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Monthly Archives: August 2012

Birthdays were never a big thing in my family.  Another year of the earth making it around the sun, or the moon making it around the earth: didn’t seem worth celebrating.

When my birthday came again this year, I wasn’t bothered. Nothing special. Not a public holiday (yet) and I don’t mind working on my birthday anyway. So much ado about nothing.

Against my hardened cynicism, I found myself grateful and happy on my birthday this year.

What I understood for the first time is that birthdays aren’t really about celebrating  the birthday. Birthdays are about the joy that comes from recognising the wonderful, diverse, talented, joyous people that have crossed your path. From remembering all the good moments, high, first times and old memories.

I was the fortunate recipient from an overwhelming outpouring of warm wishes. By facetime, phone, video message, email, sms, whatsapp and facebook wall / chats I got many many happy birthdays, kind congratulations, best wishes, hopes for a good day and kind wishes for a year ahead.

These wishes came not only from the people who I see every day, they came from people far far away. They came from old friends and newer. From family and friends who are like family.

Best of all were the close friends who came for a short sweet surprise dinner organised by my wife. Its a rare treat for me to see the diverse individuals I cherry pick to be my friends collected together in one group. Almost as if I don’t except such an odd social group to function. But they were all there and having a good time (I hope) and it meant the world to me that they came. For all this, of course, I owe all credit to the effort, talent and planning of my wife. It wouldn’t have happened without her (I believe it’d never work remember?).

Riding this high, I thought I would reach out again to all those people who had wished me well. I’ve made a real effort to reach back to every person that I could: I’ve replied to emails, responded to comments, called back and tried my utmost to reach out as best as I could. Maybe  that will  spark things, warm things, reignite things that have drifted apart. I hope so.

Celebrating a birthday is about recognising, reaching out, enjoying and spending time with someone you like. Celebrating your birthday is, hopefully, your friends doing the same in reverse. That means a lot.

That is immeasurably valuable.

That’s something worth celebrating.

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It is a lovely Sunday afternoon. The sun is shining and the weather is warm. I’m enjoying the season opener to Grimm. I’m gonna start backtracking through Castle next. A classic chill out Sunday.

Despite all of that I find myself living in anticipation of Monday. There’s work to do on Monday. Lots of work. I can’t help thinking about it.

And so I find myself in a strange limbo. I’m waiting through Sunday. In a restless way. Pacing the room. Distracting myself. Drafting blog posts in my head.

My head, though, is in Monday. Working through items in draft. Planning ahead. Writing paragraphs and emails. Living one step ahead compared to where I need to be today.

I want to get to work. I don’t want to spend time on leisure when I can feel the foreboding sense of all that waits to be done.

I feel like I’m wasting my time in leisure when there is a work do to.

Living in the present would require me to do the opposite. To focus on the joy of today and wait till tomorrow to deal with tomorrows issues.

I’m not sure whether that can ever be done. But I know I would like to get better at it. Any tips?

Eid Mubarak! I hope that you made many requests of God and they were answered.

However, if like many mumineen, you asked your fellow masjid / markaz irregulars to remember you in their duas, you may not have been as successful as you wished based on the latest
research:

In findings released just before Ramadan, researchers from Jamea have concluded that solicitations of “dua ma yaad” (DMY) lead to virtually no increase in actually being remembered in duas

However, like the subject of the study shows, it’s all about keeping a can-do attitude:

Ali was at a loss to explain his dismal DMY success, but remained defiant, “All this means is that I gotta step up my DMY game to a whole new level.”

Keep upping your game. And enjoy lunch.

I have always seen duty as paramount. Duty prevailed over need, want, pleasure, choice, happiness or self-direction.

Whatever you did, and you could do anything, you had to first ensure that you did your duty to God and your fellow man.

Duty first.

This is a deeply held sense of duty. I moralised extensively. I gave it primacy over all moral virtue because it was the life objective: the primary obligation of the adult in society. Duty was the ultimate obligation.

No matter how unwilling you were. Or how onerous the duty. Or how irrational.

Duty first.

As you may guess from my recent post, I’m not so cocksure about my sense of duty. Or the importance of duty. Certainly not its total primacy.

Many of the things I’ve been thinking have recently been said – better than I could say them – by the ever interesting Steve Pavlina:

While you may have been convinced that these duties are important, the truth is that they’re of no particular importance to people with high self-esteem and a positive sense of self-worth. Such people do not care how much money you make, what kind of provider you are, or how long you’ve been married to the same person. They’re much more curious about something else: how you feel about yourself and the path you’re walking.

When, however, I connect with people who are responsibly doing their duty, but who haven’t yet cultivated a life of happiness, I can’t help but notice the sallow desperation in their eyes, the numbness with which they speak, and the damned-if-I-do-damned-if-I-don’t game of self-deception they play each day. They feel trapped and lost to the point where they label feelings like depression and frustration with words like “fine” and “okay.”

If you find yourself in such a situation, there is a way out, and it begins with finally acknowledging the truth to yourself and diving into the dark places where you think it may lead. Accept your situation as it is, and most importantly, accept how you feel about it. The reality is that the darkness you fear is really nothing to fear at all. Yes, you may face some challenges, but that is how you’ll grow.

Steve Pavlina describes meeting the dutiful person. If you read his blog though, it’s clear that Steve Pavlina is not one of those people. Maybe he was that person once, but he isn’t now.

I have met that person. I have walked in his shoes, thought his thoughts and weighed his heart. I am that person. I am a duty bound slave.

A person doing their duty should look bleak. A life lived for duty erodes you from the inside. It wears you down until you are ground down emotionally. It leaves behind the finest dust in your heart that stops all positive feelings

You can exercise no hope, no creativity, no wisdom and no strength except in the discharge of your duty.

But duty is never ending. There are always more duties.

Duty is unforgiving. What you do is too little.

Duty is ever present. You can never fail to do your duty.

Duty is harsh. If you’re going to do your duty do it right or don’t do it.

Duty is ungrateful. After all you are only doing your duty: what you should do.

Duty is expectation. Someone has decided what you must do. Your job is not to ask but to do. To obey or go away.

On the day that realisation hits you, or worse you become comfortable with that burden, it’s hard to imagine anyone seeing in your eyes anything but a life of quiet desperation.

The truth is that duty is a self-locking prison. Duty bound and an ardent believer in duty you will discharge the task no matter the cost. It’s about who you are after all: dutiful. And at that point it doesn’t matter how aware you are of the prison at that point because you can’t imagine a life without duty anymore.

I’m trying to be more aware now of what is duty and what is choice. I no longer see my life as duty first. For now that’s the most I can do. But it’s a valuable start.

My brother sent me this link this morning:

Eid is meant to mark the end of the month-long fast of Ramzan, but if the Ruyat-e-Hilal Committee (Chand Committee) has its way, several Muslims will have to observe a day of fasting after celebrating Eid.

The cause of this confusion is the fact that the moon was sighted in Mumbai only July 21, because of which the Ramzan fast started on July 22 for many city Muslims. In other parts of the country, it started a day earlier.

You have to admire the misguided creativity that leads to such a ruling.

Put aside that this is theologically absurd. Put aside that this contradicts 1400 years of established Islamic practice. Put aside the obvious logical counterpoint that if Eid-ul-Fitr is the celebration that marks the end of Ramadan, fasting a day afterwards for a day that you say is part of Ramadan must be entirely nonsensical. Put aside, if you can, that mankind has been observing the lunar cycle for hundreds if not thousands of years and we know that, in fact, the new moon will rise a day earlier than even the date currently chosen by the moon spotters, so that they’re not one but two days behind.

Put that all aside, because I think the deeper point observable in all of this is much more troubling. First of all, it is clear that the moon spotters made an initial mistake. Even compared to the moon spotters elsewhere in India, they were one day behind the curve. Given that they knew that moon spotters elsewhere had seen the new moon, this must have meant that the new moon was hanging over Mumbai on that night. They must have deliberately turned a blind eye to this knowledge when informing the Muslims of Mumbai not to fast on 21 July itself. Deliberate ignorance in the wise is hardly commendable.

Secondly, their reaction to this mistake was not to acknowledge that they had made a mistake, and that this had led to people missing a fast. They chose not to regard this as a mistake. They chose to not even acknowledge that there had been error. Presumably, to do so would be a severe blow to their legitimacy, authority and power since the only reason that diverse Muslim sects have agreed on using the Chand Committee is because they can provide this crucial information in an accurate and neutral manner. If they fail in that simple task, there isn’t much role left for them. An inability to recognise or admit clear mistakes is hardly commendable.

Thirdly, when coming up with their creative ‘solution’ they have tried to find something that is quick and efficient (fast one more day) rather than something that is accurate and in conformity with the practice and history of Islam. They’ve decided to solve their legitimacy crisis rather than solve the theological crisis of people having missed one day of fasting. And that is absurd because there is no theological crisis concerning what to do when you’ve missed a fast. The rules have provided how to correct that common oversight for as long as Muslims have been fasting. And there are more ways to do it than doing a fast afterwards. An inability to apply simple and clear rules is hardly commendable.

Situations like this speak to me about the absurdity of the idea of the self-governing Ummah. The idea that the collective decisions of scholars and learned men can somehow correctly guide people through their spiritual lives has never been better illustrated as flawed than by moments like this. Here are the ‘leaders’ ignoring practice, precedent, logic and knowledge to ensure that their primacy is not threatened. Here is one of the most sacred times in the calendar, something that by definition cannot be changed, altered to cover human error.

Given this is the pathetic governance of the Ummah even on established spiritual matters, it’s hardly surprising that Islam struggles in the modern world.

Thank you for sharing your fights with us. It’s made both of us feel so much better. It’s made us seem so much more normal. And we’re both happier to be more normal. We’re stronger for it.

It’s one of the particular foibles of being newly married that you go through the same fights as everyone else experiences. You’re adjusting to sharing your life with a new person.

These are fights about social lives, sleeping, waking, doing the work, allocating responsibilities. One side might be working whilst the other isn’t. One might be adapting to a new place and a new way of doing things. Neither, probably, really wants to change.

It is also a particular foible that you think your fights are unique and unprecedented.

You fear you’re the first couple ever to have that fight. And it’s such a fundamental fight that you fear that you’ve gotten it all wrong.

They seem earth shatteringly important. They could even be marriage ending.

The most important decision of your young adult life and you’ve managed to blow it by marrying this person with who you fight all the time.

So it is refreshing when your fiends share their fights with you. You feel so much better. Thank you for sharing.

Once upon a time, a long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, I was a Writer. You can find that in some of the older posts on this blog. Especially many of the first ones. Even now, when I go through my archives, I envy the clarity of my previous thoughts. Nowadays, everything seems so opaque, so obtuse, so changeable, and Writing is so so hard.

Today, I thought about Writing. I always think about Writing. Actually, I obsess over Writing all the time. The act of Writing, the process of Writing, the magic of Writing, the miracle of Writing. So obsessed with Writing that I don’t dare do any capital ‘W’ Writing. This is the kind of writing that builds, understanding, transcends ideas, unites new thoughts, systemises disparate experiences, clarifies your intentions, distils your desires and heals the soul. 

Writing requires you to have something to say beyond the arid technical process of stringing words into a sentence. Writing has to come from the heart, transmute the soul and issue with a force of will from the page. Nowadays, I don’t have anything that I want to say with that degree of heart. You can’t Write when  you’re struck down by the process of simply living.

So, when I say I don’t Write,  don’t get the impression that I mean I have literally nothing to say. I’m still as opinionated as ever.  I lack the will to do real work. To turn ideas, snatches, half collected thoughts into words. To form real opinions. The ability to see snatches in your head, of the perfect sentence half-deformed, the perfect counterpoint stillborn, the emotive, engaging gripping single sentence bound to a wheelchair by the crippling inability to give it the paragraph that it deserves. 

Wanting to Write, when all you can do is write, is to know you’re producing unintentional grotesques when you wanted to imitate the Pieta. I won’t do it. I won’t waste my time or my readers on poor quality drivel that I could generate by just dumping words on the page. Some of it might be of quality, and some of it might not be. Who wants to generate churn, fodder, wasted words that achieve such a poor result. Most importantly, I don’t get anything out of writing. Writing, was emotional, it was catharsis, it was growth, it was learning: writing is a faint shadow on a hazy summer day of that feeling.

Much easier just to keep doing things as before. Small letter ‘w’ writing is easy.  Write an email. Write a memo. Write a facebook comment. That you can do at least. Cause there’s no debate about why you’re doing that, or what you’re saying, or what it ultimately means. The answer is easy, it means nothing. Nothing in the long run turns on how I write those things, because my credit as a writer isn’t engaged. Those are about my skills as a professional, as a communicator, as a thinker. Nobody cares (past the threshold of comprehension) about the clarity, voice, warmth, feel, heft, weight, style of the writing. Nobody cares about what it means, beyond its surface level narrative. Nothing is bought together, no lessons are learned, no growth is possible, no healing found.

Nothing given. Nothing gained. Nothing written. Nothing learned. Nothing earned. Nothing lost.

Just poor writing.

I’m tired. Tired of God and tired of men. Tired of the spiritual life and tired of the mortal life. Just, in so many ways, tired.

I’m tired of God. We know a few things about God. He’s all powerful, all knowing, transcendent, immortal, unknowable and inscrutable. That’s a good place to be for Him. But it does make it hard to take him seriously. Why would this being, a being Karen Armstrong aptly called the remote Sky God (because he’s somewhere up there and doesn’t really do anything down here) care one jot about what’s going on down here? And the usual answer, trotted out, is that we’re not capable of understanding Him. That the idea, the true nature, of God is something so beyond the capacity of the mortal mind to comprehend that it would be folly for us to try. We can at best engage in approximations: analogies of what God is like – or what His attributes are like. But he is none of those things and all of these things, because even those words are limited by our limited appreciation of their true meaning. So that to call him Forgiving simply does not comprehend the nature and extent of his infinite mercy. To call him Just does not comprehend the nature and extend of his perfect justice. To which the immediate rebuttal is that why did he make us that way? It was his choice to limit our capacities, and if as a result he feels underappreciated, I don’t see how that should necessarily be attributed to me. As one of my friends says, if you have a problem with every model available, then you have a problem with the manufacturer not the product. And that should really be resolved by the manufacturer. In this case, He is the manufacturer, so seems to be a bit odd to blame the mortal.

It’s hard to be religious and tired of God.

I’m tired of men. I’m tired of hypocrisy and lies. Of evasion and falsehoods. Of fake smiles and sincere cruelty. I’m especially tired of seeing this in people who profess to be holy men, religious men, devout men, honest men, men of integrity, and men of character. Men who intend to be scared of their Lord or their professional regulator, but instead seem only worried about their mortal skins and material gains. At least, when those who are only scared of their professional regulator go out and lie, cheat, steal, bully, ignore, abuse, manipulate and coerce, they do so without relying on a moral authority that their very conduct undermines. Of course, I understand why it happens. People are being people, with all the insecurities, worries, work to avoid, easy paths to take, difficult choices, personal preferences and capricious whims that are heir to the mortal condition. And yes, I do know that people are more than this. That people can be, and often are, good. That they can be kind, and welcoming, and warm, and giving and generous. Except that I don’t want these things of them either. I would not be a recipient of their generosity, kindness, giving, welcoming or warmth. It rings false to me when they are capable of so much that accrues to the other, crueller,  side of the personality divide. And yes, I know that I do it too.

It’s hard to be sociable and tired of People.

I’m tired of the spiritual. If I were to answer in truth, I would say that my spiritual side was dying more every day. Part of that is everything that I’ve talked about already, above, but part of that is also about how little spiritual response I feel to things that are meant to move me spiritually. The things that people say lift them, change them, hold them, support them, give them the strength of faith and the comfort of certainty don’t hold for me anymore. Faith and certainty seem quaint outcomes of a limited perspective and a closed mind. The arguments of those who have a narrow vision of how people can live their lives, the choices they can make, and a paternalistic instinct in making sure people make the choices that they perceive to be right. Sometimes, so many times, those choices seem to align suspiciously with the motives in my previous paragraph. So I have doubt. Lots and lots of doubt. Lots of questions. Lots of uncertainty as to the smugness and self-assuredness of the faithful. People who behave in ways that are selfish and capricious, sure in the knowledge that they are the elect and the chosen (and it doesn’t matter what faith they belong to in this regard) and that every one else is misguided. And yes, I know that I do it too.

It’s hard to hope and be tired of the spiritual life.

I’m tired of the mortal. Is this really it? Is this what happens for the next 40 – 50 years of my life? I work, hard, forever, living life in 2 week or 3 week increments, stolen glimpses of freedom and space, time and opportunity, hope and freshness, and then to return back to the grind. What’s the point of all of this? Is it to die with the most toys? To die with more toys? Die with enough toys? Why would any rational sane individual make any of these choices? What kind of folly would it be to blithely continue down this path? And those are the easy questions. Harder ones are why I’m doing this, who benefits, who hopes to benefit and how come I benefit so little? Oh so many questions and not an answer in sight. Almost feels like there no point in asking these questions, since they lead only to counsels of despair. Especially so when I don’t particularly care for material outcomes. I don’t want fancy things. I don’t need designer clothes, or elaborately stitched hand crafted leather goods. I don’t care whether I own a house, or five. Once you’re over that level of comfort and subsistence, I don’t  see the mortal life being directed by the pursuit of economic gain. So my material life is aimed at the material gain of others predominantly, since I know now that these won’t particularly satisfy me? But material things are important and material things are a necessity. So yes, I know that I need these things too.

It’s hard to work and be tired of the mortal life.

I find myself at a crossroads. There is very little left to loose when you are tired of your religious life, your spiritual life, your social life and your work life. There is not much of a safety net below these questions and despair. These are gnawing questions, that pollute the soul and drag down the heart. These are dirty questions, that spread their toxic burdens into every other thought and every other source. They are water closing over a drowning man; a last chance to see water bedazzled by sunlight but too far away, almost certainly, to ever break to the surface again.

I could ask someone, I could seek guidance, seek answers, seek truth. But tell me – why should I trust you? You too are likely to be religious or atheist. You too are likely to be human. You too are likely to have a spiritual and a material life. And I am very apt to mistrust your answers, because after all your actions will seem smug and self-assured to me.

And so I am where I choose to be. Uncertainly carrying a heavy burden of doubt, unsure of where I am coming from or where I am going. Unsure of why I am journeying and why I would want to arrive. Uncertain that any other traveller on this road knows where to go any better, and convinced that many are lying when they offer maps, guidance and shortcuts. Is it any wonder I’m tired?