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.

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!

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

Oblivion

This oblivion. Sometimes it is good.
Many times, like now, it is killing
Like it were alive.
Stabbing and jeering at us. As if we have been enemies since centuries

 

Free of the Stabbing Pain

You know that fancy,
Having a broken glass in hand
Sharp, and striking it through the wrist
Over and over again!

Tearing everything in the path
The threads, the skin, veins
Gushing blood and moments of pain
Counting till the last

Visions of all the was
the knives that stabbed
cups, full of poison
and that helplessness…

And now free, free of everything
Free of all the stabbing pain

 

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?

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

 

Tormentor

I sit with him, Ah! the pleasure
His eyes, the way he smiles
chiseled biceps!

He asks, I speak
The trauma at my heart
What is it that keeps poking me

I speak of red,
The spilled colour
The bundle of joy dead on a street

I speak of a bed
Devoid of rest
Haunted by nightmares

I speak of rooms;
Painful, brutal sounds
Electrocution

I speak, unaware
the words incoherent
the ache, constant….

My tormentor, moved to tears
I, unphased, numb
unaffected

Mine!

I see the Beloved
Joy
Indulgence

Somehow a name escapes
Someone on his mind
I turn mad

Ablaze,
How someone could adore his lips
Unbearable

I take a dagger
Confronting
Wound her through and through

A dull ache, I check
My wounds oozing blood
I kill myself

Call to Freedom!

FotorCreated-9I have seen dreams die
Youth crying, panicked
“I cannot see a thing
What happened to my eye”

I have seen sleep stab
Flashes, nightmares
Face in palms, crying
“Where did my peace go”

I have seen mournful weddings
No songs of joy being sung
Groom was shot on the way
“Where did his promise go”

I have heard kids wonder
“Everyone comes with parents
I go alone, with my mother
Where did my father go”

I have seen women
Half widows
Not even a grave to cry
“Where did my husband go”

I hear a mother lament
“He was all I had
Peace to my heart, light to my eyes
Where did my son go!”

I see a procession, a funeral
children mourning
I hear people sloganeering
“Azaadi, Azaadi, Azaadi, Azaadi!”