Ten Minutes Thirty-Eight Seconds into This Strange World – Elif Shafaq

The title of the book hints at someone being born and then leaving back for heavens in 10 minutes and 38 seconds. Yet, instead of birth, the book starts at death and contrary to the idea of someone dying within 10 minutes; the dead person is 40 years old!

This book is one of those which give a vivid idea of the society and yet, are extremely personal in nature. It does not comment on anything, nevertheless, it speaks volumes about everything going on in society. Like a background track in a café. One is essentially there for coffee but one can hear things too.

The story revolves around Leila, Tequila Leila, who happens to be a prostitute and is dead when the book opens. Dead and dumped in a trash can, because she was a prostitute. The first part of the book is in flashbacks, as Leila sees them before her brain activity ceases. The second part revolves around the events that happen afterward, with her and with the characters related to her.

The book speaks volumes about friendship and relations that we build over time, referred by Elif as ‘Water Family’. Even though we look after our blood relations, the ones tied by fate, as the ones who would always stay loyal, Elif beautifully says that sometimes water runs thicker than blood. This cannot be truer than in current times and situations. In times when family belittles and disappoints us while one is looking for support, it is mostly the water family, the friends accumulated over a period of time who understand more than the blood. Sometimes the concern of blood is washed away by the support and enthusiasm of these friends.

The story has multiple facets to it and each feels like a cut in diamond, making it sparkle in a splendid brilliance.

The first flashback of Leila takes her to her birth. Her mother was her father’s second wife and she (Leila) was conceived after a lot of difficulty and miscarriages. Somehow the first wife convinces Leila’s father to let her raise the child, instead of its biological mother. Her father agrees and convinces the mother that she will have another child, but does not realize how deep the wound was. Or how this moment, this decision became the cause of her unwinding, making her mentally unstable. Somehow we find this so common in our own society too. Forced decisions of parents, husbands and in-laws without any consideration for the concerned. Maybe that explains the huge number of depressed people in our society.

It also talks about sexual abuse of Leila by her own paternal uncle, and her conceiving because of it. Instead of punishing the culprit or taking some action against him, her family asked her to marry that very uncle’s son. She was first molested by him when she was 6 and had made her shut up my making her feel that she had done something wrong, instead of him. This particular memory speaks volumes about patriarchal societies and the fault in putting the respect of a family onto a lady’s virginity. Even though Leila was not at fault, she was blamed, asked to compromise and made feel dirty. She wanted her family to understand, take her side, do something and instead they were the ones to humiliate her.

Leila runs away to Istanbul and finds herself trapped into prostitution. A society that claims religion and stuff, duped a young lady into selling her body. On top of that, the very society would look at these prostitutes and brothels, and condemn the act, without acknowledging the fact that it was their personal greed that turned an innocent young girl into all of this. They could have guided her better but chose not to, standing at the banks and pointing fingers.

The book also talks about her five friends, who stayed by her when her family had abandoned her and severed all ties. The group was composed of a transgender, Nalan; a helper, Zainab; another prostitute who was trafficked into the city, Jameela; a bar singer, Humera and her childhood friend, Sinan. The book identifies their stories and struggles and how this strange group of people fell together.

The book also emphasizes how someone’s words can change everything for a person, like Leila did the night she was murdered. The client she was hired for was gay but could not stand his ground against his father. It was Leila, and the news of her death next day, that gave the client strength to leave everything behind and pursue a life with his lover. It was also in her death that she gave Sinan the strength to do what he felt was right, without trying to rationalize anything or wonder what the society would think. This act of defiance cost him his job and his marriage.

The book also talks about leftist revolution in Istanbul and how a procession was fired upon, in which Leila lost her husband and hence was forced to take up prostitution again. The protest was a peaceful one, where people held placards and shouted a few slogans. Yet, they were ambushed and fired upon by snipers hiding on top of a hotel building. Some were killed by the bullets and others in the stampede that occurred.

The book is filled with loss and grief. The fact that we are most often misunderstood by our own and supported by strangers; that we deny being wrong yet push people where they have no option but to live dishonestly; the inhumane and inconsiderate behavior of authorities on someone’s death and how friends, if one is blessed to have them, can turn mountains upside down for a friend.

The book is highly relatable and in a society like ours, where we deny even knowing what prostitution is or never tell our kids what sexual harassment is, with sex word being a taboo, it is a must-read. Not only does it make one realize how many vices we are simply neglecting for the fear of rocking the boat but also emphasizes on the impact of our small actions. It is a book that forces a person to introspect into his own behaviors, if he has a conscience that is, and the results thereof.

Wordless

So many times it is difficult to tell anyone what is going on.
What is it that is messing you up;
making you so lost in your own self.

Sometimes, you are mourning the loss of words!

For Half a Year or More

Half a year I couldn’t talk to you…
To anyone.
I dread a conversation now that I can.
I got no answer for how I am
Or have been all this while.

I am reduced to be a memory
No one knows I still exist

I have no words anymore
I falter at your questions
Grope around to find words
But all is dark and I find none

I run away!

I Ain’t

“Your conversations, darling
mean a whole lot more
take another perspective
dig in a little more

There are signs, little diversions
indirect indications
things can get a little shady
don’t dig your own grave.”

I pondered, reflected, introspected
“How could words be so twisted;
communication misinterpreted
intentions turned topsy turvy”

Guilt, shame, utter pain
my eyes couldn’t have cried more
a blatant blame onto me
Flash floods!

Stepping back a little while later
recalling all I had said
the message I wanted to imply
my naivety!

I stand in front of a mirror
stare; peek into; ask questions
Guilty? At fault?
I get my answer.

No, I ain’t an attention seeker!

Conversations and Understandings

Recently I was discussing with a friend how body language is a huge contributor to communication. Non-verbal plays a vital role in comparison to words! (We studied that in some communication subject in B.Tech as well.)
Going by that context, facial expressions mean everything while communicating. A huge lot if not everything.
And then comes my case. The case of body language being out of sync with what I am thinking. As experimentally proved, a person communicating with me cannot decide whether I am in agreement or disagreement because a veil hides my expressions very effectively.
Not only am I am a mystery to many, someone present and yet not there, someone nobody can relate to, but I am also in-understandable.
For this, I cannot blame anyone as they lack the experience of communicating with a veil. (I can practically see through the veil of my childhood friends. For the ones I met later in life, a veil never prevented me from understanding anything.)
But my question is, is it worth changing my preferences and beliefs simply because some people would not understand?

3 AM Thoughts

Sometimes I want to hold your hand and say,
“Don’t go yet. I still need you around. Be. Maybe just for a little more time. I know there’s nothing more to talk. Savor this silence with me. Let us just be.”
But leaving, you take away your hand abruptly. A strange anger in you. Your eyes rebuke me in a certain manner.
Somehow I know I shouldn’t say anything anymore.

Remember?

The last time you said goodbye and I said alright, remember that time?
The last time we saw in each other’s eyes, let those words be, and left. Remember that silence?
The last time we could have held each other and didn’t? The support we could have been and didn’t? Remember that time?

Now, I see you grieving. Wailing. Lamenting the loss you suffered. The Trauma.
But I wanna ask, “Did I not matter when I existed? When I was there? Why did you take me so for granted then?”

Now that I shed my mortal skin and am leaving for chasm, why do you call my name? Chasing a ghost? Shouting out regrets?

Would the words not work if I heard them when alive? What fun now? The purpose of this regret?

Difference

Remember the last time you said mother? Parent? Care? Oh! So much of concern. How you should be aware of their feelings, and how our lives should revolve around them? Remeber saying they should be the centre of our world? The very thing that we should be constantly aware of? Careful of? Mindful of?

Remember saying that our lives should be dedicated to their care, paying them back for what they did for us as children? Remaining indebted and trying to make things even. More out of the intent to repay their favours rather than out of gratitude…

Why could they not understand that gratitude is not always shown by doing as the other asks. Gratitude is not giving someone control over your life. Gratitude is doing something for that other person out of your own personal will. The way you want to.

But when it comes to giving up control and freedom; when they ask to specifically take instructions and do whatever they say, this is not paying back or showing gratitude. This is enslavement. Under the worst pretext available.

There is a great difference between gratitude and slavery.

Don’t Give Up

The times when you so want to curl up and cry, to hide somewhere, run away from everyone….

The times when you feel like giving up, like everything is worthless, like nothing is working in the way desired…

The times when the world comes crashing, when the skies fall, when the earth bursts open, when even the closest ones leave your side…

The times when you lose the purpose of living, when nothing makes a sense, when even the next breath is a burden…

Don’t give up! Look up into your eyes, re-ignite that fire, visualize your purpose. There’s an answer to everything…

Hypocrisy

Someone, somewhere, someday said,
“Treat people the way
you want to be treated as”

I wanted to be cared for,
affection, relation
Love!

I reciprocated the same
Giving away care and love
giving smiles away

Unlike the expectations
I got alligations
fingers pointing at me.

Called attention-seeking
and fake;
Someone to be condemned
To be steered away from

Somehow I let an allegation through
like a bullet shattered glass
blood, pain, tears; a mess

Now, I seek a mask
I seek Me!