Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Snow. It really does not matter how old you are or how much of an introvert or not you tend to be. There is always one and the same reaction to the first sign of snow. Excitement. A bounce in the step. Cheer. An inner childhood happiness that grips you.

There is something magical about the falling of snow. The blanket of white that covers rooftops, streets and the once bare tree branches. Have you ever shook one of those liquid paper weights and wished you were inside? A unison of colour and calm everywhere you look. A subdued serenity in the air. A togetherness of nature. An announcement that winter is truly here.

If you were wondering before this whether it was appropriate to wear those extra warm gloves or whether you looked odd in that oversized coat. Snow dispels it all. It is time. Bring out all your woollies and your extra warm gear. Wrap up. Bundle up and splash out with bold reds to contrast the monotone of the season. Indulge in front of cosy fireplaces. Hot cocoa with cinnamon and marshmallows. Warm puddings. Hot water bottles and luxurious throws. Soft blankets and warm nights in. All the while watching snow descend outside. Delicate flakes resting. One layer after another. It almost reminds me of how a soufflé rises. The fluffiness of one layer of smoothness on top of another. No need for an umbrella. There is a certain charm to feeling snow flakes on your nose and your eyelashes. If there was ever a time to celebrate winter this is it.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

So you think you can dance?

A successful marriage is like a series of perfectly executed dance routines. In the grand scheme of things, our life here is like a huge dance production made up of a series of routines. We may choose to lead this production solo without a partner, like a contemporary dancer who explores and exhausts every creative avenue alone. The majority, however, go through life married to a partner. The journey, to me, is analogous to dancing a routine together.

Set the scene and the first thing you need is a good dance partner. The woman needs someone she can trust and depend on. After all, no one wants to be leaping in the air and have no one to catch them. On the other hand, the man needs someone who is prepared to be led. The man's role after all is to lead the routine to perfect execution. When it comes to choosing your dance partner, that is still just not enough. The couple must be suited to each other from the start. Unless both are perfect all-rounders, you cannot have an expert in contemporary dance matched with a brilliant ballroom dancer. The former is used to the independent freedom of exploration while the latter cannot function alone. They both have to come from the same dance background and have the same approach to the type of routine they both wish to embrace.

Throughout the dance, the couple needs to be in tune to one another. Responding to each step in a timely manner is just as important as being there for each other all the way. When the footwork is tricky, both need to keep up. When the going is slow, grace and resilience has be demonstrated. When one partner falters, the other has to be quick on their feet, literally, and keep the routine together.

It takes two to tango; in all sense of the word. It is not enough to be technical in a dance routine and just follow through with the motions. To really stand out and be a successful couple, each needs to give to the other that extra something. It goes a long way and this is what truly differentiates the good from the brilliant. It is also the reason why some couples are truly happy couples and describe their marriage as a successful one. It is not only about feeling the music yourself but making the other partner feel it too then both responding to it accordingly. It is about knowing when to improvise and when to take risks. More importantly, throughout the production, dancing in unison as one, so that the boundaries of two separate people melt away into the perfect couple.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Doing my bit

It was 17 years ago when I had just finished high school and all eyes were on the Earth Summit in Rio. I remember the thrill and excitement; the urge to want to be a part of positive change. To make a difference and do good. I joined the local Environment Society which no one even knew existed back then and they were just starting to take their first baby steps. I wanted to do my bit no matter what, nevermind that the outcomes from Rio were a disappointment. The future was at stake, or so it seemed at the time.

Fast forward to 17 years later to Copenhagen. The world is more aware of the catastrophes that could have been avoided. Cynics would turn away from this, I know, and destiny would shake its mighty finger and say that nothing could have stopped what was meant to happen. Nevertheless, in the past 17 years the number of natural disasters our planet has experienced have been unlike any other era. The extremely hot summers. The erratic and unpredictability of winters. The increasing divide between seasons in some countries that never experienced seasons before. The rising sea levels. The floods. Earthquakes. Tsunamis. These are just some of the effects of climate change. There is more to come and in years there will be a geographical remapping needed. Glaciers disappearing. Ice caps melting. Islands disappearing.

Although it should not take a global summit to instil this need to act, it can sure act as a reminder. In that spirit, what is it that I can do then to do my bit? Here's my top ten list:

1. Energy saving light bulbs. They do go a long way. Everyone needs their electricity and while I save my lamps for a more luxurious time of day, flicking a light switch is almost second nature now as soon as it gets dark. I have decided to do it in 'green' style and use energy saving light bulbs whenever I can.

2. Unplug devices or simply switch off power points. Remote controls come in all shapes and sizes and their multi-use variety can be nifty. That little red light at the bottom of my TV screen or stereo that is just waiting to be switched on, however, is ever so slowly draining an unnecessary amount of energy. Do I really need the microwave to tell me what time it is? Or the toaster to constantly remind me that it is all set to deliver that perfectly golden piece of toast? I think not - off!

3. Adjust the thermostat. Some people enjoy living in habitual conditions, I know I am one of them, but change is good once in a while. Adjusting my thermostat to just a degree lower (or higher as the case may be) can go a long way to saving a little bit more of energy. Not to mention that it keeps me on my toes!

4. Park the car and forget about it for a while. How about this for a change? Walk to the nearest grocery store instead of fuming as I try to find a parking spot. I always find that I experience more from walking to a destination rather than driving there. There is more time to experience the journey. Weather permitting, of course, because sometimes walking or cycling is just not an option. I use public transport instead and I imagine the petrol I would save in a week, not to mention the mileage I would save on my car.

5. Recycle. This has always been one of my joys in terms of how creative one can get. I will not print an email or a document unless I have to. When I do and if it is in draft form, I use both sides of the paper and reduce the font to fit more on a page. I use the blank sides of those no longer needed pages as scrap paper for doodling my thoughts. Cardboard, in the form of used-up tissues boxes, has always been quite inspiring for me during those times when I just needed to paint that 'masterpiece'. Experimentation is not an easy art to adopt but cardboard has been a faithful fallback and a satisfying outlet for many a creative streak. On a more conventional recycling note, I now separate my plastic and glass from my aluminium and regular waste.

6. Look for green products. Some countries allow you the option to be more environmentally conscious. I go green when I am in those countries and look for the green symbol on everything I buy from spray cans to stationery to packaging.

7. Turn vegetarian. Okay I hear you thinking this is going a bit too far, yet I have experienced a difference in health. Myth or fact: the meat industry consumes a huge amount of energy. I am quite cynical about this after hearing a British politician state the link between meat and energy consumption. Nevertheless, I have noticed the difference in my lifestyle since turning vegetarian but whether this has anything to do with saving our planet is left for the experts, not to mention, common sense.

8. Plant a tree. Some people are lucky enough to have their own garden. Others, like me, have to make do with finding a reserve or a location, preferably nearby, where they can actually make a difference by restoring a wild forest.

9. Air dry wet clothes instead of using the dryer and I have started using the 30 degrees wash cycle. It does not make a difference to how clean your clothes come out. The whites remain white and the colours do retain their brightness!

10. Volunteer in the community and take action. I indulge myself with the signing of online petitions but where it really counts is in the community. Above all, it is a balancing act of helping those in need and cutting back on one's consumer-focused lifestyle.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Age difference; something to learn

Age is a subjective thing; a state of mind. It can be an attitude even. You often here the saying that it is not in the years but in the experience. Or is it really?

As a thirty-something who shares a class with people now at least ten years younger than me, I am starting to feel the difference. It never used to bother me before and I would not have batted an eyelid at the idea. I am fortunate enough to have maintained my youthful looks, or so I am told. It has to do with a combination of good genetics and a sound investment in skincare techniques and lifestyle. Naturally, I thought I would blend in well with my newly allocated peers. Things are not as straightforward as I thought they would be, however.

I have noticed that... pace has somehow slowed down. True, my mind still works overtime. It always did but my outlook along with it has changed. No more the impulse coupled with the inexperience followed by the valuable lesson to be learnt afterwards. Now, if there is an impulse, it tends to be backed up by an instinct to go ahead and act on it. A knowing awareness of what the chances are beforehand. The impulse seems to magically disappear if all this wisdom does not see it through. I do not seem to share my peers' enthusiasm on following a whim. reactions and conversation techniques have 'gone off' so to speak. I listen, hand on chin, to the banter of those around me. I struggle to edge in a word or sentence to feel like I am part of the scene but cannot seem to keep up. It is not even a matter of being on the same wavelength because most of the time we are not. It seems to be more of a matter of: been there, done that. The mundaneness of knowing what is come. A nonchalance and a shrug of the shoulder that I have begun to master and conceal quite well.

...things are too expected. I amaze myself at being one step ahead - all the time. A question is asked and the discussion takes off at bullet speed across and around the table. Ideas, questions, probing, suggestions all at once being thrown in the air, while my mind goes off on a different tangent and I come up with a different slant to the whole conversation. Momentary silence as the group considers the merit of what was just handed to them but then it is brushed aside as perhaps too ludicrous. Being democratic, I succumb and listen avidly to the intelligent and impressive solutions. When it is time for the teacher to actually take us through the answers, low and behold, my suggestions actually find a rightful place, without even any prompting from me. Fleeting glances of mild surprise are quickly dispersed with a casual acknowledgement. I am not challenged the same way I was while growing up as the youngest in my class in school and amongst my friends.

It is not all gloom though. I smile and am regularly impressed by the alert minds. The mature and professional outlook. The open-mindedness and the cultural understanding that perhaps their predecessors did not have. There is always something to learn and I have learnt to listen and observe. I have never been a preacher and now I find it best to sit back and let it all roll on; helping and coaxing along the way whenever the need arises. Perhaps with time I can learn to approach life like a twenty-something again. This time with the experience and maturity of a thirty-something.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Magic of Dawn

I woke up in a flurry. My alarm clock had failed to go off at 6:30 as I had set it and was now showing the time to be 11:20. How can that be? Did I miss my morning 9:30 workshop? Will I still make it in time if I speed walk to college? A hundred questions all at once as I fumbled out of bed and grabbed the nearest watch. Squinting, it was not 8 o'clock yet. Closing my eyes, I sunk my head back into the pillow and drifted into a mental oblivion. My clock's battery needs changing again but the sun has already risen and I had missed the dawn prayer.

The rest of the morning was not quite the same. I had missed out on the magical beginning to a new day. That time of day when every being is letting out a breath of freshness. A crispness that surrounds the air and a stillness that precedes the daily motions of the sunrise. I missed out on my daily morning closeness to God. My means of speaking to Him and feeling Him acknowledge my thanks, my dreams and my wishes for the day in return. I had missed out on being part of a celebration of all those who join together to witness the magic of creating a new day. There is a unique feeling of peace that envelopes you after you have finished the dawn prayer. No matter what you do afterwards, whether it is a short nap, an early breakfast or reading a book, I would always feel protected and nurtured for the rest of the day.

It was a habit I had coached myself into for a number of years now. Set the alarm and get up for the dawn prayer even if living in a country where the muezzin* was gracious enough to have his voice heard, calling you to prayer:

"...Make haste towards worship,
Make haste towards true success,
Prayer is better than sleep..."

I made it my own responsibility to make sure I got out of bed. It was those words that would be an instant reminder to urge me out of the warmth and cosiness of my bed. Afterwards, I would find myself to be disciplined and at peace for the rest of the day. I would observe how I would face difficulties and daily calamities with grace because I felt nurtured at a spiritual level. I would feel that I had the strength and courage to face the hurdles that life tends to throw at you because I had communicated with The Creator.

Dawn. My most special time of the day when light first disperses the darkness. It brings with it the promise of opportunities and the chances to achieve. How can one not join in a prayer of hope for what is to come.

*Muezzin : a person, usually at a mosque, who calls out to prayer five times a day.


Two things happened to me today.

The first thing was when I woke up this morning and found that we had a power cut. I rolled my eyes in irritation at the prospect of no light. I find it amusing now how that was the first thing that came to mind. No light. No power for my computer. No power? No Internet! I started to panic. My connection to the outside world has been severed. My window to the world. The means I have to talk to my family and friends. No electricity! I cannot even make myself a soothing cup of tea to calm myself down. No central heating! I will freeze in the cold and miserable English winter. I frantically ran downstairs to take a look at the power switches. Could I possibly magically fix the situation by flicking a switch? I looked around the kitchen. No toast. Our hob was electric so no dinner for tonight. Will the power cut last that long? I looked out of the window at the grey sky despite the time of day. It was still morning. No light. I sighed and realised all the things I had suddenly been deprived of. How fragile we are. Someone, somewhere had flicked the wrong switch or drilled into the wrong cable and here I am in the middle of a power cut. It was as simple as that. My thoughts went to the readings I had to do for tomorrow. I would have to walk to college and access the computers there instead. Another sigh. I took one persistent step after the other half an hour later as I made my way along the footpath. I wondered whether our neighbours had a power cut too. It was not until I was walking in town did I realise that the whole town was sharing my blues. Cafes with closed signs due to the power failure. Shops still open for business but trading in the dark. I smiled. It seems it was not only me who was concerned about the light.

Somehow I felt relieved. My malaise was everyone else's malaise too. Notional group therapy in a sense. Knowing that we are all in this together was a huge comfort factor. It did not change anything though. It only changed my attitude. Was that a good or a bad thing I wondered? Or was it just human nature?

The second thing that happened today was that my friend almost lost her laptop. We had been shopping in town and while she was trying something on, she had momentarily put her laptop bag down. At which point did she stop feeling the weight of the bag on her shoulder? How could she have the heart to just put her laptop down and forget about it, even if it was just for a moment. Why did she even bring it with her, such an important tool, to a shopping trip. Shock. Horror at the possibility that the pieces of her life saved and stored on her laptop would be gone forever. I felt the realisation rise within me as I rushed out of the house to search the shops we had been to together. Imagine if that had been me.

Incredibly, I found myself uttering gratitude over and over as I made my way to town, along with silent prayers that we find her laptop. It was not until the lady in one of the shops gracefully disappeared into the back room and came back out with the bag did my friend let out the hugest sigh of relief. I felt grateful too.

It is funny how we always, and I mean always, take things for granted. It really does not matter how close or aware you think you are to God. It does not matter how long and hard you pray or how dire your circumstances are. One can never thank enough.

"...and if you count the Blessings of Allah, never will you be able to count them..."*

I found myself saying thanks but more importantly, feeling it. Thanks for the things I have been blessed with. Thanks for all the bad things that could have happened to me but did not. Thanks for this realisation. Thanks for this moment. Thanks for helping my friend today. Thanks for teaching me a valuable lesson in gratitude. Thanks for making me less aggravated by the ways of the world. Thanks for allowing me to wipe out any unnecessary aggrieve. It is amazing really how a simple thing like forgetting one's laptop in a shopping spree moment or experiencing a power cut can bring you back down to earth.

My newly found resolve is to constantly and expressly be grateful no matter what.

*Surat Ibrahim from the Quran [14:34]

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Simple Gesture

It is not often that you get to fully appreciate the weight of a simple gesture. Light and swift in motion. Rich and intense in substance. You only get to realise its true effect a fleeting moment after it happens. All you are left with in that fleeting moment is the after effect of a sweet but fading aroma that your senses try to hold on to for dear life. A simple gesture.

I came across these words today.

Gristle. It brought back memories of me as a child trying to chew endlessly on badly made dinners hosted by ill-tempered grown ups. Those were the type of people I hated visiting. Their words were ill; dripping with condescending niceties. I would smile in horror and shy away into the deepest corner of my mind. I could see my parents bite and smile too and it made me wonder why they insisted on taking me to these visits. A distant relative that we had to pay tribute to once in a while. Perhaps an obligation which I had to be a part of. As I grew up, I got to associate those visits with gristle. The food they made and the mood they left me with.

Progeny. A word full of meaning. One that evokes notions of pride; my parents' pride for having me in their life. I would ask my parents to refer to my sister and I as their progeny from now on. A renewed sense of achievement tends to arise every time they use that word. A homecoming and a warmth that can only be felt at home.

I think back to the simple gesture though. We all get touched by strangers who just happen to cross our paths or stumble on us in the most unexpected and unusual of circumstances. This reminds me of another perfect word.

Serendipity. The effect that a simple gesture does to you is serendipitious. It takes you away from the gristle that you are forced to munch away on in this journey called life. It leaves you feeling that you are part of a progeny of those have been there and felt the same way you do. Proud to have been given the chance to experience the gentleness and subtlety of a kind and simple gesture.