On manmade standards and true measure of a person…

I always thought life was about living.

But its not. Because we are too busy trying not to drown in oceans created by other people.

Wealth. Beauty. Fame. Success. Fashion. Family. Connections. Education. There’s much to be added in this list. We spend our lives trying to come up to expectations set by others. Loved ones. Society. Culture. Traditions. Those imposed criteria are like mirages; they disappear right when you think you’re taking that final step. We foolishly think, ‘ Now, I think I will be happy!’ That moment never comes.

Standards. The minute you are born, an invisible yardstick miraculously appears like one of the ordained angels on our shoulders, following us around everywhere we go. After a painful labor the exhausted mother sighs with relief as the doctor confirms the baby is normal and healthy. Check or Cross – depending on what your expectation is. Of course in this case, a normal healthy baby should be the final check. But it’s not. What comes next is the baby’s physical appearance. Is the nose too big? Because a blob of a nose sure doesn’t belong in the Miss Nose pageant does it? Are the eyes too small? Oh God no, small eyes, that’s just too sad isn’t it? And then, the fateful skin color. If the poor child is anything below the standard  (depending on whatever standard it is that you uphold), then it’s all mayhem. One cross after another. These are all beauty criteria the world floats its superficial boat on. The need to fit in overpowers the need to live.

Then come the rest of the baby’s milestones. Teething. Eating. Talking. During each process, the parents or the family obsess with ‘normal’ standards. If the baby doesn’t teeth on time, all hell breaks loose. What if my baby has no teeth? Ever! Doctors try to comfort over-worried parents, assuring them  it’s all right if the baby teethes late. Phew! Everyone can rest in peace. As for the rest of the baby stages, the parents might need more space in their closets, because the measuring tape is as long, if not longer than Rapunzel’s tangled hair.

Then comes school. ABCs. 123s. Reading. Writing. Speaking. Listening. Children at this stage are content creatures. They thrive on life’s unexpected turns and mysteries. Gliding through each day, in wonder, in joy, in awe. But these imposed standards of what he should or should be like at that particular time takes away the adventure, the freedom, the curiosity of life. He is forced to settle with less. A second-rate version of life where the child has to come up to a certain standard to be accepted, to be loved, to be respected. A tasteless imitation he needs to uphold to seem appropriate for everyone else. A competitive relay race where if the child doesn’t run on time to hand the baton to the next level, it’s chaos.

And so starts the ratrace that never ends.

This doesn’t mean I cheer for complacency. Hard work and determination are as important as honesty and strong ethics. But hard work for what? That is the question I ask. Do we work hard to compete in a meaningless game? Or do we work hard to instill moral and ethical values in our children and ourselves? The rest always follows doesn’t it? If you are working at building strong relationships at work, at home, at school, then won’t success follow you around? As opposed to running blindly after worldly riches with a ruler in our hands,  wondering if we’ll ever fall in line.

The problem starts when we confuse man-made standards with God-made standards. God doesn’t care if we look a certain way or not, or if we have enough money to stuff our wardrobes with designer wear. Nor does He care if we graduated on the top of our class and got into a fortune 500 company. He sure isn’t counting on the several times we outdid someone at work, or even a friend just to soothe our sore egoes.

These are all unnecessary distractions that come in the way of how we should and shouldn’t live. A true measure of a person is not by what he puts on his body, but what he puts in his heart. A true measure of a human is  not by the number of languages he can speak, but by the honest, compassionate words that come out of those lips. A true measure of a person is by what he gives to others, and not by what he takes.

As I look at my children, I realize how I never want to judge them on these superfluous values. I also realize that chances are I will do exactly just that. If my children don’t get into the top colleges, or marry the ‘right’ people, I will hold them responsible. Because that is the kind of world I live in.

So I start now and I start small. I resolve to take baby steps towards a life that is not suffocated by what the world thinks I should do. But towards a life that makes an effort to understand what God has asked of me. I believe that simple truths of good and the bad already exist in our hearts. It’s time to awaken those scripts from slumber and understand their importance in the daily life.

Next time I see my four-year old struggling with his phonics, I will remind myself not to succumb to frustration or to doubt his intelligence. Instead I will focus on developing his sense of care and love for people around him. From the garbage collector that comes every Tuesday, to the woman at the checkout counter in Walmart. I will instead worry about teaching him respect for young and the old in these early years, because what he learns now will stick with him for the rest of his life. When he wakes up from a nightmare, I will tell him to pray only to God because He listens to us and loves us the most. I have always feared power, dominance of other people. I don’t want my children to do the same. Only God is worthy of fear and submission, no one else is. In the coming years if my daughter comes home telling me how her class fellow bought a new cellphone, I will remind her of humility and simplicity. Humility can bend mountains. Money can’t. Next time I see a mother worrying about how her two-year old daughter isn’t much of a talker, I will reminder her to take it easy. To let her child discover everything on her own, in her right time. And even if she stumbles across and never becomes a fluent speaker, its all right. What’s more important is if she doesn’t hurt anyone with even the few words that she speaks.

I start small. I start today. That’s all I can promise for now.

“Do you know what you are?
You are a manuscript oƒ a divine letter.
You are a mirror reflecting a noble face.
This universe is not outside of you.
Look inside yourself;
everything that you want,
you are already that.”








Short Story: Room No. 2

“Though destiny a hundred times waylays you, in the end it pitches a tent for you in Heaven. It is God’s loving kindness to terrify you, in order to lead you to His Kingdom of safety.” – Rumi

Helping people relive their dreams must be something incredible. Not many possess such magical traits. But I do.  Now now, don’t throw your unwanted skepticism at me. I’m sticking to my wand. Go see for yourself.

Opposite the glorious Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, there is a ghastly hotel made as if only to magnify the mosque’s beauty with its own hideousness.  Its decaying interior and loathsome hotel staff might put you off at first glance.  Don’t take it to heart. Make your way inside and specifically ask for Room No. 2.  Normally, a person of your decent demeanor would never visit the likes of this place. Its usual clientele ranges from people with hardly any money to those with unwarranted amounts of it; from self-righteous hypocrites to honest muggers; the variety is astounding.  You however, are here on a mission to prove me wrong, so you need not worry. Proceed further. Oh, just make sure you spend the night. It will not take long to convince you of my sorcery.

A slim silhouette cast a hesitant shadow on the corner wall across the hotel. He awkwardly crossed the road clad in a blue polo shirt with faded black pants and shoes destined to rest in peace in a shoe graveyard. A cheap imitation of a shiny Rolex glistened on his wrist as he abruptly came to a stop next to a dimming lamp post. Wiping off beads of sweat, he heaved a desperate sigh and continued to walk. His reluctance and  fear betrayed naivety and inexperience. He stopped midway and hurriedly took out his wallet. While frantically searching for something, he dropped a small picture of a boy with a toothless grin emanating like a rainbow after a rainstorm. Beside him, sat another little girl on the lap of a plump, pretty woman wearing a yellow cotton shalwar kameez and a content shimmer in her eyes. He found what he was looking for and tucked the picture safely back where it belonged. The next few steps led him to his undesired location.

A wrinkled old hand handed him keys to his room. The number ‘2’ had a missing tale and looked like the right half of a heart. The young man shook his head at the absurdity of such a random thought and hurriedly grabbed the keys.

The putrid odour in the room was overwhelming. He was however too preoccupied to even notice. He raced towards the bedside table and shakily took out a small brown package from it.  He paced the floor whilst sneaking fearful glances at his watch and the package; his pupils oscillating back and forth like a rabid rocking horse. The clock struck twelve and out came the cookoo. Knock knock knock! To his disgust the opened door revealed the man who had handed him the keys earlier on. The old man’s abrupt act of hospitality implied some not-so subtle means of entertainment at such an ungodly hour of the night. The young man slammed the door without another word.

The fruits of a hard day’s work of lying and deceit eventually bore fruit. The wait was excruciating. His overtired brain cells ran out of power and within minutes he was asleep. He dreamt of his wife and children laughing and talking over a delicious dinner of lentils and roti (bread). His pleasant dream was rudely interrupted by a deafening sound outside the door. Sounds of gunfire reverberated as intensely as a corpse’s stare. He realized his awful mistake.  He had been caught. He walked over to the corner of the room and stood with trembling legs, waiting for the door to be kicked down.

The door opened and all he saw was his youngest child covered in blood.

He woke up gasping for air like a dying fish on land. Where was he? A dream within a dream? Was he going insane? As he frantically sprang from bed, his hand brushed past the cursed package leading to a stretch of detestable memories! It all came flooding back like a deluge of ants. An insatiable urge to omit his middle class status; a dangerous attempt to make some quick money; a petrified man haunted by a dutiful conscience.

Suddenly out of nowhere, a strange smile appeared on his lips. He was alive. His family was waiting back home and that meant more to him than all the money in the world! He realized the only thing that truly mattered was what he already had. He was living his dream. The key chain with the demented number ‘2’ stubbornly danced the waltz as he slammed the door shut and ran all the way back to his home.

So, are you convinced now? I told you I can make people relive their dreams. Tell anyone who still doubts, to visit Room No. 2 at this hotel. Oh, just make sure they spend the night.