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Once in a while, you must allow yourself the luxury of time. Clear your mind of all the pending tasks, those can wait till tomorrow. Let time stand still, clear your head. It sounds very Zen, I realize. But the Buddhists have a point about inner peace. There’s a certain therapeutic quality to taking a break, and just reflecting on yourself, or maybe the empty mug in front of you which at some point held tea or coffee (depending on your taste buds). Feels like yesterday I landed at Toronto International airport, and despite all the stories that you hear about immigration officers harassing you if you are a Muslim and sporting a beard, and I have both, it was a walk in the park.

 

The winter I was dreading when I first arrived has started to grow on me. Perhaps it is more to do with the fact that this time the winter wasn’t as brutal as it is usually at this time of the year. On one hand, I am grateful that I am not dragging my self through a couple of feet of snow to get to school every morning. On the other hand part of me is curious as to what that would actually feel like. As the local Canadians tell me, ‘You haven’t seen Canada till you have experienced the winters’, to my credit I have experienced and so far lived through the winters till today. Living in a place where temperature stays below the ‘Zero’ has its own challenges though. The roads are cleaned and salted to avoid any ice make up, the cars have anti freeze put in to them. While driving, the cars slowly creep along as snails, to avoid any ugly skids and endings. Back home the only greatest challenge through the winters would be getting out of the warm cozy bed in the morning. Being from a tropical country so to speak, I can appreciate the little nuggets of work that happen in the winters, nuggets that we wouldn’t even consider back home.

 

Speaking of back home, when I first arrived, I would regularly follow the news online on the local news channels about everything going on back in Pakistan. The elections, the power shortages, the power struggles between the military establishment and civilian government and the usual hue and cry over Maya Khan lately due to her hugely offensive morning show. However you start to see patterns emerge in the political and social upheavals. The politics are almost the same, day in day out. Someone else decides to join PTI from the old guard, PTI and Imran Khan comes under fire for taking in corrupt politicians. The military which has been an unusual silent observer asserts a little power to remind everyone who the real boss is. The civilian government appears to start having cracks and creavices. Some of the political pundits cry foul at Imran Khan, the others assert the military has had enough and will enforce Martial Law. The Supreme Court decides to roll the dice and starts calling people in for hearings. Meanwhile the civil society dresses up to go out in the streets to protest about the killing of innocent bakra’s on Eid ul Azha (some should probably tell it was last year). Perhaps it has a distant observer that these patterns emerge. Soon enough, the only news I eventually check is what appears on my Twitter and Facebook.

 

Disclaimer: The above events are highly exaggerated for the purpose of this article.

 

On a side note, as a TA for an undergraduate course in Technical Entrepreneurship, I have found a new found respect for my engineering education. University of Waterloo gave birth to RIM and the Blackberry back in the day, and the optimist within me has little doubt that the next technology that changes the world will be given birth to right here in the University and perhaps this class. I cant help but wish we had some similar policies back in GIK where I did my undergraduate. Perhaps fostering the culture of innovation and entrepreneurship is the solution to most of the problems in Pakistan. There are some amazing brains in the country, who actually do ground breaking research at the local universities. But the universities need to have a clear policy regarding IP (intellectual property) and giving ownership to the students/faculty who actually create the technology, as compared to using it for self projection. Given, of course that the government provides support on some level, starting by providing basic necessities such as clean water.

 

– London Link Magazine (Oct 2011)

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TMS

#TMS is the buzz I am creating now. Say it with me, #TMS – yes thats twitter terminology but humor me. #TMS.

The brain child of Maryam Piracha – http://www.maryampiracha.com. I first got a whiff of it when MP tweeted about her head hunt for editors. I pounced. She sent me some fiction and an article to edit. Funny, that I ended up on the editorial team, since  I actually sincerly thought I had crashed and burned. But voila.. you can find my name here -___-

TMS is all about a fresh perspective on the current publication industry. Submissions are now open. Find details on the website below! Yes people, we have gone live. And I for one, am looking forward to this new chapter in my life 🙂

*Yes a hint of optimism for a change – though I don’t expect it to be a rosy all the time*

One last time – #TMS,

TMS has now a home: http://themissingslate.com/

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Do you have facebook? Scrapetv.con

Like all things must be with this nation, everything is blamed on the government. This article would also aim to just do that, but readers are advised to take it with a pinch of salt.

Everyone who is reading this must be aware of the ‘Draw Prophet Muhammad  Day’ event declared on Facebook. This event created by God knows who; this writer for one, did not bother digging up the particulars of the genius, inspired by the cartoonist Molly Norris (www.mollynorris.com) who declared 20th May as ‘Everyone Draw Prophet Muhammad ’ day created a fictional group, Citizens Against Citizens Against Humor, to sponsor the event. The illustrations on her site and this event was dedicated to the other geniuses behind the animated adult cartoons, South Park; Matt Stone and Tery Parker, famous for gags on celebrities such as Bono, and religious figures such as Jesus, Mary, and Prophet Muhammad . Incidentally as I write this, I remember back in GIKI some people used to watch South Park with a religious fervor, eliciting quite a few loud laughs as Mother Theresa was portrayed as something which would be inappropriate to mention here, but we all understand what. Yet when Prophet Muhammad was hinted at in South Park, they were one of the many to raise the cry ‘Stop Watching South Park’, to them I quite openly say now, ‘What did you expect from someone who holds nothing, for all we know, not even their own mothers sacred?’

The Facebook event has resulted in a Lahore High Court decision to ban Facebook till the end of the month. A petition by a group of renegade mullah lawyers was granted, and the auspicious Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, hence forth to be mentioned as simply, PTA, was instructed to block Facebook on all ISP’s. Furthermore, as per today’s paper, the Lahore High Court as instructed the Minister of Foreign Affairs to lodge a compliant with the US Department of State, or in other words, Hillary Rodham Clinton. As per the court order, this global social networking portal, ‘The Facebook’ is within US jurisdiction and it has caused immense hurt and discomfort to many Muslims. I think the word the LHC is looking for is ‘insult’ and not ‘discomfort’, but I am no lawyer and legal jargon is out of my jurisdiction.

The Facebook event not only resulted in mass spam messages sent to all cellphone users, (to this I must add, I always wonder how the telecom service providers allow these spam messages, I am always left wonder where they get my number from, but digital privacy is to be left for a later time) but as read in today’s paper, resulted in protests and marches against the event in Lahore and other parts of the country. The protesters demanded that the offenders be ‘beheaded’ and the Muslim Rulers of other countries to push for such an international legislation or empty their thrones in shame. The protest lead in majority by our national morality watchdog parties and groups have demanded these steps be taken, or the US embassy and the ambassador himself would not be spared. Ambitious I must say, very ambitious of our national watchdogs to declare war on the US, the very country who for their own means, created the concept of rebel mullah’s in the first place. Afghan War, under Zia ul Haq of course.

The fallout did not stop there, following tweets; yes tweets, as it happens, Twitter is working fine, you find that YouTube is also blocked. I for one did not bother checking. Suffering from a shaky internet connection, I am pushing my luck as it is downloading torrents. Word on tweet also reports some fellow tweeters experiencing the same message from PTA when attempting to open Wikipedia – The Open Encyclopedia. As all men b/w the age of 18 and 30 in this country rushed to their browsers, I did too, and much to my surprise, porn sites were up and running. Well at least our world was still the right side up.

Is it just my imagination running away with me, or do all those facts stated above remind you of the national fallout resulting from the caricatures of Prophet Prophet Muhammad   published in a Danish newspaper. The fallout that resulted in an enormous amount due to public property damage and looted ATM machines by a raging angry mob; so much so for a higher purpose, you can have what you can carry. During those times, I remember outrage and protest and rallies in this Land of the Pure, but no as much as a whisper from the Kings of Saudi or other muslim counties. While our esteemed politicians, leaving behind all problems of national interest, such as rising taxes, the falling and now almost non existent literacy rate, the rising unemployment rate, the exploding population, shortage of gas and electricity, fake degree holders deciding the fate of the nation, accountability, embezzlement of millions of rupee’s worth of public funding, so on and hence forth. Yes, said the rulers in their cushy chairs, we can work on that later, for now let’s focus our dwindling energies and intellect on how to extradite that cartoonist and punish him by Islamic laws and satiate the thirst of blood of our poverty stricken, uneducated and illiterate nation.

Although Zia ul Haq might have molested the very spirit of this nation, and broken it, he left us with his lasting legacy to this day, an overzealous sense of religion – for better or worse.  As a nation, we have a long history of overreaction to the Muslim Plight. Might it be that possessing a weapon of assured mutual destruction, the nuclear bomb, the sole owner of such technology in the known Muslim World, we consider ourselves the very pinnacle of the Neo Muslim Civilization? We do take ourseleves a little too seriously. And if, as the country of moral watch dogs, we are to be at par with the world, we need to understand one little fact about the miracle that is the internet. No one controls it. With social networking and user generated content on the rise, all websites include a disclaimer, ‘All content therein does not reflect the policy of so and so website and does not take responsibility for it’. This is the power of the new internet, an event generated in cyberspace generating actual rallies and protests in another corner of the world.; so much so that the government becomes involved.

The government, first of all, in my humble opinion, should not controls the flow of information. When I first heard of the ban of Facebook, becoming an actual reality, from various sources, I felt an all together familiar scenario coming to mind; China, where the government is actively involved in internet censorship. Pakistan already has a very repressive image as it is, where the NYT writes about it’s elite as booze and sex deprived souls, scratching away at the rigid moral framework that governs us.

All that said and done, let us create an event on Facebook titled, “Everyone celebrate the Holocaust day’ and lets see if Pervez Musharraf would be attending.

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Monologue

Sam:

The clocks blinking 5:00AM. Its blinking at me. It’s winking. It’s not 5 in the morning. I just went to bed. The clocks playing its cruel jokes on me, does it think I am stupid? I remember I had dinner with her; she was looking stunning in her red evening dress. She left after midnight. Afterwards I watched some movie on tv. It was a romantic comedy of sorts, I don’t remember the name. I should. I am good with names. But I can’t seem to remember the name. Playing the dinner over and over in my head. Going over every word. Every gesture. Again and again until the reel wore out in my head and I had to throw it away. The movie had finished. I washed up. I know I did because my breath doesn’t smell like last night’s dinner. Then I went to bed. It was barely an hour ago. Why is time playing games with me again?

Gracie:

I can make it easier for him. Poor Sam, he never learns. But its just too much fun to watch. Morals dictate that I should be a good friend. But I have been a good friend. He’ll realize whats happening in a few more min. Just when the big hand comes around to again, he’ll finally get back into his senses. It’s a process. I shouldn’t interrupt his process. It happens every now and then, he wakes up sweating and cursing, to him its not figment of his imagination, its real. He falls for the trap, he grovels and squirms, in the intricate web of his own imagination. Until his own headsets himself free. It’s a funny thing, a brain so fractured that it manufactures its own alternate realities. We all live in our own fabricated worlds. Some more then others. Painting it as we see fit. The occasional drifts of imagination, the occasional selective registration of people and events. Some more then others. So much so that the lines blur and you can’t tell the real from the surreal anymore.

Sam:

I had one of my episodes again, as Gracie would call them. The immaculate Gracie; always rational and calm. She’s the one who suggested I call these occasional lapses in my memory episodes. Sounds better then fits she says. Fits. Its so vulgar. Makes it sound like a child throwing a tantrum, or an epileptic having seizure. I don’t convulse or have arrests. I just wake up sweating, like from a bad dream. Only it’s not a nightmare, rather recollections of my life. Or what I think to be my life. Existence seems like such a distant dot in the distance from this prison. A prison without the crudeness of walls or guards, rather the vastness of infinity stretched beyond me, and no one but myself to humor me.

I wonder where she is.

‘I am here Sam’

How does she always know when I am thinking about her?

‘Because like everything else, I am also a creation of your mind’

Oh yes. I forgot. Here I am God.

‘No Sam, you’re not God, otherwise you would have the power to leave all this behind’

Ah yes, Gracie, always the one with all the answers.

‘That is how you imagine me to be Sam, that’s how you want me to be in your mind’

Speaking of which, I would kill for a coke right now.

‘Then have one. It’s on me. Chilled as you like it. This is your mind Sam; we’re inside your head. Literally. You didn’t forget did you?’

Funny how it sounds when you put it like that, every situation has its subtle humor, if you look close enough. No how could I. This is the room I had when I was twelve; I still remember the posters I put up on the wall. Otherwise they wouldn’t still be here. In my mind, this is my safe haven, the only place I felt safe in as a kid, except for all the cruel and hideous monsters under my bed.

‘It’s the only way to survive. This is a creation of your mind Sam, all of this. Including me, I am a amalgamation of all the people you admired so much. Really Sam, you could’ve been more original.’

If I were God, maybe I could’ve been. But this really puts in perspective all the effort he puts in to make us all so different. You have to admire the man’s creative genius.

‘Has all this made you a religious man then?’

Not at all. I was trying to be funny. But you already knew that. Because I am talking to myself, you’re just a fictional character. I think I am going to lose my mind.

‘Too late for that Sam’

Kevin:

‘Oh God, Sammy looks horrible’ winces Kevin

‘Hello Kevin, you look terrible’

‘Hey doc’, looks down on his tattered jeans and faded ‘Banana Republic ‘ t-shirt, running his fingers throw his hair, pulling it back, ‘Yeah well not much of a sleeper these past few days’

‘You shouldn’t self destruct Kevin, Sam’s going to be fine, we’re doing what we can’

I shouldn’t self destruct! The hell he knows what he’s talking abt. Seeing Sammy with all these tubes coming out of him, all these machines with blips, huffs and puffs keeping him alive. How can a man keep sane seeing something like that?

‘I’l leave you two be now. There’s nothing more we can do right now. Talk to him’

Does he even hear me?

‘Hey Sammy, how you holding up there’ utters Kevin in a quiet almost apologetic voice. His voice weighed down by some unnamed guilt, ‘Everything’s going good man, we just want you to come back, everyone’s missing you’

I should’ve done more for him. Shouldn’t have let him drive, not that night of all nights, the storm and the call he got about his mother passing away, I should have made him stay the night. Stupid stupid stupid. Everything makes sense in retrospect, each event, a turning of a small cog, until everything crashes. It’s so clear now, staring me in the face, mocking me. As if to say, see you could’ve done it differently and avoided this, but you were too blind. Now sit and eat yourself with remorse and regret.

Maybe I deserve it.

Sam:

There’s something ironic about being in the same room you had as a kid only now you’re too big too fit in it. And yet strangely enough, there’s a sense of security about it.

I have no concept of time in this place. Or space. Feels like I am in my room, and beyond it is a void, empty space, in which we float, like a speck on the vast ocean. Thrown around by waves, risk crashing into the rocks. Staring into the void, the void stares back into me. I feel myself becoming a part of it. Leaving behind the life I had behind. Here where I am alone with my thoughts, I have weaved my own world. I create, I perceive, I live. I am alone here, inside my own head. I have created a perfect friend. Gracie, from scraps and bits of everyone close to me, she always says the right thing, always knows when to say the right thing. She reminds me partly of my mother, I suppose I never really had a chance to mourn her. So this is me coping with her loss. I’ve become accustomed to the seclusion. I don’t long for human contact. What good will does that ever do. People always frustrated me. They always strike me as shallow, maybe that’s why in my real life, I never really did make many friends. Those who I did have are here in my head. Gracie. She carries them all inside her fragile body.

Gracie:

I am his friend and his family. I worry for him. He’s starting to love this alternate reality, this secluded existence. Never the social butterfly, he’s happy to be rid of the complications of human relations. The dynamics he says, are too complex, and people too cruel.

I’m anxious he doesn’t want to go back anymore. There was a time when he wouldn’t acknowledge any of this. He would fight. Hit the walls, break the doors, run and run until he’d catch himself short of breath. Now, he sits and watches; content and calm, like he has all the time in the world. He’s given up struggling to grasp what is real and what is fiction. Maybe even hope of going back. But what I am afraid of is that even If he could reclaim his old life, he wouldn’t.

I can’t push any buttons in here. It’s not in my power. He longed for company, so he willed me into existence. I am a part of this place. His subconscious. He’s letting the void drown him, like waves crashing on the shore, taking bits of sand with it to sea.

I suppose this is eternity.

Note:  For  ‘Life’s too Short’  Short Story Competition

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