A tale of one country and its biggest sin

The epitaph read,

“And she died, because they were too pretentious.”

‘She’ is the country we sing false praises of every year on 14th of August. ‘They’ are us.

Imagine long forgotten, buried nations with tombstones showing how they died. If Pakistan were ever unfortunate enough to be wiped off, it would hardly be terrorist attacks, earthquakes, corruption or poverty. We’ve had these problems for long. There is something else. Something more powerful, sneaky, and destructive for a third world country drowning in debt.  It’s my people’s absolute mastery of pretense, or in simpler words… showing-off.

Weddings. They have boiled down to competition, superiority, and status. Weddings are no longer about love, bonding, and hope. They are about life-choking expensive feasts, clothing, makeup, photography/videography, decor and honeymoons. Seven-day wedding celebrations to perhaps plaster their fairy tale love across the country? Or maybe just to display a lustful knack for bragging. Those who can’t afford without erasing their life savings, think twice, but go ahead anyway. Because hey what the heck, you only get married once right? So why not go all out. Now this by no means accounts for the rising divorce rate in Pakistan.

Birthdays and the likes. If you’re not chalking out the perfect Cinderella-like party for your one-year old daughter, who by now has learned the art of deciphering between mama and baba, then you are at best a nincompoop. The perfect cake, the perfect event planner and of course, the perfect venue. Whatever happened to simple, fun birthdays our children actually enjoyed? I know the argument here. It’s our money and we can do whatever we want. Sure, having too much money gives you the right to rub everyone with it. We are mindless clones. Even if we can’t afford to, we’ll always magically pull out our version of the royal event from torn, disheveled hats. C’mon now. You give a child that young a piece of chocolate cake and a wrapped present and he’ll think you’re God! But I know what you’re thinking, A child’s joy meets no match when he or she sees decked up women and men prancing around in ridiculous attempts to celebrate the ‘fun’ event.

Education. My stomach feels sick just thinking about the extent of the rat race here. The best ‘English-isspeaking school’, the highest fee package, the best-dressed teachers, the most fancy looking textbooks. Sure there are plenty of well-intentioned parents out there who want to send their children to elite schools for quality education. But the rest? The pretentious layers never peel off in time for them to realize what’s happening to their children. They understand only one rule. If the richest kid in class has that gadget, my child sure as hell is getting one! Sure, a five-year old missing out on the latest episode of Paw Patrol is the sin of sins here. You can’t possibly do that to your child. Sadly, this ‘richer-and-therefore-better-than-thou’ syndrome is our plague. We are raising a breed of self-obsessed, greedy children who will never open up their hearts.

Clothes. Sigh. It’s as if I’ll suffocate in the hundreds of yards of lawn/chiffon materials, and pret wear if I write about the clothing menace in my country. Ladies please, if you are so afraid of being caught in last season’s clothing, or you have to secretly compete with your bff for the best dressed award, please try not to infect other women. Because at the end of your selfie-dazed day, you’re tearing away at their hearts and desires, bit by bit. Sure that’s not really a valid argument because you are not responsible for another’s dissatisfaction and lack of privilege. But still. A little bit of humility and simplicity never hurts. And empathy goes a long way. Oh and next time you go out, try not to forget your child’s underage caretaker when you make her sit at another table and gawk at your fancy leftovers. Let’s just keep it at that.

Eating out. I am getting indigestion just thinking about what happens here. Gone are the days when we’d wait the entire year to get permission to eat out with friends at the fanciest restaurant we could afford, a.k.a. Copper Kettle. Also gone are the days when treating your friends and family on special occasions wasn’t so much about where you took them but about the moments you spent together. And drastically extinct and annihilated are the days when breaking or keeping fast at home was about simplicity and gratitude. Now shallowness has overcome this spiritual month. We take more time in dressing up to go out for Sehri or Iftar than we spend in prayer and self-evaluation. God forbid, if our Facebook check-ins at restaurants are less than the number of times we share Quranic Ayats. Pat on the back for maintaining the perfect balance every Ramzaan.

Here’s the catch of catches multiplied by 22 times infinity. Not all rich folk are masters of flaunting their money. Not all privileged people have wealth coming from sinister avenues. There are still some good eggs left. But by some unsaid rule, people with money, and oodles of it, are not allowed to simplify. At least most will not believe or support them. They will either be cousins of the miserly Uncle Scrooge, or not hip and happening enough. Some will limp across their crumbling cave of honour and follow everyone else. A small number will break the mould and do it differently. But that won’t matter because majority will still look up to the gold-studded and uphold disgusting standards. People who can’t indulge in luxuries will continue to swim in their pools of bitterness and skepticism. Their nightly howls of ‘Why us?!’ will haunt them permanently. The injustice forever stinging their open sores. No one is the wiser here.

Now feel free to get me wrong. Feel free to judge me for judging. But I have seen enough to choke if I don’t at least speak up. The fear of what the society will think or say is worse than it ever was. We are accustomed to a crippled thought process that never goes beyond the superficial scabby skin. Everything has an urgency attached to it. Gorge down or die. Slit the other’s throat or die. Encroach their territory or die. Compete or die. Win or die. It’s so much about the here and now that we don’t stop to think about the consequences. And there’s always a dire bunch of those we can’t escape.

In this fake, unbalanced world we’ve created, wide chasm between the rich and poor, the aware and ignorant, the humble and arrogant, the sane and insane, is increasing. Just beyond this skeletal existence we’ve become used to, is the point of no return.

And by the looks of it, we are damn proud and masters of hypocricy. You and I together will continue to throw our country to the shredder…or at least till the ink on the tombstone dries up. Pakistan Zindabad (Long Live Pakistan)!

image credits: sameen khan

Wednesday Wiseness: I don’t do Compassion. I only FAKE it.


Compassion is overrated.

Not because it doesn’t deserve its high position in the virtue ladder. It’s a pure emotion that begins where kindness and empathy end. It is stronger, more powerful, almost magical.

Not because we lecture our children about it or because we imagine it to be the solution to all problems.

But because the compassion we show as creatures of a supposed heart and soul is FAKE. We know no compassion. We feel no compassion. We only know how to FAKE it.

Are the wheels in my head rounding up one delusion after another? Or does this really bear any weight? Your call. But my mind is made.

The world is dying as we know it. Scientists proved that many years ago. Prophets and philosophers predicted this tortuous end as they played chess with spirituality and fate, way before ‘many-years-ago’. The decay was never limited to places of nature (global warming, deforestation, extinction, and pollution). It was supposed to be much worse. This is a sore truth humanity swallows every day.

People let hate take over. They turned on each other almost as soon they were created and set free. To do what? Create havoc and pretend to feel bad about it. And then, set themselves on a perpetual repeat mode of destruction and hypocrisy. So where does compassion figure in all of this? It doesn’t. It is a unicorn, an apparition, almost a myth.

And now, the bigger question. Why fake it? The righteous surely don’t need to. They came as Prophets, as Saints and as blue moons in our universe. They are the real deal, with no need to prove anything to anyone. And the self-righteous? One too many, like  you and me. The worst of the lot.

People like you and me; who think they know how it feels to sleep on the streets; who think they know how it feels to be hungry and thirsty and to actually die from both.

People like you and me; who think they know how a mother feels when her six-year-old daughter is raped and left to rot; who think they know how a terminally depressed person feels trapped in the darkest corners of an unending alley they call the mind.

People like you and me; who think they know how a person suffering from cancer or HIV feels; who think they know how parents feel when burying their flesh and blood.

People like you and me; who think they know how loss of hope feels for a person who had nothing else; who think they know how it feels to be a child and never see the inside of a classroom; who think they know how it feels to see your entire family murdered in front of you.

People like you and me, who think they know compassion. But we don’t. We never did.

You want to know how we get away with it every single time? We cry a redundant tear, sing a morose tune, crumple our eyebrows and make the perfect sad face. We fill up our Facebook and twitter pages with tragic, flowery language thinking we have something in common with the sufferers. In return, we fill up with pocket loads of an emotional drug called compassion. A feeling designed to make us feel better about ourselves. A false assurance that we aren’t bad people; we have hearts that do feel for others.

Another reason we are so good at forgetting is because we know there is plenty more from where it all came from. Someone will always be dying or dead. Someone will always be unwell or unhappy. Someone will always be caged in hell. While spectators like you and me, will stare out with popcorns in our hands and a box of Kleenex for the tears we are all so good at spurting. Only, it is never a movie that we are watching. It is real life. They are real people. The only thing unreal here is our compassion.

And eventually, we move on.  We go on about our lame busy lives. Our regular transmission resumes as newer, brighter shades paint the grey away. Tears melt away and empty tunes thud loudly on our hearts. Facebook profile pictures and messages get back to normal. The final virtual signal that it’s time to move on. Because after all, we live only once. Why waste it on worrying for others? We already have a lot on our plates. You and I.

Worries? Oh there are plenty. Like how the heating in your house was acting up all winter. Or how you can’t afford to buy a new dress this summer. Or how you can’t get yourself to exercise. Or how you just can’t quit smoking. Or how you have such crazy working hours. Or how you haven’t done anything ‘fun’ in so long. Or how you have never been to Europe. Or how you can never fulfill your new year’s resolutions . Or how your toddler drives you up the wall. Or how you missed the buss. Or how you got a speeding ticket. Or how your kitchen helper didn’t show up today. Or how you didn’t ace your exam. Or how nobody noticed your new haircut.

So yes. Don’t tell me you have compassion, if you can’t feel exactly the same way as the people suffering in front of you. Don’t tell me you have compassion, if you can’t step away from your life and offer help, in any way possible. Don’t tell me you have compassion if you can’t pray for others with the same intensity and humility as you would for yourself. Don’t tell me you have compassion, if you can sleep at night knowing how profusely the world bleeds.


And if you catch me telling this lie, pinch me real hard. For I don’t do compassion. I only fake it.

All’s not lost. But it is certainly not how we make it out to be. We might have a kind streak in us. We might be caring towards certain people, certain issues, at certain times. But true compassion? In the words of Daniel Goleman,

“True compassion means not only feeling another’s pain, but also being moved to help relieve it.”

I won’t be convinced.

Are you for real?

credits: shutterstock

Ever heard of the Russian nesting doll , Matryoshka? They are fascinating dolls placed one inside the other in decreased sizes. Almost like us fancy creatures don’t you think (not as dolled up of course). We have so many faces that are hiding behind one another. These are images that we sketch for, and according to, the people around us. Personalities within personalities. Layers behind layers.

“Be yourself!” “Don’t be fake!” These are such overrated terms. What is ‘being yourself’ anyway? Are you for real when you try to impress your friends by trying to dress like them, or walk and talk like them? Or Are you for real when your boss can’t stand the outspoken you, so you pull out another face? A more befitting picture that won’t burst the boss’s glassy ego. How about that woman at your friend’s wedding who you thought was so over the top and crude. Only a week later you saw her working behind a cash counter, as polite and timid as a deer. Or is that drunkard man real whose abusive tongue paralyzes many but most of his hours are spent feeding the homeless? Or how real is that chaste, pious man the world sings praises for when in the dark of the night he mistreats his wife like nobody’s business. Or is that girl real who got married thinking she was a pretty decent human being. But one fine day, she realized how wrong she was. People didn’t see her goodness. She was a complete imposter in her own eyes. Her only refuge was the custom-made mold she was expected to fit into. Her existing face was not good enough. It was time to order a new copy which was easy because shipping was instant and free. So who’s real and who isn’t? Is anyone really fake or are they just doing what everyone does? Change faces faster than a chameleon changes its color.

Almost throughout my elementary and high school years, I was one of the popular kids. Sports, music, studies, I was mostly at the top of my game. Then we moved towards the end of my high school and I was thrown into a new place with an alien system and cruel glances. I was in a torturous parallel dimension where nothing made sense. That was by far the worst year of my school life. Ever. Pimply craters were furiously invading my skin. I had a huge bout of low self-esteem and my classfellow’s indifference didn’t help much. Each day I thought about my old school, my old friends, my old face. The real me. Or so I thought. Because I sure wasn’t this weak, ugly, good for nothing kid, was I? It took me almost a year to get back into my game, when students around me began to realize I wasn’t too bad after all. The ‘cool’ kids started making friends with me because I got good grades and was assigned the president of the school’s sports club. How about that! I was around such gracious people! Now that I look back I didn’t do much except rummage through my supply of masks that I thought would help me get through.  The shy girl. The book worm. The nobody. The athlete. The friend. My first encounter with the master of shuffling faces that I had become.

That year in school, as the unwanted new kid I learned a number of things that now make sense. I hid behind all those layers because I wanted to fit in. I wanted my old, glorified self back. It all levels down to how I viewed myself in the eyes of others. Self-confidence can be an overrated term but sometimes that is all you need to preserve what’s left of yourself.Because if you don’t save your essential core from withering away, then no matter how many layers you reveal, you will never stop running, or hiding.

That is why the Matryoshka doll will always amaze me. You never know what to expect when you dig deeper. Keep peeling, keep pulling out. What’s behind face number one? What’s behind face number two? Can anyone really tell?

Many will answer that its the way we have been created. Mufti-faceted beings with the most complex of processes breeding within. But then what sets us apart from each other if all of us have the same gazillion faces that appear when we sense a distress signal? What defines our quintessential nature? How do I know what my true face is?  I can only ask the same questions over and over again. And after that I will go back to my business of shuffling faces the next morning, because the hunt for finding the real me is sort of a losing battle for now.

But do me a favor, ask yourselves this today. “Are you for real?”


Blogging 101: Day twenty-one: build on your new-to-you-post

This post is inspired from a quote I wrote about writing. About how we re-invent ourselves over and over again. It got me thinking and this entire concept of multiple faces and masks came to mind.