By Sonya Rehman
i. Why does it take the eyes of another to appreciate the beauty within? I’ve been feeling this so strongly ever since Humans of New York’s beautiful posts on Pakistan started doing the circuit online. The trouble is, rejection makes one doubt one’s worth. That’s Pakistan. The misunderstood, the rejected. So many jewels within. Let foreign eyes discover you, let them climb over that fortress and see you for what you are.
ii. Last weekend, a fire broke out in my apartment building’s basement. The incident happened two days after I had the most stunning, vivid dream. Quoting from my status on Facebook:
Early this morning, I had the strangest dream. I dreamt I was living in an old house with high ceilings. In the dream, I wake up, get out of bed, and walk over to my window. I push the curtains aside, and on my little balcony, I see little flowers blooming in flower pots with moist, glistening mud. It’s a sunny day. In the dream, I’m so surprised to see the flowers because my balcony never had flowers. Who put them there? I was so happy in the dream.
Then, I wake up. For real. Just for kicks, I walk up to my window, push the curtain aside, and what do I see? A fat, blush pink pigeon dipping her beak into a plastic bowl of bits of bread I’d left out two days before, along with a bowl of water. My surprise and joy in real, waking life, was exactly the same in the dream. The emotion was exactly the same.
There was thick, white smoke on the 6th floor. I stumbled out of my apartment. The fire alarm was deafening. The smoke was acrid, burning plastic, metal. We ran down the fire exit, stumbling, almost falling, each floor was thick with smoke. I’m not sure how we made it outside, but in my mind, I’d thought this is it. Scores of us stood on the street waiting for the fire brigade. A concerned couple asked if I wanted to sit in their car till we could go back in. The young husband was shaken up, his wife was a few months pregnant. Outside, a girl in shorts hugged her only valuable; a fat, grey Persian cat to her chest. The cat looked bored. A man infront of me took a grinning selfie of himself with our smoking building in the background. Idiot. Thanked him in my head for the comic relief.
iii. The next day I called the building’s watchman – a sweet chap. He looks like Bruce Lee. Instead of telling him how scared I was on the night of the fire, I said: “Mein bohat khaufnaak hoon.” FML.
iv. Fifth month in this strange, weird, alluring city. An experience with a Pathan cabbie. Told him where to take me. He didn’t respond. Asked him if he knew where we were going. He responded rudely. Told him there was no reason for him to be rough. He shouted and cut a sharp turn. I made a mental note of his cab number from the RTA sticker on my window. The drive, the silence, back to my charred apartment building, dulled my anger. I noticed he was driving while leaning to his left. He looked exhausted. Maybe his back was killing him. Maybe he was sick. When we pulled up to my apartment, I leaned over, handed him the money and said: “I know you’re tired…” “Sorry bibi,” he responded quickly, dry-mouthed, not letting me finish. “I know what you’re going through,” “Sorry bibi, maaf kar do.” He sounded like he meant it. Saw his face – very young, very tired. I got out quietly, a lump in my throat.
v. Saw Abu Dhabi’s Grand Mosque. She doesn’t have a patch on Lahore’s Badshahi Masjid, but her pristine, white, new-ness, was breath-taking. Maybe decades later, her future weathered beauty will garner more admiration. For there is history contained in old places, mystery, stories, the past reserved in the present. No wonder old cities and their heritage sites are so, fascinating. History is tangible.
vi. In my third new location in my fifth month. At the rate I’m going, I ought to be a fugitive. I miss permanence.
vii. Heavy foot-fall outside my door – an accented, man-boy, virile voice, presumably speaking over the phone: “I spent Sunday with her, but man, she called me today and was like, crying madly…” He was too self-assured to sound in love.
viii. Fast learning: those who bring out the worst in you are your greatest teachers. Not those who bring out your best. It’s uncomfortable. But if you’re aware of how your buttons are pressed and what it makes you do, how it makes you react, you evolve faster. Bumpy ride. Get used to it.
ix. I’m anchor-less. But I’m building a ship.
x. I read somewhere that self-betrayal feels almost like physical pain. In work, in love, in casual conversation – self-betrayal, tune in to your actions and the words you speak, there’s a tangible loss of energy within when you go against your nature. Compromise, the new death. But there’s time, still, to save yourself. Weathered soul, in constant flux, do great things. But first, start with you.