” I said.

“One can’t be,” said Hugo. “The only hope is to avoid saying it. As soon as I start to describe, I’m done for. Try describing anything, our conversation, for instance, and see how absolutely instinctively you….”

“Touch it up?” I suggested.

“It’s deeper than that,” said Hugo, “The language just won’t let you present it as it really was.”

“Suppose then,” I said, “that one were offering the description at the time.”

“But don’t you see,” said Hugo, “that just gives the thing away. One couldn’t give such a description at the time without seeing that it was untrue. All one could say at the time would be perhaps something about one’s heart beating. But if one said one was apprehensive this could only be to try to make an impression–it would be for effect, it would be a lie.”

I was puzzled by this myself. I felt that there was something wrong in what Hugo said, and yet I couldn’t see what it was. We discussed the matter a bit further, and then I told him, “But at this rate almost everything one says, except things like ‘Pass the marmalade’ or ‘There’s a cat on the roof’, turns out to be a sort of lie.”

Hugo pondered this. “I think it is so,” he said with seriousness.

“In that case one oughtn’t to talk,” I said.

“I think perhaps one oughtn’t to,” said Hugo, and he was deadly serious. Then I caught his eye, and we both laughed enormously, thinking of how we had been doing nothing else for days on end.

“That’s colossal!” said Hugo. “Of course one does talk. But,” and he was grave again, “one does make far too many concessions to the need to communicate.”

“What do you mean?”

“All the time when I speak to you, even now, I’m saying not precisely what I think, but what will impress you and make you respond. That’s so even between us–and how much more it’s so where there are stronger motives for deception. In fact, one’s so used to this one hardly sees it. The whole language is a machine for making falsehoods.”

“What would happen if one were to speak the truth?” I asked. “Would it be possible?”

“I know myself,” said Hugo, “that when I really speak the truth the words fall from my mouth absolutely dead, and I see complete blankness in the face of the other person.”

“So we never really communicate?”

“Well,” he said, “I suppose actions don’t lie.”

……………………………………………………………………………..

“All theorizing is flight. We must be ruled by the situation itself and this is unutterably particular. Indeed it is something to which we can never get close enough, however hard we may try as it were to crawl under the net.”

(The ‘net’ in question is the net of abstraction, generalization and theory.)

………………………………………………………………………………

In my need to chronicle time, a memory or an event, an emotion or a feeling, I sometimes cringe at the idea that I’m playing to a gallery. How much of what I bother to write about is an accurate representation and how much is written for effect, I don’t know. The above passage from Iris Murdoch’s ‘Under The Net’ encapsulates my vaguely formed thoughts about the subject so beautifully and with such economy.

This is the reason I think I fell silent on my blog for so long. Perhaps this is why I find words to be so inadequate to describe the upheaval, the turmoil, the confusion, the ferment that my brain has had to wrap itself around in the recent past. One wants to make sense of things, one needs to write to gain clarity, one needs to SHARE to find support and validation, to reach an understanding audience….yet…..I wonder how much one manages to convey is raw truth and how much comes across dramatic. I write for the most part, I hope, without guile, I often say too much in my need to communicate. But very often I say too little, due to inhibition, or due to the sheer impossibility of finding the language to describe feelings that at the moment were simply an intimate knowledge of one’s heartbeat.

I had a strange out-of-body-like experience the day after I wrote my last blog post. The baldest possible way I can say it is, Hasan visited me. I can’t say it was a dream because I have never had a dream like this…and I am known for the vividness of my dreams. This felt too real to be a dream. If it was a hallucination, this was a first for me.

The context must be made clear first, if I am to chronicle this event at all. I was absolutely alone at home for the first time in ages. There was no electricity and I was struggling to sleep despite having been sleepless for two days. It was too warm under the blanket but I had to keep myself covered as there were a couple of errant mosquitoes in the room trying to bite any exposed skin they could find. My eyes felt strained from being trained on too many screens for too long. My mind was full of Hasan as I had spent most of my time replying to comments and thinking about all the things I could say but didn’t. I had also had an eerie conversation that night about ghostly visitations with a dear friend who lost her mother seven years ago. She often tells me I will see signs that Hasan is still around.

In retrospect, I must have fallen asleep around 5 am or so. What I remember is being awake in the dark stillness and reaching out my arms. And then I saw Hasan, and he was with me, and I have no words to describe what I felt in my heart. I just held out my arms and he came over and gave me the biggest hug I ever got from him and I kissed his forehead, and then he was lying down right beside me, and I just stared at him in what felt like wonder and disbelief. I remember being overwhelmed with a feeling that can only be described as happiness. I think we talked in telepathy. Time had stopped…..it could have been a short while or it could have been hours. But what seemed like too soon, he got to his feet and was standing at the foot of my bed and I thought, “Where are you going Hasan?” And Hasan had that usual nonchalant yet reassuring look on his face as he replied, “I just need to go out for a bit,” and he gestured toward the door, but then I watched him as he went out of the window and stood on the ledge right outside before walking along it and disappearing. I got up to see where he had gone to, and my window was the window that was mine when I lived with my parents. I couldn’t see where Hasan had disappeared to but when I looked down, I saw a stray dog sitting calmly….and I think I felt reassured.

Dawn had broken when my eyes opened and I lay absolutely still, listening to my heartbeat. If I use language to describe what I felt at that moment, I would say I felt confused, fearful, happy, horrified…and so bereft. I felt so aware that Hasan had been with me just now, that he had just left the room. I half expected to see him climb back in when I looked at my own window, but the blinds were down and the curtain was drawn. I can’t describe the physicalness, the intensity of what I went through then. Deliriousness mixed with pain. Convulsive sobs. I’m thinking hard right now, to be accurate about then.

This is what I believe: Hasan came to give me a good proper hug because we had been awkward about hugs. That was one of the first real regrets that tugged painfully at my heart when my brain tried to comprehend reality. I also believe that he was on the verge of turning into a young man who was okay with hugging his aunts, me in particular. I think I can live with this. My sisters and I have had the whole metaphysical conversation about the deceased visiting those who have let go. Fatu is jealous because Hasan seems to be visiting everyone in their dreams except her. But then, she has had her own share of Hasan-related ‘signs’. I want to write all about those too. Closure? I don’t know what that means really. But there, I said it. I’ll still wish we could have danced the awkward aunt-nephew dance some more.

To talk or not to talk? That is the question.

 

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42 days on

I’m sitting alone at home on a bed that needs to be made, Ms. Murdoch’s first novel (Under the net) lying face down on the fourteenth page beside me. I have possibly just drunk the most delicious mug of tea ever made by myself, preceded by a rather satisfying bhutta….zapped for 3 minutes, sprinkled with lemon, salt and chaat masala. Minnie has just joined me and my warm laptop, depositing herself in what I would deem an awkward position, but then who can question Minnie and her ways?

She has spent most of the afternoon curled morosely on a cushion on the settee under the living room window and I have been pussyfooting around her. I’m feeling anxious as she has been behaving strangely since the last two days, hissing and growling if I dare to move when she’s snuggled next to me or on my comforter. I first felt a weird lump on her soft underbelly when I tried to scoot her off my bed and into her basket in the middle of the night, when the need to turn over overcame the fear of disturbing her.

She doesn’t let me touch the lump and today I observed her as she sat growling to herself, unable to jump on to the window sill when I pulled up the blinds. It seems something is hurting her; she also feels feverish. She is not jumping on and off things with the graceful agility she normally displays. This is so worrying. I’m writing this post because I don’t have a cat support group. The other day my father told me to stop this cat nonsense now, it isn’t good for my health and who knows if the cats even care about me, I should start caring about humans more. Lately I have been hanging out with stray puppies and their moms, adding to his concern.

Of course I’ll have to take her to the vet tomorrow. I’m just anxious about how I’ll get Madam Teeth and Claws into her carrier, that’s all. Today I thought about the handful of vets in Karachi and wondered if there were any young people studying veterinary medicine these days. It seems so unlikely. <Irrational fear of something happening to current crop of vets and no one left to go to anymore>

I may not have mentioned this before, but I have been busy letting go of one maid after another and quite at peace, happy to clean the house the way I like it, no longer getting unnecessarily annoyed at the various ways hired help tends to annoy.

This morning I had set the alarm for 6:30 am, but continued snoozing for another 15 minutes, and then another 15 minutes, managing a quick horrible dream in the process. It was a dream in which huge cows were being tortured in some unseen way by some shady-looking humans sitting by the road. And then I found myself dissecting a little animal that happened to be a furry brown baby bear that didn’t bleed.

My subconscious is a frightening place.

The thought of being amongst people I know (apart from immediate family) makes my heart beat faster. I feel reclusive and justified in being so because being social for the sake of being social, or even because I-am-invited-therefore-I-must-go makes no sense. I’d rather be quiet than talk, and I have no taste for being talked ‘at’ either, any sort of unsolicited advice about anything at all. Often, I don’t even want to listen and I’m wondering….what’s going on? How long will this last? Do I need to make a conscious effort to shun my natural instincts?

I am reluctant to join my friends for lunch/dinner dates. I know they care and want to make me feel better and I know I eventually will. I DO like being with people who have felt deeply and who aren’t unwilling to wear their vulnerabilities on their sleeve. For now, I think I’ll continue feeling more lost than is usual, a little unfocused, a little distracted, a little irritated, quiet but belligerent. Honestly, I just need one person to do quiet things with, and one of those people is sitting in Laos at the moment. To tell the truth, said person and I often don’t really like to do the same quiet things anyway, so life can be difficult in that sense.

Found great satisfaction in scrubbing floors with an alkaline solution and a brush today. Then my mother in law dropped in, and though it was nice to have her company for a bit, I didn’t want to be told that I need to let go of some things because there are better ways to spend one’s time and no one needs to hurt their back.

Just let me clean things up after myself, won’t you world? That’s all I feel capable doing these days and not only do I enjoy the quietness it brings, I’m burning a lot of calories.

It has been a month and 12 days since my nephew died. I have regained my appetite and he isn’t the first thought that pops into my head when I wake up anymore. I’m not crying last thing at night either. Is this a good thing? Perhaps so.

For the last three Sundays I have visited and sat with him for some time, once with just Amu, then with just Fatu, and then with Fatu and Sax both. It was a different experience each time, and each time I have been struck with interesting thoughts, about life, and about death.

The first time, Amu and I watched the bees as they were attracted by the roses, the eagles as they glid over the graveyard, the butterflies that fluttered by, two cats that hid among the graves….and suddenly, the cemetery didn’t seem so…dead…anymore. Amu and I then wandered about and explored, reading out names of people long gone. And as we left, I noticed that Hasan’s marble name plaque had already been stuck to his headstone. I cried as we walked back to the car and drove home.

The next week, it was Valentine’s Day and on an impulse I bought heart-shaped balloons from a vendor. We cried as I drove to the graveyard, tying the balloons to stones on Hasan’s grave when we got there. Then we sat in the shade of an umbrella that I had brought along and read out passages from Camus’ ‘Youthful Writings’, and that helped stem Fatu’s tears temporarily for which I was grateful. She showed me videos she had taken of him just days before he died. He was so alive. He was just here. And now we were leaning against his grave, and all we could do was watch him on the phone screen. It didn’t make any sense at all. We stayed there for a couple of hours, talking and reminiscing, listening to Adele, (she finds her voice to be very soothing) making potpourri from dead flowers. Some people passing by stopped to see Hasan’s colourful grave, especially the children, who looked transfixed, solemn. Unlike the white marble structures all around, this one stands out, being covered in painted pebbles, loving words inscribed on them by friends and family.

As we left, the balloons waved in the breeze and Fatu said, ‘look, he’s waving bye.’

Heart broke, once again.

The third visit, we swept away all the accumulated dead flowers with a broom Fatu had brought along, wiped all the pebbles clean (are we going to clean up everywhere we go?) noted that some had been stolen, probably by the kids from the colony, who wandered around the cemetery. There were three little girls hanging around, watching us from behind a bunch of graves, probably amazed at the sight of three women in hats and umbrellas, how outlandish. They inched closer, curiosity overcoming shyness, and we decided to share our oranges with them. ‘Girls always did like hanging around Hasan,’ Fatu commented with amusement, tearing up almost immediately.

It was quite a social event, there were so many visitors quietly doing their thing, washing the dust off marble, dotting the graves with fragrant red roses, the sun already making its presence felt. Summer would be unbearable here. A goose dunked its head repeatedly in a pool of water from a flowing tap, fluffing its feathers out, flapping its wings.

I realized that this place had a life of its own, that it didn’t end here, it went on. It went on for all the people who continued to love and miss and remember all those who had passed on, and they turned up here with love and remembrance and a strong need to continue to be connected long afterwards. For us, this is a new beginning. This is a new life, and it is one without Hasan in it. As Sax said, we were all living in a sheltered bubble before, death had not touched us this close. All around us we had seen other people grieve for their lost husbands, their wives, their mothers, their fathers, their daughters, their sons. We are just scrambling to understand, no choice but to feel all our individual feelings of grief and loss at losing Hasan, our son, our nephew, our grandson, our almost-14 yr old cousin.

It has been an intense month, and I am just coming out of it, still mourning. It is too soon to ‘move on’, to resume ‘normal’ life just yet, I’m not even the same person I was two months ago. I’m looking at the recent past as ‘before Hasan died’, or ‘after Hasan died’. I don’t know when this will stop being such a jolt to the brain. I can’t even look at little boys without a sinking feeling in my heart.

Time is a healer, is what they say. Who knows, that might even be true.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Song triggers

Stories of my annual October allergies have become old hat now, so I won’t say much about it except that it’s been a miserable week…or two. Flu rendered me more or less useless, so I wallowed in listlessness while it lasted. On top of all that, Zahooran decided to celebrate Eid back in her hometown and has been gone for…you guessed it…two weeks.

I have been mostly ‘sensible’ about the layers of dust and cat hair piling up, and only tackled the housework when things got too bad. Today was one of those days. Happily, I felt more energetic today, so it must mean I’m better now. A few puffs of my inhalers (I have two different kinds) before my morning mug of tea, and I’m good to go.

My days start late, since I am an owl, and today was no exception, but come hometime, I must drop whatever it is I have belatedly embarked upon and dash off to pick Amu from school.  Sometimes it gets a little crazy. Like today, I had been cleaning out my front balcony in a grubby tshirt and shorts, sweaty and a bit out of breath from all that dust, just 5 minutes before Amu had to be collected.

Jumping out of work clothes and into respectable outdoor attire is a challenge I rise to most admirably, I feel.

Huz had warned me about the main road next to the Mazaar being cordoned off for a couple of days for the Urs of Abdullah Shah Ghazi. Every time this happens, all the traffic gets diverted to a parallel street, which in our case happens to be the one that passes right next to our main gate. Craziness.

I cranked up the volume as Prince wafted out of the radio and sang along to ‘When doves cry’ as a couple of pigeons flew up and out of my way, over the windshield.

…..’maybe I’m just like my mother….’

The song ended and the RJ mentioned that the song was from ‘Purple Rain’, which was released in ’84.

What was I doing in 1984….?

Well, I was 12 years old then and that time of my life can only be defined by where we lived.

It was a rented apartment in a complex meant for retired army officers, but for me and my sisters it was a bubble. We were completely self-contained there.

I would go to school in the morning in a van with a bunch of other kids and return in the afternoon, tired and hot and hungry. After the noise and the traffic on the roads and a commute interrupted by multiple stops, our huge compound felt quiet and peaceful, though I still had to climb three flights of stairs lugging a heavy bag.

My mother would have lunch ready and we would all eat together, except my father who would be at work. My eldest two sisters shared a room, while I shared with my younger sister/arch nemesis, Fatu. It was not easy. Those were the days when I simply hated her, and I’d fly into rages if she bugged me, which was pretty often. She was 7 years old then, and the boys in the compound had nicknamed her ‘aunty’. I have no idea why.

Eldest Sis was 19, and was engaged/romantically involved. On top of that, she was busy with her studies and I thought she was very brave and independent as she used public transport to get to and from college. She even knew how to drive and had been doing so for a couple of years, since my father firmly believed that his daughters should be bold and confident, like boys, and furthermore, not depend on him to go anywhere.

This was also the time when Eldest Sis began to beat her stammer.

Since she led such a full, busy life, Eldest Sis had the remarkable ability to fall asleep anywhere, even in seemingly uncomfortable places. She would cajole one of us to scratch her back as we watched tv in the family room while she sprawled on the floor on her tummy, or curled up with a cushion. She had long straight hair then, a figure to die for, and beautifully manicured hands. Pedicures were her particular hobby, and the rest of us watched her, fascinated, as she groomed herself.

She also paid me to iron her clothes sometimes, a few rupees perhaps, but in those days it would be enough to buy me an ice lolly or a packet of chips from the corner store.

Eldest Sis and Sax, the second after the Eldest, had always been thick as thieves since they were little. They share the most history, and remember the most about our collective past.

Sax was 16 then, had just begun college, and seemed to manage to have lots of fun.

Now that Eldest Sis was in a relationship, it also seemed that she was preoccupied, or on the phone, or out a lot. So even though they shared a room, Sax could not always count on Eldest Sis for company.

So it was that she began to notice my existence, and my status went up a notch. I was now old enough to have the honour of ‘hanging out’ with her, be a companion for a walk around the block, could be told secrets in confidence as well as be a worthy opponent for evening badminton matches under the streetlight.

It was also around this time that I began to have problems with my breathing as the winter months approached, and my father started to worry about my health…

(to be continued…)

Sensations in my body right now

Today’s writing prompt prompted me to write, only because my body has run such a gamut of sensations all evening.

And anyone who knows me knows how descriptive I can get.

It started with a heavy feeling in my head, (which is a natural consequence of fasting) around 2 hours before the Maghrib call for prayer, the time Amu and I wait for in anticpation and spend a little bit of time preparing for.

It has been four days since Zahooran’s untoward departure, and after ignoring it all this time I vowed last night to do some housework today. Even though I knew it would make me expend lots of energy and make me very thirsty indeed. But I ignored the hunger cramps and stopped myself from dreaming of a cold glass of water as I vacuumed and washed and mopped, sweaty and dehydrated. I fought the lethargy I knew would creep in and take hold of me if I stopped working…..it’s so easy to curl up with a book when you’re low on energy, then doze off….

A shower set me right, refreshing me from the outside, and a little snuggle in Huz’s arms soothed my head, as it always does.

I wore a bright pink shirt (the color is such a pick-me-up) with my baggy brown fisherman’s trousers from Bangkok, and I marched into the kitchen to chop pears, mangoes, bananas and grapes and apples for a delicious fruit salad, whipped up a batter of gram flour and spices for aaloo pakoras (potato fritters) and made huge glasses of Rooh Afza with lemon. The perfect iftaar in Ramadan.

We prayed, then took a little pinch of salt to break our fast and then….it was time to eat and drink.

I can’t describe the euphoria I feel as I take that first sip of cool, sweet-sour sherbet, the first bite of ketchup-dipped pakora, perfectly crisp on the outside…..soft potato inside. We’re silent as we slowly but inexorably munch our way through a whole plate of these, sipping our drink, feeling the food in our tummies after 14 and a half hours of nothing, letting the endorphins kick in.

The fruit salad tastes fresh and varied in its multiple sweetnesses, so much healthier than the pakoras, but hey, we deserve a bit of decadence too. I focus on how good it all tastes, and feel a bit numb and brain-dead, which is a signal from my brain to pour myself a mug of hot, strong, sweet tea, that delivers a kick like nothing else can. And I feel my body flooding with joy…

Tea. The one thing I crave in the evening. Gets me out of a stupor in a jiffy.

It’s strange that I hate fasting, yet I love how great it feels when I stop. There is no other way of experiencing this. You can only feel it when you have purposely deprived yourself. I’m not a religious person, and I don’t feel holy or spiritual, but I fast because it is a tradition. I fast because I have been culturally conditioned to do so.

And I sure as hell feel good when I stop.

Rats!

Inspired by Satsumabug, (my creative new bloggy friend), I went ahead and subscribed to her daily prompts for writers. Just for some fun!

Todays prompt was…..rats.

Very strange, I know. And what a coincidence. Single Malt Monkey (the original creative bloggy friend) wrote something on the topic today, right here.

So what springs to mind when I think of rats?

Well, the Pied Piper, for one. Very odd story that, come to think of it, though I’m glad the rats followed the Piper out of Hamelin and drowned in the river Weser….the idea of a rat-infested town is frankly, revolting. Not very nice of the townspeople not to have paid the Piper his dues for services rendered, so I’m kind of okay with the whole revenge deal. But when I think of what might have happened to the kids…..I’m not so sure. After all, one of the theories is… the Pied Piper was a paedophile…

Would it be better then to think all the children of Hamelin disappeared because of the plague…?…a horrible infection of the lymphatic system that swept through Europe in the 14th century, wiping out 75 million people in its wake.

The Black Death was believed to be caused by the bite of infected fleas, often found on rodents….such as mice….or rats.

They even made up a nursery rhyme about it. Remember ‘Ring around the Roses’? 

I’m not very fond of rats, no. They used to climb up pipes and gnaw holes in the netting of our kitchen window to get into our house and forage for food.

So the kind I’m familiar with are not the pretty ones people in other parts of the world keep as pets. The rats I know….they eat kittens for breakfast. They’re big, and brown….with fearsome teeth and long ugly tails. They scurry along the sides of buildings, furtively looking for places to hide.

Rodent. What an expressive word. It conjures up all manner of negative attributes. Likewise vermin…the very phonetics of the word bring to mind something hideously objectionable…

Say it out loud…

Verrrrr-minnnn……

(shudders)

In their defense though, I don’t really blame them for jumping off sinking ships if it means they have a chance of swimming to safety (though of course I’d much rather they drowned)

I would ditch a lost cause too. No, really. Life is just too short!

But still, I’m not very fond of rats.

Ironic then, that I’m a Rat myself….

Yes, dear readers, I was born in 1972……which, according to the Chinese zodiac makes me a Water Rat….

A website I stumbled across describes Rats thus:

Occupying the 1st and most prominent position on the Chinese Zodiac, the Rat symbolizes such character traits as wit, imagination and curiosity. Rats have keen observation skills and with those skills they’re able to deduce much about other people and other situations. Overall, Rats are full of energy, talkative and charming but they have a tendency to become aggressive.

Rats are full of good advice but they will never share their troubles with others. They are honest individuals and they enjoy living for the moment. They’re also capable of surviving any situation.

And separately….

THE WATER RAT 1912 AND 1972
Being guided by the Water element means these Rats have a knack for influencing people. With their strong intellectual powers and great insight, they are also great puzzle solvers. They are quick to understand others and are incredibly practical people. Rats apply their talents to their everyday lives, making them obliging, generous and compassionate to other people. Generally, they are liked and respected by everyone. Like all Rats, however, they can be determined to seek their own gain, and will not mind using these talents to achieve it – though generally without losing anyone’s respect in doing so.

Sounds uncannily like me, this description 😉

I shall leave you with some Al Stewart to conclude. Just replace the word ‘cat’ with ‘rat’ and we have a lovely song to claim as our own. 😉

(Rat or no rat, I’m a cat person all the way)