The Finishing Line

School started for me with a nervous goodbye wave to my mother from my school bus and a somewhat awkward conversation with a girl occupying the seat next to mine. It continued for 12 long years in classrooms where I sat on wooden chairs and copied notes from the board, on dusty playgrounds where I chased people and they chased me and we returned home with blackened knees, in washrooms where I cried in the company of friends who always offered me their shoulders for support, and also in school canteens where food was shared (sometimes not), laughter resonated through the walls and where the best conversations took place. As I’m running down this long track, I can see the finishing line ahead; it’s barely visible, a thin white line which is still a long distance away but still visible. I stop in my tracks to pause and catch my breath, is this it? Once I cross the finishing line, I will only return to this track to revisit old memories, never to run across it again…

It amazes me to think that I entered school as a short, scraggly and nervous kid and soon enough I will be leaving my school gate as someone taller, wiser but still as scraggly as ever. As I’m a residential student, the sprawling campus of my school has become home; the very campus whose size scared me is now as familiar to me as the back of my hand, and it’s always hard to leave a home right? I take a sneak-peek to the track behind me and walk down the good old memory lane… The multiple early-morning wakeup calls, rushing to get ready and reach the canteen before breakfast got over, countless visits to washrooms to splash water on my face so that I wouldn’t doze off in yet another class, the nonsensical tunes my roommates and I would dance to like complete hooligans… There is simply too much to go back to and narrate! Not a day goes by without a glance at the school calendar, a cross over each day and the realization that school life is going to be over, the seemingly never-ending roller coaster is finally coming to an end!

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Undoubtedly, I will enjoy stuffing my face with good food that my schoolmates and I were deprived of within the campus, I won’t be bound by the ‘useless’ rules and regulations that govern my life every waking minute and once I cross this finishing line I will be bidding farewell to the straight, rigid lines for a vast field ahead with endless possibilities. And yet I just want to lay down on the track and freeze time for a few moments, just so I can stretch this journey a tiny bit more, just so the finishing line won’t be visible to the naked eye anymore, Suddenly, the narrow and restrictive track has become a protective path whose value I hadn’t realised till now, maybe because it’s time to step out of the comfort zone and into a new world, filled with thorns, blocks and barriers that I will have to face, sometimes with the help of others and sometimes all by myself.

But school life has prepared us for this day, hasn’t it? It’s not me alone who has gone through this long and arduous journey, we have all been students at one point of our lives, remember those times of secretly bunking classes and finding a safe spot to evade getting caught? What about the assignments that we would delay till the second-last day of submission after which a dawn of realization would hit us hard and result in late nights and the consumption of countless coffee doses. How can we forget the sports competitions which united us all against the ‘enemies’ of our beloved school, the long days of cheering till our voices were hoarse and screaming with joy at our victory? This journey is and will always be a treasure trove of memories and learning experiences that have shaped us into what we are, and for all we know it will be those moments of scoldings from our principal which may come to our aid as we progress in life.

Till then it’s time to bring on that adrenaline rush one last time, look towards the horizon and cross that finishing line.

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Life in the Ruins

Monday:

It’s sunny outside and there isn’t a cloud in sight, the perfect weather for going out to the park and having a cycling race with Amar and Aziz, or go swimming in the lake and spend the day in nature. I don’t remember the last time I went out with them or the last outing Abu, Ammi, Zeenat and I had… I don’t think I would want to go out anymore, the bombed buildings and loud aeroplanes scare me, all those angry men running and shouting on the streets with their gun give me nightmares. But Abu says everything will be normal soon and Ammi tells me to pray to Allah each day and thank him for keeping us safe. Zeenat is crying in the kitchen because we are having vegetable stew and rice for dinner again, how can she not understand that meat is expensive now and only the rich can feast on it? She is such a baby!

Tuesday:

Abu hasn’t returned home yet, he left early in the morning when we were asleep and it’s almost nighttime, where is he? Ammi is pacing around the house silently, she isn’t telling me but I know that she is also worried for Abu, I can see it in her eyes; it was the exact look she had when the bad men in planes were bombing our neighbourhood at night, I still remember how Zeenat cried and cried while Ammi tried to calm her down and how Abu wrapped me around in his arms and rocked me back and forth. I wish Abu would come fast so that this look vanishes from Ammi’s face… He is finally home! He looks more tired than usual and even when I try to ask him what’s wrong he just smiles and ruffles my hair, “Nothing is wrong son, I’m just a bit tired.” Tired of what? Avoiding those bad men who shoot anybody they see? Tired of the walking out of the house every day and wondering if he will return in one piece? Tired of eating the same food every single day? What is he tired of? 

Wednesday:

Ammi and Zeenat are fast asleep and since it’s afternoon, the streets are empty. I quietly sneak out the door and run out of the building to breathe fresh air, but all I can smell is the smoky air. The lane is empty now, most of our neighbours fled since the fighting got worse. Abdul chacha’s restaurant by the corner is shut, the glasses have been broken and all the furniture has been stolen. I wander further down the lane and notice how the once colourful buildings have big holes in them, all of them are crumbling like biscuits, brown and broken. The street has red stains all over it, Abu used to tell me that they are paan stains but I know that they are bloodstains, maybe of the people I knew and the friends I had… I need to go back home before anybody sees me outside. 

Thursday:

Abu is at home today, I wake up in the morning and see him sipping tea with Ammi and quietly discussing something. I run to him and hug him tight, I don’t get to see him very often anymore. Zeenat also comes running into the kitchen with her tiny feet going THUD THUD THUD on the floor. We all are talking happily and suddenly, it starts again. The bullets and guns, the voices of men cursing and saying the most shocking things I have ever heard of. Ammi takes Zeenat and goes into the room and Abu runs towards the windows and watches the view downstairs. I see two men lying dead, blood flowing out of their chests, I don’t understand why the men are calling each other infidels, aren’t we all one? Abu always told me that these people have been told the wrong things and because they believed it, there is so much bloodshed. He has never labelled them as Sunni or Shia, he just calls them bad men. I start crying, I cannot bear the thought of waking up sweating and screaming at night because of their faces in my dreams, I don’t want to hear the sound of bombs and bullets, I don’t want to die. 

Friday:

Abu calls all of us to the living room, we sit on the threadbare carpet and listen to him quietly. What he said in those five minutes will always stay with me, I look around my home and see whitewashed, plain walls. The electricity and water go off at any time, Zeenat and I don’t wear the expensive clothes other kids wear on TV, nor do we play with toy robots and battery-operated cars. Abu told us that even though we don’t have everything and even if there are 100 bad men out there, if we stay together as a family then no harm will come to us. I wish what he said was true, I want to believe whatever he said, I wish those words applied to Amar’s family as well. I look out the cracked window and see abandoned streets, skeletons of buildings, smoke rising from the nearby lane but I also see the Syrian flag hanging from a pole. The flag makes me feel as if everything will be fine soon, it will won’t it? 

*To all those children who face the trauma and consequences of the Syrian Civil War, they deserve better than this.*

 

The Menstrual Diaries

I look at the calendar and groan in irritation as I suddenly realize that it’s my time of the month again. I rush off to the bathroom mirror to inspect my front and backside for any telltale red spots, all clear, nothing to worry about… yet. Just to be on the safe side, I’ll make sure my clothes for the next few days will consist of dark t-shirts and black jeans, sorry white jeans! I’ll need to double-check the ‘secret’ compartment in my bag to make sure I have spare pads stored for emergencies, imagine the embarrassment of asking another girl for pads! Oops, I think I ran out of them again, it’s time to visit the shop in the corner to restock on my menstrual supplies. Ugh, why was I born a female?

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I think I made a mistake by asking grandma for money, now she will watch me like a hawk in my own house and make sure I don’t stray near the temple or come anywhere near her precious pickle, all because of the fear that my menstruation will have some sort of magical effect on the house and cause everything to become impure, really? “In my village, menstruating females would be banished from households and lived in houses in the outskirts of the village, consider yourself lucky that you don’t have to face that.” Her stories of the village gave me the shivers, how can you punish a woman for something that is out of her control? Are we committing a crime of some sort here?

The uncle glances around the shop to make sure there is no other male around, it’s as if I’m reliving moments from a spy movie within these few minutes. He quickly grabs a pack of Whisper Ultra pads, wraps it up in a newspaper within seconds and proudly hands it over to me, nobody around us found out that I have been shopping for pads, mission accomplished! At home, dad decides to take the family on an evening trip to the temple, everybody except for me that is. “But why?” I demand, to which he replies with an awkward clearing of his throat. “Grandma said your stomach was paining… So it would be best if you stayed at home, wouldn’t it?” I cannot believe it, here I am in a posh bungalow of a posh society, born in a family of well-educated people and yet I feel like I’m being transported to a village in some corner of India! It’s of no use, who here will try understanding the truth?

I stomp into my room and answer my ringing phone as I’m greeted with loud sobbing sounds of a friend. “What happened?” I ask “Periods happened! My high school life is officially destroyed!” Within 15 minutes I hear the story of the damsel in distress who accidentally stained her school uniform, only to be seen and mocked on by the dimwitted boys of our grade. “It’s ok,” I sigh, “Nobody will remember it, besides it’s a natural process!” My words of ‘consolation’ don’t seem to help my friend who cuts the call in anger.

*Sigh of complete and utter despair* When will they understand?

It’s a completely natural and biological process that happens, yet even in the fast-paced 21st century, it’s treated like a taboo and something impure. From banning the entry of menstruating women in temples to avoiding discussing such a sensitive issue in public, I have noticed how women face the constant stereotypical behaviour from society everytime it’s their ‘time’ of the month. Rallies, campaigns, protests and media coverage certainly have played a part in educating people on periods but it’s sad to see that people prefer the age-old and nonsensical beliefs rather than approaching such a matter with a sense of rationality. Does society realize that if it isn’t for menstruation, life on Earth wouldn’t be possible? 

 

 

 

Dear Daughter

Dear Daughter,

How have you been nowadays? I don’t remember when was the last time we spoke to each other, was it a month ago? Are you happy now? Is your health fine? Do they treat you well there? I really hope they do.

I’m doing better than before; the stares on the streets have reduced and neighbours don’t bother me with their fake concern anymore. Even the media has stopped pestering us and found something more interesting to chase after. The house is silent and your father has stopped the annoying dance he used to do when you were at home with us. Sometimes we go through the stack of photo albums in the corner to glance through pictures of you and still debate over which of your pictures is better, the one where you were dressed like a Barbie doll for the school fashion show or the baby picture of you. After all, there isn’t much to do in the house anymore.

I’m sorry that I couldn’t save you that time, daughter. When I gave birth to you I had made a promise that I would never let any harm befall you, I’m so sorry I broke my promise. No matter how hard I try to, I cannot erase those haunting memories from my mind. You don’t know how horrified I was when I saw you on the hospital bed, a beautiful doll destroyed within no time. I don’t know if you remember but you would suddenly awaken and start screaming loudly, shouting at the air, pleading it to leave you alone and screaming for your life. Neither could my hands calm you down nor the tears that poured down my cheeks, what could I have done to reduce your pain? I’m sorry for all the suffering you went through, all because of those bastards.

Those bastards, who didn’t think twice before picking you up like an object and ruining you. Didn’t it occur to them once that you are somebody’s daughter, somebody’s friend, somebody’s life? Why would it occur to them? Those scumbags think that it’s their birthright to touch and defile any woman they see, just because they were born a male. It wasn’t your fault daughter, neither did your clothes provoke them nor did your laughter nor the way you walked, nobody had the rights to blame you.

But you fought hard, my dear daughter. Even the doctors told us how you wrestled with death till your very last breath. “She’s a fighter”, they said, and I couldn’t have been any prouder of you. Well done daughter, well done for fighting with the atrocities of this cruel world with all your strength, well done for fighting to come back to a society that doesn’t deserve you, and now you will rest. You will rest amongst the clouds and watch over us, you won’t be troubled by any leering eyes or touchy fingers, nor will you have to walk out of the house each day with the fear of returning home safely. Rest peacefully daughter, you deserve it.

To the light of my life,

I miss you.

It’s a common issue in my country, It happens to a female who may be 90 years old and barely able to walk or even a tiny, delicate 6-year-old. News channels and the media definitely do their part in reporting such horrific incidences but for how long do the effects last on us? When rape is such a common occurrence, it’s easy to become desensitized to all the headlines and news flashes on TV, why? Because it wasn’t a girl from your family or it must have been the fault of the rape victim. Words aren’t enough to express the disgust and helplessness one would feel while reading horrific recounts and looking at gut-wrenching pictures. Would it be enough to say that it isn’t right, it never was right and won’t ever be right? 

 

In Search of the Paranthe Waali Galli

As a young kid, my idea of a perfect vacation certainly wasn’t walking through narrow by-lanes and catching glimpses of the lifestyle of the locals, or trekking up seemingly never-ending hills just to watch the setting sun for the day. To me, a perfect vacation revolved around expensive hotels with huge swimming pools, trips in air-conditioned vehicles to the main tourist attractions of the destination and also a lot of midnight television in my room. It was entertaining to revisit these memories as I was walking through a cramped alleyway, past street vendors setting up their wares early in the morning, acrobatically pulling stunts to avoid cowpats splattered on the road and dodging motorists zooming through the already narrow alley. If I had been a scruffy ten-year-old in these moments, there would have undoubtedly been loud tantrums and endless grumbling from my end, so what changed?

Perhaps it was all the scoldings I got from my parents for behaving like a spoilt brat during our vacations, or it could have been the effect of watching movies like ZNMD and ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, who knows? For the first time, the sights and smells of a typical Indian galli didn’t disgust me as I marched briskly with my family in search of that one special gallithe Paranthe Waali Galli“You will never taste a paratha like the ones you will taste in that galli,”. Neither were there huge posters advertising this location in the streets of Delhi nor did it appear in the ‘Recommended’ sections of newspapers, it was through sheer word of mouth that gave this galli its name and fame, and why not? We weren’t the only ones wandering around the meandering alleys in search of the Parathe Waali Galli, there were Biharis, Punjabis, Americans, Russians and South Indians who were also on a ‘quest’ to find the hidden galli, we were not alone.

Since it was a Sunday morning, certain lanes-cum-bazaars that would normally be packed with vendors selling a plethora of goods such as garments, footwear, stationary, college books, ‘designer-wear’ and electronics were almost empty. As I passed by the almost-empty lanes, I wondered whether it was my good luck to have evaded the cacophony and chaos of the alley, or was I unlucky to have missed the opportunity to walk amidst the hustle and bustle of those very people… Nevertheless, from a distance, I heard sounds of cyclists ringing their bells, of hoarse voices shouting orders at the top of their voices, the simmering of various goodies being fried and I knew I had arrived.

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Yes, it was the Paranthe Waali Galli! Menus of each restaurant were propped outside and proudly displaying the various delicacies they had to offer, the standard aloo parathas and gobi parathas, on the more exotic side there were mushroom parathas, dry-fruit parathas and to top it off, karela parathas! Keeping on the ‘safe’ side, I decided to go for the aloo paratha, and a single bite of the flatbread captivated my taste buds and made me relish the paratha slowly, it truly was like no other. As I savoured the paratha alongside my family, I watched foreigners wolfing the parathas with a bottle of mineral water by their side, mothers enjoying freshly fried kachoris in the cold winter morning, the tangle of wires on the electricity poles didn’t hinder rays of sunlight brightening the galli, the congestion didn’t in the least cause any inconvenience to people. Everything within the paranthe waali galli was perfect; it was a world of its own.

The Paranthe Waali Galli may be just another narrow bylane in one of the thousands of bylanes in Delhi, but that doesn’t hinder it from being one of the main tourist and local attractions. Famous for its shops selling parathas, an Indian flatbread dish, this galli not only offers mouthwatering food for those who visit but also a taste of Indian hospitality and love.

 

Hey You!

Hey you!

Yes it’s you who I’m talking to, stand right here and listen to me. I was just remembering how we fought for the silliest of reasons the other day and how horribly dull these past few days have been for me…… Is it just me or did you feel the same? After all, we are soulmates right? The once-in-a-lifetime people who can never be replaced by anybody else, no matter what.

Speaking from experience, I have learnt that first impressions are definitely not the last ones, because if they were then how would all those late night ramblings have happened between you and me? How would I have withstood your tantrums and you mine? How would we have that instant connection wherein with one glance of my face you understand what’s going on within me. Would our friendship have blossomed in the first place? It’s funny to look back at those days and recall how we simply couldn’t stand each other’s presence, isn’t it ironic that at this point it’s not each other’s presence but the absence that annoys us?

Let’s talk about us, how our conversations evolved from the formal “Hi” and “Bye” to comparing our grades after exams to catching up on the latest school gossip and finally to a real conversation. And what were our conversations about? Disclosing our secret fetishes and fantasises, arguing over the looks of different celebrities, talking about our personal lives and a whole lot more, remember? I felt lucky to have a person like you who despite being so different from me, understood me (sometimes better than I understand myself) and accepted me for me. Now don’t start flying, okay? It’s not like I haven’t bore on with your rants late at night and don’t forget on how you never fail to test my patience continuously…… You’re not all that perfect either!

You’re still listening to me right? Great, so I just wanted to say that despite the stupid fights and cold shouldering, despite all the times we wondered how did we land up with each other and despite all the stupidity which occurs between us, we are soulmates! Who else will offer me their shoulders to weep on when I need it? Who else will be the first person on my mind when I’m hungry and need food? And most importantly, who else will be right by my side while creating the craziest of memories? It was you, is you and will always be you, understood?

To all those friends with whom I have shared the ups, downs, rights and lefts. For those of us who have experienced hostel life, the first things that would arise in our minds at the mention of the word “Hostel” would be our friends and all the memories we have shared in the hostel. For us, the closest of friends are equivalent to family, some of them filling in the place of our kind and loving mother, others substituting for our stern fathers or annoying siblings; friends are family! Nevertheless, hosteller or not, friendship is something which makes life beautiful (maybe not always but mostly); because one day it won’t be the masses of money we earn or the amount of power we hold that will determine our happiness…. It will be the happiness we get when we are with a loved one, sharing a bowl of noodles or taking a walk on the beach and enjoying each other’s presence. To all my friends out there, merçi beaucoup et je t’aime! 5063630483174570612-account_id=3

 

Love Yourself

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“Let’s see, parents, books, sleep, food, friends…myself? Oh yes, myself as well!”

It took 15 minutes and ‘experimentation’ on around 10 people to realize how true that quote was, because out of all those long lists that contained everything ranging from food items to celebrity crushes, not a single person mentioned themselves. How is it that they didn’t mention their names on that list, they definitely love themselves, don’t they?

There have been many moments wherein I’ve heard people chattering about how they love themselves and how they are the most awesome people on Earth! Other than the fact that it’s quite amusing to hear such rarely spoken words, it’s also something to admire in the other person. Why? Because in the fast-paced 21st where everybody is milling about and getting their priorities straight, words like “unconditional love”, “appreciation” and “attachment” are heaped upon tons of people, but how many times have we used those words for our-self?

“But we already know that we love our own person, why is it necessary to constantly remind ourselves of that?”

In that case, it’s fascinating to see how we constantly remind our loved ones that we love them, how we appreciate others for various things but often forget to do the same for ourselves, how we raise our friends’ spirits when they are low but find it hard to do so for our-self, if not ourselves then why them? Maybe it’s because of the instant smile they get when they hear those words of admiration, or that spark in their eyes which reveals their gratitude, imagine such feelings when you look at yourself in the mirror, simply smile and compliment yourself, it’s a feeling quite unlike others.

So don’t wait for others to come around and push you up or admire you, start off by being the first one to love yourself. When you put your name on top of that personal priority list, life takes a turn for the better; from your outlook on the world to your relationships with people. The idea of loving yourself isn’t too idealistic is it? Let’s start from now onwards by adding our name in the list of all the things we love, shall we?