Sunday, May 29, 2011


"I'm afraid that sometimes you'll play lonely games too. Games you can't win cause you'll play against you." Dr Suess said that. Ever since I read "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" to my younger brother, I can't get over how this master of rhymes and proponent of eating verdant eggs has charted out my life in a twenty page book. Read it. He's probably charted out yours, too.
Seems like I'm always playing against me these days.
This week brought on carpal tunnel syndrome, allergies and the flu. Somewhere around Wednesday (which is neither here nor there, a quality of Wednesday I can't decide if I love or hate), I walked out of the office to take a phone call and give my injured arm a rest. I had been uncomfortable at my desk because of the stiff splint on my left wrist, growing pain in my right and the irritation at knowing my antihistamine was wearing off. I hate being sick. Once I walked out though, I was almost immediately drenched in sweat, since it is late May in Karachi after all. Maybe it was Wednesday, maybe it was the series of physical ills that have bothered me for the entire nine months since I started working, but I just felt like kicking something. This can't be what life is about. And this is where I clarify-to myself and to my audience-that I actually like my job. I like collecting oral histories, I like teaching, I like researching, I like the rush of working towards exhibitions and events, I like having a routine, I like having my own money and knowing my days of scrimping on shampoo to buy a textbook are over. But parts don't equal whole and whole is exactly what I am not.
It was after kicking the wrought iron chair outside, stubbing my toe and having this realisation that I went inside and wondered what it would be like to be free. I know myself well enough to know that my definition of free involves work and a lot of it. It sounds like a paradox, but it's not. I love work, but the moment any of it begins to lose meaning for me, the moment I feel that I am not putting my heart one hundred and ten per cent into what I am doing, I feel trapped. I am selfish. I will not leave my job because I enjoy the work, the people and the financial freedom. But I'm playing this game against myself. I'm swimming against the tide. The tide wants me to slow down, type less, read more, assume less, learn more and worry less about whether typing with one hand means I won't finish making this lesson plan by 6pm. The tide wants to leave me broke.
If this blog was a self-help book, a romantic comedy, an inspirational talk or a novel written by a woman going through a mid-life crisis, my next sentence would tell you that I am quitting my job, moving to an island with clean air and plenty of fruit (and wise, brown natives to complete the picture) and becoming a yoga master. But it's not. It's a blog typed with one hand by someone breathing through one nostril and lying in bed trying not to compromise but knowing for now, I'll probably have to. Maybe when I am thirty five-or even twenty five-I will have all this figured out. Maybe I won't. Maybe I will write a blog about all the solutions I have devised in my head. Or maybe I won't, because as much as I trust the people I meet every day, I know it's not a good idea to lay all my cards on the table.
Dr Suess says that if I learn that Life's a Great Balancing Act, I will succeed (98 and three quarter percent guaranteed!).
May I balance gracefully on one arm, a blocked nostril, a swollen lymph node, too many questions and a lot of heart.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Every day that I wake up to the broken world, I am not unhappy.
On some days, I am full of beautiful thoughts and compassionate feelings.
On some days, I am irritated by my lack of sleep.
On most days, I am preoccupied by my morning to-do list.
But every day, I am in a war state of mind. In my mind, this war began in 2009, when my consciousness absorbed the brokenness of its surroundings completely, like a baby ingesting food properly the first time.

Burning buses and TV buzz. Rape and arson and twitter updates. Newspapers, checkpoints, gunpoints. The miscellany of our lives being swallowed, but not whole. It travels down my tongue, into my throat, is pushed down my esophagus. It would be poetic to say I can't stomach it, but I can. I do.
Now that I have integrated our ugliest ogres, digested them with my breakfast, I am no longer embarrassed by them. People talk (wail, howl, cry) about how the images that we swallow have come to define us and how this definition shames us. I feel no shame. I look on, curiously, at what is unfolding. National embarrassment has no meaning for me. Neither does national pride. Neither does national. Or nation.
Dirty flavors can be found in every bag of jellybeans. Perhaps we have far too many, but you can only be shamed by what is your own. Rationally speaking, it is impossible to be embarrassed by the actions of your milkman, unless you believe the milkman represents some aspect of yourself. By extension, he can only represent some aspect of yourself if you allow him this representation.
That is why I can not be proud of the Pakistanis who I love and admire, I can only love and admire them as human beings. I can not be ashamed of Pakistanis who murder, I can only despise them as human beings. I can not be ashamed of Pakistan, I can only love it for the value we attach to the motherland. I can not be proud of Pakistan, I can only point out the truth in what I see.
I have no nation.
I have a country.
The only question left to be answered is how far my personal imagined community stretches and how much it is affected by borders, if at all. I'll get there some day.
For now, I am striving to be good and unbreak what is damaged. I want to create a place with a less exhausting state of mind. Not because it is mine, but because it is worth it.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Osama is dead.
Good riddance.
Then again, I don't care one way or another if he's dead or alive. Not because of any moral or political convictions, but because the game is far from over. Osama or no Osama, the stage has been set for Level 2 and as usual, ordinary people with ordinary lives and ordinary concerns will die in ways that have become ordinary. Reaching Level 2 is so exciting because the first part is over-and then you realise there's still a long way to go. I speak from my limited experience with Sega games in the 1990s. I assume the principles of video games, like those of power struggles, have not fundamentally changed in the last couple of decades.
Now that we have killed Osama, on to our other demons.

Let us target dictators who sell their countries for money and power.
Let us throw out democratic presidents who do the same for oil.
Let us condemn the educated who use their intellect to cloud their humanity.
Let us take action against the well-fed feudals who let their farmers go hungry.
Let us not believe what double speaking, power-hungry politicians tell us.
Let us question everything we believe to be true.
Let us not allow semantics to muddy true dialogue.
Let us cry out against the systems that indoctrinate impressionable children.
Let us never complicate what is simple.
Let us remember there are two sides to every story and we'll probably never like one of them.
Let us spend more time getting to know people and less time assuming we know what they are like.
Let us remind people that it is possible to end world hunger.
Let us retain our compassion when the hungry commit crimes.
Let us scrutinise our own decisions and know that they are biased.
Let us remain innocent enough to be surprised.
Let us not forget that we are not as intelligent as we think we are.
Let us not wallow in our apathy.
Let us not congratulate ourselves for being better than our neighbors.
Let us invest in children's futures.
Let us educate.
Let us hope.
Let us give meaning to our hopes.

We already know that one person's choices can bring the world crashing down. By the same logic, it takes one person's choices to change the world. Or, if you're less ambitious, it takes as much to change someone else's world.

The second part of the game might be starting, but only if you believe in the game. After all, if you don't believe in it, it doesn't exist.