Today I Realized #6

I’m a very neutral person who doesn’t like to waver to either end of the spectrum for any argument. People don’t necessarily agree with my head over heart philosophy; my friends believe it’s important to have an opinion, but I feel like as soon as you develop an opinion, your ability to listen to an opposing one diminishes.
In that sense of neutrality I don’t think I could say I love a place, restaurant, experience in the usual order of business. The movies that I love, the cities that I enjoyed have impacted me greatly to make me come to the conclusion that I “love” them. But for the everyday experiences I find myself unable to identify if I love it or just like it.
Just the other day I had a girls’ spa day with old friends and tried out a new salon. The girl who did the service handed us review cards to rate the service and our experience. I didn’t think too much over it and marked 4 stars out of 5. Coming back home I noticed a little piece of hangnail the girl hadn’t removed and I wondered what was the 4 star for? Why hadn’t I thought it over harder. Did the service really deserve 4 stars? I figured that I might not come back to this place if ever I wanted to go for a manicure. Just as suddenly I also realized that my trips to the salon near my house, what I had labelled as convenience and practicality, was actually a liking for that place and the service. I would go there again and again. I was comfortable there. I was satisfied there. Perhaps that place actually WAS my favorite, without realizing so.
When I thought about it, I figured that I did not necessarily have to NOT have a favorite thing. I could love something just by the sheer want of it over other options. I love Anda Paratha because I can have it any day. I love Cosmopolitan because I love the food I’ve had and I could go there in a heartbeat. I love the movies Speed and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham despite the poor ratings because if they’re on I would watch the whole thing. Even if it is up every day.
This realization was so strange to think of that I’m nearing 30 and I still am trying to figure out the difference between my likes and loves, that it is okay to love or hate something. Try as I might I cannot always remain neutral because the heart will always find it’s way to the head.

The Watch

In 1970 Dad cleared his matriculation exams with flying colors, something not a lot of students could claim in those days. As a reward, an old uncle of Dad’s, a cousin of my grandma decided to gift him with a brand new watch.
The automatic Reiko, an original Japanese brand, cost Rs. 1000, worth more than the monthly salaries people made at that time. My grandma told off the uncle for handing a young boy such a valuable gift but the well-to-do uncle patted his back and told him to enjoy his gift.
And that was my dad’s first expensive watch.

The Crash

It just feels so unreal, that initial moment of disbelief when you scroll through the news and see the headlines: BREAKING NEWS! PLANE CRASH NEAR ISLAMABAD. And you just scroll ahead trying to tell yourself this must be some old news that someone shared, this can’t have happened right now. And slowly tiny bits of info make their way to you about how it took off from Chitral, how it was a small plane, an ATR, how there were 47 people on board.
Then just like that someone exclaims that Junaid Jamshed was also a passenger. The same JJ who defined our 80s and 90s. The same JJ who sang the unofficial national anthem Dil Dil Pakistan. The same JJ who went from our aunts’ teenage crush to our first infatuation. The very same JJ who found God after a painful public struggle with his rockstar image to become a scholar. The same JJ who started a successful clothing business and proved you could be successful at anything if you worked hard enough.
He had his haters, he had his opponents, he made mistakes and more than once I too felt he might have gone too far with this or that speech. But all of those people had grown up and grown old listening to his voice, first as the voice of the nation in Vital Signs, then as the soothing naat khwaan praising the Lord.
In the recollection of all the years of our lives he had been a major part of, his very sudden death eclipsed every other detail of the crash itself. The shock left none capable of thinking beyond him to the other 46 people who were his co-passengers. With slow acceptance people started asking questions, about the others, about the crew, about the origins and the destination.
And the moment I closed the browser window on the news and turned back to work, a short message came from my baby brother:

“Ahmed Janjua was the pilot”

A few disoriented seconds later it hit me, not like a freight train or a bullet or a slap on the face, no, it hit me slowly like honey crawling slowly towards cognition. Ahmed, that tall lanky kid who lived 2 houses down my lane in my old neighbourhood? I’d always known him as Ahmed, the only “Ahmed” in the neighbourhood; other Ahmeds were called by their full names to differentiate from this first Ahmed. In those few slow seconds a voice came from a memory, a voice of a young boy telling me proudly

“My name is Ahmed Mansoor Janjua Rajput!”

An old forgotten conversation with him when we compared whose name was longer, whose lineage was more royal. One of my few and rare interactions with this child who had “bad boy” written all over him, from his broody face, to his swagger, to his voice.
I barely even remembered the voice but I never forgot the words. The same words that identified him as one who was no longer alive.
Just like that the illusion that I could remain distant and unaffected from this tragedy was shattered. The mind divided into two realities, unable to process two personas disappearing instantly from the world of the living. Perhaps it is a coping mechanism because how could I prioritize the grieving for one of the other? One part of my mind listened to the tributes to the star, heard his songs being replayed by his fans, saw his face happily reciting a naat. But there was no closure here. The other half of my mind played the scene over an over again from memory, of a tired, sweaty Ahmed, trudging home from his football match, passing me by quietly, no longer the cheeky kid after the death of his father, sometimes glancing at me, acknowledging my presence as an old neighbour, sometimes lost in thought about the goal that could’ve taken his team to victory. But always the same scene of him walking by the hedge of the house on the corner, in the dark after sunset, the sweat on his face shining under the streetlight, passing into darkness as he walked by me.
No I didn’t know him very well, but he was my brother’s buddy, sharing love for planes and flying, playing football together. Just like I felt a crack widen and break my heart in two. For my brother who is too young to have to bury his young friend, for his mother still grieving for her late husband, for the neighbourhood because after all every kid here was like a kid for everyone else, this tight knit community raising their children together. For myself because I wish I could remember the last words we spoke to each other, wondering if it was me teasing him about growing taller every day or him saying salaam politely at a wedding. I honestly cannot remember and it breaks my heart.
How does one grieve for someone you knew as an acquaintance, but was a part of your childhood? One of those personalities in the background who moulded and shaped you and enriched your life in some way. How does one grieve for a celebrity who you met once as a 5years old for an autograph and couldn’t lift your jaw off the floor because he seemed so larger than life to you at that time, the one whose songs you played only a few days ago, wrestling with your husband over the radio controls so either of you could listen to your favorite from his albums.
Does one mourn with a family or with a nation? How do you come to terms with a reality that pricks your private bubble right after it underwent ripples of despair?
I could keep talking about it but it would make no difference. It would not bring back the bearded icon to wipe the tears off his fellow musicians’ faces. It would not bring back that young boy smartly dressed in his uniform so that he could take my baby brother on a flyby just once to give him the closure that he needs more than me.
It is a tsunami of misery, and I have locked myself in the room right in the corner where everything is so familiar, in a house not so much. But regardless of whether there are millions teary-eyed in this house, or whether it’s just me sobbing as I am holding my baby brother close, this tsunami of despair will crash into us all.

(Please recite Surah-e-Fatiha for Ahmed Janjua, Junaid Jamshed and the 45 other dearly departed who perished in the flight PK-661.)

Words have failed me

The worst kind of affliction a writer can suffer from is being left incoherent, speechless, incapable of putting into words the thoughts and feelings that flow so effortlessly on any other day. It is not writer’s block, it is not even the lack of ideas, it is so much worse than that: It is the murder of 131 schoolchildren and 10 of their teachers, as it happened on the 16th of December, 2014, in Peshawar, Pakistan.

I want to not think about it, but this number is bouncing around inside my skull, lighting up the darkest corners of my mind like a murderous pinball machine, racking up the score on the level of psychological pain it can induce. It has crossed the red into the blinding white where your existence becomes splintered like dried wood cracking, losing its identity. You feel yourself imploding, collapsing in on yourself and just ceasing to exist. Pain is just a word here, feeling is undefined.

I am not angry, I am not upset, I don’t feel patriotism bubbling up at the call for the national green in my blood to rise. I don’t feel anything. I’m not thinking who did it, or why they did it, I am not thinking about what should be done to those who did this and what must now be done to prevent it from ever happening again.

I am merely stunned at the fact that it has happened. My sense of self has dissipated, I simply feel broken. Like there is no point to anything. Like I cannot even continue typing these words out because they will stop making sense by the time this sentence ends. There is just no point to life when it is taken so easily, regardless of the number. You take one, you take all.

Everyone is praying, everyone is telling everyone else to pray. But for whom? Those who have left us are surely martyrs gone to heaven, the purest of souls untouched by vice. Isn’t that what a child really is? An angel without a halo or wings. They say we should pray for the families, but what could you really ask of God? The strength to bear this loss? Only a mother would know how it feels to lose a part of herself, only a father would know how it feels to bury his own child. You and I? No, we do not know, so all we do is pray for them.

But what could I pray for besides that? I suddenly feel so lost; rudderless in an ocean, vast and deep, and I do not even have the will to flail my limbs about, I do not even have the will to survive. And for what should I live? To feel this kind of sadness that is beyond sad? Despair beyond despair? Hopelessness beyond being hopeless? This is not a ripple in the fabric of humanity, it is shredding it, ripping it, tearing it apart at the seams. This is the kind of thing that makes a woman fight against her natural instinct of wanting to become a mother. Do I want to bring children into this world when I have to protect them from more than just bruised knees? I am perhaps being completely selfish in wanting to save myself from the idea of losing my child, from having to cry myself to sleep next to their empty beds, holding their bloody uniform, keeping their memory alive. I want to be selfish this way.

I thought I only needed to vent to feel better, but I felt exhausted even before I wrote a single word here, even before I began thinking about writing. So very exhausted, deep down in my soul, completely and utterly spent. No, I did not personally know any of the victims, I am not so arrogant as to claim that I can feel their pain. I don’t, I can’t, and I pray no one ever has to feel it ever again. I am just simply so shocked that I cannot wrap my head around it. I feel beyond helpless, I don’t even know what kind of help I could give that could make an iota of a difference to those whose lives have been changed forever.

I feel no rage, no anger, nothing. I am broken and shrivelled like something has died inside me. It is probably my soul, most likely my soul. I thought I could rationalize my emotions about it, like I do for everything else, but even after all this time I realize that work was just a distraction. The idea that this has happened is just too strange for my mind to understand, like how can something so unimaginable happen? But it HAS happened. And I keep telling myself that so I can keep my mind from becoming disjointed from my body. I already feel so disconnected from everything around me, as if I am living my life in third person.

It is such a different kind of sadness from anything one feels through the course of their life. I always have a reaction or response to sad occurrences, but right now I am incapable of giving a response, providing a reaction. People are yelling, screaming, raging, crying, sobbing, beating themselves up. I think I just skipped all these stages of grief and entered the zone of numbness, possibly denial. I am not special and neither have I attained some mystical nirvana to feel emotions beyond an average human, I have merely failed to cope with this, and how CAN one cope with this? I doubt there is any emotion on the spectrum of human feelings to effectively cope with this.

I am not asking what sort of God allows this kind of thing to happen, I’m not thinking that there is some grand scheme of things where this fits in; my own mind is scaring me because I just keep going back to the point where I think ‘IT’ happened. Not how, why, when, where or what. Just that it happened is a thought I am having difficulty formulating. The mind is not comparing it with other atrocities or wars or killings anywhere else on the planet; the mind is not rationalizing and neatly categorizing it as an act of terrorism that we need to fight back against.

People are angry, consoling themselves with the fact that the perpetrators will go to hell. And then the mind starts questioning if even hell is enough. Even liars and petty thieves go to hell, we are hell-bound for comparatively smaller offences, but this, this is something else entirely. And these people are going to hell too? So maybe the deepest, darkest, hottest level, the very pits of hell, but is that enough? No, the mind truly does not have the capacity to process these thoughts running through my head. I know that the natural human response to this is the need for revenge, almost an animal instinct to avenge our loss, but I have failed to feel the hate and the rage, I am suddenly thinking on an existential level about where humanity stands. Or if it even exists any more in the human race. I am consciously suppressing such thoughts because I know my mind might collapse from the sheer magnitude of pondering the unknown. I cannot think of heaven or hell or even justice.

I. Cannot. Think.

Even after this whole tirade trying to rearrange and direct my thoughts and feelings, I am left with nothing coherent, substantial, understandable. Words, oh they have failed me so completely today.

(Details of the incident: http://www.dawn.com/news/1151361)