Thesis Journal Entry Two

Our cities are the backdrops against which the drama of life unfolds. Our streets are episodes, revealed in bits and pieces.

I remember the street my uncle lived on. It was narrow, with houses packed on both sides. These houses had steep ramps covering their plinth levels. At one particular moment, there couldn’t be more than a single car in that narrow space; people usually had to step aside onto those ramps to let the cars pass.

The street had houses clasped together, there was barely any breathing space. I discovered that sudden stretch of flat land the very first time that we were there. In the midst of all those continuous, almost identical looking boxes, came a flat land; a space where it seemed like someone had shifted away and the walls had slowly just fallen apart. There was rubble and dense vegetation along the edges. In the middle of that flat land, right in the center was a grand tree, years and years old, with roots that stretched out like veins over the ground and branches that gave immense shade. Under that shade was a grave. The branches had hanging an array of colors, in the shape of torn pieces of cloth that were elaborately knotted at intervals. There were flowers and that bench that seemed carved out of a rock. The vegetation was growing slowly onto the grave that was still muddy, with a single gravestone resting at its head. There were carvings on the stone, there was a single snippet in urdu that went along the following lines,
“Aaj ki raat, saz- e-dard na chher”

“Awaken not the chords of sorrow tonight”

It was a normal flat land that was abandoned by its users in the middle of the city. The land was used as a burial ground for someone who then became a very important person for that particular area and his devotees. No one really knew who he was, whether he was religious or not. The only awareness was that wishes were fulfilled here, prayers accepted. It fascinated me, that somebody without a concrete identity, buried under layers of earth could be so influential. I was told that the snippet on his gravestone was by the famous Urdu poet, Faiz Ahmed Faiz.

The street went on after that like nothing had interrupted its rhythm. Right at the farthest end was a kiosk, indifferent from others in the area, selling the same everyday items, sweets and biscuits we always saved money for. We peeked through the glass at those mouthwatering candies and jumped to take a better look at the ones on the top. The kiosk was like no other. Yet it was like every other.

The episodes on that street made it special for me. The idea of how a long stretch of its kind could reveal its treasures in bits made the place unique, when in reality; it could have been exactly like any other set of houses clumped together.

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Thesis Journal Entry One

I was standing on a very narrow landing. The flooring was rough and dusty asphalt, with that small base of the railing at its edge. My feet were on the edge of that narrower base, each fit tightly in the space between two spindles. I was rocking myself back and forth, with my hands tightly clasped to the wooden handrail that creaked with the movement.

Behind me was the music society, drumming away with their guitars and vocals, practicing for their latest gig. It was quite dark, they preferred it that way. Every few minutes, I would see a silhouette of someone coming up the stairs. Their face got illuminated for a slight minute as they passed that ray of moonlight coming in from the slit across them. The blue glint lit across their features and contours, there was beauty in that look, and their expressions were revealed in a space dark enough for them to hide in. The thud across the wooden stairs that accompanied each step, at some moments added to the music played in the background and at other times just disturbed the aura.

The views around me played with the serenity of the moment. The landing right below me was flooded in light, from a small naked bulb hanging underneath the outer stringer; it rocked and squeaked with every slight movement. Right in front of it was a glass wall that overlooked the theatre stage, where the theatre society was practicing its skits. It was an amusing scene. I couldn’t hear a word of what they were shouting about, but there they were; 7 to 8 students standing in odd positions across the stage, looking at the supposed audience in that empty hall, almost envisioning a crowd of 500 people cheering them on. They moved swiftly across the wooden board, props in hand, clad as beggars and sardars and pirs, their expressions accompanied by those hand and body movements that added color to the performance. I could imagine my own storyline right there for what could be happening down there. From my viewpoint, I was on eye level with the hanging lights and curtain railings. I could see the props guy shifting the aluminum truss along with actor’s positions to see where it hit them best with the light, where the sounds of the speakers were at their optimum. A slight turn to the left, and I could see all the structural details to the building that were essentially visible from the outside, hidden behind that curtain that led to the backstage.

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There was so much happening in that moment. I was a spectator to all the actors in front of me, and behind me, carrying out acts of their lives.

I Remember

I remember those trips to the masjid right around the corner from my house. It wasn’t a grand place, but it had what was needed: the holy books, the holy tasbeehs and sajdigaahs, prayer quarters, ablution areas, simpler meditation areas, open verandahs, spacious courtyards, and the moulvi I can never forget. I remember him using his small misvak stick to playfully hit us, whenever we pronounced Arabic not up to his standards; the touch of his hand on my back, patting me and massaging me under the loose scarf, encouraging me to read better?

I also remember the parking right outside the masjid. Nothing huge, just angled cars aong the street.I remember walking up to the masjid gate with my younger brother, dodging the ogling, smelly pathans lined up against the pan ridden masjid wall. Their stare pierced me right through my clothes; with half crooked smiles, scratching their balls and calling out on the ‘bachiyaan’ (urdu for young girls). I remember parking our bicycles by the walls and rushing inside.

I also remember the supermarket on our way to the masjid. It had a very Indian name, some Shankar or Prakaash. It had aisles and hidden aisles of hidden goodies. But it had not just that. I remember that short, plump sales man who always smiled at me when we entered. The rubber of the glass doors gave a shrill sound that echoed across the small store. I realized the immunity to reoccurring sounds at such a small age. The head of the salesman twisted every time the door made a sound. He would eagerly run up to us, shaking hands, giving us tight unnecessary hugs. I let him hold my hand to lead me to the sweet aisle the first few times. Slowly, I developed the habit of clutching a few dirhams in tightly clasped fists, to avoid his uncomfortable brash hands. But didn’t he still come, every time?

I also remember the guard of our apartment building complex. His cubicle was right next to the gates. I remember the air conditioner hitting me on the face every time he ran out to greet me as I passed by.The wisps of smoke from the cigarette in his hand always suffocated me when he came too close to give us sweets. I always wondered why. I was very young, but I remember feeling uncomfortable, so uncomfortable.

I also remember my paternal cousin who was staying in that extra room in our apartment. He had flown in from Pakistan, with hopes and dreams of earning big amounts of money. The only luggage he had was a single bag he carried on his shoulders when he walked out from the ‘Arrivals’ section at the airport. He had difficulty with English, I remember him sitting with me when my mother helped me with my homework, just skimming through my English text books. He repeated everything I said in that wonderful foreign language that made him feel so grand; and he did get better. It took some time, but he did get better. But what I also remember is my feeling of discomfort in his presence. I felt fear and helplessness. I remember him making me sit on his lap where I felt something taut under myself that made me want to cry and run. We had a desktop computer, bigger than anything you would come across now. I don’t know how he did it, but he downloaded videos of nude boys and nude girls making noises and clamped to each other in all possible positions, with the widest array of backdrops, from deserts to washrooms and swimming pools to bedrooms. He rubbed against me, played with me. I didn’t know what was happening, but I only remember trying to avoid him.

I’m just really trying to remember where it was that I had ever felt safe.

Pi – Faith in Chaos by Darren Aronofsky

 

pi5

 

 

 

pi6

 

“There will be no order, only chaos.”

pi7

“Max Cohen: 9:13. Personal note. When I was a little kid, my mother told me not to stare into the sun. So once, when I was six, I did. The doctors didn’t know if my eyes would ever heal.I was terrified, alone in that darkness. Slowly, daylight crept in through the bandages and I could see. But something else had changed inside me.”

pi8 pi15

 “Maximillian Cohen: It was given to me. It’s inside of me. It’s changing me.
Ephraim: It’s killing you, because you are not ready to receive it”

“Sol Robeson: This is insanity, Max.
Maximillian Cohen: Or maybe it’s genius.”

pi2 pi9 pi10

“Sol Robeson: Hold on. You have to slow down. You’re losing it. You have to take a breath. Listen to yourself. You’re connecting a computer bug I had with a computer bug you might have had and some religious hogwash. You want to find the number 216 in the world, you will be able to find it everywhere. 216 steps from a mere street corner to your front door. 216 seconds you spend riding on the elevator. When your mind becomes obsessed with anything, you will filter everything else out and find that thing everywhere.”

pi11 pi13

 “Maximillian Cohen: 11:15, restate my assumptions: 1. Mathematics is the language of nature. 2. Everything around us can be represented and understood through numbers. 3. If you graph these numbers, patterns emerge. Therefore: There are patterns everywhere in nature.”

pi14

“Maximillian Cohen: 10:15, personal note: It’s fair to say I’m stepping out on a limb,
but I am on the edge and that’s where it happens.” 

“Maximillian Cohen: 10:28. Results: bullshit”

Waiting for Godot

Vladimir: You must be happy too, deep down, if only you knew it.
Estragon: Happy about what?
Vladimir: To be back with me again.
Estragon: Would you say so?
Vladimir: Say you are, even if its not true.
Estragon: What am I to say?
Vladimir: Say, I am happy.
Estragon: I am happy.
Vladimir: So am I.
Estragon: So am I.
Vladimir: We are happy.
Estragon: We are happy.
(SILENCE)
Estragon: What do we do now, now that we are happy?

-Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot