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To the new year, and our individuality

The last day of every year is always tinged with nostalgia. You scroll through your newsfeed with year-enders inexplicably telling you how to feel because this year was shit, this year was great, this year was everything you thought it couldn’t be. But let’s be honest, words do not do justice to days no matter how hard you try.

You can’t notably put down on paper a summary of your year, because it cannot be defined by boundaries or precincts. There is nothing to romanticise as the new year creeps in slowly, making you believe that everything can be washed away as the ephemeral being called time tells you that the year has come to a close.

You sit there reading meme after meme, claiming yes that’s you, that’s how you feel, but that’s just because your feelings have become generic, like everything else that surrounds the internet. You believe that’s it true because that’s what you’ve been told. And isn’t that how we have lived the past year? Pretending and perceiving to be just like everyone else when in reality, we are so far from conceiving the individual of it all.

We have lost the individual being that strives to stand out for society because the world around us is silencing our voices.

So maybe this new year, instead of feeling nostalgic, instead of trying to fix and ponder over every mistake you made, raise your voice against the silence.

Karachi, you used to be home

I walk out of the plane and I’m hit with humidity, heat, and a smell that I can’t even describe with words. This is home.

The airport is packed as I trudge my way to get my overweight, large suitcases. My eyes are watering, my hair is in a state, and my clothes that seemed so loose back in Rome are suddenly sticking to me as the gaze of almost every male present follows me in a carnal manner. 

This is home.

I try and relax as I look at the out-dated conveyor belt slowly moving bag after bag until I finally see my own. I push my way through around 30 males, clad in a mundane-grey uniform, to grab my bag as they all scream,

“Baji, baji” to catch my attention.

One of them reaches for my bag but I reject his offer as I can carry my own luggage. As I try to grab my suitcase, I realise that the 37 kilos are heavier than they were back in Rome. But still, I was not going to embarrass myself so I muster up all my strength and get it down. I can do this on my own, I tell myself.

Soon my other bag comes, another army of grey clad males try and stop me—again I resist. Finally I’m out. The heat hits my face and I can’t remember ever feeling this hot before. My family is screaming off in the distance, I recognise their voices; their faces are blurry because my eyes are hurting. I see the glistening tip of the M of McDonald’s as I am engulfed by a hug of multiple arms.

This is home, I remind myself.

It’s been two months since I’ve moved back to Karachi – two months of gradually falling back into the life I was so comfortable with for 18 years. Everything I depended on for comfort and familiarity is no longer comfortable, and no longer familiar. Some days I tell myself that today, I’ll do it. Today I won’t care what anyone says or thinks, but then the other night while I was blindly scrolling through Facebook I came across an article about a 13-year-old girl that was gang raped. How can we exist freely in a place where a girl is lured into rape with the promise of candy? I thought of Sabeen Mahmud and how vital a haven like T2F is in a society like ours. But they got rid of her; clearly unconventionality is not our friend.

How can we live in a place where innovation is synonymous with fear? I thought of Amjad Sabri and the joy he brought with every Qawwali he sang – but society failed him. How can we live in a place like this?

What can I say, this is home.

I stand in the driveway longing to walk to the nearest cafe, or anywhere at all – but the only way to go is by car and I can’t sit any more. I am sitting at work, sitting at home binge watching Netflix, sitting in the car only to go to another place where I’ll sit. What happened to standing? What happened to long walks? Now, my clothes are measured, the tone of my voice in public is measured. My whole life is measured by customs and rules that I no longer believe in.

I look up and stare at the grey sky from my courtyard. I am chained within four walls constantly. The walls of my house, the walls of my gender, the walls of the ever dominating patriarchy that keep growing taller and taller as I grow smaller to fit into my self-made box. I cannot breathe because I am larger than the box, my thoughts do not fit within it, and my actions do not either.

There, there were no borders, no lines—there was freedom in a way that I hadn’t known before. It tempted me with the ability to express myself in a way that I hadn’t previously been allowed to. And now that I’m home, the freedom I believed I once had has caged me. Every day I try to expand my box slowly and gradually, hoping that one day it won’t be a box anymore. But I know that this is my reality, this is home.

The English language is dying and we are the ones slitting its throat

Language shapes the way we think. It’s a system of investigation of reality, and control of reality. Today, so many of us live for language. It is our mode of communication, words are how we express what we mean, want, and desire. Actions do not speak louder. Words are direct, and distinct.

But what happens when they aren’t anymore? What happens when words begin to diminish into abbreviations and sentences into acronyms? People blame the millennials, they always do. But this hasn’t solely plagued our generation.

I was re-reading George Orwell’s 1984 for a class last semester. I realised that in the world of language, ours isn’t too far away from his. The way we use our words, spoken, and written, are restricting language. I guess you could say Orwell was predicting the dystopia that we now live in.

I log onto Twitter because I feel like expressing myself. But I only have 140 characters and my words do not fit. My thoughts cannot be broken down into 140 characters. It isn’t enough. Eerily reminiscent of NewSpeak in 1984, no? In the novel, the world of Oceania is afraid of art, and language is one of the ways to express art, thus Big Brother stunts the use of language. When people are forced to use limited words, it impoverishes language.

1984 explores the way someone can push an idea by saying what it is not, this is the theory behind Doublespeak. Realism is an ideological representation of truth. Verisimilitude is similar to truth, and part of the central concept in modernity that is explored by Orwell. The novel discovered and obscured fiction. It understands its own fictionality, and is not asking the audience to believe because it assumes belief due to the way it is narrated. Winston is able to resist Big Brother essentially by thinking outside the boundaries established by the Inner Party. But the question is; can we resist? Can we think outside the limits established by our society?

I log onto Facebook to see what’s happening around me. There’s #tbt, #fbf, awk, cray, dw, tbh — the list goes on. And no, that’s not to say I don’t use them, I do, I am a part of the world that is slowly helping deteriorate the English Language and I hate it. I want it to stop. I miss hearing people around me expressing themselves in wild hyperbole. I miss long sentences and paragraphs you got lost in.

I’m standing at Liberty books looking at the shelves around me. Somehow, nothing is appealing, aside from the smell of new books.

I remember having a conversation with a friend, and using words that they felt were Shakespearian, or (the horror) medieval. I don’t remember the word, or the phrase but this is normal these days. Every time someone speaks in rhetoric of winding sentences, they are shunned. The English language is dying, and yes, we are the ones slitting its throat. We are eating away at its resonating words, breaking down its sentences, and I’m afraid that one day it will no longer exist. And that’s scary as hell.

I was reading The Canterbury Tales, and oh, Geoffrey Chaucer really brought along the Middle-English vernacular. Was he shunned for it? Was he criticised for writing in a language that seemed so foreign? Yes. Because as humans, we have this innate need to despise change. After a whirlwind of Anglo-Norman literature, I was aching for English that made sense, English that I knew and was familiar with – today’s English.

I saw the slow progression of change with Chaucer, yet it wasn’t my language. I remember thinking how difficult it was to understand, and I know that the generations above ours feel the same way about the way language is changing today. Not everyone understands what ‘cul8r’ means, and that is not a bad thing. These days the word ‘chill’ has replaced verbs, leaving us with a placeholder to describe what we’re doing. Where did passion go? Did blown-up expressions deteriorate into chill?

God, I hope not.

When it comes to narratives in literature, we can see the way literature glosses over elements; it is a form that encourages thought, therefore it cannot go about pain realistically, and one has to write it symbolically. There is an inherent violence in human beings that literature does not know how to relate to physically. So we use simpler words to make the experiences easier, we use “how are you” to ask someone who’s suffered a loss, when we know it isn’t enough.

We know that the pain is too much to face so we allude, we gloss over, and we hide behind this new language that we call English, but it isn’t really. There are things in life that take on such a horrific mask that they cannot be exposed through literature. They must be narrated through symbols; we use emojis to express feeling, when words are there to do them justice. Why are we taking the easy way out? Why are we forgetting our words?

1984 questions to what extent knowledge can be suppressed. Is knowing better than not knowing? Today, I don’t know. Even when we know, even when we see what’s happening in this world around us, we gloss over it. We go on with our lives as a means of survival. But inherently, we aren’t surviving at all. We’re avoiding.

“We’re cutting language down to the bone. The Eleventh Edition won’t contain a single word that will become obsolete before the year 2050” (Orwell).

There is a limitation of language throughout Orwell’s narrative, and the simplification of language makes it impossible to think. This makes me wonder, if we keep cutting down our language, what will remain?

Prose cannot exist in abbreviations, poetry cannot exist in acronyms – literature, and we, as lovers of language, need alliteration, repetition, words that provoke and evoke sensation – we need an extension of words, not the opposite.

One cannot think a thought if one does not have the words to think it in. Language has the power to both isolate, and connect individuals. So let’s try to use to connect further than just hashtags and tweets. Let’s not forget that someone somewhere fought for the English language to find its place in the world. The next time you use an abbreviation, think of Shakespeare rolling over in his grave, think of Chaucer (agh) sighing, and Austen groaning – I know I will.

Happy Independence Day

This Independence Day, let’s reflect.
It’s been almost seven decades since our country existed. Today, let’s breathe. Let’s reimagine the events that precipitated into creating what we now call the Land of the Pure, Pak-is-tan.

Take a breath. Picture it.

It’s 1947. Your grandfather is fighting for his life on a train that has no food. He is holding your father tight in his arms. You are not yet in the picture. You have not experienced the hard parts. You came when it had already ended.

It’s 2016. It has been 70 years since this nation was created. A nation that so many of us seem to take for granted, but a nation that is beloved and strong, chaotic yet beautiful all at the same time.
That means 70 years of celebration, 70 years of building, and rebuilding, learning and forgetting. 70 years of our own people.

It’s easy to imagine yourself in your grandfather’s place; it’s easy to say you would have been strong and able to do what he did. But at the end of the day, that’s only a figment of your imagination. The reality was his. The pain was his. So this Independence Day, think of him as you sit at another school event watching the vast green and white flag go up; think of him as you sing Dil Dil Pakistan at the top of your lungs, and think of him as you put on your green and white Shalwar Kameez. Don’t forget how you got here, or how important it is that we gained Independence.

I’m not saying that celebrating Independence Day makes you a patriot, or any more loyal to your country if you weren’t celebrating, because Pakistan relies on the small moments, the little things that you sometimes forget are even there at all. So notice the walls ice-cream man clothed head to toe in green as you go home from work. Smile at the old lady selling flags on the street with her son. Wave at the boys clad in green and white bandanas on the bike next to you. This is what Independence Day is about.

Independence Day!

Here’s what I think of-

14th August

Light raining falling softly off in the distance creating a background lullaby

Flags caressing the wind wherever you go

Hats Badges More flags

The constant drum of Dil Dil Pakistan echoing over and over again in my heart.

This is what I think of when I think of you.

Singing the national anthem at the age of three with my hand on my heart

Writing the national anthem down once, twice, again so I’d never forget

Singing it every morning all my life.

Here’s to 69 years

The other side of the bridge

What is it about the other side of the bridge that instills such fear in us?

I think of this as I see the (in)famous Clifton bridge in the distance. Most people claim that the other side is too far, or too backward, too much of anything that theirs’ isn’t.

But the truth – the brutal truth is that the divide doesn’t really exist.

No matter how much we try to say that the other side will never be like the side we are on – we’re wrong.

I cross Teen Talwar, staring up at our country’s principles.

Unity. I wish more than anything that this inherent divide did not exist.

Faith. I hope that one day faith comes to those who want it, and it isn’t forced upon those who don’t.

Discipline. The one thing we all so deeply crave, yet lack as well.

Isn’t that what we all truly want? No matter what side of the bridge –

Maybe it’s the fact that you see more shalwar kameez as you ease into Saddar out of the elite Clifton and Defence.

Maybe it’s the fact that Saddar is where our history lies – between the old building barely held on even as crevices, between the tiny streets that once housed the literary greats of our country.

Maybe its because Clifton and Defence can never have that history, can never re-create British India. Or maybe it’s because we’re stuck. Stuck in a place that takes us so far from what we once knew, from the people we once were. Drowning into the abyss of societal norms that mean so little yet show so much.

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Old Karachi

I dream of a lost Karachi.

Empress Market

Of a Saddar where women roamed freely on the streets, an Empress Market tourists travelled to.

Of a Karachi that takes you back to the past, adrift the flaws, the pain, the things that we spent too much time thinking of.

Coffee shops and literature – the Karachi that used to be.

Art and creativity – the Karachi that used to be.

The Karachi that we all crave.

The Karachi that we one day hope to re-create.

Building in saddar

Empress Market

Beautiful

She was beautiful, and broken all at the same time. She was the ebb and flow of the arabian sea, the rich taste of chaat on a cool evening. She was brightly coloured lights dancing around the trees on chand raat, she was hope on a cloth of deep green and white. She was light raindrops that fell softly, and rarely. She was dressed up in reds, and greens and yellows on the night of a wedding. She was dirt roads outside gizri, and an underpass connecting us to unity, faith and discipline. She was you, and me and everything else put together. She was Karachi.

Home

– To the city that never falls

You are not alone, you never will be. You may be falling, but we’re here to catch you. You feel like things do not seem like they can get better at this moment, but they can. and they will because Karachi, you are strong, you are brave. You have fought through so much and yet, you will fight again. You will never fall.

When Karachi comes to my mind, I instantly imagine loud traffic jams, bustling streets, rickshaws, fruit and vegetable carts, the sea and the warm hazy glow of the sun. But above all this comes my safe zone. and today – even though it feels like Karachi is anything but safe, I know that it will gain its strength again, it will unite, it will prosper once again like it used to, back into my safe zone, my place, my hometown.

Karachi – You are Everything

Karachi. Where the people are passionate, resilient, and unwavering in their patriotism. Where you travel to the passport office to have the best kachoris and take the long route to school just to pass by seaview at its warmest. Where there is so much creativity, yet so much fear trapping it. So much culture, yet backwardness preventing it. Where there are rare tourists seen enjoying the encapsulating thrill the city vibrates, and at the same time there are locals striving to keep up that thrill. Where you wake up early on a Sunday morning to have halwa puri and chai at dera and go to bed late at night just to hear the celebratory sounds of a cricket win. Where if you look past all the flaws, the dirt, the broken paths; you see the beauty. You see the history frayed in the edges of old buildings, the culture caught between the bustle of a sidewalk street. Where strangers are connected by a love for the city. Where there is so much pain yet there are enough smiles to cover it up. . Karachi, Where there is so much love, and all you can do is keep it alive.