If porcelain, then only the kind — by Stanisław Barańczak

If porcelain, then only the kind
you won’t miss under the shoe of a mover or the tread of a tank;
if a chair, then not too comfortable, lest
there be regret in getting up and leaving;
if clothing, then just so much as can fit in a suitcase,
if books, then those which can be carried in the memory,
if plans, then those which can be overlooked
when the time comes for the next move
to another street, continent, historical period
or world:

who told you that you were permitted to settle in?
who told you that this or that would last forever?
Did no one ever tell you that you will never
in [this] world
[be quite] at home?


(Translated from the original Polish by Frank Kujawinski)

Subhan Allah. What a wonderful poem, no?


2020

Gang Aft Agley

 

An adventure, and some quite random reflections. 

This ‘academic year’, I had taken a gap year. A year of not having attended any formal educational establishment. I have very much learnt that life is more than dictated schedules of nine to five, and that some very good things can come from states of utter uncertainty — if one has faith, that is. My own gap year was, in no way, a pause year in terms of life. It had simply been another year of it. Life: waking up every morning; eating, learning, laughing, having existential crises, writing. Up until the other bookend of the day: going to sleep.

Time, and how I had been spending mine.

Did I find that I ‘found myself’, this year? Well, perhaps such a question escapes the point. Maybe it is not about ‘finding oneself’. It is simply about you (you are yourself already) and about how you are living.

All life is but a series of days. And each individual day contains, within it, life. 

 

Religion

I reckon we all need it. And that we know that we have a Creator. Who made us this perfect? And that all around us, there are signs for all of we who are willing to have faith. Things get quite confusing at times, I know. But may we always find our way back home.

I have learnt that nothing is better than ‘Ilm, and the stuff that gives the heart true serenity — nothing at all. And, while all the rest of the world might be always-in-a-hurry, almost perpetually in motion, I hope that our hearts remain steadfast, always beating in recognition of the One who made them, responsive to the facts of their own blessed aliveness.

Welcome to a world that has almost completely forgotten God. Where, ironically, the West operates upon originally Christian ideals (the Protestant Work Ethic, notions of human rights) but in such twisted and hypocritical ways. And belief, one finds, can understandably be extremely hard, at times.

But how blessed I feel, to be Muslim. Subhan Allah. 

When it comes to Islam, the emphasis is very much on Pure Monotheism. In this world, pretty much everyone is enslaved to at least one thing. Devoting oneself to something; directing one’s efforts towards these things, organising one’s time around it. Even the way we think about the education system, sometimes. Seemingly benign. But actually rather (significantly) detrimental: eat well and sleep well so you can perform wellEducation is the primary consideration: a deity, almost. Etc. And obedience to these systems, or sacrificial devotions to… national flags and such, being the very centrepieces of these lives of ours: this is something that I am desperate to disconnect from. Otherwise it simply would not be Pure Monotheism, would it?

 

In the most dark and difficult parts of this year, the doors of the mosque were always open, for me to walk right through. And, those portions of the evening spent in the part of my local mosque that is dimly illuminated by panels of light from the corridor, which would stretch out right across the carpeted floor. A women-only space. Those evenings are quite unforgettable; I have rarely ever known a deeper kind of peace.

 

People, Connections 

This year especially, I find I have learnt much about friendship, and about family. The connections ‘of the womb’, and those of the soul. Allahummabārik, some of my kindred spirits, my soulmates, are cousins of mine, while others of them, I had been fortunate enough to meet at school, or elsewhere. They are the people whom I know want the best for me, and for whom I want nothing but the best, too.

Spending time with them. I feel so at ease; it is something different. Peace and play, and a unique sort of spiritual fulfilment. And they are nothing less than the lights of my life, if I am to be honest; my world.

Considerations of family, and of ‘home’, should not be pushed to the side. And my heart had really missed that sort of true quality time (whereby my attentions had been, for the most part, undivided) that I had been able to spend with particular family members, this year.

I have realised that I do not wish to be liked (or, loved) based on such things as my scholastic activities, nor even the things (books, media) I may consume. Nor for how I might look on paper, or on a phone screen. Not for outside, ephemeral, image-based factors. No, no. I want for my connections to always be so terribly (terrifically) real; the places where existing as I am is truly enough.

I cannot imagine my life without you in it.”

When it comes to matters of the soul, and its messenger of choice: love, my mind seems to generate this imagery of a treehouse. A place of resort, hidden away in the greenery. And I think of cosiness, and the wood and the Earth. About putting the rest of the world away; feeling entirely safe. Spaces for reflection, and in which to spread one’s wings. Kind eyes, shoulders to lean on; all that is good, and true, and beautiful, concentrated into this small home of wood. Excitement, too: buzzes of true connectivity. And nowhere in the world do you feel more significant and genuinely alive than in this little treehouse, tucked away somewhere who-knows-where. Nobody ‘gets’ you like they do. (Nobody needs to ‘get’ you like they do.)

The basis need not be the state of being near identical, to them. No, no. It is less about ‘finding oneself in others’, and more, I think, about finding oneself (a distinctively different entity) with certain others. Interactions: you move, they move. And resulting equilibria. Two beings, together. I am not sure how to fully express it in words, actually.

And only closeness can bring about… closeness. Nothing else. Physical proximity, the eyes, and the hands, and the spirit. Bonds, and how they are watered, nurtured. And real closeness is the most important thing ever.

Forget the labels. Forget about whom you are only ‘meant to’ like, and focus on your real loves, to have, and to hold, and to eat with, and to be an absolute idiot with. Who will stand with you in the warmth; who will sit there with you, in warm silences, for when it is cold.

With them, one’s heart is full. Without them, life is empty. Their smiles light up the entire world; they are whom your heart longs to always know. They are yours, and you are theirs.

And I write about this stuff because I know it is the most important thing in the entire world: the connections of one’s soul.

 

Life. And you.

These days are passing us by; they are almost as long as they are short. And you, dear one:

you will be fine. 

 

Are you ‘enough’? Well, what sort of a question is that? You have always been enough; will, to the right people, always be enough.

And, you, you, you: there is no better person for you to be!

 

‘Who we are’, as well as our subjective experiences of life: these are determined by the things we acquire. Within each of us, there are the seeds of potential(s). Potential(s) for good, and those for evil. And, for what we can be, and for how well we can be them. The potential(s) within me are necessarily going to be different than those within you.

What sort(s) of potential do you find you, as an individual, may hold? And how are you going to acquire the good stuff? And how are you going to focus on you and tending attentively to your own unique set of seeds?

 

So long as the centre is sound, know that all else will be fine, too.

 

 

The Road to Scotland 

Travelling is fun. But whom you go with is everything: the shapers of your experience. And, trite but true: life is a journey. Whom one’s companions are, for the ride: this a most crucial consideration, indeed.

I have always loved Scotland. Even before visiting… though not in a delusional, idealistic way. For everything Scotland is, she is wonderful. Cloudy skies and rain included. Scotland is certainly worth a 10-hour car journey with my sometimes hyperactive little cousins for; even worth enduring the adults who would not stop blasting cheesy Bengali music much of the way through.

Being with certain people, I find, never fails to ignite my spirit. My little cousin Isa, for example: my best frenemy. A grandfatherly figure in the form of a child. Often ‘grumpy’, always sarcastic. Whenever he sees me with a book in my hands, he is known to call me a “boring nerd”. And, whenever I see him with a book in his hands (the little hypocrite!) I call him the very same thing. Nine years of age, and probably already the most responsible adult I know. And I love it when Isa has all these things to tell me about the things he has read. Or when he annoys me and we chase each other around; when my little grandfather-like cousin suddenly cannot stop laughing. When his siblings and I go crazy together, while he just sits and stares at us disapprovingly. Though he is my cousin, I also consider him to be my brother, and nothing but.

Cousin Moosa, also. But I have chosen to rename him ‘Throckmorton’. While in Scotland, we stopped off at an awesome hillside ‘garden nursery’ [where one woman, by herself, tends to a very diverse, vibrant, array of flowering plants. There is also a wooden viewing hut, towards the top, from which one can gaze upon all the flowers, and at the massive glistening lake below!] I was awestruck by the sheer botanical variety: all these petals of yellow, and of red. The Earth really does laugh in flowers! In blues, in purples, and whites. Clusters of blossoms, ribbon-like designs, orchid arches, and more.

Throckmorton’s commentary, upon seeing the very same gorgeous garden that I had very much fallen in love with, had included the following:

“They just dash seeds in, and hope for the best!”

He added, while exploring:

Brexit means Brexit. I love Brexit!”

We took a cable car up to the top of a mountain in the Nevis range. I shared a gondola with Moosa and Maryam. Moosa decided to shake our carriage vigorously, in spite of how high up we had been, promptly before opening one of the little windows, to play at being a McDonald’s drive-thru worker, taking the fast food orders of… the mountains around us.

My cousin Maryam, who is, to me, my little sister. How glad I am that not all of my cousins are boys. Maryam is warmth and loveliness, and madness, and humour, and home, all wrapped up into one gorgeous human being.

And, their dad: my uncle. Adventurer extraordinaire; an amazing travel-planner. He knows how to plan things well, and he also knows how to (very effectively) be spontaneous. Scotland, as everybody who knows him knows of him, is his ‘true home’. So he had been more than happy to drive for those ten hours, since it meant that Scotland was to be our destination.

Then, my own dad: the most generous person I know, Allahummabārik. Whenever we go on these big trips, being the great foodie that he is, my dad tends to take care of what we eat, cooking for us, and finding different (great) food places. So we got to enjoy some of his homemade meat and chicken curry; some Moroccan food; Scottish fish and chips, and more. I really do think that Scottish fish and chips are the best in existence: probably because they seem to only use fresh fish, over there.

A Hadith tells us to live, in this world, as though we are “travellers”, wayfarers. What might this mean? When one travels, one knows to pack only the essentials. To explore, and to keep moving, and to walk upon the Earth with humility. To love places, but to not get too attached to them. And to know that this is certainly not all there is: one day, we will go Home.

 

While in Scotland, I could not help but think: if the landscapes of this one country are this sublime, imagine how wonderful Jannah must be!

 

Wow. 

In Scotland, the mountains touch the sky, and then the clouds roll right off of them. The very air is simply different, there. And something about the place just made me want to… lay down and hug the Earth or something.

For me, the place epitomises, at once, the notion of ‘home’, as well as that of ‘adventure’. At precisely the same time, and with zero contradiction. Age-old, and yet (courtesy of how its waters are always in motion, for example) ever-new. The landscape makes me think of dinosaurs, and of mythical tales, kind souls and warriors, unbridled spirits. And interspersed throughout those magnificent folding glens are a number of castle ruins!

 

Don’t know where we’re going 

but we know where we belong.”

 

— Harry Styles

 

Mountains and forests, needle-like trees: obedient rows and rows of them. And bodies of water, drenched in the most beautiful shades of blue. The silvery loch: half-water, half-mirror. Clusters of thistle bushes, little welcome bursts of purple. A train darting past, weaving through the hills, the very image of grace. What a dream, and, a true one at that!

A perfect mess of beautiful things…

 

“One cannot divine nor forecast the conditions that will make happiness; one only stumbles upon them by chance, in a lucky hour, at the world’s end somewhere, and holds fast to the days.”

Willa Cather

 

For this trip, we had stayed at a lovely Edwardian house near River Ness [and I always find I much prefer staying at places that are not hotels. For a more ‘authentic’ experience (that is not really ‘authentic’,) of course.]

I quite love the look of tartan. Some tartan designs that incorporate purple into them: I found out that their dyes are made from Scottish heather! And I also found everything about the clans of Scotland truly fascinating. Age-old traditions, kilts, excellent manners, honour and compassion, communities centred on strong ties of kinship.

 

“And We made you into nations and tribes, so that you may become mutually acquainted.” 

— Holy Qur’an, [49:13]

 

My family members (and, indeed, this does seem to be quite common among Bengali adults) tend to compare most countries to their home one, Bangladesh. Fields, bagpipe music, lakes, clan systems. They find, in ‘most everything, something to compare with Bengali things.

When it comes to comparisons with the clan system, the Indian subcontinent in general has its caste system. Bangladesh has its ‘Baris’. Villages. From small family units, to bigger extended ones. Then, housing estates, and Baris. Then, towns and cities, and provinces, and, finally, the nation as a whole. Ideas pertaining to nations and tribes: I am able to really appreciate them insofar as they are of value; able to be, to a reasonable level, appreciated.

But when there is excessive (delusional) pride in a nation — or in a Bari, or in a clan. When one family or tribe looks down on the entirety of another one, generalising unfairly, saying that they are (all) ‘stingy’ or ‘ill-mannered’, or whatnot. Such attitudes of reification are erroneous and ahistorical. I simply cannot stand such mentalities.

We were created as a very social species; we organise ourselves, naturally, into nations and tribes. We are meant to become mutually acquainted; to appreciate cultures outside of our own. To recognise that ‘culture’ is not ever solid and stagnant. It is dynamic; always in motion, changing, just like how we ourselves are. Culture informs who we are, and we, in turn, very much also (continually) inform what it is.

I do so love things that are rooted in tradition. Such things can grant us strength and solidity. And I also love that we can also change things. Move to different places; marry outside of our own ‘cultures’. Appreciate the stories and customs of clans of old; recognise that they, too, had been ‘new’, once. We could even begin new clans and traditions of our own, too!

In Scotland, I had woken up as early as I could manage. Compared to some people, I suppose I ‘sleep in’ a lot. But, compared to cousin Maryam, I do not sleep much at all! While she and everyone else had still been asleep, I went outside for a little walk. Mainly to look at the flowers. I stopped by a cluster of them, and found a bee, doing its thing. I was quite mesmerised by it. And, suddenly, much to my surprise, I turned around to find Moosa and Maryam standing right there, behind me. We somehow started… serenading the bee, with a bee song. As you do. And the amazing little creature buzzed away precisely when our (glorious, gloriously out-of-tune) song had come to an end.

Maryam and I went to the river together, to explore; we walked for a while through the forest. I decided to try to sketch a map, in case we got lost. Well, despite (somewhat-) meticulously sketching out this map of mine, we did indeed get lost. So that was fun!

In the Scottish forests, I had stumbled upon many a mushroom [I think mushrooms are awesome]. And [can you tell that I love flowers?] flowers galore. 

In Bengali, it is something of a no-no to refer to one’s elders by name. Older brothers and male cousins, for instance, are addressed as ‘Bhai’, out of respect, while sisters are called ‘Afa’ or ‘Didi’. When Maryam had been much younger, she had given me the title ‘Fuldi’, which essentially means ‘flower sister’. Now all my younger cousins address me as this. And I am now able to see just how much of an example of ‘nominative determinism’ this has turned out to be.

The link between flowers and humanity is truly fascinating, is it not? How the little (and sometimes large) petalled things plaster our plates, our clothes, our works of art. We extract from them their unique scents for our perfumes; spices are made from them; we write poems about them. We wear them in our hair; base our Mendhi patterns off of them; decorate our rooms and wedding halls with them. They have a distinctively therapeutic quality about them, too, and thus find themselves in bunches, in vases beside hospital beds, in monasteries, in therapists’ offices. We gift them to others, as tokens of our love, of our sympathies, our thanks, and more.

Researchers have found (and I guess it goes without saying) that women in particular have a particular affinity toward flowers. And if you want to see a woman’s genuine (Duchenne) smile, as opposed to her ‘social’ or polite smile, you best give her some flowers!  [Source: ‘Country Life’ magazine, I cannae lie].

Flowers are, to quote the aforementioned magazine, “ineluctable emissaries of beauty”. Beauty makes us feel something; we have, within us, certain faculties that are primed to recognise it. Beauty tells us something about proportion, and about harmony, and Oneness. It inspires in us a yearning for something. I very much think it is one of the ways through which one can come to recognise, and be reminded of, one’s Creator.

While in the Highlands, I had learnt so much. Like about how, in Scotland, they speak Gaelic (pronounced Gallik) while in Ireland, they speak Gaelic (pronounced Gay-lik). And that ‘Mac’ is a surname prefix meaning ‘son [of]’. That a ‘glen’ is a steep-sided hill, a narrow valley; that, when one shouts something while standing in between several mountains, the ensuing echo is truly a thing to behold! I so love that one can learn, not just from books, but from random quotes etched into fences, from signposts, from people, from random leaflets, and, of course, from Country Life magazines…

 

The name ‘Inverness’ comes from the Gaelic ‘Inbhir Nis’. An ‘Inbhir’ refers to ‘a confluence of waters’. Two distinctive bodies of water; where it is that they meet. What a wonderful word indeed.

For one of our activities, we took a boat down Loch Ness. And, while on this cruise, we got to see something rather remarkable: a full rainbow, extending from one side of the mile-wide lake, right to the other! Subhan Allah!

My uncle never fails to make us feel like we are true adventurers. We climbed onto Carr Bridge, whose parapets are no longer there. It was terrifying, but quite an exhilarating experience, also.

We also went to see a waterfall, hidden in the deep heart of yet another forest. Upon entry into this forest, we found a giant tree, on an elevated platform of mud. Half of its roots were exposed, and a makeshift swing had been affixed to one of its lofty branches. To sit on the swing, one had to climb onto the platform. And then, jump, and swing. Of course, my uncle had been the first to give it a go. And then I, and then cousin Isa. And it was awesome!

 

Mind, and Experience 

All of what we do, and see, and are… our minds are, for us, our filters and processors of reality. Whether one is a prince, or a pauper. Living in a palace, or in a small box room. I do not intend to dismiss the difficulties of socioeconomic struggles, for instance, here. And I also know that mental health conditions can make the mind a rather terrible and terrifying place through which to exist, but…

Often to a great degree, and sometimes only to a certain one, the mind is the most important thing. There is nothing better than a fertile, grateful mind.

Irrespective of how one can dress up one’s experiences — on social media, for instance — ultimately, it is one’s own subjective and personal experience that really counts.

 

The smallest things do have this remarkable tendency to turn out to be the most significant ones. Stupid moments; unbridled joy and laughter. Madness. A good warm meal — a shared one — after hours and hours spent outdoors, and so on.

I so want for my mindset to be a grateful one. In Arabic, the word for this is ‘Shakoor’. Etymologically, this word has its roots in the phenomenon of cattle grazing on small amounts of grass, and, from this, producing much milk. A lot from a little; wholesomeness, too. In the Qur’an, some very apt and interesting imagery is used to express the delineation between those who are ‘Ash-Shakoor’, and those who are not: like fields. Some fields, when the rain comes, they return much vegetation. And some remain bare, for the most part.

And I find I am certainly guilty. Sometimes, on my ‘homebody’ days, for example: when I am indoors, learning about things, watching a movie perhaps, making myself something nice to eat… I find myself secretly lamenting that I am not outside, with my friends or cousins, having ‘social fun’, and experiencing things firsthand. Yet, sometimes when I am with good company, ‘truly experiencing’ life, I quietly want to slip away and go home. But life is both ‘doxis’ and ‘praxis’, and the ‘praxis’ parts — really living for oneself and one’s own mind — ought to be the supreme consideration, methinks. And I simply need to learn to be far more grateful. Shakoor, no matter what.

If one does not cultivate a mindset of Shakoor,  it simply does not matter how much rain one’s field receives. It is about what one does with one’s blessings and such; how we savour individual things [and, foolishly, we humans often convince ourselves that, when we are unable to sufficiently savour any particular individual thing, the solution must be to simply get more and more of the thing, so as to cultivate gratitude!]

It is about how grateful one can be; what one is able to create from things, and, in turn, return. 

 

In general, the value of things comes to be known, via contrasts. In Ramadan, fasting all day, and then quenching one’s thirst, satisfying one’s hunger. Food and drink taste the best when one comes to know what it feels like to be without them.

Patience is important. And nostalgia is, more often than not, a queen of melodrama. These are things that I know. And I must remember to know them (know to remember them), too.

I must embrace such facts, with all of my heart: that I must learn to love exactly where I am now. My entire universe, materially contained within whichever room or garden or whatever I find myself within. And it should not be about working on outer shells so much; it should not at all be about the neglect of the ‘inner’. No, for ultimately, it is all about that ultimate filter of ours: the understander, the decider. Our minds.

 

The Big and Small 

I really think that some of the most awesome things in life are the most ‘paradoxical’ ones.

Contradictions in terms, yet perfectly sound, in truth.

Like when one can say precisely what one wishes to say to another, through the medium of Silence.

When one feels stunningly significant in ‘smallness’. Two lovers on a park bench, or a family at their home. A small part of the world, they find they inhabit, and, yet, the entirety of it, at the very same time.

When small moments feel timeless.

When one finds himself in such a state of cowardice, that it (paradoxically) makes him brave. 

When you feel you have known a new friend forever. Somehow.

When beauty is so true that it feels… untrue, surreal.

And so on.

We are fundamentally spiritual beings, enmeshed within these material envelopes of ours. We are known to seek out what might be most meaningful — and it is the soul that seeks, while the body is its physical enabler, a vehicle.

I have been thinking some more about materialism, and about consumerism. And about how commercial advertising works: which parts of our psychologies it all appeals to. What it is, in us, that the reliance on things, and the need for more, might (claim to) empower.

We are all seeking something spiritual. Answers to our questions; for things to make sense. Are we really ‘more’ with more? 

In truth, when we seek out a thing, what we yearn for is its essence, methinks. Even with things like supercars: people are mainly seeking out the experience of driving them.

With friends, one may (claim to) have hundreds and hundreds of them. But it is only the essence of friendships that really counts. Better to have one true, deep friendship, than a hundred shallow ones. In fact, often, having less allows one to channel more focus and nurture into the things we do have. Thus, the ‘spiritual essences’ of what we are fortunate enough to have, are made more powerful.

The spiritual essences of things are not quantifiable in the way that we find material things are. And they are everything: their material accompaniments matter to a degree, but it is all about what these things truly carry. 

In a similar vein, what is knowledge without wisdom? Or, religion (its ‘practice’) without spirituality? And so on. 

I believe in ‘staple’ things, with regard to most things. A couple of ‘staple’ things, and the knowledge that having more will not actually do ‘more’ for me, for my soul.

The feelings of excitement that often come from encountering novelty are hardly an excuse.

You may be well-acquainted with the phenomenon too: seeing a beautiful coat or something, enticingly displayed in a department store. It is your style, exactly. Even though you have a coat at home. Is that one as nice as this one?

[Yes. It is. If the coat you had at home had been brand new and on this mannequin, and if this one on display had already been in your possession, you would probably consider buying it, too. Favouring it above the one you already have, in that instance. Simply because it is new. 

Maybe you want to feel somewhat more ‘new’, too. New look, new me. But listen here, woman! It is the essence and the function of things that matter!

Aesthetics are cool, too. You recognise beauty in things. But owning another beautiful thing is unlikely to somehow make your life more beautiful…]

When I think of… what I suppose I am trying to say, here… about how a single grain of sand could absolutely be better than an entire beach in terms of spiritual truth [especially if it exists in a state of recognition of Oneness, in consciousness of its Creator] I think of…

An apple tree on a hill, on a field in the middle of nowhere. And the way the goldenness of sun might trickle right onto it, and around it.

 

I do not want to live an empty life. Empty of that unquantifiable spiritual goodness, I mean. And nothing but the thing itself can fill its place:

the stuff of the periphery cannot ever be substitutes for the soundness of the centre.

 

I want to enjoy where I am now. Not put numbers or anything to it. My experiences are my own, and yours are yours. It matters not what others might see of it — your own encounters and adventures and such. The spirit of the stuff matters, though. And what it all is, really, for you. 

My life is mine, and your life is yours. And, why should we let so many other people hold us so ‘socially accountable’? Why ought we allow their opinions to forge, for us, mental prisons? One must learn to only really care about the opinions of those whose opinions should matter to us. For good reasons. Not just to have as many abstract stamps of approval from as many random people as we can get them from. From the wrong people, these do not really mean anything at all.

 

Some may think of you this unfavourable thing, or that. And this, while some others are able to see entire galaxies in each of your eyes…

 

“I believe that the most beautiful things are worth waiting for, and that the sweetest fruits require patience”

a quote that is engraved into the front of my current journal (which is actually a notebook designed for Bible studies. And she is thick.)

 

Secrets of Life (i.e. the things that I think I ought to remember, throughout it) : 

  1. People change people. And, no person is sent to you by accident.
  2. Life is ever-unfolding, with every single second. Everything we seek is carefully hidden… so that we might find it. 
  3. Nature will never let you down.
  4. Allah (our Creator) is always there, for you to turn towards. Never, ever underestimate the power of sincere Du’a. 
  5. There is a lot to learn, even from mountains, and from their springs. When you sit with your back against a mighty mountain, you push onto the Earth. And the Earth pushes onto you, gently, right back. Reminding you that you are of the Earth, and you are a part of it.

And, springs: do you see how they flow over and through dirt-ridden rock, yet remain un-muddied by them? In fact, quite remarkably, they are only purified, enriched, by them!

Springs know how best to flow. How to gush, even.

 

Humanity

is farming. And trade. Friendships, and family. Home, and adventure. Food and coming together. Journeys and learning. Schools. Religion. The universe, explored via the human intellect, through the sciences, and the arts. Our words, our questions, and the answers we arrive at.

Love and triumph.

Emotional connection and comfort. Tenderness and gentleness. New birth.

Conflict and disagreement. Discomfort: and how it can manifest as either humour, or disgust, or fear. Or any two of them, together. Social expectations, judgement, pressure. Lies and hypocrisy.

Hope and novelty. Nostalgia.

Illness, and uncertainty. Aloneness. Violence and war. Loss and grief. Death, in the end.

 

The most important thing, for us, is the soul. And all its related considerations.

 

And The Mountains Echoed 

In Scotland, while breathing in that splendidly crisp air, being doused in its hopeful rains, while hopping into little pools of water…. and, while being surrounded by the gorgeous sturdy shoulders of the Highlands: I got this distinctive and true feeling that everything was going to turn out just fine. Somehow.

 

An undeniable, perhaps apprehension-inducing, but quite-reassuring-actually truth: 

 

You

Do

Not

Know

What is coming for you.

Until you necessarily meet it.

 

I find I am especially fond of those things that can set my soul on fire, in those quiet, magnificent, blaze-less ways. Where one can feel the thrum of majestic Earth; pockets of concentrations of the state of being alive. When you are on the back of a motorcycle [in Bangladesh, for example, where, in some parts, there are no road signs or anything whatsoever!] or when you are laughing with your friends so much that your insides hurt. And, when things are done more slowly, and with intention.

The mountains of Scotland, with their luscious greens, rolling waters, dots of orange, clusters of pink. What they say about stillness and strength. I whispered a little prayer at their feet. And the mountains, in return:

they roared. 

 


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

For Wapping

Wapping, a small former parish town in East London, is a place that truly embodies a ‘tale of two cities’. The district begins at the riverbank, where muddied but gleaming Thames water crashes upon small broken-pottery-laden shores. The Met Police Marine Unit is situated there, along with some other small quirks and gems. And Wapping ends where village-like serenity does: the Highway, where trucks, Lamborghinis, and Mercedes-drivers (the latter of which are presumably on their way to their jobs in Canary Wharf and the City) all coalesce.

What I like about Wapping is that it is truly a liminal place. Always moving, yet timeless, caught between times. A village trapped in the midst of a city. Quaint is the best word for it, I think.

Take a walk through Wapping, and you take a walk through a living history book or a museum. This is, I think, as preserved as eighteenth- and nineteenth-century London gets, really. The gorgeous and majestic Tower of London on one side, looming over the road to Tower Bridge.

Walk too far one way, and you get to Peckham. A bustling place, full of energy, in its own right, but simply not comparable to this place. Walk too far the other way, and you get to that rather unfortunate little place that is known as Shadwell… and then, Whitechapel. These places have their good parts, too, don’t get me wrong. But (you guessed it.) they are just not Wapping. 

How unique this place is, and how grateful I am to have grown up here. The other day, a friend of mine told me that she had come here for a visit – specifically, she went to the marina part, where chic little cafes overlook a substantial collection of yachts. The ‘Dickens’ Inn’ is here too, a former brewery dating back to the 18th Century.

The teeming waterside life of Wapping’s former days actually inspired some of Charles Dickens’ writing: he used to come here sometimes, as a child. The workhouses, the docks, the warehouses (which have now all been redeveloped, turned into ridiculously expensive living spaces). The way the lazy summer sun hits these still-cobbled streets. The quaint little pubs, the riverside parks. There is no place I have ever been to that is quite like Wapping.

Wapping Lane: a post office, a pharmacy, a bakery, a greengrocer’s, a butcher’s. A fish and chip shop. A gambling shop, too (rather unfavourably, in my own opinion). A few churches, and my former neighbour – the priest – who laments at the noisiness of the little boys who play upstairs, and at the growing presence of these “thugs” who he says will be borne from the nascent council flats nearby. Then, another pub, and a small café (one of those deliberately vintage-looking ones that charge extortionate prices for almond-based coffee, frequented by all those yoga mums, ‘babyccino’ buyers and and whatnot. But still, I love it).

It is nice that one can set foot into Shadwell, and into Central London, from nucleus Wapping. But, thankfully, there is always this place – peace without boredom, city without too much of it – to return to.

On one side dwell and play the truly wealthy. The yacht-owners, the ones who frequent all these dainty riverside restaurants. Their homes have concierge offices; they are tall and made of glass. The fountains and private rose gardens probably exist primarily to be enjoyed by them, but it’s nice that anyone who passes by can enjoy the view, too.

On the other side, the somewhat less wealthy. The Cockney accents. “‘Ello love!” “You aw’ight babe?” The drunk man who is always fixing something in his flat. The council homes, rows of little ones, and all their washing lines. The lovely old lady who is forever outside, tending to her plants, and feeding the birds. Occasionally, a conversation betwixt two – maybe about the weather, or an angrier one about how certain dog owners do not clean up after their dogs, or about the price of bread at our local bakery.

Dame Helen Mirren lives here. So does Rio Ferdinand. Graham Norton, too: I see him fairly often, actually, at Waitrose.

There are the white working-class people (the ones who chose to remain here, during those periods of ‘White Flight’), and there are all these Bengali ones. There are the sort of ‘hipster’-y people who are increasingly moving in: all these young-ish professionals who live alone; the under-bridge warehouses that have been converted into food places. There used to be a thriving Jewish community here in the East End, too. Here was where the Battle of Cable Street had taken place, years and years ago.

Someday everything that is taking place here right now will be a thing of ‘years and years ago’, too.

And I think I like taking my place, here in the middle of things. It allows one to walk this way, and then that. And you belong to all of it, but you belong to none of it at the same time. There are no obligations; you find yourself untied to anything at all. And, yet, there you are, firmly rooted in the actual midst of things. Everything unfolds right before you. The little wooden bridge that takes you from one side of the canal to the other [the one that used to always be impossibly slippery during the colder months!]

Good things come from balances, from middles. And here Wapping is, you see: caught right in the middle of things.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Chances

Another thing that I have learnt during these first two decades of my life is about giving people (and, indeed, oneself) chances. We change and we grow; it is not (not ever) a solid, reified, definable ‘you’ or ‘I’ that follows us through time. Our ships are always being developed, rebuilt. We find that some things work; we may wish to keep them, and hone them. Some things, we come to discard. We look within ourselves, think about who we are; some things, we change. Some things, we allow to be kept the same. And Time does not stop for anybody.

Besides, all human life is stories, and what are stories without character development? 

Of other people, we may only see glimpses. And then, we might hear of them from the mouths of others. Words are ascribed to them. And words – definitions – by nature, limit. They facilitate the fastening of certain characteristics and ideas to certain people. We might come to hear of one or two things a particular individual has done, way back when. What we may not hear about are all the extra contextual considerations. We may forget that they are only human, just like us; they will necessarily slip up sometimes. We might not listen to and accept additional information, about how these people have changed, for example. We really ought to give people a chance to do so – to be messy, sometimes, and to grow and to change; no human being’s character is a necessarily reified and consistent-through-time thing. Nobody is perfect; people do not suddenly become the picture of evil as soon as they do something wrong.

So is it not foolish to portray individuals in such ways, in our own minds – as if they in their entirety are only the one, or two, or five, or sixty, individual picture frames you have seen of them – or, worse still – heard of them? As if they are either wholly ‘good’ or wholly ‘bad’?

I have certainly fallen into similar traps before. Hearing about various things about a certain person. Blindly believing it. How can we meaningfully come to determine which side of a story is the most valid, the closest to Truth? 

People do change; it is in our nature to. So now, I guess, when I hear about the doings of certain people from five years ago, or even from five weeks ago, I try to stop myself from forming any sort of judgement that may feign, in my own mind, being solidity or holism. Doing so would be quite unfair.

I have known – and really liked, actually – certain people whom others have loathed. Stupidly, at times I allowed myself to become swayed by popular narratives.

She’s so annoying. My blood boils whenever she speaks. She must be evil too.” And they proceeded to make fun of her and to eat all the brownies she had made for them, and to speak ill of her as soon as her back had been turned. They, and their daily Starbucks drinks, and their chronic inability to be funny, their astute ability to convince everybody that they were just so nice. But hey, then again, that is just my opinion of them, based on what I have seen.

The most popular opinion is not necessarily the truest one; likewise, I suppose, the most ‘popular’ people are not necessarily the ones whose characters are most beautiful. I thought she – the one who made them brownies and biscuits and cookies all the time – was quite lovely, actually, but for some reason, in light of what they had said, I found myself questioning my own thoughts about her.

And is it a sign of loyalty, to dislike the people your loved ones may dislike? Hmm. I guess we just need to accept that a human being, in his or her entirety, is not a singular and consistent being. We are holistic and social creatures; we are fluctuation, development, and a range of different social personas.

So why not give people a chance to be human. At the end of the day, you will look at them through your own eyes, through your own perspective. They are who they are, to you, witnessed through your personal relationship with them.

It is completely natural to make judgements about people, internally. We gauge their actions, make decisions on who to trust or not to trust, decide on whom we are willing to grant the most ‘chances’ to. I think it is reasonable to choose to look at people’s behaviour – how they are towards you – and to focus on this, in lieu of ever taking others’ comments as gospel. And yes, ultimately, we only have access (through fallible eyes, fallible minds) to people’s speech and behaviour. Allah (SWT) has access to people’s hearts; He knows each of us best.

“The merciful will be shown mercy by the Most Merciful. Be merciful to those on the earth and the One in the heavens will have mercy upon you.”

– Prophet Muhammad (SAW)

Note to self: forgive people, and try to have mercy on them, even when you are alone and inside your own mind. You are not the Judge; you are fallible, and you do not know anybody in their entirety.

A person who is despised by hundreds upon thousands of people may just be completely beloved by God. So, I guess, we really must be careful about trusting our own judgements of others, and about relying on what others say of them, or of past versions of them. To quote the theme song of ‘Wizards of Waverly Place’,

Everything is not what it seems. 


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Concise Compositions: Friendship

A friend is someone who holds your breath. Friendship. It is such a wonderful thing. If you are blessed enough, in this life of yours, to have at least one amazing friend, then you are truly blessed indeed. How awful would it have been to be alone – without friendship – in this world?

A friend is someone who looks into your eyes, and understands. Friendship is sacred, even if, these days, we often act like it is not. It takes things like trust and effort, yes. Humour, love, adventures. Sometimes just sitting in silence, enjoying one another’s company.

You are indeed who your friends are. Well, you are you, a separate entity. But so much of you will be dependent on who they are. They will be reflections of you, too. So choose wisely.

You know, we sometimes act as though every person we have met, whom we perhaps shared a class at school with, or whom we worked alongside as colleagues – we (or, do I mean I?) act like these are ‘friends’. But, no, I think, realistically, these are…acquaintances. They might be circumstantially somewhat close acquaintances, sure. But I think the term ‘friend’ ought to hold far more weight.

Friends are here for the best of your times. They are equally there for the worst ones. Your happiness and sadness becomes theirs, somehow, and vice versa. Friends are the family we are fortunate enough to be able to choose for ourselves; their lives become intertwined with ours, in parts. We end up sharing some of our flowers.

Okay I’ve got like twenty seconds left. I love my friends; over and over again, I would choose them. I love having good food with them. Good food, good friends. And FLOWERS. Life complete.

4 seconds left. 3, 2, 1.

  • The Concise Compositions series comprises a series of blog articles that are each based on a certain topic. You give yourself five minutes – timed – to write about whatever comes to mind, based on the topic. You cannot go over the time; you cannot stop typing beforehand, either. And you cannot go back to edit [save for grammatical errors, etc.]. I challenge all fellow bloggers to give this a try [or, if you do not have a blog, try it on paper – maybe in a journal]! Include ‘ConciseCompositions’ as a tag for your pieces, and include this block of writing at the end of them. Good luck! 

Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

Why GCSEs are a problem

Every British student has his or her own story to tell when it comes to the topic of GCSEs. There are the ridiculously bright, organised and perpetually energetic who jump with glee at the thought of endless hours of revision. Then there are the other 99% of the British teen population: the insanely intelligent and unique individuals who are not particularly compatible with the GCSE system of broad memorisation.

This article is dedicated to all of you: the brilliant, creative beings who have been labeled “dumb” or “lazy” due to your reluctance to sit down for hours on end, memorising an abundance of pointless information; the ones currently suffering from anxiety or depression or ADHD, so revision becomes synonymous with torture; the teens whose lives are currently too unstable for them to bear the burden of the responsibility of such a task, and, of course, the model students who suffer endlessly for their grades. I understand you, and I believe in you. You are not stupid or incompetent, and the system has failed you.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

To any non-Brits reading this article who are wondering what on Earth GCSEs are, they are a series of examinations fifteen and sixteen-year-olds take here in the UK, across eight to fifteen subjects in total. Most of these tests rely not on creativity, practical skills or logic; they rely primarily on memory retention. Imagine having to memorise subject content (usually about three textbooks of information for each subject) across numerous subjects. Some students have to sit over thirty exams- exams that do not focus on a particular career path, but across a desultory range.

Of course, as a keen socialist, I am all for education- it is the key to success both on a personal and global basis. However, that being said, the GCSE system here in the UK is in desperate need of reform. Not only does it counterproductively dull down intelligence and creativity, it also does little to prepare young individuals for life in the real world, especially in the digital age.

The system has failed to modernise- the constructors of the GCSE system must be unaware of the existence of Google. We do not need to memorise useless dates such as when the NHS Act was introduced, nor do we need to memorise complex algebraic functions or how dust precipitators work. The education of our generation- Generation Alpha- is being placed into the hands of a group of old, incompetent, privileged politicians who are simply making it increasingly difficult for the underprivileged to succeed.

GCSE grades lull high achieving students into a false sense of security and subsequent academic arrogance (which is sometimes absolutely demolished come A-levels) and give underachieving students the false impression that they are stupid and good for nothing. The truth is, not every GCSE Physics student will grow up to become a Physicist, and the same can be said for every other GCSE subject. Everyone excels at something- whether it be painting, baking, engineering or politics- and everyone deserves to be commended for their talents, irrespective of whether or not they were able to bag 10 A*s at GCSE level.

I do not, in any way, believe that GCSEs should be scrapped altogether, however I believe they are in desperate need of reform; the British education system must keep with the times, make learning more accessible and enjoyable (without leaving students with a feeling of perpetual exhaustion and dread), and do a better job at preparing us for the future.


Sadia Ahmed, 2016

Where Youth and Laughter Go

This poem is about the inherent folly of war.


From fighting for  my country, I have learnt

That bombs fall like raindrops,

But so do tears. So does vomit. So does blood.

And the human ego is so

Fragile, yet indestructible.

It finds itself woven subtly

Into uniforms, weapons and empty pledges of empty allegiance.

Looking up at the sooty, dust-filled sky,

I thought it was almost beautiful

How one person flying overhead,

Holds in his hands the limitless power to kill,

To destruct and destroy,

To take our lives and wipe our sins away

And compete against infinity.

Every bullet that slices through the air like a shooting star

Holds the power to slice through a heart,

To bring a man down to his knees and breathe

His very last breath.

To orphan a child, to widow a wife,

To extinguish a thousand hopes, dreams and fears,

To steal a life.

Because war makes us feel powerful- immortal- like gods.

But it reduces men to nothing- to ghosts, not gods, hiding in their own ribcages,

Unsure of what to do-

It’s almost beautiful how men cry too.

In a life where love is the only war we’ve yet to wage,

Where men sit in shallow trenches- shallow graves,

Praying- begging- to see their loved ones again.

They don’t have time to see the irony of it all:

They demolish cities and wreck livelihoods

While they yearn for the comfort of their own families.

Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori,

Show me where it hurts, and listen carefully:

Listen to how gunshots sound like heartbeats in the distance,

See how the blood that flows whimsically through the veins of the Earth

Has no name, no nation, no personality;

They are fluids of cowardice and terror, of tenderness and humanity.

We are just children, pretending to be men, and I long

To be held again.

To lay roses over the eternal tombs of the fallen, but there are no roses left-

Only shrapnel and shells of men, hollow and bereft.

Slovenly, we shoot for the moon, for the stars, for love, for peace.

But we all end up in the hell

Where youth and laughter go.


Sadia Ahmed, 2016

#TwoMinutePoetryChallenge

I wrote this poem in the space of two minutes and I challenge my readers to do the same.


Look outside.

Are the clouds weeping? Do they share my sorrow?

Or does the world simply go on?

Did the sun rise today? Did the winds still blow?

Did time just carry on as though

Everything is okay?

Did the birds sing this morning? I would not know,

For their symphonies continue to be cancelled out by my desire to hear nothing.

Tell me: did the trees sway in the breeze today? Did they notify you of their reluctance to bear fruit at this hour?

Why must we wait for things? Why do we challenge ourselves to wait to escape?

Patience reflects delusion and a false sense of

Immortality.

Are we all just kidding ourselves?

We are all just kidding ourselves.

Look outside. The clouds are weeping, but they do not share my sorrow.

I am here, encapsulated in a universe that is neither happy nor sad, yet here I am,

Embodying (compensating for)  its lack of happiness and sadness,

All at once.

Like how the clouds gush tears of neutrality, I cry tears of happiness, sadness

and everything in between.

 


Sadia Ahmed, 2016

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Here in Britain, we are fortunate enough to have the collective right to freedom of speech. We are allowed to outwardly express disapproval of the actions of certain governments; our favourites to criticise include North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and of course, our own government. When people criticise North Korea and Saudi Arabia, they rightfully speak of oppressive restrictions and abuses of universal human rights. I do not deny that the Israeli government has violated numerous human rights and UN laws, however I do not believe that people are justified in their criticisms when they blame ‘the Jews’ or, worse still, when they allude to the Holocaust.

Expressing disapproval towards the actions of a certain government should never- not ever- be used to convey racist (namely anti-Jewish) sentiment. The Holocaust was a very dark period of history- many Jewish people lost hundreds of relatives and ancestors to the unspeakable genocide, and we cannot use such a sensitive matter to convince people that Israel does not have the right to exist. In truth, both Palestine and Israel share equivalent rights to existence, but neither state possesses the rights to self-determination.

I am strongly in favour of a two-state solution. From an objective viewpoint, I am able to discern that the answer to the issue lies not in war and bloodshed, but in talks of peace, acceptance and unity.

Noodles and Chips

I wrote this poem when I was thirteen, and came across it while looking through my old journals. 

His face is a foreign country,

His eyes are two different hemispheres,

He’s an alien from two worlds,

Being, yet never belonging,

And when they hit him that day,

His scars trickled with blood,

British blood- no doubt,

Atop skin made in China,

And it stayed, in his eyes, in his skin, in his name,

Noodles and chips,

A solar eclipse,

of nationality versus ethnicity,

A constant battle

to the death

Of one.