Once in a lifetime, these moments do come

You know when it is raining, suddenly, in the darkened part of an otherwise busy city? Even at this moment in time: here in lockdown. The cars jetting past, and you can almost hear exactly what the pitter-patter might sound like, from the inside of each and every one of them, inhabited by different people, coming from entirely different worlds.

That feeling of being snug, and warm. In good old-fashioned checked pyjamas, maybe; safe from the cold, and from the wet, the racing, the Anonymous and Alone.

On rainy evenings, it seems like everybody is simply in a rush to get home. Umbrellas look drizzly and forlorn; streetlights glow orange, while makeup, we find, begins to drip into something a little grotesque. Suits, also, at such times, do not look all that comfortable to find oneself wearing.

            Some shield their lacquered heads with newspaper, or scarves; crouch and, in the whirring, pouring noise, make that face: the one that looks rather like disgruntlement. Phone pressed to their ears; water getting hopelessly into their eyes.

Children, in fur-coated hoods, fixate on the excitement of puddles; stoop towards them, in fascination, ready to jump and splash and see themselves again (much to the annoyance of their parents, whose primary concern it now is to get home as quickly as possible, and to make something suitably comforting to eat). Faces rippled: recognisable, and yet, at the same time, hilariously zig-zagged and distorted.

Wellington boots, roof windows for a better view, and acrylic-coloured mugs of hot chocolate. The ‘little’ things, but why on Earth are we known to call them ‘little’? What might the ‘big’ things be, then, in contrast? The… loud, the shiny, the demanding-our-attention? The distracting; things that are extravagantly hard-to-get, the hundred-things-at-once, or the… once-in-a-lifetimes?

This here moment is a once-in-a-lifetime one. Even if it is quiet, and seems ‘unremarkable’, and ‘everyday’: it will never, ever be here again. Not like this, anyhow. And everybody you know and love is getting older, and this here world of yours will never be the same again:

Everything, dear friend, is going to change. As they always have done, and as they always will do:

(until the End, that is).

And I hope we get to see the rain again. Here, perhaps, and in another place;

Another time, another age, and maybe in an altogether different way.

Alhamdulillah for the rain, though. And for the feeling of it on our hands and on our cheeks: Barakah, Rahma, and hope. And for the ability to go home. To close the door. To feel warm, and dry; your entire world, and that you are not alone.

Because it is a big, big, big world out there. Bee-lines, and busy bees. Loneliness and exhaustion; superficiality and disease.

Tall shiny buildings, buzzing away with productivity. A million and one things to buy, and to own, and to try to feel powerful — seen — through. Cars racing through traffic, and the like. But would this life not be… a little unbearableterrifying, actually – without this peaceful slice from all that madness,

which we are thoroughly fortunate enough to call our own?


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

On Social Media

Social media: online platforms that supposedly enhance our social lives, making us feel more connected to other people and places. I know that the virtual world certainly has its benefits; it lets us keep in touch with people, and to come across new people (I was lucky enough to first meet one of my closest friends through Tumblr) and new perspectives. Through online networks, we can also come by inspiration for various things (a word of advice here: Pinterest is indisputably the one for room decor inspo).

That being said, however, personally, I have found that whenever I am feeling particularly dissatisfied or mentally uneasy, I notice that there has been a spike in my social media activity (or, rather, inactivity, when I am scrolling aimlessly through my Instagram newsfeed). Granted, the direction of causation is unclear here: do I attempt to purge my sorrows by looking at aesthetically pleasing pictures of books, buildings, and beautiful things … or does the virtual realm actively contribute to my sense of sadness? Perhaps the answer to this is a more circular one, and an increasing number of us find ourselves trapped in the vicious cycle of the lofty expectations and subsequent dissatisfaction that social apps can impose on us.

You may have already heard about the shocking finding that receiving ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ on social media typically has psychological and physiological effects that parallel those of heroin consumption. Social media, our digital drug, has utterly consumed us. Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr… the logos of these social media giants are plastered all over shop windows and tourist attractions. Many of us use them for hours on end, every single day.

Recently, numerous celebrities and other avid social media users have posted about their love-hate struggles with their digital lives. Many have taken the decision to dispose of their accounts altogether; many others have resorted to undertaking lengthy social media hiatuses.

As well as the plethora of mental health issues that can arise from or be worsened by the overconsumption of digital content, it could be argued that the epidemic of social media warps our reality, and replaces it with a falsified ‘Insta-reality’: our experiences are commodified, made as ‘picture-perfect’ as possible, in order to be shared online. It could also be argued that the online element only adds to our perceptions of reality: we naturally enjoy relaying our thoughts and experiences to others (often in a rather filtered way). Does it really matter if what is being said is conveyed through our screens in lieu of our facial expressions, voices, and physical proximity?

When analysing the effects of social media, it is easy to fall into the trap – that great human bias of ours – of looking at the past through rose-tinted spectacles, and at the present through a lens of mistrust. Life must have been sweeter back then – and interpersonal relationships more soulful or romantic – when our means of communication were limited to face-to-face interactions, and beautifully handwritten letters. In truth, this probably wasn’t the case: humans have always been great narcissists, nosy parkers, perfectionists, procrastinators, and so on. Social media simply provides a digital stage onto which the best (and worst) elements of the human condition can be projected.

Another crucial question to be asked: is there really a solid line that delineates between our ‘in-real-life’ and online selves? The postmodernist view is that the distinction between media and reality has become (irreversibly) blurred. ‘Real life’, surely, is a product of our experiences – whatever we see, touch, feel, smell, taste, and, most crucially, think. Our realities depend on the manner in which we process the things around us – including the things we see online. But what detracts from whatever claims to authenticity social media might have is its often very ‘filtered’ nature. People are very particular with what they post online: streams of glamorous and ‘aesthetic’ posts can lead to – and has led to – the development of the view that anything that is ‘ordinary’, mundane, commonplace, and messy, is substandard.

However, it is true that the issue of the selective presentation of ourselves exists offline too: people are also rather selective with which thoughts they allow themselves to translate into physical behaviour and speech. We are inherently prone to filtering ourselves – so perhaps, instead of being a threat to our fundamental collective human nature, social media is a direct product of it.

Ultimately, it would be rather ignorant and small-minded of me to claim that the effect of social media is only detrimental to us: there are certainly benefits to increased connectivity. But these online platforms have exacerbated certain negative conditions – FOMO (fear of missing out), jealousy, feelings of dissatisfaction and inadequacy, issues with body image, and more. Social media exposes us more to the world – both its good sides, and its darker sides.

But the most alarming aspect of the whole debate, in my view, is the fact that social media has become a drug to which many of us find ourselves helpelessly addicted. And, just like any other drug, people need increasingly large doses of social media to sustain their addictions. In fact, withdrawal symptoms are often experienced in its absence. And often, instead of ‘living in the moment’, we find ourselves responding to cognitive itches by obsessively and anxiously picking up our phones, unfathomably desperate to know what others are doing, or how we are being perceived by them, or which shade of lipstick Kylie Jenner has chosen to wear today.

My ambivalent ramblings towards social media conclude themselves here: everything that is good, is good in moderation. And sometimes, in order to recharge yourself, you must first unplug yourself from the often deceptive and all-consuming world of social media.


Sadia Ahmed, 2018

Glass

The glass walls are broken,

Yet still I cannot leave.

Blood gushes from my chest,

And spills on to the floor,

Drizzling like fine honey.

 

I am the artist whose hands

Came together to make this.

I call it a train-wreck transparency;

Can you see it?

It is a masterpiece and a disaster.

 

Touching it will cut your fingers and

Scar your arms. You see, some of us

Are made of glass

And the hearts we hide are hungry

For someone else’s blood.


Sadia Ahmed, 2017

Royalty

Assalamu ‘alaikum. I wrote this article when I was sixteen years old. Since then, my views of things, especially in regards to Islam, have changed and developed. [I’m not really even sure what this poem… means]

I wrote this poem in 5 minutes, without editing, during a ‘guided free-writing’ workshop. Please forgive me if it is substandard, or a bit unstructured. 

Purple silk rolls out from a palace cast in gold,

Kissing the feet of men walking, heads down, towards the cemetery.

I stand outside, on the balcony, lace curtains

Caressing my hair as

Their blood is absorbed, and the soil I once tread on becomes

Purple silk.

The blue sky overhead is moving closer- it wants to eat me alive.

My crimson dress trails behind me, the colour of blood and

Roses. The sky glistens, drapes over my shoulders like a comfortable shawl.

I take myself to the stars, pick them like cherries and place them on my head.

What a queen.

What a cruel, cruel queen

who steps on graves to make herself feel more alive. 

My power lies where nobody can steal it,

They are too busy being distracted by the glimmer of the stars,

They do not see the universe behind my eyes.

There is nothing more worthless than gold,

Nothing more fragile

than the human ego.

My crown rested on my smoothened palms, I look outside.

It is dark and there is nobody there,

Only purple silk

moving with the sound of nobody’s voice.


Sadia Ahmed, 2017

Autumn

There is something so inconceivably enchanting about Autumn,

The way the trees shed their miseries and prepare themselves to start again;

How the leaves, in alluring shades of autumnal red and yellow,

A fiery spectrum of comfort and warmth and everything in between,

Crunch beneath the soles of your feet.

The icy breath of the midnight sky bites your nose,

While the rain descends inexhaustibly, attempting to cleanse this city of its sins.

There is nothing more bittersweet than the first sip of coffee in the morning,

Just as the harvest sun climbs to its zenith, caressing the world.

Autumn is rich with the scent of old books,

The fleecy embrace of a knitted jumper,

The nostalgic being of a faded picture.

As the seasons begin to change and the leaves begin to fall, we will pick ourselves up

And we will start all over again. 

 

A Silent Revolution

It is 1965 and she is bleeding.

The ragged edges of their words has managed to cut her once again.

Paki. You do not belong here. 

One end of her crimson Saree is draped over her head,

Her Bindhi sits atop her forehead like a sun waiting to rise.

Her Mendhi seeps into her veins and mixes with her blood,

And warrior bangles cover her warrior arms.

She is sugar, and she is spice, and she has a heart that is made of ice,

She is a pair of brown eyes in a blizzard,

Burning ice- a freezing cold fire.

A bird without her wings,

A warrior in pacifist skin,

A silent revolution.

It is 2016 and he is bleeding,

Arms outstretched, lying helplessly on the ground,

He can’t breathe. 

Justice may be a hypocrite, but he is a king,

His wispy woollen hair is his crown,

And each tightly-wound curl is a fist,

Fighting between love and pain and melanin.

His dark skin is his kingdom- but it is bleeding now.

They say he smells of deviance and drugs,

But he smells of his wife’s arms, holding him, telling him desperately,

You are loved, and your life matters.

He is a pair of brown eyes in a blizzard,

Burning ice- a freezing cold fire.

A black-feathered angel without his wings,

A criminal whose only crime was being brought into existence-

a black man- the darkest shade of rejection.

A warrior in pacifist skin,

A silent revolution. 

The Butterfly Effect

The Butterfly Effect refers to the idea that minuscule, seemingly insignificant, actions can lead to significant reactions- a ripple effect, if you like. This term is typically used in meteorology, to describe how even a butterfly flapping its wings on one side of the world can cause a tornado on the other. The phrase can also be seen as a metaphor. The fragility of the atmosphere can be compared to that of human emotions: the little things we do can have remarkable consequences. A simple smile or a hug can illuminate a person’s otherwise miserable day. A ten-minute conversation over coffee can be the thing that dissuades a person from committing suicide.

We must acknowledge, firstly, that we are all in need of each other, and we should be more reflective upon our actions.

The Human Condition

Assalamu ‘alaikum. I wrote this article when I was fifteen years old. Since then, my views of things, especially in regards to Islam, have changed and developed.

Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error. These were wise words, spoken by Marcus Tullius Cierco. Based on these words, every man is an idiot. In fact, humanity itself is characterised by idiocy, for after centuries of opportunities to learn from our endless mistakes, we find ourselves in a new age, continuing to make the exact same errors as our long-deceased ancestors. 

John Keats, Simone de Beauvoir, William Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath… All of these wonderful writers of old have one thing in common: they write about the Plight and Pain of humanity- about the dangers of greed, power, jealousy and love. Every book that has ever been published since the beginning of our existence as a species has sought to teach us at least something, but we persist in repeating these errors. How many more books must be published in order for us to comprehend that pain is an intrinsic component of certain pursuits?

We are a rebellious kind- we are willing to risk everything for certain things, and certain people. That is the unalterable flaw that we all share- it is the nature of the human condition. We make a mistake, and then

We make it again.


Sadia Ahmed, 2016

How to love yourself

Last week, I faced myself in the mirror and told myself, “I am beautiful”. My tone was firm and unwavering.

“I. Am. Beautiful.”

To be completely honest, I did not believe myself at first. In the past, I had always been intensely insecure about my appearance, always internally accusing myself of being ugly. Whenever someone complimented me on my appearance, it had almost become permanently wired into my nature to reflexively respond, “Thank you, but I think you may be visually impaired”. Indeed, we live in a society where self-hate is a prolific act. In the pursuit of perfection, we are our worst enemies, obsessing over things ranging from body weight to nasal structure.

Eventually I realised that this incessant self-deprecation was becoming increasingly detrimental. I was losing confidence in myself. Then, I came across a poem- a delightful written piece about the ambiguity of beauty. There are 7.125 billion different definitions of beauty in this world, and I finally came to the realisation that I am one of them. 

There is a fine line between loving and appreciating oneself, and downright hedonism. Loving oneself should not be seen as synonymous with excessively indulging in materialistic goods. Instead, self-love involves recognising your beauty, sowing in yourself the seeds of confidence, and ultimately, becoming aware of the fact that, in this world, you are your most valuable companion.

The path to loving myself was arduous and full of uncertainty. Everyday I would stand before the mirror, searching for my own beauty, even though it was always present before me. I would pass by my reflection in shop windows, reassuring myself that I am beautiful. I wrote myself a poem to capture my own beauty. I took myself on little adventures in an attempt to get to know myself better. And no, these were not acts of vanity. These were acts of self-appreciation after years of the exact opposite.

Soon, I fell in love with myself, and I realised that only when we love ourselves as much as we love those around us, will we ever truly be happy.


Sadia Ahmed, 2016