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.

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?

What Pinched Him?

It is raining. I am warm and cosy in my bed. A cup of coffee and some books add to the pleasure. And I guess everyone using Facebook now is equally cosy and at ease.
But some people aren’t. Some people are being thrown out or beaten just because of their identity. And the fact that something happened in their area, in their they had no say whatsoever.

Even they aren’t the reason for my post this time. The reason is the constant revenge posts in my feed. My six years of NCR gave me a lot of friends who proudly call themselves Indian. I am glad to have them. But after the Pulwama attack everyone, almost everyone is posting solitary with the soldiers and how they want revenge. From Pakistan and from Kashmir.

The 45 soldiers who lost their lives might not have deserved this. But did anyone step back for a moment to consider why a 20 year old youth would want to blow himself up? He wasn’t raised in the so called Afghanistan and told killing people will bring him to Jannah. He was raised in a village in Kashmir where I am pretty sure he was told, and it was emphasised that suicide is one of the gravest sins. That once committed, the doors of jannah are shut for him. That this suicide results in eternal hell.
Then why? Why would a person having his life ahead of him take such a step?
Why wouldn’t he consider the fate of his family after he is gone? Didn’t he know how families of militants are treated? Didn’t he know that even if PM wouldn’t say anything, army would avenge itself? Would at the minimum burn his house down. Beat all the Male members up and harass them at every opportunity? In a fit of rage, his mother and sister could be raped?

Or was it because he had had so much of this pain and trauma that he couldn’t hold back?

After all, does it not need immense strength on part of a person to just blow himself up? How many of us can survive that thought without tearing up? How many of us can could the time, the seconds till our death? And then cause our own death too? How many?

Or was it that he was already so dead inside that no heaven or hell mattered to him anymore? That he had seen enough to blow up not just himself but 40 other people too?

If he was so traumatised didn’t he know the families of these people would be in pain too? What had happened that rendered him numb to everyone’s pain? Tears?

Did anyone think, or ask for his story before asking for revenge? Did anyone even care to seek out the wounds inflicted on him? The reason that he drove to his own death?

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?

I am Near

I had cried hard someday,
“Where are you,
Call me back!”
The promise of “I am Near”

There was no voice reciprocating
no condolence, no light
I knew no better
The promise of “I am Near”

Shattered, in pieces
I yearned for light
I called, “When?”
The promise of “I am Near”

All the forms of care I knew
communication, touch
the yearning of His caress
The promise of “I am Near”

I had thought of fatherly strokes,
His hands on my head
Ah! my innocence, expectations
The promise of “I am Near”

And days later, I looked beyond
tears that had blurred vision
Ways He had reached out
The promise of “I am Near”

That sudden song I never heard before
That poem titled “Sawaal”
That recurrent dream, giving solace
The promise of “I am Near”

A sudden thought of hope,
A distant ray of light
The hand that said, “I am”
The promise of “I am Near”

No, the ways weren’t what I thought
He didn’t stand in front, embracing
physically He was never there
The promise of “I am Near”

And yet, all I could see was Him
in every breath, His presence
Managing my affairs through someone
The promise of “I am Near”

 

 

 

Blunder and Pain

They talked freedom
how they had had enough
Tyranny, Monarchy
sought an end

They start out, seeking
fighting their way through
somewhere religion creeps in
Blunder?

A line drawn on religion
supressing minority
threatening, depressing
Inhumanity?

Fleeing home,
protecting
bleak faith
Kashmiriyat stabbed?

Fear in eyes
Tears
Years going in vain
Exodus!

Along, people in procession
slogans booming
“Asi Gasi Pakistan,
Batav Ros Ti Batnev Saan!”