2015: In A Little Over A Nutshell

It’s funny how this started off as some satire, but now has elevated to a tradition with myself. To be very frank, I have been subconsciously looking forward to this. Another year has passed, I’m 18 now (been so for half a year, too) and am a few months away from the end of FSc (22 weeks/154 days/3696 hours/221760 minutes/13305600 seconds ONLY.)

It’s scary how next year at this time I’ll either have accomplished my dream or failed in doing so, excuse the pessimism. I might actually be seeing my dreams actualizing into reality by next year’s review, assuming that the world hasn’t ended and I haven’t forgotten my blog’s password as I believe my last post was last year’s review.

It’s unsettling how much can change in a year, honestly. You can fall in and out of love. You become so close to some, and some people you thought you couldn’t live without show you that you can. You discover you like your coffee bitter, you like marshmallows and butterscotch, you like your toast burnt, your favorite color is black, you like yourself better in haphazard hair (reference: Instagram) and that you wouldn’t change anything about your life.

I think I should, for my own convenience, try to arrange this in some order. Or as a matter of fact, now that I think of it, I’m just going to write whatever comes to my mind in whatever order it does.

One of the momentous occasions teetering around the corner is my impending departure from college, a place that I have associated with a nonchalant love and odd refuge. I never had any overpowering loyalty to the institute, as what is expected of you. But then again, I didn’t have any for JT either. My greatest regret will be wasted potential. I could have participated in dramatics or in debates and definitely could have participated much more actively in the literary circles. But if I had done so, I wouldn’t have been able to cope with the sudden onslaught of academic pressure assaulting me on all fronts. In all honesty, I never had to exert myself that much in O’Levels, but FSc required a full sacrifice of hobbies, social life and sleep rolled into a I-could-have-done-better result. Then again, “could have been” is the equivalent of dividing a number by zero or the amount of birthdays in September.

I’ll miss the moments in college, hanging out with Fateh and making fun of people and cracking jokes lamer than the hockey guy. I’ll miss sitting in a circle with the dried grass under my hands (and in my hair), warm sunlight diffracting through my hair into my eyes and stomach hurting from laughing too much. Always having to keep your foot securely in your shoe lest it be lobbed up on some roof (clarification: the shoe, not the foot.)  I’ll miss sleeping in classes, begging teachers for attendance, headphones being a virtual staple of my daily look.

Most of all, I’ll miss that one bench in front of the café. The one where I used to go every morning, scrape it clean with some leaves that were invariably lying on it and then listen to songs until the first rays of the sun broke in through that one spiny tree next to the hostel building. That moment, with the leaves ablaze as the sun shone through them and cast first light upon the grounds, takes my breath away each time I see it.

I’ll miss this place, even after the indifference I’ve tried to maintain against it. I’ll never know why. Maybe I try too hard to convince myself that I don’t care. Or I try to believe that’s the case and I don’t really care at all. Only time will tell.

From a writer’s perspective, I have a lot of ideas lying around my brain waiting for any purchase they can find against my schedule. I’ll need weeks (maybe even months) for each idea which is pretty damn unfortunate since most days I don’t have enough time for lunch.

I don’t want to be pegged as conceited (which I have been…repeatedly) so let’s move on.  Many happenings in the mains: some fell apart and then they didn’t, some together and more so. Squad still persists, as I had no doubts before that it would.

The cold didn’t come in strong this time around. A lot of earthquakes occurring too: there was one as I was writing this sentence.

I realize I have become severely desensitized. My sense of humor has become absolutely grotesque and my conscience is almost as good as dead (cue dark joke.) Oddly, I have never felt better with myself. I recently feel as if I’m trying too hard to feel like I used to. I have to make a conscious effort to feel amused or saddened or offended. I have to force myself into being angry or being interested or having crushes (cue: Khayal 2015) to an extent that I always feel fake. I can still empathize but I can’t find it in me to sympathize. This is oddly unsettling, as I am a person who covets emotion greatly. I can’t understand the reason for this change, and I’m unsure as to if this is a gift or a horrendous curse. Perhaps it is my hectic and robotic schedule. I try to convince myself of that. Maybe this is a phase. I hope so.

The FSc result was really disappointing. Although I scored 88%, which is frankly more than what anyone expected of me, it was lesser than what I expected. I managed to satisfy everyone but myself. Here’s to hoping that this means to an end will pay off and that all’s well that ends well.

To move on to fun stuff- hold on the tube-light in the lounge just short-circuited and now the whole house is smelling of acrid burnt plastic and electricity smoke-this year we had a family trip to Naran Kaghan. This was such a long overdue trip, honestly. So this I intend to recreate as accurately as possible. Let’s begin, as soon as I check if the tube-light stopped smoking (cue picture of tube-light in leather jacket holding a packet of Malboro and leaning against a motorcycle).

To no great surprise, I found out about this trip when A sent me a snap of the 14-seater we had rented. Near my final paper, I was informed that we would leave a few days after my next paper.

We left 9 hours after my final paper.

DAY ONE:

The morning after my last paper, we had to leave early. And that we did. Hassan, the grouchy (and TOXIC spewing driver) we had hired, was late and we left at 7 although we were ready since 4. It was a long trip, considering E was sick. We stopped for crunchy biryani nearing Taxila, during the meal where there was a lizard directly staring down at us. It was still burning hot, and we were all regretting packing sweaters for our trip. This is June, by the way. We got back into the car, where we were 6 people in a 14 seater. We played cards while E slept and then I started to sing Feeling Myself, much to R’s chagrin and horror. It was nearing Naraan that the cold really kicked in, and then we regretted packing only light sweaters. By the time we reached Naraan, the temperature was in the negative. We quickly allowed Ijaz bae to move our suitcases to our rooms, our rooms being one door apart (in which room there were some particularly fat and scantily clad men to whom A took an inexplicable fancy. She tries to deny it but I saw it in her eyes. I saw.) We went out to dinner, where we saw this weird kid in a Salman Khan shirt and a family discussing what seemed to be a ménage e trois at the table next to ours. We got back to our hotel, and went to sleep.

DAY TWO:

The next morning, it was raining slightly. We had to go to Lake Saif-ul-Malook, but had to wait for the rain/sleet to subside. Our jeep driver was a grouchy man named Javed who took relish in scaring us to wit’s end. I was, luckily, on the front seat. Listening to my songs, we started our way towards the lake which is situated near the mountain’s top. The road there is muddy, ledge-less, unmade and bounded on one side by a steep mountain wall and on other by a fall so steep you can’t see the bottom. It was a very beautiful valley around us, with low hanging clouds and snowy peaks but I was too busy praying for my survival to appreciate the aesthetic. When we got to the lake, it was raining there too. R taught me that day that I don’t in fact know how to operate an umbrella. We stopped first for the best tea I have ever tasted, after which we went around the lake. We went to this snow bank where we just waded around in the snow. There was this odd couple of couples, there on a double honeymoon (?) who were haggling with the shoe rental guy to decrease the price of used rubber boots to 10 rupees.  Romantic. Speaking of shoes, E hates pebbles. After hearing the legend of the lake from a local, we returned to the hotel. After that, we took a walk and found an amazing seat at this newly opened restaurant called Punjab Tikka House. Its inauguration was on Friday, the day we were to leave. I wonder how it’s going. We went shopping that night, if I recall accurately. I bought necklaces and bracelets for friends.

DAY THREE:

We left in the morning to go to Lake Lulusar further north. It was north enough that I think we might have reached the Karokarams. There was extensive land-sliding in the way, some where the entire roads were destroyed. There were some avalanches with the snow banking either side of the road, towering overhead. At one point in particular, I remember the car broke down and we had to get an extra wheel from some random car. There were too many goats. We stopped near this river to eat lobia and have tea on the way. At the lake, we just sat and talked for a while. It was amazing, the water was clear and beautiful. On the way to and back, we stopped at a few springs to drink water straight from the ground. I wish I had taken my jar to collect tadpoles. My phone was also at 5 in the morning when we left. We came back for our last night in Naraan. On the way there, we stopped for horse riding on the river bed, where the water had dried in the form of an island in the middle of a river. We also stopped to cross a bridge across to the other side, which was beautiful and we could see the rapids beneath our feet. We went back to Punjab Tikka House, had some jalebis and tea and I consequently threw a bitch fit because no one was being adventurous. We then went across to PTDC’s bridge and crossed it, hiked up the mountain and saw the entire valley and river from up there. We went to PTDC (?) for dinner, before which we sat outside on the grass and played cards. It was followed by a bonfire, late at night. The sky over us was starry and sublime. A million blazing fires overhead against an inky backdrop, unpolluted by any light and us lying underneath, the fire blazing bright and just sitting and talking: it is one memory I might never forget. (A still regrets not charging her phone before we left.)During these few days, I had promised myself no internet to completely disconnect from the world for a few days. Lessons to learn: bitch-fits are good, always charge phone when having an aesthetic event and it’s good to disconnect once in a while.

DAY FOUR:

We bid adieu to the hotel, to Ijaz bae and went back. We hadn’t visited Siripai on our way up so decided to do so on our way down. At this particular stop near Shugran, Hassan vanished. That stop was really cool, with seats over a running spring. Collected lots of pebbles. Siripai was extremely interesting, to say the very least. We went with Nisar bae and the road is the most dangerous road like in any place ever. On the way down, I sat in the back of the jeep and might have contracted permanent brain damage from getting my head slammed around the car 10093434 times. Plus there is just a flimsy cloth keeping you in the jeep and from plummeting to your death many feet below. On top of Siripai, we just sat and watched the entire area from the top of a mountain. We hiked down on foot halfway down too, and met some really cute locals that we bribed with candy to take photos with.

On our way back, we stopped at Isloo to get burgers. We arrived back in Lahore late. Very very tired, homesick and A and I aware of what toxic means.

 

This trip made me realize what a humbling life the people in the mountains live: to live in shacks surrounded by towering mountains that can obliterate you in a blink. It makes man a lot less arrogant. I also started to think about last times.

How do we know if we aren’t doing something for the last time? We all must have had countless last times.

To visit a place for the last time. To talk to a person for the last time. To look at a particular thing, to taste some food, to breathe some air, to sit at some spot.

It astounds me as to how many last things I might have already done without even thinking about it.

 

This year was the year of Honeymoon (which rocked beyond words) and there was this one stretch when Selena, Demi, Justin, 1D and Adele were releasing music at once (2010 flashback.)

This year also marked Manto and Bajirao Mastani, two movies that consumed me with their unexpected aesthetic.

This year was a year of singing at Tenerife, of birthday surprises at Costa, meeting new people at Forest, amazing birthday parties at Hotspot and countless Pak Tea House excursions that never end well but happen anyway. Pretty girls at Khayal, ordering cakes that look and taste heavenly. Also, I feel like Soap Football is iconic enough to warrant a mention.

I feel like a fishbowl or a review can’t do justice to a whole year. A year of breathing and living, laughing and crying, feeling and detaching can’t be summed up, no matter how hard you try. But try I must and so I have. There are countless things I would have forgotten that keep coming back to me like tiny moths bombarding the bulb that is my glorious mind.

Writing for Gazette. Discovering new restaurants. New Internet. Letting go of hopeless things in life. In the end, we all just try.

Here’s to 2016. Arguably the most important year of my life. May this year bring a very full fishbowl, lots of happiness and joy and the tidings of a bright future. Here’s to TOO many good films coming over. Here’s to the last year of teenage life, to the last year of college life, to another year of many firsts and many lasts.

Till next time…

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Shadows

I don’t remember it too well. I just remember the running. I did not understand where I was running to. Or why I was running. I just was.

Larks circled overhead, their melodies echoing in the wide expanse. The first rays of sunlight had pierced the night and the sky was bleeding profusely, drenched in a crimson light.

And I just ran.                     

My legs were carrying me, my body soaring and leaping over the rocky terrain of the lakeside with agility that I had no idea I possessed.

Wait. My body skidded to a halt. Lake-side?

Could it be? No it couldn’t possibly be. It was so far.

But it was. Yes it was.

My body had brought me back here. Here, where I hadn’t been in a long time. Here, where I had never been alone. With a gasp, all the memories began crashing back.

 

I remembered the grainy sand. I remembered the tumultuous waves swirling and colliding with each other. I remembered the bundle of trees past which the foliage gave way to the ruins of a dilapidated cottage which was always covered in darkness due to the impregnable canopy of leaves overhead. I remembered going to the cottage everyday with my brother, where we would sit in the cottage, surrounded by nothing but darkness and neglect. The darkness had held a perpetual sense of obscurity encompassed in its tendrils of nothingness. It held a grotesquely beautiful escape in its atramentous filaments, twisting and turning around the world like poison ivy creeping up around the decaying walls of the cottage.

It was the one place I knew where there were never any shadows; where you could truly escape the shade that was always by your side. Whenever I entered that clearing, I used to look behind me and watched my shadow being left in the light. I watched it shrivel into nonexistence and dissipate. I would remain shadow-less till I reentered the light. I used to think it couldn’t reach me here in the dark. I used to think I was safe.

My grandmother used to tell me that all of us had evil and good inside of us; the light and the dark. The two were constantly at war with each other. In the day, the light was stronger and it kicked out the darkness from inside of us, which appeared as our shadow. And at night, the shadow crept back into us.

From that day on, I had always slept with the lights on. My brother used to turn them off as soon as I had fallen asleep.

My brother was nothing like me. He was not afraid of his shadow. He saw the clearing as the place where his shadow was strongest, where he was surrounded by the darkness. I saw it as the one place where I had let the darkness around me destroy the one inside of me.

When our father used to come home at night, smelling of alcohol and fury, I used to cower in my blanket and pretend that I couldn’t hear the screaming. My brother didn’t cower. He just sat there, tears of fury brimming in his eyes and his fists clenched. When the screams ended, I would go to sleep. But if I woke up at night, I would see the moon reflected in his open eyes.

I won’t lie. I was afraid of him. I loved him as all siblings are obligated to, but he terrified me.

Growing up, he was never reprimanded. He was never scolded. I was blamed for everything he did. And I silently bore the brunt of the repercussions of his actions. I was too afraid to say who was really to blame.

I never understood him truly, but he knew the darkest corners of my soul.

Then one day, after school, we went to the cottage again. I lay there against the cold musty wall, relaxing in the solace that the darkness brought.

We sat there in the murky blackness. Silence. Nothingness.

My brother’s voice pierced the stillness.

“I have had enough,” he said in a dead voice. Emotionless. Blank.

I didn’t know what he meant. I was too afraid to ask. We spoke no more that day.

Now I stood here. With the wind ruffling my hair. I felt cold as I started to walk the path that twined through the woods and to my house, my shadow trailing faithfully behind me.

I walked the roads I used to walk every day. I turned left once, and then a right and kept on following the road till I reached the house I grew up in.

The windows were dusty. The once clean lawn was overrun with weeds. I looked to the second window from the right, a pane was still shattered. It had been years. No one had fixed it.

 

The next few days, my brother acted strange.

One fateful night, when the might of the wind shook the panes of the window and howled against the walls, my father came home. He had been fired from his job, and he was angry. I covered myself in the blankets as the wailing of the wind and the screaming from downstairs melded into a cacophony of chaos. It was then when the creaking of my brother’s bed was swallowed by the shrieking, when the slide of the drawer was masked by the shaking panes and when the bombardment of the wind drowned out the creak of the door. Lightning. I don’t remember.

I remember going downstairs and watching my father lying on the floor, a cleaver embedded in his skull and blood seeping out. I remember the blood spiraling out on the floor and my mother shrieking as my brother just stood there. Lightning flashed, throwing the whole room into relief and casting the shadows far away.

That is when I saw it.

My brother had no shadow.

And as my mother screamed in disbelief and the rain crashed down on the window, my brother just stood there. His lip curled into a smile.

I knocked on the door.

Once. Twice.

“Hold your horses I’m coming I’m coming! Who is it at his ungodly hour? I hope you aren’t one of those sales-”

The door swung open as my mother opened it.

Her sentence trailed off as she looked at me. There was a second of silence, utter crushing silence. Then I noticed that her pupils were dilating.

“Mother,” I said. “I’m home.”

She tried to say something but no sound came out as her eyes brimmed with tears. I smiled. My mother was speechless with happiness.

Suddenly, she tried to slam the door and run away.

What.

I didn’t understand.

I grabbed the door just as she tried to slam it and ran in behind her as she tried to run to the kitchen.

“MOTHER!” I bellowed.”What is wrong?”

“S-s-stay away from me,” she stammered. “How did you ret-“

“Mother what are you saying? Are you okay? What has gotten into you? I come back after so much time and is this how you greet your so-“

“I HAVE NO SON!” she yelled.  She was shaking, her muscles taut and her eyes brimming with tears.

I knew I had abandoned her after that night, but I don’t think that warranted such an outburst.

The light above flickered.

She was sobbing now.

“I’ll never forgive you,” she sobbed.

“I’m sorry, mother…”

A whisper. Begging. Imploring. Pleading.

She looked at me with a look full of such unadulterated hatred that I flinched.

“…forgiveness…” she whispered.

“You want forgiveness?” Her voice was building.

“YOU WANT FORGIVENESS FOR KILLING YOUR FATHER!?” Explosion. Fury.

Silence.

“Mother, that wasn’t me. That was him. You know it. You were there. You saw it.”

“WHO?” she screamed.

“…my brother, mom.”

Clearly, my mother had been suppressing memories.

More silence. Then my mother wailed a loud wail of someone who had given up. She clenched her hair and began tugging as streams of tears washed down her face. She buried her head in her hands.

Then she looked at me:

“YOU HAVE NO BROTHER!”

The light flickered again. Throwing the world into shade.

“I thought they were curing you I thought the-“ She broke off, crying.

“Curing?” I asked.

“At the asylum,” she sobbed. Resigned.

I looked down at myself. I saw myself clad in a white robe. A plastic tag on my left hand.

Sr. No. 1583

“No, mother. My brother. I remember him. We went to the cottage.”

“You always went alone,” she said in a dead voice.

The light flickered as I fell to the ground with my head pounding.

Headache. Throbbing. A shrill sound. My brother’s face. The world spinning. Tears.

The light flickered one last time, and as I knelt on the ground, my brother’s shadow stood over me.

‘The darkness never leaves,’ it whispered. ‘You can’t escape your shadow.’