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.

Rambling a watershed year away..

If memory serves me right, winter arrived very late last year, when I was beginning to lose hope of getting to pull out my warm clothes at all.

I recall feeling increasingly impatient, longing to feel that nip in the air, that makes sitting on the steps in my back balcony that much more wonderful. The nip finally manifested itself a week before New Years Eve, when a few friends came over and we did a barbecue (chicken in two different marinades), warmed by the embers till the wee hours, cradling hot mugs of tea in our hands.

We stood on the top steps that lead down to the courtyard and watched the fireworks explode in the sky, whooping at particularly spectacular ones. I felt grateful to have friends to celebrate with, happy to hear Amu and her bunch of friends talking and laughing in another balcony, hoping a good time was being had by all…

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This year the air turned cooler much earlier, much to my surprise. I felt the crispness in the air as I was letting Fuzzy in one fine morning when I was awake for some godforsaken reason. It was only November and Amu reported that her friend Hannah’s perennially curly hair had already begun to stay straight instead of frizzing up right after ironing. This is a sure sign. It indicates a drop in humidity in the air, which means women in Karachi (including yours truly) start tweeting happily about the increase in good hair days.

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Hannah and Amu

Amu began talking about getting a new school sweater as her old one was looking a bit worn out. The child turns up her nose, however, at the standby standard gray pullover provided by Ghani Sons, (the store that sells the most school uniforms in Karachi) as being completely uncool.

A couple of rounds of all the hip stores at the mall revealed nothing of any use. One store, however, had the most lovely  gray cashmere…..beautifully soft, perfect shade of gray…..the kind of sweater that just fits you beautifully and you feel classy wearing it.

It cost almost twice Zahooran’s monthly salary though, and even Amu (who is good at persuading her forever-balking-at-prices Mom) thought she couldn’t, (just couldn’t!) spend that much on a sweater for school. The attendant at the shop then divulged that we should drop by in ten days or so to check out their stock of lambs’ wool sweaters and Huz left his number and email so they could let us know. But they never called or emailed, and when we dropped in after two weeks to see if the new stock had arrived, there was no trace of it and the shop attendant looked puzzled as if he had never said such a thing.

So after consulting her fellow fashionistas, (most of whom do their shopping on yearly holidays in London or the US) it was revealed that there is a Marks and Spencer outlet somewhere in Khadda market from where her friend Nabs thought we could find a reasonably priced, yet ‘cool’ gray sweater.

If I was reluctant to go shopping again, it was only because I had by now lost my faith and couldn’t face another disappointment. (Or maybe I was subconsciously trying to compel Amu into forgoing her notions of cool/uncool and making use of the oversized pullover I had bought her last year which was lying unworn in her cupboard)

We drove along the narrow, congested street, keeping our eyes peeled for the alleged shop, not once, but twice, on two separate days, as Amu fired frantic texts at Nabs to get more specfic directions…but the search proved as futile as I had feared.

There was no such M & S store….unless of course, they had relocated since Nabs had gone shopping. But how were we to know where it was now?

The sweater story has a happy ending though.

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon yesterday, as we drove out to the far reaches of phase 8, taking the scenic route along the Arabian Sea. The sun shone, and the water sparkled, people and camels dotting the beachy landscape. The road near the Cineplex was lined with hundreds of cars…..it seemed a lot of people had turned out to watch Skyfall or Life of Pi.

Orange butterflies fluttered away from my windshield as we swung into the parking lot of the weekly bazar, a magical place where you can find anything and everything that the city has to offer. It is also a great place to spend a few hours browsing stalls along with a whole sea of other human beings. Here’s a bunch of pics I took there sometime last year, when we had gone early and it wasn’t crowded.

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Amu and I stopped in our tracks as we encountered a bunch of very small Afghan/Pashtun boys in our path, one of whom was in the process of sharing his bottle of Pepsi with one extremely flattened straw sticking out of it. They were so engrossed in the fizzy pleasure of their drink, chattering amongst themselves in Darri/Pushto they didn’t notice us watching them, grinning from ear to ear. Later, we regretted not having secretly filmed them.

Then we proceeded to rummage through the flea market stalls, which were inundated with sweaters of all shapes, colours and sizes, and after an extensive and thorough search and encountering two old but very seasoned sweater-sellers who seemed to know immediately what school Amu went to, and who cannily tried to sell us a used sweater at twice the market rate (a ploy we managed to maneouvre out of) we walked away with a lovely gray pullover from the very next stall, once again grinning from ear to ear.

We left the market with bags of fruit, new turquoise-blue bathroom mats, wooden wind chimes for the courtyard and a gray sweater, carried for us by a little Afghan boy to our car.

He silently walked all the way for us, carrying our load, and silently transferred it all into the backseat after which I handed him a 50-rupee note. He took it without saying a word and as Amu got in and I walked over to the drivers side, I watched him walk quickly with his basket back to the bazar to look for the next customer. I kept watching as he climbed up the hilly mound to the main road, to see if he would turn around and acknowledge the fact that he had been connected to us for a brief moment in time, helping us walk easier as we traversed the crowds.

Just as I began to think that our contribution towards his earnings of the day meant nothing to him, he turned around to look in my direction and I saw a tiny smile on his face.

I grinned back and gave him a little wave, and then he was gone.

At the beginning of this year, December seemed so far away, and now it’s here. Didn’t Farroo just get married? Wasn’t the Karachi Literature Festival just a few months ago?

(It was a lovely wintry day then too and I had fun attending various sessions…..had meant to write about it but then got lazy…..here’s a few of the hundreds of pics I took that day)

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Listening to Anatol Lieven talking about 'Pakistan-A Hard Country' in a regional politics session
Listening to Anatol Lieven talking about ‘Pakistan-A Hard Country’ in a regional politics session

Today is the very last day that I will ever be in my 30’s. I have already bought myself a silver bracelet with coloured square stones which is going to see me through to the other side.

Tomorrow, I cross over.

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And this is how it goes

The birthday party that was postponed last week due to chances of rain was rescheduled to yesterday, after the monsoons blew over. It was the first birthday of the second child of my eldest niece.

To get to the venue (a club by an inlet very close to a shipping harbour) we took the scenic route….a road named after Mai Kolachi, an old fisherwoman who settled near the Indus River delta and built the foundation of what is now known as Karachi.

Once upon a time, the US Consulate in Karachi used to be located on a beautiful, tree-lined road that connects Clifton with the rest of the city, right next to the Marriot hotel, bang opposite Frere Hall and the Sind Club, both old and well-preserved remnants of colonial times.

Frere Hall housed a library and gardens, both of which were closed to the public for a long time due to security concerns for the US Consulate.

Once upon a time when the word ‘terrorist’ was not a part of our dictionary, the US Consulate was an interesting place where cultural events happened, and their library was open to the students of Karachi.

After a series of threats and attacks, when the walls of the consulate were fortified and made ugly with barbed wire and concrete blocks, it finally became evident that they would have to shift their premises to a less busy, less central road.

So the city government in its infinite wisdom, gave the Americans a spot at the juncture of Mai Kolachi and Queens Road, a main thoroughfare connecting the city to the harbour, which is where the consulate is now located.

On Friday, the entire road had been blocked on both ends with huge shipping containers, to try and prevent protesters from marching towards the ‘red zone’.

Mai Kolachi is a wide, relatively new double road, and has been a welcome addition to this traffic-riddled port city, solving a big problem for commuters and heavy goods-laden vehicles alike.

But as we drove by yesterday, the side of the road adjacent to the consulate had been cordoned off the whole length of the huge space it occupies, and traffic had been diverted to the other side, meaning the side we were on, going towards Queens Road.

Poor US. They just can’t seem to find a place where they can’t inconvenience the citizens of Karachi. Massive traffic jams seem to have become a norm since last week, as the police cordon off roads and place obstructions in a bid to protect the Consulate and of course, the people inside….understandably so.

I tried taking a pic as we drove by, but I was too slow, and Huz was too fast.

Anyways, we were amongst the first few people to reach the birthday party, but that was okay. It was a lovely, breezy evening by the inlet and we took loads of pictures, had a great time with the whole family (once they arrived) ate some delicious party food and birthday cake, and drove back home the way we came.

Being the owl that I am, I stayed up till 5 am, responding to comments on the previous blog post and reading articles and blogs, natural consequence being yours truly finally got out of bed around 11.

(Nope, six hours are definitely not enough. Must sleep earlier tonight)

Huz reminded me that we had to attend a PTM at the school at 4:30 in the afternoon, and we debated whether we should both go or just one of us. Meaning me, of course. 😛

At around one pm, I reluctantly changed out of my pj’s to go pick up Amu from school, which is just a two-minute drive away from where we live. As I was changing, I got a phone call from her (she keeps her cell phone in a pocket in her uniform, so we can communicate easily at home time) asking me to come quick as the school was urging all the kids to hurry up and leave.

Panicked, I grabbed my bag, ran downstairs, jumped in the car and hurtled towards school. What could possibly be happening now?

Amu’s school is situated at the mouth of Mai Kolachi, the other end of which is now home to the US Consulate.

When I neared the school, I saw an unusual amount of uniformed policemen and gun-carrying anti-terrorist personnel urging the cars along. I called Amu as I inched towards the gate and soon she emerged from the heavily guarded gates and walked towards me.

‘What’s going on?’ I asked as soon as she got in and I moved off.

‘We had a drill in school today, in case we had to evacuate unexpectedly. It just so happens that there actually IS an emergency all of a sudden…..apparently there’s going to be a rally soon close by….and the PTM is postponed.’

(all pics taken with my phone camera)

As I drove home, I couldn’t decide whether I was worried about the proximity of the school campus to the US presence in the city, or glad that I didn’t have to attend the PTM after all.

 

One of the proposed locations for the new US consulate was next to the Karachi Grammar School, but this plan was met with protests by concerned parents and was subsequently scrapped.

(From an Express Tribune blog by Saba Imtiaz)

Later, I received an official message from the school, informing me:

We have reports of uncertain conditions in the area, therefore Class X PTM (today – 25/9/12) has been postponed. New date to be announced later.

Birthday post

December rolls around, bringing with it an end to the 39th year of my existence. Ta-da! It’s my birthday today, and I thought I should mark the occasion on my blog, considering it has been such a big part of me this year.

So what happened in the bubble?

Last year around this time, Amu was still a part of the shuttle bus system and Karachi was coping with terrorism that had begun to target schools. I wrote about it in ‘Of insecurity, kids, a school bus and responsibility’.

Who’d have thought the shuttle bus stint would come to such a disastrous end, with a falling-out between myself and my fellow coordinators coinciding with escalating trouble in the city which rendered the bus service too risky for the school to take responsibility for….

And so the beginning of Amu’s 9th school year saw us coping with the lawless traffic of Saddar in new ways…

Highlights of the year have been a renovated bathroom and our junkyard of an office/study has finally been converted into a bright and cosy sitting room.

the infamous Zahooran 🙂

I wrote about being maid-less in Karachi and living to tell the tale and getting someone to cook for me for a change, when Zahooran left. Happily, there was no need for a transition and Zahooran returned after almost three months of being away. She is a very important person in my life, as without her I would never have the time to do any of the fun things I do. Recently I have started to pay her extra to make chapatis for us for lunch, and she obliges most happily.

The cook didn’t last long, as his cooking didn’t agree with Huz’s tummy (too much oil and garam masala, despite daily admonishing)

If you started following my stories just a few months ago you’d know about my alleged cat allergies but may not be acquainted with my Fuzzy cat. He’s a big (and annoying) part of our lives so it makes sense for you to know a bit more about him — he turned four this year 🙂

As far as cell phones go, quite a few have come and gone these last two years and it made me very sad to lose my Nokia X3 in March. Thankfully, I had a new phone by the time I was forced to face my travel jitters and could be in touch with Huz while we were in Tanzania that same month, and I’m happy to report that it is the end of the year and I haven’t lost/dropped/had-it-stolen yet.

Travelling to Tanzania and going on a safari were truly the most spectacular highlights of this year, and I put together a few photo-rich blog posts in The place and the people, The streets of Dar es Salam, The road to Mikumi part-1, The road to Mikumi part-2, and Mikumi itself.

I still haven’t written much about actually ‘being’ in the wildlife reserve and spending a night there…I don’t know why. I really should!

Having had the opportunity to take lots of pictures in Africa, (some of them pretty good ones if I may take the liberty of saying so myself) prompted me to start a new blog altogether (MunZooms) one that simply showcased one or two photos per post. I have also been compiling my historical blog (Days of Yore) post by slow post, with my parents as the key figures. And the collective effect of all these various blogs has meant there hasn’t been a single day without any hits, whether I published something or not!

I do attribute that to some clever tagging, but one consequence of that has been to make me reflect very seriously on the sheer absurdity of the kind of things people google!

Nevertheless, I’d like to thank all of you who have made it a point to visit me this year, put me on your blogroll, subscribed to my blog, read what I had to say and left me your thoughtful friendly comments. I am so grateful for your appreciation and feedback. This virtual interaction has been the most glowing highlight of blogging this past year, more substantial even than being Freshly Pressed….not that I have ever been, so I wouldn’t really know. 😛

If not for the compulsion to use my blog as a sort of journal, It would seem to me that this year has passed in a blur. I know it hasn’t, but as I say in my description, my brain DOES fail me on a short term basis.

I have been very gainfully employed all year methinks, though not at all in a remunerative sense. I DID make an oil pastel sketch on canvas for a friend though (that was NOT free) and it now hangs in her newly decorated sitting room, something that makes me feel rather happy when I visit her.

I’ve read some good books. I’ve got back in touch with some very old friends, made new ones, fell out with a couple, made up again. I’ve laughed and cried and been utterly confused very often and realized a lot of things.

There have been some quiet triumphs and a few silent regrets, some disappointments as well as validations. There’s been lots of growing, many many conversations and lots and lots of music. It makes me tremendously happy to know that I got Single Malt Monkey hooked to Coke Studio!

There have been falooda quests and kebab hunts. There has been a major amount of daydreaming. There have been a few consistent spells of exercise too. I have swung from moments of being rather proud of myself, to feeling downright ashamed of myself.

So many posts written, so many blogs followed and read, so many lives glimpsed into, so much of myself shared.

It is not a very lively time of year, it being Muharram. Also I’m still recovering from the flu. But it marks the beginning of a watershed year for me, crossing over into the 40’s. Am wondering if I’ll finally feel more ‘grown up’. Am wondering if I’ll finally be approved for who I am than who I most certainly am NOT.

Perhaps it is time to focus my energies on something else. I know I have procrastinated long enough. Perhaps the bubble has finally burst. Or perhaps it is time to redefine it.

Someone recently expressed their disbelief at my being almost 39 the other day (which I took as a compliment) then remarked…..nothing keeps you younger than being loved by a lot of people.  Indeed, I have felt very loved of late 🙂

I shall leave you for now with this very awesome cool song by Coldplay, from their new album. I heard it on Jango one day and it got stuck in my head. Loved it so much, I played it first thing in the morning for a week. I don’t know why it moved me. I didn’t even know the lyrics until yesterday. Maybe I’m just being silly, but I feel as if this song has caused a shift in my very paradigm.

And a friend posted this poem on her wall yesterday.

Now I become myself. It’s taken
Time, many years and places,
I have been dissolved and shaken,
Worn other people’s faces,
Run madly, as if Time were there,
Terribly old, crying a warning,
“hurry, you will be dead before —–”
(What? Before you reach the morning?
or the end of the poem, is clear?
Or love safe in the walled city?)
Now to stand still, to be here,
Feel my own weight and density!…..
Now there is time and Time is young.
O, in this single hour I live
All of myself and do not move
I, the pursued, who madly ran,
Stand still, stand still, and stop the Sun!

[by May Sarton]

Funny thing,  poetry. I’ve never been big on it. Yet sometimes someone will say something that will just resonate in some cobwebby place, and all one can do is nod.