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.

An Endless Wait

A moonless night
A curfew
A fresh fear

All is still and my room is lit
By the light across the street
Everything else, dark

No sound penetrates the silence tonight
No soundtracks in a groom’s caravan
No dogs howling…

The city is locked down
Again.

I look at the dark sky, wondering over my plans
And now, silently,
Awaiting my destiny to unfold.

Unloving Someone

Can you, can anyone stop loving a person at any point of time? Like, “I am done, I don’t like this person anymore?”

Whoever it is, a friend, a lover, a teacher, one can never unlove. One can never tell oneself to not feel for someone.

And moving on? We just stop expecting out of people. Stop waiting. Quit all our hopes and accept the way we want someone might just remain a fantasy.

We don’t stop loving. We stop expecting any scenario with the person, anything together.

That’s how we move on!

Of Grief

After the talk; prospects of loss,
death, and grief
Of life without

I sit in a garden

Looking for a four-leaf clover;
calming my storms
You stirred inside

Reflection

Thoughts manifest into reality
the feeling you give out
comes back to thee

Numb, lost, immature
unable to comprehend
what world, emotions
This emptiness!

I sought answers; road to my destination
the burden of questions heaving onto me
attempts to shake off everything
friends with solitude; company!

What would reflect back, I wonder!
Emptiness? Numbness? The answers I seek?
A detailed map to my destiny?
Some moonbeams as company?

The dark veil of moonless nights
Untreatable sleeplessness
Shroud for all the misery

 

For How Long

I had someday, against nature
taken that one step; dreaded
I knew all that could go wrong
impacts, outcome

Nevertheless, I found the courage
for once to risk it all
the reward too lucrative
for once, vulnerability ceased

A surge of courage, strength
a step towards the dreaded journey
Fear, excitement, adrenaline
How does it sound?

Ever witnessed flight of a bird
a broken wing, nearing death?
It breaks into flight, not merely for its sake,
to escape… Alas!

Why didn’t it know its fate?
the flight of a broken wing
How far could courage take
or service of a fake smile?

I repeatedly ask myself
“For how long?”

Final Step

Many times our dreams, our goals are just one step away from us. We just have to extend our hand and grab it. But more often than not, we are afraid of thatfinal step. That last brick in the wall.

Though we say we desire so and so but we never really yearn for it. Because if we did, we would grab it even if it were miles afar.

It is this last step that discloses whether that dream, that goal is really sought. Whether we really crave for it, yearn it.

All excuses, delays, time, blah blah come forth when we do it half hearted, as a compulsion. Else nothing would or could stop us.

On another level, maybe we are afraid to complete the journey. Once this dream, this goal is achieved, what would life be like. There won’t be this goal to work for. Would life lose its meaning? Would there be nothing else to look forward to? Would it be the end of everything? Would it invoke the feelings of lost?

Towards Destiny

Spring
Growth
Buds
Expected Flowers

Beautiful Bloom
Colours
Joy to eyes
A Smile

A Marriage
A Florist
Decorations
Death

A Journey
A Bouquet
A Bride
Fate!

Once you dare love

Pleased by the butterflies
The surge of dopamine
They forgot about life’s plan
And signed up for a heartbreak

They roamed hand in hand
Heads lost in reverie
But life had no change of plans
Pain, regret coming through.

They fought hard to be together
To reverse the fate they faced
Broken hearts bled for long
As if a part cut out

Far away they couldn’t sleep
Hearts yearning for each other
Their eyes wept, counting stars
The gloom of a moonless night

Someone trying to make sense
Mentioned they had signed up
Pain and heartbreak inevitable
Once you dare love!

Broken

Walking down the road,
in pursuit of that goal
the  cherished longing,
the golden dream

Along the way you try too hard
with a sun shining too bright
And then suddenly you feel tired
all energy, zeal sapped.

You wish the destination were nearer
that you reach before too late
with fatigue creeping in
the distance seeming even longer.

And somewhere you suddenly get sight
There! you found it right in front
Running wild, with all your heart
to find a mirage, mocking.

Broken hearts could not be seen
but they ache even more
They pain of losing out on dreams
the tests of time and tiredness.