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.

Ready to Die

Every day I see people worked up
Looking for something, searching
Cursing, complaining, swearing…

I look at nature,
the clouds moving, the sun hiding
The birds happily chirping away

I look in the mirror, standing, staring
Looking happy and content
Maybe I should die

Kaash Ki Mai Likh Pata

Kaash ki mai likh paata

Yeh uljhan, udaasi, zindagi
Aakhir ha kya yeh sab?
Kyun, kuch bhi samjh nahi aata?
Kaash ki mai likh pata

Yeh dooston ke aaye din
naye chehre; naye jhagde
Yah duniya ke badalte rang
Kaash ki mai likh paata

Aasmanon ki tarah dil bhi dikhayi kyun nahi dete
Ki baadal hain, andhera hai,
chaand hai?
Kaash ki mai likh paata

Aur us doobte suraj ki manind
Yeh dil agle din, phir ubhar kyun nahi aata
Kaash ki mai likh paata
Kaash ki mai likh paata…

Blessing in Our Life

Capture

We are told that the ladies who are the easiest to look after are the most blessed.
The question remains, do we treat them as the blessings that they are said to be? Do we treat them as they should be?
Or do we, because of their low maintenance, just neglect their needs?
Because they do not make a fuss and create havoc every time their needs or wishes are not fulfilled, do we overlook their needs? The things that make them happy? The subtle forms of care and love that could overjoy them?
Do we forget doing the things we would for other people because they might just start throwing things in our face? And because these ladies make no such nuisances, do we just ignore them? Take them for granted?
Or for that matter, any person who does not explicitly counter our ways, or do not make extravagant demands, do we take all such people for granted?
Planning things, eating out, conversations, or anything for that matter, any plan, we never consider these “low maintenance, considerate” people.
Is this what someone’s consideration is worth? Is this how they should be treated?

Or are we waiting for them to snap and move away to start looking at them and looking out for them? Or caring for them? And if we do, would it be what keeps them with us? Happy and content?
Or would they have moved too far before we realize they have given up on us?

Numbness

Over the past few days, in many of our conversations, I was asked whether I was hurt. Whether what was said didn’t go well with me. Whether it was offending. Or angered me. For that matter provoked any reaction within me.

Somehow nothing anyone said had any effect, any impact on me. As if nothing mattered. As if nothing was said in the first place.

Had I attained maturity? Or is it some other level of numbness? Numb to the extent that nothing pricks, nothing causes a reaction, nothing stirs me up! Why?

I remember in my childhood my sister was not ticklish and I used to call her inert. After all these years, am even I insert? Non-indulging. Not feeling.

Have I lost my neurons?

Have I internalized and normalized everything to the extent that nothing matters anymore?

What have I done to me?

Dread

I could hear his tormented voice
its breaking into a wail
pain, anguish, agony

Tear-streaked face
Innocence; questions in eyes
frantic attempts in sheer fear

Giving in, I console
Brazen, insensitive hope
blinded by some positivity

Justifying statements
His plans are the pest
there’s prosperity even in the loss

My audacity, I forget
his pain wasn’t some easy trial
death staring him in the eye

The dread of losing his father!

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

 

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!

 

Unspeakable

I sit on a glass table
some coffee, music

Plethora of thoughts,
a hurricane

I sit, with a pen, open
ready to pen down

a story, a poem, or…
some kind of solace

All I could see, in front –
a blank sheet stained with tears!