What I have learnt.
Today, I woke up still feeling unwell: that gross feeling of one’s ears, nose, and throat being all congested. I still remember how cool I found it when I discovered that these parts of the body are connected. The hippie in me is dying to say that everything is connected.
In a connected way: I have really been enjoying a documentary series called ‘Connected’, on Netflix. I would highly recommend the fourth episode (entitled, ‘Digits’), which is about something called Benford’s Law. Remarkable. I’m not a very maths-y person. [I still get gassed at the fact that I can work out percentages at the shops and stuff.] Benford’s Law: what an amazingly cool thing, so brilliantly explained, in that episode.
Things like this just make me wonder, again and again, if we really do have any agency over ourselves and our lives. Everything in existence follows those Perfect patterns. Very Truman-show-esque: what if we are all just going through the motions? What if everything is already Planned, to the T?
The whole ‘Benford’s Law’ thing, Subhan Allah, also reminded me of the fact that… we human beings are limited (for veteran readers of this here blog: “Too fine are the perfect lines…”) and that there is Perfection that is far greater than what we, on this ground level, perceive to be it. Real Perfection is utterly beyond ourselves: it does not always immediately make sense to us. And life is a journey through, and towards, that Perfection that is greater than everything we are, and perceive, and think, and (think we) know.
So, today I woke up and had to call (or, text) in sick to work. I stupidly even sent voice notes to one of my supervisors (Assistant Principal) to subtly prove that I really was too sick to go in.
Today I learned that masala chai really is my panacea. I love that word. For older Bengalis, Vick’s (and paracetomol) are known to be theirs. I love Vick’s. It doesn’t really do anything, but it smells nice and convinces me that it is doing something.
Today I learned that a YouTuber whose videos I have really been liking – Sheen Gurrib [she’s a rather-popular-medical-YouTuber-called-Ali-Abdal’s housemate] – is Muslim, and Mauritian. Her Eid vlog was very nice to watch. And, again, everything is connected: it seems like those Roshmalai cakes I had spoken about in an earlier post of mine… are a ‘Mauritian thing’, too. So is the word ‘Eidi’ to describe gifts.
I have a (very-very-extended) family member who is Mauritian. A while ago, in the strangest conversation with her, outside a bathroom, involving her son, who sort of scared me, she told me that I could very easily be Mauritian myself. M’lady, I could very easily pass as being quite a lot of things, so it would seem. Here is why:
My friend-cousin-Aunt Farhana randomly sent me a TikTok video [to be pronounced in the Spanish way: bee-dio. Incidentally, three people, within this lifetime of mine, have also asked me if I am of ‘Latin’ origin] today, about the history of Bengal, in terms of how our people are the products of a “confluence of various communities”: Indian, Persian, Turkish, Arab, Mediterranean, and European. Sometimes I wish I were brave enough to fully indulge in the ‘hippie’ thing. To say, in response to when people ask me ‘where I am from’, that “I am from nowhere and everywhere. A confluence of cultures; just another leaf on the connected tree of humanity”, and then watch them, with a smile, as they back away in weirded-out-ness and terror.
I know for a fact that people project ideas on me, and have done so. I probably have done, and do, the same to some others. I know that some people have assumed that I am ‘Tunisian’ or otherwise, and have proceeded to seem like they really like me, and want to speak to me and hang around me… on the beginning basis on where they think I am ‘from’. And I have felt the deflation of such projections, when I have told them that I am not from those places: I am Bengali.
I have heard the comments. The “no offence, but are you Bengali?”, even, and the rest. And, are the seeming opposites (the comments of ‘caramel’ skin and whatnot) better? Would I go up to a white boy and tell him, as a compliment, that he has ‘mayonnaise skin’?
“You look smart.”
“Thanks. Is it because I’m Asian?”
Exoticisation, degradation. All on account of mere projections, and not on truth. On not seeing a person, but an image, or a few. I know I am known to talk about this quite a lot. The theme would appear to come up quite a lot, in this life of mine.
What does it mean, to be Bengali? How do we prevent ourselves from being performative, and from being defensive, and from reifying it, in our minds, and from reducing the entirety of something to mere aestheticz?
We interrupt this article with the fact that, the other day I asked my little brother what he is dreading the most, about having to grow up. “Having a job,” he said. Today, he just got out his Nintendo Switch, put on his headphones, and said that he’s going to “do [his] job now”. Making money? Who’s that, and why do we need him?
We cannot really connect with images: we are designed to only be able to really connect with realities. This reminds me of a great article I had read in ‘TLS’ (The Times Literary Supplement) whose current editor also happens to be a- boy-I-went-to-sixth-form-with’s father. The boy in question had been my main competition in English: my literary arch nemesis. The article had been about ‘Zoom learning’, and about the value of physical classrooms, in contrast to virtual spaces. Full experiences are what we need, as beings, and, though our imaginations can easily convince us that we want something else: what is reality sayyin’?
Also: people are so very allowed to have their own opinions about you. But that need not mean that you need to accept them as some absolute truth, which you must now carry. They are they, and you are you.
Today, I ran some more errandz, and opened up an email from Dawud Wharnsby’s blog, and learned about his views on anasheed: Islamic hymns. Songs to praise the Creator. In it, he says something about how, originally, nasheeds had been sung as poetry with melody. Limited to the use of human voices – song – and the use of Duff drums. Nowadays, he argues, anasheed are being made to follow the trends of pop music, which could be said to lead to antithetical effects.
This is connected to ideas surrounding ‘Islamic architecture’. The most ‘spiritual’-feeling works of architecture, perhaps, are the ones that are rooted in nature. Trees, symmetry, flowers, the nectars of simplicity. How silences, and space, are necessary, to bring rightful attention to their equals and opposites.
Perhaps similar things could be said of food. We Bengalis tend to eat, mainly, with our hands. And many South Asian/Middle Eastern ‘cultures’ are known to favour sitting on the floor to eat, in lieu of using tables and chairs. In these ways, it could be argued, we are able to better connect with things: food, nature, other people, our Realistic places in this world.
In line with something I learned from a lecture by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, it’s not just about eating for enjoyment: it’s about eating for health. Not just about listening to music for entertainment: it’s about listening for meaning. Not just about designing things to fill spaces: it’s about designing things for our holistic humanities.
We only know ourselves through knowing others, and through knowing Allah. Knowing others who are similar to us, and knowing others who are different. Knowing Allah, and our places – in Sujood – before Him.
Life is challenging, and it is struggle. I am trying to end this article how I usually do – as a wannabe poetic philosopher. I want to be attached – connected – to the utter truths of things. Of people, of places, of the world at large. I hope that makes sense. Everything else is d e c e p t i o n, and I cannot let myself become ungrateful.
(Be still, Nafs. U fatty)
I just ask Allah for what is best for me. And whatever it is, I must walk forth, and meet it, as and how it is. I need to learn to put my trust in Allah better. Like how Ibrahim (AS) did. After he asked for a sign, and after the awesome thing happened with the bird: he had ‘blind’ faith in his Lord. And this was him seeing most clearly, also.
Consider that what is yours is yours, and that nothing else outside of your reality could even come close. And that there is so much beauty, waiting to be seen, felt, experienced, discovered. So many learning curves, also. Stories to tell, in de end. And, oof: post-Sunday-clean cleanness to enjoy, at home ❤
“You are what [and whom] you love.” And:
فَصَبْرٌ جَمِيلٌ. (You’ll see.)
A Nasheed that reminds me of my childhood, and of my buddy gewl Tamanna [who included some of its lyrics in a poetry workshop we both took part in once, at a museum in Greenwich, because she is awesome, Masha Allah]: https://youtu.be/_CX-YZjFw9A
And another interesting version of the same thing, which I find myself loving, at this moment in time: https://youtu.be/EM4WxUAaCww
With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.