The Wonder Years

When we were young, carefree, without the restraints and constraints of the real world hanging on top of our heads. When we were free to roam and do as we pleased without a 9-5 or 6 or 7 routine hanging on top of our heads 5 days a week. When the biggest stress points were just exams in our life. When entertainment wasn’t mostly digital or technology based. When we could live with our heads up in the clouds. Those were great years. They were wonder years (yes the statement is a play on the old show which is also on some levels synonymous with the ideology of this post).

True the above outlined is pertinent only to the privileged class – somewhere along the lines of our SECs A to perhaps a little higher side C. So not getting into the division in fortunes over the more spread out SECs. That is better left for another blog post.

So coming back to the premise of this post.  The wonder years. How things can go from that to such a complicated pattern of dealing with different aspects of life and people and real life stresses is unbelievable. And it’s not just any one particular aspect of life. It is more or less in all areas. Work, personal life, professional life, future, operational day to day stuff, commuting for things, social, micro, macro. All. All of a sudden everything becomes pertinent to you which previously wasn’t. I mean let’s be honest, really honest with ourselves. How many of us truly cared about the GDP of the country or the IMF before we joined the ranks of salaried individuals or for some the family business. Or for that matter how much did our local residential body’s governing mechanisms and processes for xyz things matter to us. How many of us were interested in the economic policies that were taken up by the government? How many paid any attention to topics like circular debt? Very few I am sure.

It was a carefree time in our lives and we will always look back and cherish on them. I bet if I did a survey, some of the happiest memories would be of people either in their childhood or perhaps of their early parent-hood from their children’s birth to early growing up years.

But then again one must consider that the wonder years I am referring to were perhaps a better time overall in the context of the world. It was a more secure climate overall. Terrorism wasn’t as spread an evil as it is today. In the generation before me it was even better. I was talking to my aunt yesterday and we both agreed on this – even till my childhood I could at the very least take my bike and ride to my uncle’s place to play cricket with my cousins. During daytime and even at times during late evening. It was ok. And it’s not like I had a cellphone on me in those days. Nor did anyone else my age. Not that I recall. Not the case anymore by a long shot. It was even better for my parent’s generation. In retrospect their life was perhaps even more simpler and less complicated even though it did not have many of the technological conveniences that are present today.

I believe that will be an ongoing thought process for every generation to come. Maybe 50 years from now someone else will be writing a post along the same lines. And 50 years from that someone else.

All we can do is just look back upon our wonder years and reminisce. And smile at the memories.

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The First of Many Firsts

The first Ramadan, the first Eid, the first Birthday, the first anniversary, the first happy event. There will be many firsts from here on. In fact they have already started but its on the big-ish ones that it starts to really hit home. In 29 years this was the first time that I had Eid without Amma, that I came back from Eid prayers but not to Amma at home. Just as it was the first time in 25 years in 2010 with Abbi. The firsts are bound to be there, utterly unavoidable. But we still carry on. Life goes on. With every step we hear that little voice tell us ‘This too shall pass’.

The thing for me is that there are already a whole lot of obvious firsts and constants that will now be there without either parent. My brother has said on a couple of occasions about how he not for even a split second would have thought our mother would not be there when for example he was turning the decade. Or that she wouldn’t be there for other events like his first born entering teenage years. Or starting University for that matter. Family history and average life kind of plays its part in that thought process too. And it’s not just for him – it is for all of us. Also I think given the age set / life cycle part that we are all at right now – it is uncommon to have lost both parents at these junctures. We are not questioning it of course because that is Allah’s will. ‘From Allah we came and to Him we shall return’ – there is no doubt in that. But it still something that is natural for us to wonder about.

As for me – I will never have the opportunity to give this bit of life’s happiness to either parent while they were with us of having settled down. Of becoming parents. Of adding to their grandchildren. Unfortunately for me the one chance that was there in Amma’s life to see me settled didn’t work out. Of course there must be some ‘maslihat’ in it that I as a mere mortal cannot fathom right now. Maybe I can at some point in time in the future. Near or distant. But for now I am but a mortal and it is but natural for me to feel the fact that neither parent would be there when I find someone. That my children would not have the pleasure of knowing their paternal grand parents in person – only through the stories that they will hear from me or their uncles and aunts (and there will be many). But not in person. My better half to be (whoever she is) will not know the love of an added set of parents. They will not see me head into a more senior roles, more senior achievements in work and life. I have had a few of my posts published online on various websites (express tribune and chowk.com) so my parents saw that happen. But I recently got published in print for the first time. But alas. Many things…

Again – Allah’s will … the betterment in this plan is something that I will have to wait to be able to see. But betterment there must be for Allah knows best and does what is best for us.

Today was the first of many firsts. There was rejoice and comfort of course in being with loved ones on holidays. There were of course smiles. There were eidis distributed. There were lunch get together plans, there were old stories shared and laughed upon, there were those memorable and funny moments that become stories of the future. There was love. But there was no Amma. First time without her. The first of many firsts.

I have said it before and I will say it again – our parents continue to live through us as their reflection. I love Amma and Abbi. They might not be with us physically but they will always remain in our hearts and in our spirits. May Allah grant them maghfirat and the highest points in Jannah.

And I hope they are able to see us and feel happy. Love you Amma and Abbi.

An Epiphany

An epiphany can be described as an obscure moment of absolute clarity regarding a problem or dilemma that is being faced. It is may be obscure because it can come in any shape or form, at any time and at any place. The weirdest of places as well. Some epiphanies occur after creating the required setting for one to come. Others take course themselves.

As I flew back from my holiday – I felt an epiphany had struck me. This holiday has probably been one of the better decisions in my recent history. The whole two weeks of it (Bahrain & Sri Lanka both). Just underlines the importance of two things. One that everyone should and needs to take some time off. It does them a world of good. And if possible then also take some time to yourself, to gather yourself, talk to yourself and rediscover who you really are underneath all the layers of everyday routine and hard realities of life. The other thing is of course – family. Nice to just slow down everything else and take time to be with your family. Trust me you can never get enough of family. Regardless of whether your entire family is living together or spread out over geography, you simply cannot. In your own way of course – every family being different to each other. Point taken I assume.

Coming back to the epiphany. I feel some parts of me have changed. I definitely do feel fresher. Rejuvenated even (a word that has been the source of much amusement for some people I know over the past few days). I feel like a different person at work – thou the work place seems different from last when I left it but that’s a whole different story and perhaps a blog post some time in the future. And most of all I can feel myself smile. I know that might sound weird but I don’t think I have smiled on the inside in a long time. Longer then I can remember really. I have had a cautious smile perhaps but not this free kind all the way inside my soul, my spirit.

It wasn’t that Bahrain had anything magical about it or Sri Lanka. Both place offered their own positives. Bahrain a nice relaxing time with family and Sri Lanka a peaceful, beautiful solo escape to be by myself. I think the combination did the trick really. And of course our Lord and Creator, Allah. I genuinely think given all that has happened Allah has done something even if it is temporary to sort of balance of my emotional equation. I am very thankful to that and genuinely feel that is one of the major reasons for me to smile. My epiphany. That life is and forever going to move. It will not stop for anything. That it will take from us but also at the same time give us opportunities of greatness. That we must take it by the horns to truly live it. To truly understand it. That there are things that are not worth worrying over and there are those things which require that emotional investment as they are worth it, they are worth the risk. That everything that happens does happen for a reason and that there is indeed a connectivity to everything. Every single moment in life has been preparing me to be at this current moment. There was a connection between all. They all had to be lived to be where I am today. Wherever that may be. I am thankful for where I am today because I know there are those with much more difficult struggles then mine. Mine maybe emotional , for some it is survival. So yes I am very thankful to Allah for everything. I am thankful that He has always given me strength when faced with a loss. And the ability to move on. To move forward. And at the same time for showing new paths, new bridges, new connections that will take me more forward. I feel one such thing from this holiday. Maybe it is true, maybe it isn’t – but at least it has helped me smile.

While most of the things I said above just now may seem cliché , I humbly believe unless you actually come to a point where you feel all of the above one cannot truly understand it. Till then they will remain clichés.

It is in moments like these that one understands that there are more powerful forms of communication and connection out there then just mere words and letters. There is a language beyond the one governed by alphabet alone. It exists in signs, in gestures, in those little things that happen to us in life, those little things that we see happening to others in life, the right moment for a particular song or set of musical notes, the perfect view, the sound of nature, the silence of peace. An absent voice that forms in your head using imagination while talking to someone via text/online. 

One simply cannot underestimate the power of an epiphany. An illuminating realization, a discovery resulting in feelings of elation, awe and wonder.

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My Mother

Afshan Mohajir

Born: 29th September, 1955

Died: 22nd May, 2014

Mothers – a child’s first and best friend for the rest of their lives. Irreplaceable confidants. Trusted advisors. Mentors, guidance councilors, motivators, guardians, protectors and I could go on and on. Mothers are a child’s best support system no matter how old either may be. Amma was all of the above. And beyond all of that she was amazing.

I had written a piece for my father when he passed away. It helped with dealing with his loss. I write again 4 years and 5 months later to help the same way to deal with the loss of my mother.

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Amma was first and foremost a loving person. She was strong willed. She was caring. Understanding and patient. She was as I said before – beyond amazing. I have no doubt in my mind that as was the case with my father, all the people who have called and wished to condole all did so from bottom of their hearts. I mean those who knew her. They all really did cherish their time with her. They all did love her. She was that sort. Both my parents were.

Over the last couple of days I have heard a lot of people remembering Amma in the best of ways. For all the time that they have spent with her. For all the fond and cherished memories that they have with her. After all once loved ones depart all we are left with are the memories. Memories that we want to treasure and hold on to forever. As our only connection with the departed.

Memories often end being more like a collection of stories. Stories from childhood, from being posted somewhere together, from a trip, from a holiday, from an event, from mundane and routine activities. Stories nonetheless. Memories of my mother and my father for me are also stories. For me they are a collection of all things that have happened in life that are all Amma or Abi.

If I could I would probably end up filling pages and pages of the different stories that I have in memories of Amma. Stories related to how she was always particular about our studies. Stories of how she always was proud of her husband and her sons. Stories of how she loved remembering her childhood days in Dhaka with her brothers and her parents and other relatives and friends. Stories of  what she was during her college days. Stories of how she used to make the most amazing marble cakes, muffins, sutriyan, badaam kay los (nawaiti mithai for those who are wondering what this is) etc. Stories of how she always wanted all of us to be at our best. Stories of how she would after a lot of negotiations agree to get a picture taken and then how we would have to end up taking several perfectly great shots of her and she would still end up saying ‘Meree pictures sahi nahi aatee – please mat liya karo’ before agreeing on one!

Like all grandparents she adored all her grandchildren. She loved them all to bits and pieces and found no greater joy then to see them and be able to play with them. She would beam with happiness when they were around. I am (my brothers are probably more than me) grateful that she got to see and enjoy her grandchildren. Thoroughly. In fact so much so it was easier to take her pictures with them and get her to like those pictures as well!

I still remember the day that Amma came back from London and surprised me with an iPad that she was fully and completely operating on her own. A happy surprise for me as the ‘mouse’ was her most irritating things about technology and lo and behold here she was using an iPad!

I remember how Amma used to love all her gardens in our army days and even after that as much as possible in Karachi. Gunjrawala was by far her proudest garden and Peshawer too.

I remember how Amma didn’t like the idea of Laika (our dog) but was the most concerned about its well being and care as well.

I remember how Amma would get teased about having all ferozis in her wardrobe (not true entirely but she had quite a few).

I remember how Amma enjoyed her serials (star parivar say lay kar hum tv kay sitaray tak). And how she would always happily corner me or Abbi or my siblings by saying ‘haan tou aap log bhee tou itna interest lay kar dekh rahain hain’. I remember how often I would walk in on Amma seriously discussing some issues on the phone, get concerned and then find out that a character from the play is being discussed! She would often do that with Amani. And a couple of my aunts as well.

I remember how Amma used to love playing chess. The matches she would have with Bhaijan. With me (although I always used to lose I loved playing with her). In the more recent months we started playing scrabble as well. Any time I would score a huge word Amma would say I cheated because I took too long and was trying out too many combinations and the same for her was strategizing (she was cute that way).

I remember how she would light up telling stories from her childhood especially in the company of her mother and siblings.

There are so many things that I remember from our life about Amma and Abbi that they can never end. And that is what I must keep now with myself. There is nothing, absolutely nothing that can ever fill the void of my parents. The memories however will help. They will always remain with me.

The last 4 years were really tough for my mother. First Abbi passed away, then Amani’s health and her passing. And in between all of this my divorce. It was not easy for her. And it pains me that one of those things was unnecessary and linked to me (not my fault perhaps but linked to me nonetheless). The 4-5 months prior to her diagnosis in January however were perhaps the best moments in the last 4 years. The family reunion in Singapore (all grand children, all her children) and then the family reunion in December in Karachi with all children and grand children and almost all nieces and nephews. She loved her family. She loved being around them.

From that family reunion in December till now seems like a nightmare that I am just not being able to get up from. I was there with you, as were my siblings and your siblings. But they would all agree that it all just doesn’t seem real. It hasn’t sunk in and it will take time to sink in. It is beyond understanding and belief of how it just suddenly happened and how fast it happened.

I love you Amma. I love you and I know how much I will miss you. You were my friend, you were my confidant, you were my metaphorical diary (more so in recent years). You were my advisor. You were my greatest support system. I have no words to explain how much of a void that has been created in me with your loss. I take peace in the fact that your pain came to an end. That your suffering did not last long. I know from as much as anyone could from the outside of what you were going through. And for that I am relieved that it is over. I am sad, heart broken that you are not with me anymore. But at peace that you have gone to Allah and that you will InshAllah get a peaceful abode on your journey to the highest points in Jannah. And that you are now with Abbi. Ameen

I said this when my father died and I say it again now. Children are the reflection of their parents. Ammi and Abbi may have passed on but they, their memory will continue to live through us. Through us they will continue to be reflected as the people they were. Amazing, loving, caring people. We cannot stop our loved ones from going. We all must go one day. We can however celebrate them, their life and their memory. 

The Sports Under Dogs

You start the competition thinking ‘Hey this is just for fun. We are just going to have a good time. It will be a good day’. Typically the mindset of a ‘minnow’ or under dog team. But the moment you get by in the first round, you get to thinking ‘hey….we can win this’.

It doesn’t really matter what the sport or game is. It doesn’t matter who you are representing (I mean yea it’s awesome if you represent your country at whole other level but that should be a given). Sport and especially team based sports competitions always tend to bring out some sort of passion inside you. Doesn’t have to be a proper tournament and neither does it have to be in front a thousand fans…..or even a single one for that matter. The moment you step into the sport arena, it just seeps in. The sense of giving it your all and then some.

Every kick, shot, ball, hit, turn and throw is an inch closer to the end. Every wicket, goal, six, strike and ace is a stride closer to glory. Every dot, penalty given, wide or gutter ball a slip towards heartbreak.

So getting back to the under dog from where I started, it has to be an exhilaration when you reach the final. I participated in a bowling tournament yesterday as part of my office team. We started the day with a practice round and my thoughts being of simply having fun. When we got through the first cut I thought not bad. The second round for me became more of a personal settlement of dues. (we’ll not get into that). It was evident from our score and my personal best being set 2nd time during this day that the tournament was going to be a long one for us. The moment the reigning champions had been eliminated in that 2nd cut we were in the semis. That changed the mind set. That just kicked the competition instinct into high gear. It went from being just a fun day to focus and adneralin. From making just the cut to a downright shoot out between the two teams. One by one the frames were bowled, the comfortable start transformed into a close finish. The sweat beads gathered……but the under dogs did it. We beat last years runners up and went were in the final. We were all thinking we could win this. Our seniors made the normal ‘ we have achieved more then anyone expected ….. Just have fun guys…’ . But heck, we were beyond that now and we had to win. It started in almost hollywoodish fashion when I made a strike in the first frame. And just as much in dramatic hollywoodish fashion the rest of the game was tense. With a strike here and near miss there the sweat beads were coming fast, the nail biting had begun. The last round of frames had begun. Having tried our best to keep up as much as possible, we were just a little behind. I was up to start our team’s last turns. The 10th frame. A strike would mean two more opportunities. Heck I hit 3 strikes…..the euphoria was amazing. The opponents felt a little dumbstruck and very very concerned. Their first guy couldn’t even get the spare. Our second team mate got the strike and two more shots as well. More concern on the other side. Increase in euphoric chatter on ours. He went to roll the second ball, amidst silence. And bam, just like that he missed the strike by one and as luck would have it his second found the gutter instead of the pin. Sadly the opponents to it from there. But what a day. What a game. What a tournament. We played from 11 in the morning till 6 in the evening with a lunch break in between of a couple of hours. All teams in the semis had started to feel the strain on the muscles by then. Two of our players were carrying a strain in the semi, I was the third during the final. But we gave it our all and played like we were part of some bigger league, like this tournament meant some bigger win. We played with the injury, with the pain sprays applied, beyond the call of …. well our sporting duty so to speak. We didn’t win the tournament but finishing runners up was amazing as well. More then our expectations at the beginning of the day.

Thats why I love playing team sports, and love watching them. But again, playing is just another level. Trust me.

Karachi – 10 years past

It has almost been 10 years since we shifted permanently to the ‘city of lights’ (often quipped as the city of no lights thanks to the KESC!). Even though I wasn’t always permanently living in Karachi, I’ve always been connected with this city. Always was a frequent visitor. By train or by C130 when my father was in the army. I was also born in Karachi.

I’ve experienced so much in this city, grown so much here … that I am connected to it. Not just because of the fact that more than half of my khandaan is settled here but .. because … all the ‘big’ things that have happened in my life have been in this city. Birth of course being the foremost! First beach trip (subsequently falling in love with beaches, even though i don’t know how to swim). First board exam down to the final chapter of my Student life. First love, second love. Valentines. Birthdays. Professional studies. First job. Brothers weddings. Becoming an uncle. Music. Writing. (Music and writing because they are both now a big part of who I am). Learning to drive. My city. Karachi is embedded in me. And now with my father’s passing, I think it’s deeper in me, this city and its roots.

The chilly weather it borrows from Quetta during December / January, to put up its show for the supposed winter season. The drive early in the morning, feeling the cool chill air hitting you. Karachi broast during Ramazan for Sehri. The night matches. The various term reports, group work, internships, concerts, stand up comedy shows. The rain.

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I’ve experienced rain in Peshawer, Pindi, Lahore, London etc. But none can compare to the rain in Karachi. Minus the part where we all run about ensuring that water doesn’t enter our abode s. And of course the part where the roads are flooded with rain water and cause havoc. Minus all that… the rain in this city .. is intoxicating. I know you guys are probably thinking I’ve lost it. But then that’s Karachi for you… it leaves you feeling love and hate both.

The national stadium – the cheering on for the matches during the good old days pre 2003. The coffee houses. The restaurant that we ran – Kaldi. CBM. Weddings… of friends, cousins …my brothers. My memories echo mostly with Karachi. With the rest echoing of the time my father was in the Army and we used to move around every 2 years or so. 

I even became a fan of Arsenal (Premier League) (Gunners) when we moved to Karachi only. This city for me has my angels and my demons both. The lure of this city is deeply grooved in me. The kebab houses. The nihari places. The biryanies! And of course … boat basin and mixed chat. And one of the greatest discoveries of food – Chicken Roll, Kebab Roll, Chicken garlic mayo etc etc.

The problems in this city of course cannot be ignored and neither can be forgotten. But the memories, the experiences it has offered are those for which I am who I am today. Personality wise I mean.

The terror attacks, the fighting, the gun shots, the muggings, the kidnappings.. .they are all there as well. (I’ve been robbed twice – gun point). But I figure that happens everywhere. Yes perhaps its more difficult over here in that regard then at other places. But it’s still Karachi. This city is like the ‘lady in red’ that lures you, over and over again. Like that love that has the power to drive you crazy time and again.

Mai Kolachi to Hawksbay, DHA to PECHS, Boat Basin to Zamzama, Zainab Market to it’s marriots and PCs and avaris. Bahria College to CBM. Airport to PACC.

10 years have gone past. I know I’ve often complained in between that I’ve been in Karachi for such a long time without being out of here .. without having a break. But at the end of the day that’s just what it is. A break. I can’t imagine ( for the moment anyway ) being parted from my city. Its air, its lights, I cannot leave. The familiarity and the freedom it offers me… I cannot let go.

The city which has shown me art, culture and so much more. The city which has shown me so much life. So much spirit – and at the same time.. the darkness of this world as well. It’s like a ying-yang situation. But it is still Karachi.

I was and will always remain a Karachi-ite!

My Father

Brig. (Rtd.) Mateen Mahmood Mohajir

Born: 4th Jan 1945

Died: 9th Jan 2010

My father was a great man. The number of people, who have called, visited or met me at the namaz-e-janaza and the burial, have all said the same thing, “Your Dad was a great man”. He was a soldier in the Pakistan Army for 32 grand years and I think he remained a soldier till his last breath. A man of the 7th War Course – “Laraka”, of the First SP – “Men of Honor”, of the ‘PIFFERS’.  He never stopped loving his country. He never stopped believing in Pakistan. He always remained steadfast on his principles and there was nary a scratch on his moral compass, it was clean whistle and noble to the core.

 Abbi and myself

He was a loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and son. He got all 3 of us to our own feet. I am extremely thankful to Allah that he saw me, his youngest son also completing the MBA and entering the stream of professional life on my way to Inshallah becoming settled. He always cared. He always loved. He always was Abbi.

I feel comforted by the fact that (at least I think) Abbi led a complete and full life. He enjoyed it, fulfilled all his obligations to his family, stayed true to his code, his country, his faith and his beliefs. He touched people’s lives in different ways. He commanded respect of his peers, seniors and juniors alike. He had the noble quality of purity, honesty and being just.

I will always remember the way he used to find happiness in the simplest of things. He loved reading comic strips in the daily paper. He loved listening to his collection of music every morning with his morning tea and toast. His day would start with Tilawat. He loved visiting friends and family. Always up for a visit plan on weekends mostly or since he retired even perhaps on weekdays. He enjoyed his munchies as well, like salted peanuts, chocolates, fox’s sweets. Always seeking more information, sending all of us handy emails in his special fonts and colors. I’ll always remember how he enjoyed his Big Macs and would never say no to one. And of course his ice cream and how he loved, in his own words, ‘dolops’ of it! And he dotted on Daniyal, his grandson. Of the numerous trips we’ve taken while Abbi was in the army, with KY and Filza aunty and family, with my own uncles and aunts, with various other Army Friends to various places. We used to (some time back… well quite some time back… i think somewhere in between 88 to 90)  go in the Waggoner for these road trips and I remember I got upset with Abbi (in my childhood drama) when we sold the Waggoner to KY uncle. I’ll always cherish all these memories of you Abbi, they will always remain with me. 

He will no longer be with us physically, but he shall always remain a core part of our memories, of our souls and spirits. He will continue to live through us…

I am also thankful to Almighty Allah for granting my father a death which was hand in hand with his undeterred faith in Allah, his religious beliefs, and human and moral fiber.

I am proud to be Mateen Mahmood Mohajir’s son, and I did and will always love my father.

May Allah make his next abode to be peaceful and heavenly. Ameen.

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