My Illusion of Stability

There’s mustard growing in the garden of the new house I just moved into. There’s also spinach, mint, radish, green beans, some variation of coriander or cilantro. Every morning, mere eggs at breakfast are now insufficient until one or more of the fresh greens are plucked from the garden and added to the mix. Usually, so far, it’s spinach in a cheese omelet. Both my parents grew up in rural spaces and had lifelong supply to their own vegetation growing around them at an arm’s length; to me it was testament to a profound permanence and safety; their tomatoes and chilis and greens and oranges and mangoes came from the same ground they came from. Consistently. Repeatedly. It was also great testament to Providence; and so it is to me every morning, when I slowly stir-fry and season my radiant green spinach with basil and oregano. There’s another, different lawn on the right side of the house, with sunflowers and lush grass. We have a gardener. Early most mornings, around 7 or 8am, I can feel his shadow outside the bedroom window that looks over the lawn. His Peshawari pakol and his long white beard make the outlines of his face. He waters the grass, the bush-plants that line the edges, the naive and needy-looking sunflowers on the other end. I don’t need to wake up just yet, I tell myself most mornings, and turn to the other side and fall back asleep.

Most of this previous year, however (my thirtieth year) was spent in a tiny two-bedroom apartment where the sun did not shine for a single day in all the 20 or so months I lived there. I witnessed that space from being a semi-furnished, male-smelling bachelor pad to a thoughtfully curated home with art and spices and vintage china and rugs and wooden furniture. Rarely was I ever alone in any one room in that apartment but when I was, I would look around and soak in the wonderfully simple but intimate life I was slowly building with my partner. Most of this previous year, the better part of, at least, her and my close friends have been asking me what I want to do for my thirtieth birthday. The big 3-O. And most of this previous year, as I live and breathe every moment with myself, the answer has always been I don’t want to do anything. Celebrating birthdays is an overdone, unnecessary, unremarkable cliché that at some point you have to get over – and I have. There’s nothing else to it. It’s just a random day out of the other 365 random days, most of which we fail to retain in memory, even. Birth-days are the same. And the sense of obligation that surrounds it is nauseating. I just remember the wine from my 29th birthday and the roast chicken from my 28th and the portrait my partner drew of me on my 27th and the massive, explosive panic attack I had while cutting the cake on my 26th. I don’t remember what I actually wanted on these days. I have no idea what the weather was like, don’t remember what I was working on then, who came or who did not wish me, don’t remember what the big tragedy or blessing of my life was on all those birthdays. I don’t remember if I was happy or not. But I do remember feeling dreadful. Feeling like I’ve missed the bus for everything. Feeling like the very short but unique and eclectic dream that is to be my life, is already had. It’s already lived. Passed. Past. And I am not any closer to becoming who I know or believe I am. I’m turning 30 in a week and every morning as I sip my tea and eat the omelet with my spinach, there is another guy, who looks exactly like me, standing in the corner of the living room where the sun is seeping in through the window. He watches me with growing questions, less and less answers. Most days I don’t have the courage to look him in the eye. I focus on the spinach.

‘The year between 29 and 30’ is the title of a delightful personal essay that a friend recently read out to me during which I found a sudden burst of inspiration to write a note on my own year between 29 and 30. Arguably the bravest thing I managed in this year was to have quit my 9-5. I have not gone into an office full-time since the last 3 and a half months. Unlike the younger me who was constantly browsing for different jobs I have also, since, said no to a couple of interviews and have slowly completely grown beyond the age in life where I am punching a clock all the time to fulfill another person’s professional goals; just to receive a handsome paycheck, that takes care of my bills within an hour one day in a month and compels me the rest of the 29 days to feel like I don’t really need to focus on my own goals and ambition. It was the one thing standing in my way before I had quit – the one thing that was stopping me from being a hundred percent focused and driven towards my own creative journey. Immediately after quitting I participated in a fellowship and went through some form of spiritual, psychological, even creative unsettling. The fully ripe fruits of the experience are yet to be tasted but I remind myself every day that patience ensures victory. I failed to write a single line for this essay on the day I actually started writing it. I sent two rather well-done applications for film grants during one week and I haven’t lifted a finger at all since then. It’s been 2 weeks. I lost a grandparent during these 2 weeks and experienced the first encounter with death of a nuclear family member; first encounter with death in my own household.

My 28th and 29th years, in retrospect, were not as eventful spiritually as this last year was. I started wearing a karra (bracelet) that has the Nad e Ali engraved on it. I even memorized the small prayer by heart and it’s now part of my daily Zikr. I don’t leave home without the bracelet now – it’s worn on my right wrist permanently. it’s a known symbol of the Shia culture; I spent so many years arguing that I don’t label myself after any individual sect of Islam but more and more this previous year I have owned and loved every aspect of my Shia identity. Sometimes I wonder if it’s religion – opium of the masses and all – or my faith, my unshakable faith in God and those He gave special divine status, that keeps my illusion of stability intact. Bad mental health, suffering in silence, running from confrontation, but at peace in my heart. My soul content. Solitary. Existing in its own silo and willing to go on solitary; but someone has to be let in at some point and shatter my illusion. Break the glass walls around me. Or maybe, just maybe, my out-of-body self whom I ignore every morning in my living room shatters my illusion daily during breakfast. And then every day in the coziness of my home, sharing life with a wonderful partner, surrounded by a community that values me, I spend every waking minute putting pieces of the illusion back together so that I can fall asleep one more night believing that this is fine. This is what I want. This will remain intact as it is; it should. That this is my path and I have made the right choices on this day and maybe tomorrow the other man won’t be there.

Maybe tomorrow I will pluck green beans from my garden and gently shallow-fry them in olive oil and season them with thyme and dip them in tomato sauce and have them with bread. And all this while maybe I won’t have to look over my shoulder for the undying, unforgiving gaze of Truth in the other man’s eyes who is waiting for me once again, sitting in the warm sunshine in the corner, next to the basket of oranges from last week that I promised my partner I would eat. Waiting for me to lock eyes with him and look at the truth face to face, that whether I am 30 or 50 or 90, I’m not ever going to hide from myself.

To his eyes alone am I naked in the warm glow of early afternoon. He alone brings with himself a myriad of reflections from days long gone that surround me like a halo and will never let me go, never let my illusion be.






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *