There is something incredibly threatening about being a female. Gender equality in itself should be a worrying concept; the thought that why does such a thing need to exist?

When you are born in a conservative society, it garlands you with all its do’s and don’t’s and to seek a reality outside those is sacrilege. Every miss on that list opens way to some form of character assassination. The honour of families lie between our legs; asking questions is for the men, so is the right to love, experiment, fail and rise. This man-made society has tried fervently to paint a woman in its monotone.

As I age, I realise that there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of in being a woman. There is nothing shameful in my burqa, in your sari or in your little dress. We have so much trapped expression within us that it is unfair on our lives if we accept it. With a good heart beating inside you, there is nothing to be ashamed of. We have one life and we must experience everything that we can.

No, I am not in a race with men. I am in a race with my life. I have to see as much as I can before it overtakes me.

Then one day, we will be categorised as human beings. Until then, let us celebrate being The Other!

 

PS: Just clearing the head. It’s been a while since I last blogged.

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How does one ever repay a kind act? Sometimes the kindness is too powerful and our mortal selves, too small to match the soft giant.

The older I get, this burden gets heavier on me. I cannot identify whether it is human nature to feel so indebted or is it a cultural cross I bear? How can I repay my parents for the countless, life-long powers they have given me? But, do we have to think like that?

In the Indian culture (like with some others), there is a huge emotional burden we all carry in our hearts, of pleasing our parents. That thought that one day they will be proud. One day they will know that I really tried my best. One day, they would see, appreciate and admire. We spend our lives trying to impress them and others and no matter how high we soar, that missing acknowledgment from them will always keep our eyes on the ground, never on the grandness of the sky. Even in the sky, the ground is familiar, the clouds aren’t.

Being less expressive like most families, it is always difficult to gauge and know. Are they proud of me? Will they ever be? 

Even if they are, how can I ever repay that kindness: that of raising us with the best, shielding us from dangers that we only saw as we stepped into their shoes, giving us education and individuality that many do not even know exist. 

For everything that they have given me, they earned a wrinkle in return.

Aside from carrying their legacy positively, how does one ever directly repay them for this kindness? I want to make my burden light.

It will be an irony for some when I say this: I don’t understand how educated people fall for religious blackmailing and such hoaxes. Some may argue that why do educated people fall for religion at all?

Based on my personal experience, religion is my way of staying connected to my spiritual self, a way for me to constantly update and assess my benchmark of being a good person. In this, if some rituals help you such as the five Muslim prayers, giving charity, fasting, then so be it. Religion is a personal choice for maintaining a balance in my life. Many people seek to fill their void in many different ways, sometimes with the wrong kind. Spirituality cannot be isolated from the human experience; we do not only discover the world around us or outside of us but there is an entire learning experience within us. Philosophy, poetry and many other forms of art emerge from here. In the Islamic world, we have many such artists and scientists to be proud of.

It is only very telling of the crisis in the Islamic world by giving a quick glance and seeing that many cannot recall the names and the achievements of Islamic scholars and artists. The scary aspect is that the basic values that made Islam popular in its infant years are the very traits that have been bargained for. The humility has been replaced with a sense of superiority. While I understand that we take pride in our religion (here, Islam) and we are not ashamed to practice it, it by no means is a license for us to demand others to endorse the same ideology.

This also begs the question: what ideology are you preaching? Do you want people to be humble and honest or is it more important that everyone around you morphs into a generic Islamic look: concealing our faces and hiding behind it?

Many of our experiences in life make us search for a deeper personal relevance in life. Completely understandable. But the unfortunate truth is that many people have used Islam as a very convenient facade. By default, you are assumed to be a well-groomed and learned person by growing a beard and covering your face. This hiding place has been exploited to its limit by people–not just ones we sometimes read about in the news but also in regular people around me.

I remember going for Umrah (a short religious pilgrimage) in Saudi Arabia. I went there seeking a time to relax and let my mind rest and get peace. I went there seeking inspiration from the other pilgrims but I returned with severe disappointment. People are at their worst behaviour in Makkah and Madinah; instead of being kind to the fellow pilgrims, women will pinch you and push you in long queues to enter the mosque in Madinah. People will litter and disrespect the rules of hygiene in Makkah. If you want to understand what is wrong with the Muslim world, just take a glance in these holy places. It’s not Islam that is wrong, it is the Muslims who are damaging a religion because they stopped paying attention to their spiritual growth, basking in the superiority of preaching.

On my Facebook, I face a barrage of Islamic messages–to pray, to be kind to family, to avoid ties with religious foreigners and the most moronic of it all: the religious hoaxes. It baffles me that educated people will endorse these ridiculous photoshopped images of gloom and doom to spread a shock-and-awe message of them vs. us.

There are many ways to describe what I feel: tiring, frustrating, angry. But most of all, there is a sense of despair and sadness. This is not how it should be.

By also wearing the burqa, I have acquired an unwanted, unintentional role in the Battle of Stereotypes. The number of times people take me to be an oppressed woman without a voice, an illiterate and backward woman, is tiring.

But the saddest truth is that Islam is being lost in the rituals which have no meaning if faith is separated from it.

Tonight, I am sensing that raw, invincible part of me overtaking. It is a defense mechanism of sorts when I feel that I am being under-estimated. 

My parents always kept the village alive in us, never letting it go. When I reached the point where I consciously made my own choices, I clung to the village even dearly because, to me, these are my roots. If I leave my village behind or pretend that I don’t belong, I will simply know nothing else. I won’t know how to behave and I will lose myself.

But then, there are drawbacks. There are many nights like this one.

My parents gave us the best and there is one habit which I can certainly say comes through my father and then instilled by my elder sister: the insanely huge respect for knowledge. I have this ancient respect and love for knowledge, and for people who are intellectuals. That’s why I have been a poor businesswoman. Where it came to knowledge-sharing, I forgot about revenues and I was so engrossed in appreciating and spreading knowledge that it simply didn’t matter that I had to be paid for what I did. It was not for money, ever.

During ancient times of the guru ‘system’ of teaching, the respect for teachers was beyond the value of one’s life. You see, I don’t have fancy aunts or uncles. None of them were media superheroes or Bollywood stars or some fancy authors. Some are people I would not even like to mention as my relatives and many are people who taught me much about being grounded and leading an organic way of life. I am so incredibly proud of their lives but these unsung heroes who become the building blocks of our life do not have that name-dropping quality in social circles.

The bough that falls with all its trophies hung
Falls not too soon, but lays its flower-crowned head
Most royal in the dust, with no leaf shed
Unhallowed or unchiselled or unsung.
And though the after world will never hear
The happy name of one so gently true,
Nor chronicles write large this fatal year,
Yet we who loved you, though we be but few,
Keep you in whatsoe’er is good, and rear
In our weak virtues monuments to you.
(George Santayana)

When I see people whose families have a plethora of people who live acutely famous lives (especially if politics or literature), I feel a sense of sadness sometimes. I also sometimes feel that there is something missing from my conversations that the others seem to have.

When sadness hits me, at the same time this defensive feeling rises in my gut. I somehow accepted that being humble translates to sacrificing self-esteem. I am reminding myself of the guts it has taken to live my life. Many people don’t have even have a story to tell and look at me, I have a treasure chest full of them. All those people have influenced me to live like a little, impactful story in my book.

Maybe this is the trade-off. I chose stories over living a conformist life. Conforming to a societal circle–I am so against such socialising circles. It does not work for me at all. Life is too short to pretend to be someone else. Sometimes when I had to attend such events/parties, I found myself returning to a gloomy mood. It is so tiresome to be someone else even if for a few hours.

I know I am underestimated now but I also know that this will not last long. I won’t let it. If I could have lived these thirty years with my dichotomy, I can last forever. The burkha makes my life much more difficult but this is precisely why I adore it–it makes me even stronger. What makes me stronger, I keep them close to me.

This is a blogpost to those feelings that persist. Go away, I am strong. I will be. My stories are with me. I read them, remember them anytime I want. The people leave but their stories remain forever.

We should tell stories. We should all listen to stories–and read them too.

Right now [after reading about the death of the Delhi gangrape student], my grief is a strange object. It has no beginning and it has no end. I don’t know where do I begin understanding it? In my mind, I am apologising repeatedly and then, I stop myself to ask a few questions: Who am I apologising to? Why am I apologising? What must I do post-apology?

I hate these questions because they make me uncomfortable. I don’t like listening to questions whose answers I don’t have. This is exactly why we should making story-telling a part of us.

Stories need to be told. To move people, to make them chuckle, to make them sit up in delight, to make them uncomfortable, to make them question their life as an outsider might do. This is what token heroes do.

I have always disliked the idea of token heroes that our society and media create. Whether it is in the Iranian revolution or the Arab Spring (among many others), I always thought that the token heroes (although unintentional on their part) appear to be the first victims–which they are not. To channel sympathies to one victim also seems unfair when there are hundreds of thousands of people suffering, and many before them who have suffered a tragic end.

I now realise that they are a symbol of a larger issue; they are not necessarily the ONLY story but their narrative is, nevertheless, important. It makes us explore and to understand deeper. I’m not a fan of the concept of token heroes but they do serve an important purpose. What so many rapes did not do, this one has done. She has played her role and now she has gone. The silence is now uncomfortable because we are left with endless questions: how will we cope/deal with what she has left behind? Are we going to pay this narrative forward? Or will we bury these questions in the rubble of many stories in our mind?

We all love stories but we cannot handle an ending that we dislike; an ending that doesn’t meet our hopes and expectations.

The Mister and I prayed Asr wih congregation at Al-Aqsa mosque. The first-ever in our generations to do so.

After Makkah (Mecca) and Madinah, this is the third holiest place for Muslims. The Arab-Israeli conflict has rendered this place as something of a dream, an item on a bucketlist that has a higher probablity of NOT happening. So I feel tremendously blessed to be able to pray here.

For all of you who have not and cannot be here, these images are for you. Please share it among friends and relatives; I find it very moving to see examples of a glorious Muslim history and the feel at Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock is the same. I’ll explain more:

From the Western Wall Observation Point, the first sight that catches your eye is the stunning Dome of the Rock. It’s golden dome (which is aluminium + gold) glistens gracefully in the sun and you find yourself standing (for real) in all the numerous postcard images you have seen over the years.

The golden dome is that of Dome of the Rock (and NOT Al Aqsa Mosque, as is sometimes mistaken to be). On the right most is Al Aqsa Mosque, in the centre is the Western ‘Wailing’ Wall and on the left is Dome of the Rock. 

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This is the place to perform Wodhu (Ablution), a place where Muslims clean their hands, arms, face and feet before prayers.
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Perhaps it might be different on a Friday when the crowds are huge but we had the chance to visit and pray during the week. Having been to Saudi Arabia twice, I was mentally prepared to be whisked off to another gate, another partitioned space where women will be huddled together whereas the men had most of the space to themselves. Surprisingly, men and women entered the mosque from the same gate and after prayers, I sat with my husband in the mosque in prayer (making Dua’). It was such a beautiful feeling.
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As we enter Al-Aqsa Mosque, this majestic view greeted us.
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This is the spectacular dome of Al-Aqsa Mosque:
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A close-up of the dome:
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Every inch of this mosque’s interior reminded me of the glory of Islam–the architecture, the calligraphy, the art, which is sadly divorced from religion these days. Beautiful calligraphy on Al-Aqsa’s walls:
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There were many ceiling designs, this is one of them:
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Al Aqsa Mosque was destroyed many times–sometimes by earthquakes, fire and sometimes by war. The structure has been re-built from its original one. But the Dome of the Rock has been intact and survived all these calamities!

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A close-up:
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Elaborate, beautiful and exquisite.
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This is a seperate room on the side in Al-Aqsa Mosque which is also referred to as the Omar bin-Al Khattab Mosque. This is the room where he had prayed (among the other spots) in Jerusalem.
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When we stepped outside, we looked straight ahead to this view. The Dome of the Rock inviting us inside. According to our tour guide, there is 80kg of gold in the dome of the Dome of the Rock, which was donated by Hafez Al Assad of Syria.
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Inside the Dome of the Rock.
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Again, the no-segregation policy. We were free to pray and worship where we wanted.
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This will be a beautiful and grateful memory forever. I don’t want these to be a reminder to what is off-limits to many. I want this to be a reminder of the wondrous years we have left behind. In beauty, there is God and how many beautiful things/acts/spaces are we leaving behind for the future generations?

 

By now, I should have been back from Jerusalem.

 

[PS: Yes, we are back. But you can read on anyways.]

It was the first time ever that I was to set foot on that soil. I am writing this in advance to satisfy all those people who think that we would not return.

For Tauqeer and I, this trip is incredibly special, not only because it marks an item off my bucket list (which I haven’t fully compiled till now) but it also gives us the chance to interact with many types of people who we couldn’t have thought of before. Any other trip to Jerusalem wouldn’t be the same without the valuable lessons and learnings we are to take from the people.

When we talk about the unknown, fear becomes a constant companion. There have been many ‘advising’ us not to go; many emotional blackmails, many who did not even want to consider this as an opportunity because they stopped thinking when we said ‘Jerusalem’ or ‘Israel’ or ‘Palestine’.

One of the most important things I have learnt in life is to value a rare opportunity. To take this opportunity is not easy–it comes with fights and sacrifices. It has happened before and I was expecting it to happen now.

I am excited for what Jerusalem will be like. I feel it will be a life-changing experience–something that will teach us a new way of looking at life. I want to feel grateful and humble. Also: why are we so privileged as to not experience the uncertainty of the people who live in that area? We have such deep fear to live someone else’s reality.

I am timing this post for a day after we should land. If for whatever unfortunate reason, we don’t, then I just want you to know that I didn’t have any premonition, dream or inkling of what will lie before us. I am going there with an open mind; I want to be known in our future generation as someone who took the step towards knowledge instead of someone up who gave up as a rotten vegetable.

No, if I wouldn’t have gone to Jerusalem, this would have happened to me anyways. We believe in fate and we believe in Allah and we tell everyone: “This was destined, what can you do?” So why don’t we believe it when it comes to us?

Whatever happens, I am happy. I have the best family and the kindest soulmate.