If I Ever Got to the Gates of Heaven

As a child, I would sit alone behind the living room curtain, staring out for hours at the night, wondering what other children around the world would be doing at that moment – sleeping, eating, writing an exam, getting beaten up, playing, or sitting behind a curtain and wondering about me, just like I was about them.
As a child, I would often find indescribable peace lying down on the marble floor and falling asleep on it. The only thing that rivaled that peace was the serenity I found in falling asleep on the prayer mat.
I would watch TV upside down, with my legs up against the wall. When I got bored of TV, I would look up at the protrusions and wedges in the ceiling and imagine it to be the floor and divide it into rooms and decorate it with different furniture in my mind.
Some memories are etched so deeply in my mind, I wonder why they are the ones that are there. Do we have the ability to so vividly remember emotionally intense experiences that it feels like we’re in that very moment once again?
Like an unforgettable night praying next to my then very busy dad as a child in the balcony and later watching the stars. I can even recall the gentle wind and the distant look in his eyes and the slow pace of his breathing, as we’d finished praying and he was looking out to nowhere, and his lips were moving with dhikr, and I just watched him.
Then another day I woke up for school and caught my eyes in the mirror as I washed my face and felt like I’d seen the most beautiful eyes in the world.
Then one day when I was in KG 2 and my mom couldn’t pack lunch in time in the morning and promised us she would bring it to school. The lunch bell rang and I waited for my mom at the school gates and she hadn’t come. Lunch time was over and I was back with an empty stomach in class. A few minutes later, my mom was standing breathless at the class door with a mixture of anxiety, exhaustion and guilt on her face in her cream and peach scarf. Miss Shirley looked at me and told me I had 5 minutes to eat and get back to class – the equivalent of being allowed to cheat in an exam in a convent. I got out and mom opened the lunchbox and kept it in front of me, and watched me with so much anticipation as I took in the steaming hot fried fish with rice and ghee, as if every bite I took was vindicating her a bit more for committing the heinous crime of keeping me hungry longer than I should have been for one, single, meal.
And when I was 4 or 5 and got red chilli powder put in my eyes. I can never forget the afternoon light in the room and how my limbs moved trying to resist.
And when I was out playing for a long time and came back home and kept knocking for an hour on the door till I fell asleep on the marble staircase. My family didn’t realize I was missing when they left for a dinner party.
And when as a child, I watched nervously as mom cried into the phone to her sister till she completely broke down.
And memories of trying to focus the sun’s light onto my hand with a magnifying glass. Or dropping different colors of paint into a glass of water and watching them swirl so beautifully.
Or feeling like my heart would explode and crying uncontrollably when little Mariam was taken away from her mother and had no idea what was going on as she kept looking back at her mother in A Thousand Splendid Suns.
Or protesting as my young maternal uncle would leave our house and keep teasing me with special nicknames he’d kept for me: Jupiter and ‘thing’ (because I said the word so much).
Days in university with my Turkish best friend, discussing life and existence and revelation and beauty and God. Making her and a British friend try desi food in a South Indian restaurant. Watching her burst into tears  and hug me as she read a write-up of my fondest memories, a file that I would give anything to recover.
Sunny mornings of my childhood or when I’d set out for class in university.
When new knowledge opened up doors in my mind I never knew existed and I reveled every second in the unparalleled bliss that only enlightenment can bestow.
The rife and hot anger in my heart when I would experience or witness injustice that I could do nothing about.
When I was in an auto rickshaw listening to the driver desperately discussing how he’s trying to complete the arrangements for his sister’s wedding with his aunt.
When I could concentrate considerably in my prayer which would transport me to another universe.
Exchanging hugs after Friday prayers at university with friends.
Feeling so lonely on the bus sometimes.
Noticing the different shape, texture and color of the leaves of different plants growing in the same soil and thinking ‘God. Only God.’
Missing more than just one beat as my eyes would catch those that searched for mine and mirrored my soul.
A song that stirs up so much longing for so many things that time has taken away with it.

What is the purpose and end of all our individual experiences? Why are 6 billion people having 6 billion different experiences at this very moment and what is their collective meaning and purpose and end?

The infinite emotions we experience and their constant exertion on the heart through the journey of life is so paradoxical. All our experiences have an affect on the heart: the organ that has to work to keep us alive while life keeps wearing it down. And at some point, it’s as if the heart gives up trying to thrive and is just struggling to keep us physically alive and get life over with.

With a heart like that, the only thing that stirs it is when I imagine myself finally getting to the gates of Heaven. I imagine standing alone, light in front of me, as I levitate in a dark starry space. My eyes are closed and my face is turned up and I take in a deep breath. And I’m thinking “Just. Let. Me. In.”

The moment I step foot inside, I fall to my knees with my heart in my hands stretched out towards Him, saying:

‘Take it. And don’t ever, ever leave me again.’ 

Gates_of_heaven_on_earth_by_Vyner

Heartquakes: the Tremors of Life

the_lost_heart_by_michael_rayne_deviantart

If there is anything that encapsulates and signifies the presence of life, it is a heartquake.

A heartquake is the tremor you feel in your heart when something touches your soul, and stirs the very core of your being. When something penetrates so deep beyond your physical existence into the vast expanse of your soul, that it causes a shift in your innermost being and sends an echo of life rippling through the epicenter of your heart, making you physically tremble. It knocks the breath out of you, and leaves you unable to speak.

Heartquakes originate from the most intense human experiences: overwhelming grief, real love, peaking passion, profound truth, sincere faith, enlightenment, insurmountable loss, crippling fear, terrifying horror, breathtaking beauty, extreme inhumanity.

When was the last time you felt one? 

When was the last time your heart trembled in awe of your Creator, marveling at His power and majesty?

“The true believers are those who, when Allah´s name is mentioned, their hearts tremble in awe, and when His verses are recited to them their faith grows, and who put their trust in their Lord.” [Qur’an: 8:2]

When was the last time you felt an embrace of real love that made you tremble with belonging?
When was the last time a truth so profound struck you that you had to look for words to say?
When did you last see something so beautiful that you were overcome with delight, unable to breathe?
When did you last feel your heart burst with the agony of loss?
When did you last see oppression in the eyes, till your heart was rattling with fear?
When did you last reach a level of astounding awareness that shook you awake?
When did your heart wrench last, at the sight of a bleeding child?
When did your heart scream last as it witnessed utter barbarity?

When was the last time you were alive?

In the Heart of a Homemaker

In the Heart of a Homemaker
In the Heart of a Homemaker

I watch my fingers as they struggle to type, words lingering at their tips, unable to arrange themselves in an interesting sentence because they just don’t flow as easily as they used to. I begin to reflect on the evolution of my hands and the things they contained, touched, created and dealt with over the past few years. From books, poetry and coffee; to writing messages of love, caressing, preparing meticulous meals, carefully applying makeup, adjusting my earrings. To writing down my confused, depressed thoughts, to cupping them on my face as tears flowed in them and I prayed for direction. To drafting legal contracts  and typing out legal advice. To writing and editing articles and chopping onions for curry. To taking pills for various illnesses and having IV needles inserted into them. To taking off my rings as my fingers swelled. To holding my baby for the first time. To mixing bottles of milk and checking to make sure the temperature is right. To washing dishes, cracking eggs for breakfast, laying plates, peeling apples and boiling oats for baby lunch. To hurriedly getting dressed and fixing my hair before the bell rings. To flipping through Youtube aimlessly on a boring weekend. To making a cup of tea that fixes everything. To doing the bed and rocking my baby to sleep. To applying ointment to an aching neck or foot. To switching off the bed light, hoping for a few hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Under the layers of responsibility, of duties, of diapers, dishes, dressing up, doctor’s visits, expectations and arguments, underneath it all; in the heart and mind of a mother, of a wife, of a home-maker – is a young girl with unfinished dreams of her youth: studying in her dream university, cycling in the sun, laughing in the rain and getting drenched in the sea, pursuing the career everyone had always told her she would excel in, hearing words of deep love and affection, travelling the world, being surprised to tears, having a timeless conversation, taking in a breathtaking view, catching her loved one lost looking at her.

In millions of homes around the world at this very moment, there is a woman who’s probably setting the table for dinner or feeding her baby or packing a lunchbox; who, with the end of every day, buries the young girl she was in her heart. The young girl she was who watches her everyday as she gives, sacrifices, puts up, puts aside, settles, gives up and gives in. Gives every single second of her time and every single ounce of her health. Sacrifices her ambitions, interests and brilliance to routine. Puts up with what she never expected and never thought she had the strength to. Puts aside everything that happened, wipes her tears and forgets. Settles for whatever life’s brought her way. Gives up hope of seeing any change. And eventually, gives in to a life very different from the one she’d dreamed of.

Not all of this is my story. This is a collective story of the daily and eventual life of almost every single woman who is putting her husband and child(ren) first. A collection of the fragments of pain and longing that I come across in the eyes of and conversations I’ve had with so many women who are about to break, or have broken and become numb. Or are relentlessly struggling to make it work, and make it beautiful. This is the story of your mother, my mother, your sister, my sister, your close friend, my neighbor, you, me. You know it is.

Those who’ve passed it say it is a phase and that it will end. But isn’t the ending almost always the same: a woman with a battered body or/and soul, who doesn’t even remember what she was like before?

We’re happy, of course we are, and we love our families. But that does not mean we are not sad. That we do not tear up thinking of what we could have been doing or would have become by now… if we had put ourselves first.

NOTE: Your maturity will reflect in your understanding of this article and its message. Please do not flood me with comments of how to be grateful and look at the good times because if you think this is complaining, you are still too immature to understand.

We Had a Life

children playing
I was part of the generation of kids that pointed at planes and went “LOOOOK! It’s a plane!” and waved like mad at them.

We cycled in the summers and ate ice pops and spent our whole day outside, we had picnics on the terrace, swam in plastic pools in the balcony, told ghost stories to each other when the electricity got cut, we bought sugarcane from push carts for half a rupee, we flew kites and plastic balloons (not fake metallic ones) and our grand treats were icecreams in mango-shaped containers. We drew with toothpaste on anyone who slept during sleep-overs, we hijacked our neighborhoods with toy guns, we set up adventure camps on terraces and we wrote on neighbors’ catus plants and smelled their beautiful white roses. We watched Home Alone 20 times and laughed harder every time, we went to waterfalls and beaches and hill stations as large families, and ate home-cooked food out of 5-stack hot cases. We painted on pots and made leaves and flowers out of plaster of paris, we created puppets and held puppet shows in cardboard boxes, we attended karate classes, we watched different colors of paint as they swirled down in water. We baked cakes and made omlettes on weekends, we played hide and seek and hop scotch and “kitchen-kitchen” for hours and we made garlands out of yellow flowers growing on trees in our lanes. We climbed trees, ate their fruits, planted seeds, cooked in tiny earthen pots for all the neighborhood’s kids. We played dark room and spun under the sun till we fell down laughing. We would try to burn paper by focusing the sun through a magnifying glass on it, we would be thrilled out of our senses if our uncles took us for rides on their motorbikes.

We soaked in the sun, we HEARD the waves for real, we FELT trees and sand, we SMELLED flowers and plants, we PLAYED, with HUMAN BEINGS, we got hurt in reality, we baked and cooked and swam and ran and won and lost and got scared for real and we laughed out loud FOR REAL.

We had a LIFE. And we had the time of our lives!

 

The Past After the Future

It was one of those ritual trips to KLCC that students take while trying to deal with the short-semester boredom. As the LRT rolled on, the three of them sat watching the rain battering against the train windows… trees swinging wildly in the wind, cars caught in the jam below… and they began to talk about the train. What could possibly have existed a 100 years ago along the same route they were travelling on? People moved about on foot, rode animals, primitive carts maybe; taking hours to cross distances that we now cross in minutes. Their clothes, technology and food would have definitely been different from ours… ours developed, exotic and stylish; and theirs quite dull and monotonous. But what if, for a moment, we were one of those people who lived a 100 years ago that these bored friends were talking about on a train? Where exactly would we be as they spoke?

Somewhere deep below the ground, walked upon by millions of busy people. Rarely or never thought about. Our faces nameless, our positions taken over, our institutions and houses destroyed, our contributions ridiculously insignificant, our lifestyles outdated… our entire civilization buried. Our once existence on this earth would be imaginary.

Caesar’s dead for all you could care to know about him today. The mighty Pharaoh lies lifeless in a box somewhere in Egypt. The affluent Ottoman Empire has crumbled. And we would never ever know the multitudes of common people that lived during those generations. So too, we will one day be. Meaningless to those that live when we are dead.
If to learn from the past is to realise the true insignificance and temporariness of everything that humans have always cherished, it is also to marvel at the timelessness of the lives of revolutionary people throughout the ages.

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Who’s Life is it, Anyway?

Let’s see, what do we need for a life again? Air. Breathing apparatus (your lungs basically). An object to contain that breathing apparatus (this would be the physical you). A reason for that object with the breathing apparatus to exist. Well, you don’t make or supply your own air so that part of your life isn’t yours. You didn’t make your own lungs neither your body, you were made with materials belonging to someone else (guess Who), and if robots are copyrighted then you definitely are, so you don’t own your physical self either. But since you use them, it means they’ve been given to you, you must know by now that NOTHING is for free in our world (not even the ‘free’ ketchup!), so unless you remember buying your own lungs, etc. or renting them, you can successfully conclude that they’ve been loaned to you. And they all have an expiry date.

Now let’s talk about the reason for you to exist. This reason can be anything, unlike our lungs and our air and our body, we’re free to choose the design, quality, depth and beauty of this reason and thereby determine the value of our life. Ultimately, life is the execution of this reason. Since you determine this reason, you can safely say that at least this part of your life is truly yours. Or is it? Take a look at everything that you do. Is what you own what you require or what is socially accepted? Does dressing up go beyond the natural and civil requirement of being clean and presentable? Or does it involve dressing up (or down) for the pleasure of someone else, and hence living that part of ‘your’ life for someone other than yourself. Does getting a degree mean fulfilling a job requirement or developing yourself? Does learning mean passing an exam or increasing your awareness? Does talking involve regular showers of swear words that add nothing to the point you’re trying to convey? Does your sense of modesty change with changes in location? Do you sacrifice your own comfort just to beautify your walk? Are you ashamed to say you’re unaware of the latest shows and music? Do you smoke because you’re not a man if you don’t?

How much of what you use, speak, watch, eat, wear, spend or do is because it really makes you more valuable? How much of your life have you lived genuinely for the benefit of your own self? How much of your life have you let others own, determine and destroy?

We all need to work on our lives, large parts of which aren’t ours anymore. If our ancestors were physically invaded and enslaved; our very identities are the slaves of the massive consumerist and hedonistic empire of the modern world. Freedom is not the right to do what you want, but the liberty to do as you should. Go back to your Creator’s Book. It will show you the depth and beauty you can give to your life and will free you from being possessed by this world.

The Best of Beginnings

His voice echoes off the surrounding mountains and ripples through the silence, as the students in the settlement are plunged in sleep, half-dead, what with all the maddening effort that goes into the mid-terms and assignment deadlines to meet; and the stress of the exams looming near is like an insomniac ghost residing in their subconscience.

Slowly, the creation around them begins to stir, birds crawl out from the warmth of their wings, trees rustle off sleep as they gracefully lift their branches, and the wind, nature’s messenger, carries the muezzin’s voice into their rooms, spreading a heavenly coolness…

While many are lost murdering their roommate’s alarm clock in their dreams, lights turn on here and there; and the journey to the bathroom begins. After some extended dreaming where people usually don’t, there comes the jihad in the name of Allah: literally face to face with freezing cold water! A short battle; and the victory of a refreshing wudu’ adorns the warrior and he is promoted to the rank of a ‘worshipper’.

Stepping back into their rooms, breeze meeting their drops of wudu and spreading serenity, worshippers dress for prayer as they think: Have they not been awoken from the death of sleep? Has not new strength replaced their fatigue? Have they not been gifted a new chance, a new life? Now clean and composed, they stand in blue darkness. In silence. Allah is watching. There is peace. And their hands rise…

“Allah is the Greatest”…..”Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds…” ….”You do we worship, and from You do we seek help …Aameen” … “By the Break of Day…..And the night as it passes away, is there not in these an evidence for those who understand?”…”Allah is the Greatest”.. “How perfect You are my Lord, Most Supreme”… “Verily Allah has heard those who praise Him”… “How perfect You are my Lord, Most High”… “… blessings and peace on you O Messenger of Allah”… “I bear witness that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is His slave and Messenger”… “O Allah, I have wronged my soul excessively…bestow on me Your mercy, You are indeed Most Forgiving, Merciful”………. “Peace and blessings of Allah… be upon you”.

To all student worshippers, preserve this prayer; it is the best of beginnings to your day. Cherish this prayer; it adds light to the face. Embrace this prayer; it is the peace that balances your daily stress. Never give up this prayer, it reflects our unity of purpose; for as our prayers rise up from our own blue darknesses, they reach Allah from the same place: a settlement of knowledge where many young people have come together to find friends who strengthen each others’ Islam.