of human play-doh, of rain, and of matchsticks

Pakistan is notorious for a lot of things. Electricity shortage continues to stand out from the gruesome front runners – security threats and economic disparity; The perfect ingredients to derail any sane mind BUT a Pakistanis’.  All hell may literally break loose in Pakistan, but pick any common person  from a crowd and there is always room for more in the snake pit; for more morsels in their hearty appetites for despair. Maybe because they have no other choice. Maybe because they are built that way. Human Play-Doh is what I’d like to call them. You can bend them, squeeze them, stretch them; they refuse to give up their original, resilient, stubborn forms.

I always knew this fact. But the intensity of this realization  came knocking on my door just a couple of days ago. Good old Toronto was visited by torrential rains. The thunderstorm apparently had some old score to settle, because the amount of rain that fell during one hour that evening was equivalent to the estimated rainfall for the entire month of July!  From my brother’s condo, the sight was breathtaking; mesmerizing grey clouds swaying right and left to the uproarious beats of the winds – rain pouring forth as if God had plucked the Niagara Falls and flipped them upside down. I was busy wasting time on the internet when I noticed the light bulbs flickering. This suddenly took me to Lahore and the endless days and nights of electricity outages. The silly comparison was brushed off as quickly as talks of India-Pakistan conciliation. Five minutes later, it did not seem as silly. Nature had taken her turn. This time the Canadians of Toronto were under the microscope. Black out. Cellphones popped out, fingers hurriedly dialed friends and family nearby to inquire about the electricity situation in their areas. Apparently many areas of Toronto, including Mississauga had been badly affected by the thunderstorm. I had family stuck in three different areas of the city. I will come to that little discrepancy later.

credits: Goher

credits: Goher

Now the problem with developed countries such as the US and Canada is their over dependence on technology. Too much of a good thing is bad, or something like that? Electricity is essentially a Goddess. She controls all. Knows all. Pull a plug and she can revert the most technologically advanced nations to the basics.  For example; without power, we had no water, no light, no internet, no traffic system, no cooking, no nothing! I was surprised but mostly amused. I kept thinking about how this would translate back in Lahore. Simply put, life would go on with a shrug of the shoulders and for some lucky folks; a switch to backup generators. Of course this supposed nonchalance or bravado in troubling times is not an over night achievement. This particular brand of Pakistani thick skin took years of practice and struggle.  The theory of Behaviorism suggests that excessive repetition can lead to desired changes in the external surroundings. Desired or not, Pakistanis have come a long way. Nothing really surprises them or falters them any more. Many would call this indifference. To me its largely a case of ‘been there done that’!

line up outside a convenient store

line up outside a convenient store

Coming back to thundery Toronto that day, panic was evident. I am sure people who experienced the massive 2003 blackouts must have shriveled at the thought of it happening again. Traffic system was in a frenzy, leading to several accidents. All stores closed down; Flights cancelled; People stranded for hours. Some convenience stores were open in candle light with long queues of people looking for bottled water. One standout of the evening was the Go Train incident that was flooded with water; with people jumping out wearing life jackets. This two-in-one transportation mode would have amused some in normal circumstances. Poor creatures had too much on their plates owing to the rarity of the situation. In Pakistan a similar incident would not have invoked such media frenzy; and would probably have ended with most of the passengers becoming self-taught swimmers. Having said that, the overall disaster was no way near what could have occurred in the absence of an efficient damage control system. Kudos to the Canadians!

Emergency elevators were thankfully operating in some of the buildings including ours, so we were saved from the fearful prospect of climbing down twenty-one floors. I returned to my place relieved that I had candles at home. One little detail however was missed. No matches. So that was pretty much the highlight of the power outage at my end. My family managed to return home safe and sound. I sat back, prepared for an all-nighter in the dark; undeterred, apart from fleeting thoughts of a horrendous bathroom show – starring two small children and no water. The drama did not last long in our part of the city and power was thankfully restored. Without exaggeration, I could hear shrieks of joy echoing from the surrounding apartment buildings! Something you’d hear in the stadium ensuing a touchdown or goal probably.

I hear there are reports of further downpours this week.  ‘Bring it on!’ I say. Oh but first, I’d better stock up on matches and lots of water.

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This post was published in The Express Tribune under the name: Yes, thunderstorms in Toronto can take you back to Lahore

Bowl of cereal from the heavens…

Turning thirty is usually a big deal. That momentous time where a child begins calling you an Aunti and you begin to make peace with that fact rather than fantasize about teaching the little devil a lesson. I don’t suppose anything tangible changes except for maybe a few unwelcoming strands of squiggly grey hair and creaking knees. In my case more than anything else, it has been an increasing spate of bewilderment at the world. Every time I sit down to write, a flood of random and some not-so random thoughts attack furiously, left, right and center; begging to be found and figured out.  Nothing is trivial anymore; yet everything can be ignored. Nothing is too serious, or too funny, or too crazy; like I have seen it all before; yet every time its all invigoratingly new.

Even feeding breakfast to my eight month old daughter is not as simple as it used to be. So one fine day, there I was trying out a new cereal that to my dismay she despised. Like most moms, I am a persistent bug, so I kept feeding and hoping she would take to the new taste eventually. All traces of my maternal instinct appeared as I thought; “She needs to eat this, its good for her!” Just then I noticed a speck of food on the floor and bent down to pick it up. Out from no where came my elbow and knocked down the bowl from the table and caught me completely off guard! SPLAT!! An artist might call this intricate design of milk and cereal on the floor, art.  I had other nice words in mind, apparently unfit for my blog.

If babies could talk, I am sure mine was thanking my elbow. The “mommy” me was hurriedly cleaning away. The annoying “writer” in me thought: “Was that pure coincidence or a sign from above signalling the stop sign?” Should I ignore this accident and get her some more cereal or should I appease her little taste buds with something she already likes to eat.  Of course, a bowl of cereal on the floor rather than in your child’s mouth does not exactly fit the criterion for divine revelation. Notwithstanding, I could not help but think about the presence and impact of signs in our lives.

Follow your passions, they say! Don’t give up, no matter how long it takes! But who gives us the time stamp? How long is ‘how long’?! Does someone stand there holding a board blinking with colorful lights assuring us we are on the right track? Of course not. Nothing is ever as overtly expressed in real life. However there are numerous instances that help you understand where you are headed even if its not your cup of tea. The globe is replete with people having crazy, raw, admirable gifts bound to set many green with envy. Delusional feelings of grandeur or not, these people mean business! Some even spend their entire lives like color-blind bulls running after the matador’s cape; huffing and puffing towards an invisible line that packs its bags and changes towns every time they are near. They struggle on until one fine day, someone’s elbow knocks down their house of cards. They roll up their sleeves and start all over again. Some actually make it past the finish line. These people are what the world’s catchiest quotable quotes are made of! Wonder what signs the student of astro physics from Toronto saw that made him leave his line of profession; and succumb to a passionate life in which he now entertains through strange tricks involving fire, body contortions and humor.So many people around the world change religions when they notice startling signs around them. I recently saw an interesting and candid account of how an atheist Australian Ruben studied all major religions and finally converted to a religion he believed was the best for him;  because the signs he so desperately desired were the simplest ones, staring him right in the face.

Inwardly, we all believe in signs, omens, sixth sense…the whole mystical shebang! Though far more difficult to decipher than even the ancient languages, hieroglyphs etc. , its interesting to derive meaning out of daily happenings in life.  I read somewhere how everyday things like highway signs and boards, overhearing a conversation, losing a job, starting a new business, moving to a new home, the ever-familiar feeling of dejavu can all be harbingers of what lies ahead and how training our hearts and minds to understand those signs can make a huge difference in our lives (source). Sometimes, I think the more delusional others think you are, the better it is. This uncanny ability to see a beautiful angel as a prophetic omen from the heavens as opposed to a Medusa waving the warning signal, is a core ingredient for the passionate and the pure at heart.

So in case any of you are wondering, I took notice of the fallen bowl of cereal and my daughter was saved from the ordeal of eating another bite. That however was the simpler side of it all. I am not a master of sign-reading, nor am I a passionate or pure soul, but I believe that our lives are all laid down on a map with invisible signs and signals. It’s only a matter of time when the appropriate sign will manifest and direct the way. I cannot comment on what signs may direct my future as a writer. But fortunately, I have all the symptoms of a delusional sign reader, which will keep the writer in me alive. Unlike the breakfast incident, I will stubbornly pick up remnants of unfinished letters, words, sentences and continue to write, hopefully waiting for the next sign to reveal itself.