Missing The House Of Allah

Anyone who knows me knows how profoundly I love Masjid Al Haram.

All praise, thanks and gratitude belongs to the One who made me fortunate enough to be born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia – a place I like to call home. This meant that I was going to Makkah before I even knew how to pray. I would use the rolled up rugs as balance beams and skip with my family during Tawaf ( the act of circumambulating the Ka’aba). As an adult, Makkah became my every alternate-weekend-adventure. I remember coming home from work on Thursdays at 4:00 P.M. and then rushing to catch the 4:30 P.M. bus to Makkah. During the ride, I would pray that Sheikh Maher Muaiqly leads Maghrib and Salih Al-Taleb leads Ishaa.

At night, I would spend hours sitting and staring at the Ka’aba, looking in awe. It was magnetic, majestic and mesmerizing. It was pure love! My father would tell me that just looking at the Ka’aba is in itself an act of worship. And truly it was. It was a reminder that this House belongs to the One I worship, the One I prostrate to and the only One I ask help from. The One who listens when I make dua’a and the One who loves me more than 70 mothers. The one who is Al-Wadud (the Most Loving). No thought in the world would cross my mind, no worry would bother me, and no distraction could compete with what my eyes could behold.

When it was time to leave, I would turn back, look at the Ka’aba, and begin planning for the next trip. Wondering all the way when and how I could come back and who I would coax and cajole to accompany me for the next visit. All I would do was envision a revisit to the place that had captured my heart.

Allah’s plans are indeed the best and surely He is Al-Aleem (the All-Knowing) and Al-Hakeem (the All-Wise). I recently relocated from Saudi Arabia. This has left me completely shattered and it’s something I am still struggling to accept. As the date of my departure neared, I was told that this would be my last trip to Makkah.

I remember that trip so vividly. It was 3:00 A.M, the 29th of Ramadan. When it was time to  leave, my heart pounded and I held my crumpled tissue a little tighter. I turned back to see the Ka’aba just as I always did at the end of every visit. Only this time, I was overwhelmed with shock and sorrow, not knowing how or when I could come back. My vision blurred as I stared at the black outline of Allah’s house. My hands were raised in dua’a, but my tongue was silent. My heart trembled with uncertainty and grief. Tears were gushing out of my eyes. All I could say was,

Dearest Allah, 

This isn’t a good-bye. 

There is no place on Earth dearer to me than Your House. I’ll come back for it and I’ll keep coming back for it until I breathe my last with whatever capability You have given me. My heart maybe shattered today, I may not know what my future holds but I know Who holds it. So take care of me.

I cried silently all the way to the car, and home. My heart cried as I packed my bag and boarded the plane. Even when the tears stopped, the inconsolable sense of loss inside remained.

Having moved miles away, not a day goes by when I don’t pray to Ar-Rahman (the Most Compassionate) to take me back to my Makkah. Not a day passes except that I see who is leading the salawaat on my Haramain app. The only way to stay connected to my beloved city is through social media sites. I check who is giving the Khutbahs on Fridays and wait impatiently to see my favourite Imaams lineup for the week ahead. But live streams and mobile apps aside, my heart aches knowing how far I am. It is not just a 50 minute drive anymore. It is a long flight with weeks of paperwork and paychecks preceding it.

20150725_053309
Early Morning Quran Session at the Prophet’s Mosque

While there is immense sadness, I think of all the people like me who long to visit His House and the Prophet’s Mosque. I have had the great blessing of having lived there for more than 20 years. I have played around the Ottoman built pillars and cartwheeled on the red and green rugs.  Today I realise that even though we may not be close to His House physically, we can still achieve a closeness to Him no matter where we are. Our prayers can still go straight to Him. He is that close to us, closer than our jugular vein.

If you feel the same, if your heart aches for the Haramain as much as mine does, then call out to the One who knows about the unseen, the moving of leaves, the intermingling of the seven Heavens, and the directions in which birds fly. He’ll listen to you just the way I know He will respond to me. He makes ways and creates avenues. The rules of this physical universe change because of a single sincere dua’a, so have faith and keep praying. You never know when a package with your ihram and ticket comes knocking on your door.

20150620_202849
Late Night Quran Sessions in Masjid Al- Haram

To the ones who reside there – whether you are a local or a foreigner – take advantage of the opportunity before it is too late. Visit the Haramain more often, make Tawaf, do Umrah, supplicate or like me, just stare at the Ka’aba. Pile on those extra rewards. There are so many who wish to visit the Haramain just once and may not have the physical or financial means to do so.

I pray I stand on the Day of Qiyamah with all my salawaat in Masjid Al-Haram, wondering how that happened and then knowing deep within my heart that Allah took me there on the basis of my intentions, and that my reward was preserved. Those nights, like this one, the ones I spend crying yearning to see the Ka’aba, I was there. I was always there. Allah counted me from amongst them.

Similar to Aasiyah (R.A), the wife of Firawn, who asked Allah to build a house for her near His House in Heaven, I too ask. I ask Allah to grant me a house near His House in this world and another one in Heaven.

I pray Allah grants us all multiple opportunities to visit Makkah and Madinah. May He make these trips a means to rekindle our faith, strengthen our bonds of humanity and fill our hearts with hope.

Featured Photo credits: Muhammad Waqqas 

About the author:

Manal Soherwardy is an ESL instructor by profession and a life-long student of Quran and Arabic studies. She works at an NGO in pursuit of her belief of removing barriers of class and privilege and to provide quality education for all. She unapologetically indulges in anything that involves sugar. She is fond of nature and humor and also loves engaging in conversations entailing spirituality and the importance of self-development. She finds happiness in little things and aspires to make the world a better place before she bids her final good-bye. She may be reached at: soherwardymanal@hotmail.com.

Advertisements

Corporal Punishment: The Rule Of The Rod

We called him P.T Sir, our physical training instructor. I do not recollect his name and making one up will add a fictive element I do not care much for. P.T Sir was stout, ramrod straight, strict and as disciplined about the parting of his well-oiled hair as the maintenance of straight and quiet assembly lines in school. An authoritative figure he was, though I don’t suppose that he had in depth knowledge about physical training or sports either. His demeanour discouraged any questioning looks about his credibility. And frankly, it didn’t really bother me. I was happy as long as I could prance around the huge school grounds and indulge in any outdoor activity prescribed by him. It was the classrooms that usually suffocated me.

He had a daughter in high school and she carried all the necessary airs that some children of instructors often do; aloof, a tad arrogant and an expression that screamed, “I am important”. With that height and muscle excess she did have a fair claim to being important, at least in a girls’ convent these things really matter. I am sure this fine creature had many charming traits and values to her credit, but the lack of any close encounters with her spared me the delight of such a disclosure.

That P.T Sir doted on his daughter was obvious but he never displayed any overt gestures of affection. His daughter is not really relevant to my story except for being a part of an idle question that pops up when I think back of P.T Sir. I will get to it eventually.

I think I must have been in the sixth grade, and was really looking forward to trying out for the bicycle race. A close observation of those going through the qualifying rounds made me realize that I wasn’t even remotely as good as them. So I decided to wait it out hoping to at least tuck in a little cycling fun before the next class. One of the girls agreed to give me her bike after her last round, and so I eagerly waited.

And finally there I was, riding the set of wheels I fancied. When I neared the finish line P.T Sir’s shrill whistle and his accompanying angry yell gave me the most intimidating welcome. Apparently he had asked the girls doing the tryouts to keep the bikes back. And I obviously seemed like a brash offending miscreant. He didn’t wait for the confused gush of explanation that I timidly offered. He was extremely angry, I hadn’t ever seen him so angry. He asked me to look for two rocks. I helplessly did as told. When he seemed satisfied with the ones that were the most abrasive, he asked me to kneel on them. I couldn’t comprehend the reason for such a harsh punishment. It wasn’t just painful and demeaning but totally uncalled for. I don’t remember how long I knelt that way, but it was long enough to get my knees scraped.

d_82128_abuse-alone-bent-broken-heart

What could have possibly inspired such cruelty? Was it my sluggish docility, my inability to assert my position, or just the thought that he could get away with it? Maybe he had a bad day and he directed his angst at me. The reason why some people deliberate a harsh action is not always clear. I wondered how he would have reacted if it was his daughter in place of me. Would it incite the same reaction?

I avoided possible one on one interactions with him for weeks but gradually decided to shrug it off. I loved the school grounds, it wasn’t possible for me to stay away for too long.  Two years later, I asked him if I could be part of the marching scouts for sports day. Our principal, the Mother Superior was there too with her select entourage inspecting the preparations for the sport’s day events.  He looked me over and said, “You are too short, but let’s see if you can march”. He asked me to march across a marked podium. I inhaled deeply, put up my best soldier straight face, puffed up my chest and strutted as stiffly as possible. He looked grim when I stopped right in front of him, and strangely the Mother Superior glared. That’s it I thought, it must mean a ‘No’. The principal’s sudden verbal onslaught caught me off guard. She was of course the most menacing and feared person in the entire school, churning nightmares not only for the students but for their parents as well, but I did not expect a dressing down at that precise moment. She had been inspecting that podium and felt my impromptu march-past was a mocking display and hence abominable in all respects. After a few unceremonious strikes of her cane on my scrawny limbs, P.T Sir finally gathered enough courage to tell her that he had sanctioned that little march-past. She stopped then and P.T Sir quietly asked me to go back to class.

Yes, as a kid I was exceptionally gifted. Some special extra sensory perception always landed me in the wrong place at the wrong time. So, I slinked back; it didn’t seem like a good idea to hang around and ask if I had been selected after all.

He had failed me again. In this instance his lack of courage had crippled his ability to take responsibility, and I as usual was the gawky scapegoat. He wasn’t all that intimidating anymore, he couldn’t even own up to something so small.

The principal’s caning did not affect me much, we got used to it over the school years and couldn’t dream of expecting any better from her. Seriously, she was like some vicious mythical creature who in her good old pages of folklore delightfully dunked schoolgirls in her cereal bowl. A single dirty look from her could outshine medusa’s fabled death stare any day. She actually steeped her cane in scalding hot water every morning for the sheer pleasure of watching the welts on our legs bloom in rosy gloom, unless you want to believe she did it for sterilisation purposes.

boy-2205733__480

Exposure to abuse sometimes inspires you to do just the opposite. P.T Sir, my school principal and some of the other teachers who used the rod religiously and probably thought it was the only way to tow children in line, inspired me to a great extent to become a teacher. One of the biggest reasons for my choice of profession was the belief that lessons in the classroom or outside can definitely be taught with more compassion. I do not teach at present, it’s a long drawn out being mommy kind of break. Handling my own kids is a completely different ball game and I do have to constantly remind myself to stay calm and learn new ways to discipline without falling into the aggressive parent trap.

The thing I have learnt is unlike metal, children cannot be moulded with a good beating. It takes conscious effort, empathy and good management skills.  The rod and its merciless application aren’t necessarily the yardsticks that measure an instructor’s efficiency as a disciplinarian. It merely points to their failure to manage and command effectively.

I am no longer that docile, timid schoolgirl, and there is nothing passive in my demeanour now. I am extremely assertive and know how to stand my ground. The physical punishments during those memorable school-years failed to deliver any lasting damage to my personality. In fact school days were always ripe with little exciting adventures and countless essential lessons, and not all of them were delivered in the classroom or through the curriculum. Fortunately, I hold no grudges against my instructors or even my gorgon inspired principal. But when an instructor chooses to abuse a child either verbally or physically, it is absolutely not acceptable. And the emotional scars that kind of abuse leaves some students with will probably take a lifetime to heal.

I have no idea what turn P.T Sir’s life took, but wherever he is, I would just like to wish him better luck in handling potential clumsy tryouts, especially if he doesn’t want some hothead to swear V for Vendetta and instigate target practice on him.

Corporal punishment is still meted out in many schools across the world and accepted just as casually as  another regular school related inconvenience.

If you have some related incident to share or any thoughts you might have on this post are welcome.

You Can Learn Anything From Scratch

We are living in an incredibly charged up information age. A time where the air itself is infused with so much electrifying energy that our mind literally spins at high speed velocity and it’s really amazing how we still manage to stay grounded. No knowledge is beyond the scope and breadth of our grasp. We learn as we breathe each day and that too in copious volumes.

The virtual world bombards us with new information every other second and even if one isn’t quite internet savvy, you would still be exposed to a lot more than you signed up for. It’s much like the era of the amazing gold rush only this knowledge boom is far more precious than any metal or stone.

The gift of learning is what makes our species distinct and blessed. We now google anything and everything and refresh our existing memory banks throughout the day. Education isn’t confined to brick and mortar institutions anymore, any new skill or field of study is easily accessible through the net. In short we cannot come up with any tangible excuse for being unable to learn something we wanted to other than our own reluctance to do so. There are even comprehensive college level courses available for free online. Coursera, Udacity and Duolingo are my personal favourite net destinations for learning. Honestly, the kind of courses that Coursera offers is unbelievable and some of the most prestigious universities are onboard here. More options definitely exist but I find these sites quite engaging and fulfilling as far as my learning outcomes are concerned.

YouTube and Pinterest are yet other popular learning repositories where the delightful visual array and level of engagement makes everything fun to learn. From spirituality to science, fantastic lectures on almost any field of study are a few keystrokes away. From rolling out the perfect flatbreads, baking solutions, figuring out the ins and outs of your gadgets to the most amazing DIY hacks ever; YouTube and Pinterest are perfect treasure troves for sure. In fact I really want to share something I have recently started to learn using solely YouTube tutorials.

DSC_3709
Wisteria Tree

During one of our vacations in March this year at my dad’s place my sister asked me to get my hyperactive 4 year old daughter interested in paints hoping it might help her to focus and calm down a bit. Well, it certainly did that and more importantly it’s been one heck of a wonderful journey of discovery and pure joy ever since. Painting with my daughter has been real fun and we both enjoy the creative time spent together. But I had no idea that a splash of colour on the canvas could feel so exhilarating and relaxing, it’s totally therapeutic. I can draw some elementary stuff but had never really tried my hand at painting.

My neighbor in India, Nilofer Hanif is a very talented artist and her paintings are really inspiring. Her works have always filled me with a sense of awe and often made me wonder how incredible it must feel to be able to paint so beautifully. When you find something that overwhelms you or fills you with wonder and realize one fine day that you can learn this skill too, the feeling is one of sheer delight.

 

dsc_3713-e1507650536825.jpg
Sailboat Sunset Seascape

I think with the number of in depth tutorials that YouTube offers anyone can learn to paint from scratch. I Did! My favourite tutors are ‘Theartsherpa’, ‘Ryan O’Rourke’s 10 minute paintings’ and ‘Katie Jobling Art’. Cinnamon Cooney @ ‘theartsherpa’ makes learning to paint so much fun and she exudes so much optimism and enthusiasm that even if you don’t know a thing about art you will want to grab a paintbrush and have a go at it. She really keeps you motivated and engaged throughout her art lesson and her positive energy is quite infectious. Teachers have a big hand in making you want to learn something and developing your latent potential into something magical.

img_20171010_165928.jpg
Moonlit Forest Landscape

I have posted some of my initial paintings. They are completely amateur attempts and it required a lot of nerve to post them here but I have really enjoyed making them and I am hoping I can improve and learn more each day. We all take our initial fumbling steps with anything new and I am taking mine too.

IMG_20171010_165650
Tropical Beach Sunset

The Wisteria Tree and the Sailboat Sunset Seascape are both paintings from ‘theartsherpa’ tutorials. The Moonlit Forest Landscape is from ‘Ryan O’ Rourke’s’ tutorial. The Tropical Beach Sunset is my first original from photo to canvas…..was giddy with joy over that one and the last one is a copy of Fog Alley by Leonid Afremov. I absolutely love Leonid Afremov’s work, all his paintings are colourful, vibrant and pulse with energy and this zeal for life that I find so irresistible.

img_20171010_170113.jpg
Copy of Leonid Afremov’s, ‘Fog Alley’

I don’t really know if this fascination with painting is a just a phase or something I might hold on to and work on further but I know it adds something very rewarding to my life. If you really want to learn a new skill, an art form, a language or a field of study then there is no stopping you. The more we learn, the more fulfilling life becomes. It’s like adding new colours to the canvas of our life, each subtle hue adds more substance and value to it. And it doesn’t really matter how big or small your new learning adventure is or whether it’s for a short time or a lifelong quest, what matters is the fascinating journey of learning it encapsulates, the things that we take from it and the people we become through it.

Feel free to share your thoughts and do let me know about any of your new learning adventures. And if you have any useful tips about painting for a beginner like me please share them.

Something For All

 

Something simmers,

In a world that glimmers.

A waiting mob;

A broken sob.

Hopes that sink;

All in a blink.

Tears dry;

We cannot cry.

All those lies;

Severed ties.

Hearts of gold,

Driven cold.

This land’s so new;

Nothing’s quite true.

Yet somethings endure,

And promise to stay pure.

A smile that flickers,

Despite the nasty snickers.

A sense of life,

Through every strife.

A spirit that mends,

At every bend.

An honest will;

Sturdy still.

Sweet prayers that stall;

The fall of all.

And faith that steers

The faint-hearted  to cheers.

family-2112266_960_720

‘Something For All’, is an attempt to capture what little I understand from one of life’s innumerable lessons. It’s about the mixed platter that life is. All magical and unique elements tossed together at random; the pleasant, the not so pleasant; a little sweet, a little sour; the pain and the soothing comfort; each bite extraordinary with its own nuance to add a flavorful punch to this ever so busy mad, mad infusion of our existence. Can’t help the food flavoured language, I just got back from my vacation in India; the perfect gastronomical dream destination for every foodie.

So somewhere in between succulent morsels of spiced up goodies and meeting the equally amazing people from my incredible home country, I got a slight whiff of what mortal contentment is all about. It’s not about finding perfection in an imperfect world, it’s about finding pockets of endearing comfort and joy that dot our journey through life. It’s about accepting with compassion all people and all places the way they are.

We aren’t all tailor-made to suit each other’s palate and neither is life cut out to fit our desired shape. But when we acquiesce to what comes our way and make the most of it, we can truly find pleasure and make each moment memorable.

The pursuit of happiness isn’t one I fancy too much because it’s rather fleeting. I feel contentment is more lasting and being grateful for every moment keeps one content in all situations. If I expect life and people to be perfect, I’d be fooling myself. If I insist that there’s only positive energy and I will always flash my flag of positivity then again I’m only cooking up a dream that has no place in a real world.

There’s a lot of good here, some bad and some downright obnoxious stuff all plated together. You can’t just ignore the things you don’t like. Any disassociation from the unappetising elements creates greater discord and breaks the harmony of life. Acceptance doesn’t imply that we shouldn’t work toward improvement or positive change. I feel everyone and everything undergoes slow reform but we can’t change people, systems or situations through alienation or downright aggression. Change requires consistent kind effort and gradual coercion and it definitely happens. It’s a slow process, one that is a little difficult to fully appreciate in this new world of instant everything but it’s something that has endured and probably will pull our generation and the ones that follow through all trying times. No Utopian ideals here just what my observation tells me. There’s hope in every quarter and it will enlighten the way to a more fruitful life.

children-479692_960_720

Hopefully we will all gradually learn to live with greater tolerance, compassion and harmony and embrace life with all its oddities.

Any thoughts on my poem, the write-up or what you have learned from your observations through life are welcome. Your opinions really matter and add to my understanding.

Social Pressure : The Norm to Conform

They Say It All

 

They say you gotta cuss; you gotta play rough.

Your attitude’s just not cool enough.

They say go bold; gotta strut your stuff.

Your modest garb ain’t cool enough.

They say, “Being ‘You’, is a huge drawback”.

It’ll only earn you a lot of flack.

They say, ‘We got your back’;

‘We’ll cut you some slack’.

If you walk their walk;

And talk their talk.

And tick to their tock;

And click to their clock.

They say, ‘Follow the herd’;

‘Ain’t easy being a free bird’.

They say theirs is the only word;

So tag on; can’t risk being unheard.

They say, ‘Try to blend; stay on trend’.

‘Bend backwards or simply pretend’.

They say, ‘Ain’t any good if we do not commend’.

You need them all to help you ascend.

Now all you care is what they’ll say.

Throughout your life, they’ll have their way.

You need their approval to make your day.

Striving away just to hear, ‘Yes you may!’

You’ll do just fine staying true to yourself.

You’re not another trophy upon their shelf.

Tell them, ‘My coolest version is being myself’.

“I’d rather be ‘Me’, than your second best self”.

road-sign-808731_960_720

Are we really hardwired to conform to the dictates of an imposing crowd? Is our individual trace not strong enough to assert itself? Weren’t we born distinct with our inherent qualities and exceptional talents? Why then do we fall prey to social pressure? Why do we feel the need to fit in?

Social pressure or peer pressure isn’t just something that kids or teenagers deal with, it’s something that even adults struggle with. There’s a strange longing in all of us to belong. We want to be part of a group where everyone finds us acceptable and gives us that much needed sense of security. It’s not strange then to see to what extent people are willing to go to match up to the standards of others. They often end up completely stamping out their own individuality and losing all sense of self.

In schools and universities one can easily see how peer pressure works; it’s an explicit model of how the world functions at large. We have the popular kids groups, the Jocks, Preppies, Goths, Emo, Nerds….there are probably more and the existing groups might evolve further. You need to tune into the attitude, behavioral patterns and values of a particular group if you want to share the label. It’s a real challenge and kids are sometimes willing to do anything to get accepted. We might shrug off this issue as something that only affects insecure and immature minds but we give in to social pressure too more often than we would like to admit to.

The food we eat, the clothes we wear, the words we use and even the people we associate with are sometimes a result of the influence of society. People dress to conform to the expectations of others or simply because it’s the ‘In Thing’. It might not be the most comfortable or decent apparel but it gets them within the circle and saves them being treated as a social misfit. We even end up altering our opinions based on what’s trending. Social conformity is definitely not just something that defines our physical identity but it works deeper to displace our beliefs, value system and ingrained ideologies.

It’s really easy to keep talking about believing in yourself and doing the right thing but it’s only a great deal of persistent effort that can help us retain our individuality. We were not born to conform to other individuals, there is more to our existence. We are stronger only by our convictions and faith; designed to stand our ground and shine out with our own unique stature in this world.

silhouettes-616913_960_720

Do you find social pressure alarming? Did you face any peer pressure challenges at school or work? Do share your thoughts.

Ramadan Kareem: Time to Nourish the Soul!

Ramadan is just a few days away and people are busily gearing up for the blessed month in happy anticipation. Fortunately, people here in Saudi Arabia have the luxury of revised and more relaxed work schedules and conveniently matched school timings. Whereas, other Muslims around the world have to manage with the usual cartload of work and regular year round clock-ins. But irrespective of where they are and in what circumstances destiny divines and divides them, the enthusiasm and zeal for Ramadan is almost the same.

I have already started receiving those cute Whatsapp messages with a big samosa gif and a coming soon caption to it since two weeks now. After all, fasting and feasting do have only an ‘e’ to differentiate their scripted selves. With all the spiritual energy radiating forth from the month ahead and the whole idea of compacting a deeper connection with our creator, the overly enthusiastic food drive does seem a little out of place though, doesn’t it?

landy-1098827_960_720

We tend to strictly associate Ramadan with the concept of fasting and the almost overindulgence in food later during iftaar (the time when we break our fast). This isn’t a blanket verdict about all Muslims, it’s merely about a good deal of sidetracking that a few of us have given into. And this significant inclination towards the feasting aspect has actually muddled our perspective about the holy month to a great extent. When fasting actually begins we control ourselves and hold on to those hunger pangs till Iftaar only to unleash the glutton inside as soon as the Azaan (call for prayer) begins. Suddenly all the virtue and self-control a single day of fasting instills washes off in the next 10 – 15 minutes and food becomes the only worthwhile obsession. I am equally guilty of all that I mention here and sincerely wish to work on my food fanaticism.

And how can we talk about Ramadan and not mention iftaar parties. Those are the most meticulously planned out events during this month, considering the loads of good deeds that one can earn when you offer food during iftaar for those fasting. The sad bit is when we lose sight of the actual goal and only concentrate on outshining our neighbours and friends by the wide variety of delectable goodies and the unnecessary dainties to deck the iftaar table. Wasn’t it supposed to be about sharing blessings and being thankful for everything we have in our lives? Iftaar is such a beautiful and blessed time when families, friends and sometimes complete strangers get together in gratitude and food is definitely an important and gratifying aspect but not the main objective.

Ramadan is the holy month that reestablishes and reinforces our spiritual life. It helps us learn about discipline in all aspects of life, teaches us how to get a grip on our anger, helps us resist temptations, nurtures solidarity and fosters feelings of empathy in us for those less fortunate. We discover the joy of sharing and extending goodwill regardless of caste, class, race and religion. These are the most important and valuable lessons that are honed in us through this blessed month.

kid-1077793_960_720

We all know it is not just about abstaining from food for an entire day but about not giving into immediate impulses. It’s the month of the Quran, the means of guidance for all humanity and not just Muslims. It’s a means of empowering the soul and reacquainting ourselves with the true meaning of being a productive and valuable member of society by practicing kindness, tolerance and good virtue.

There is nothing wrong about planning out yummy treats for iftaar but it’s unfortunate when the entire objective of Ramadan gets swamped by this food fest agenda. Even the hours and hours of precious time getting drained behind all the food preparation could be better utilized gaining a better perspective and real understanding about religion. I personally plan to keep my iftaar treats stress and fuss free this year and it’s not going to be the easiest thing with me being the insanely perfect foodie. I seriously start hallucinating scrumptious dumplings lazily drowning in fragrant rose flavored syrup right before iftaar at times. We all have our weak moments.

My Ramadan wish list is pretty simple this year. I want to gain a deeper understanding of the Quran, discipline myself, rework on my priorities in life, and hopefully try to be a more mindful individual. I don’t know much about my religion and I think I really need to take the time to learn more and most of what I put forth in writing are but strong reminders directed at me first.

Do let me know what you are looking forward to this Ramadan? What are your goals and what does your ‘To do list for Ramadan’, look like?

Daddy Dearest

His warm, enormous callused hand;

Smooth splendid castles made of sand.

His stories charm his girls to glee.

All wrapped in magical mystery.

He sweats all day to make them smile.

For them he treks that extra mile.

To fathers no sweet odes are sung.

No mere mention on hoardings strung.

What wouldn’t I do for his love so fine.

In mercy steeped his heart does shine.

My dad, my knight in hallowed grace.

In our lives he has the most special place.

 new

I am really close to my family and feel blessed to have their overwhelming love in my life, at the same time I am painfully aware of how it’s something that we all do take for granted at times. There is a lot of selfless love and dedication that goes into work in our relationships and I don’t think any words of gratitude would ever do any justice to the kind of support and affection we get from them.

Our family bonds and how much they count on our emotional scale depends a lot on our lifelong interactions within the family circle and how circumstances have shaped our opinions about them. Fortunately for me they are the most endearing relationships, perhaps for some others, they might be a tad distasteful. I wish that wasn’t the case but sadly we do not dwell in a perfect world.

My father has been my ideal superdad, my superhero, Mr. Fix-it-all and best buddy, all rolled in one sweet concoction. That is one of the reasons why I feel that fathers don’t actually get enough appreciation for their contribution in our lives. It is always moms who take the cake and a delightfully huge chunk of it. Not that they don’t deserve that kind of kudos, but I feel sometimes we undermine the quintessential and most appealing father quotient in the family.

We traditionally look at them as essential breadwinners and disciplinarians but not caregivers. That tag is allocated to moms who seems naturally more appropriate to the role. But my dad doesn’t fit into the stereotypical mold; he’s a breadwinner who aces on the caregiver status. There’s absolutely nothing that he hasn’t done for his family. In fact all the men in my family circle make me feel it’s unfair to undervalue these fantastic dads. My dad, my husband, my brother-in-law and many others around me prove just that to me.

Daddy always made all my childhood Sundays special with his delicious breakfast treats. Oh yes, he loves to cook and is a true masterchef in the kitchen and does it with so much passion and oodles of affection that it’s wonderful to work as his sous chef. He shows how to handle things competently instead of ordering around. Even when I started working I always woke up to a perfectly laid out breakfast plate, a steaming cup of tea and my clothes neatly pressed too.

He is the kind of dad who always got totally excited about all my school projects and later even my work assignments. If I stayed up late nights working on something he’d stay up to help too. When me or my sister visit our parents, daddy still helps us with the kids and often loses sleep trying to soothe my collicky baby back to bed.

These are actually just a few things that I mention here; an inch from seamless miles of ceaseless love and care. Most fathers give loads of selfless attention to their families but we don’t give them much credit for it. All those overtimes, extra jobs on top of the already stressful full-time jobs and then the perfectly honest indulgence in their family life; there is a lot that we tend to overlook about their role in our life.

I wish we could all reflect on how blessed we are to have their sturdy hands to hold on to. I wish we could show our appreciation to our parents more often and not just on birthdays and father’s day.

I penned this poem for my dad. It’s not the perfect gift but he sure made it seem precious. Love you daddy!

 

It’s Not Always Dark

It’s not always dark.

From dull, earthen breast,

Rise sweet songs of the skylark.

It’s never always pale and withering.

In cold, dead winter’s bosom,

Beats the heart of spring.

It’s not always so stark.

Wildflower blooms do blushingly brighten

The fallen and forgotten old tree bark.

So much to achieve even at life’s rim.

Feverishly hungry flames still burn,

In lantern’s long past brim.

Life’s too short to lose that spark.

Just a spot of sun after the rain

Brings forth the rainbow’s arc.

You can always make a new start.

Chaste, humble morns after a dark stormy night

Are all part of nature’s spectacular art.

wildflower-2093500_960_720

I wanted this poem to be about hope and the silver lining that we are constantly looking for while under a dark cloud. When things don’t go our way, or circumstances lead us to a dark place, we sometimes tend to fret about our luck. Everything seems bleak and  we just can’t see the light. We feel helpless and overwhelmed by our state of affairs.

The worst storms sometimes however carry the greatest blessings. Just because we don’t see the light, doesn’t mean it’s not there. If things aren’t going the way we planned them, doesn’t mean they are not working in our favour. The fact that we can’t see the bigger picture provides me with the greatest relief because I know my limited vision cannot perceive how bright the future really is. Our creator witholds something at times perhaps to offer it to us at a more opportune time in the future, or He gives us something better instead.

The fact that we are blessed with the ability to trudge on in the face of adversities is evidence enough that we are heading towards refuge and comfort. We were born to survive and stand the test of time. If we take the time to look around and immerse ourselves in the natural world, we might get better attuned to the way life works. There is healing and comfort close at hand and light will eventually dawn over darkness. Nothing stays the same and as do the seasons, our time shall change too. Spells of joy, sorrow, comfort, abundance, scarcity and contentment will chase each other throughout our transient life on this planet, but faith and hope will keep us going stronger than anything else.

What gives you hope? Do you have a hope inspiring anecdote to share?

The Fear Monster

It holds me back.

It folds me back.

My fear often goads me back.

I wonder when, and linger long.

I ponder on what might go wrong.

All my dreams, it dares to throttle.

I tell myself, “I am mere mortal”.

I wish for strength, I wish for luck.

When action calls, I choose to duck.

I like to play the waiting game.

Then all else, I seek to blame.

My spirit’s curbed; deep lines of pain.

My reflection mocks; drives me insane.

Can’t let it override my senses to flight!

Can’t let it destroy me in such clear sight!

One day I will strive to banish this demon.

This vicious bandit that seeks to steal men;

Of dreams of glory, of joys unchained;

Of strength and valour, of skills unclaimed.

I will find my voice, I will find new skies.

To claim myself; one day I will rise.

Fear is one of the most frequent visitors in our subconscious. Even if we choose to deal with it squarely or ignore it completely it still hounds us. And for those who often fall prey to it, the vicious little creep tightens his reins around their faculties to the extent that they no longer have the will to shake it off.

Our inner fear is probably the greatest hurdle to any sort of forward movement in life. It is the annoying little pesky voice in your head that says, “Don’t even think about trying for that job, you aren’t qualified enough”, “Don’t make that call, they won’t entertain the likes of you”, “Don’t even bother with that silly idea, it won’t work”. No matter what you attempt to do, it gives you hundreds of reasons why you shouldn’t and highlights how miserably you would fail if you go ahead with it.

I have realized that the more I acknowledge its presence, the easier it is for me to shrug it off. I try replacing the negations with positive assertions. If it conjures up limitations, I strengthen my belief that I have been blessed with life and the ability to do wonderful things with it. I might as well have a good go at it than hang around the periphery like a spectator and wonder what it must feel like to be a big game player.

Fear will always be an integral part of our life. We do need it to a certain extent to propel us to work harder, to be more prepared and to sharpen our instincts. But it is important to avoid falling in a perpetual trap of doubts and imagined failures.

How do you handle your inner fear?

Put a Pause on Your Own Sob Story: Let’s Try Being Better Listeners

Remember that time when you feel completely overwhelmed by some situation in your life, a fight, some family upheaval, employment issue, health or emotional trauma? You really want to let some steam off, and vent your heart and soul out. You expect some sort of relief, a sense of direction or at least a sympathetic listener. In fact you feel so stressed that you actually end up pouring out in front of a friend, colleague or family member only to have them make a scoring match of who’s got the better sob story.

Sounds familiar? Probably been there either at the receiving end or the volunteering, “Here’s my list of grievances,” bit. If you venture to talk about an ailment, they want you to know how they braved a deadly disease and didn’t complain even a wee bit, if it’s not their own case, they decide to tell you about some other family member or acquaintance or at times even a public figure who out shined you by his or her patience and iron will. You seek comfort and get to hear how small your issue really is, how ungrateful your stance is and how exponentially better equipped they are in sorting their life out.

And if you are a woman then you get treated to a tirade of long drawn life experiences of all those hardworking mothers and daughters of yesteryears who endured much and said very little. You are reminded that they lived in an age where there were no diapers and instant food and no gadgets that made life easier. If you have a job then you get pointers on how much easier it would be if you resorted to being a homebody. Your stress levels are then attributed to your lazy, selfish lifestyle and an excess of free time at hand that you have deliberately misused in stressing out about useless things.

Do we really have the right to assume that somebody’s response to a given circumstance is uncalled for? Isn’t it unfair to judge others on the basis of our individual responses?

face-985977_960_720

Can we not for that brief moment hit the pause button on our own grievances and just patiently fine tune those darling implements we call ears and LISTEN. I use the term ‘We’ because I have been guilty of doing this too. Sometimes all we intend to do is provide the comforting notion, “You are not the only one going through a rough patch, I’ve been there too and you will sail through the way I did.” But we forget that all of us have a completely unique emotional quotient and the dynamics of our reactions are all very different. We are not an assembly line production and respond differently to the same pressure tests.

I might not be able to cope with the same situation the way you do, my internal wiring is specific to me only. I do not mean to say that we shouldn’t learn from other people’s experiences. We should and we must. We have support groups to allow people to learn from others who have gone through the same trying situations in life. But people who join these groups have decided that they want to hear about others who went through the same ordeal. Someone who just seeks you out to lighten his or her emotional baggage, needs only that much and a little empathy perhaps.

Sometimes being a good listener is all it takes to add a little sunshine to someone’s bad day. We need to listen with a patient, and empathizing ear and without the intention to judge. The more attention you give, the more attuned your mind becomes to the speaker’s emotional cues and this really helps you to know when and how to respond. If you do not really have any useful advice or words of comfort to offer then perhaps the act of listening calmly itself might be the greatest help.

You might be going through a bigger and more trying ordeal, but you don’t really have to talk about it at that moment. Someone trusts you enough to seek you in a time of need and that’s a real blessing and a big compliment to you. Hope we can all work on our emotional intelligence and perk up our ears for some sincere listening next time.

Have you been through something like this? Is there an experience that you care to share? Our little experiences, and what we learn through them at times shine out a tiny beacon for someone else.