Telescope IV: Music and Me

I have been on a hiatus that I can only apologize for – sometimes you need to take some time away. Sometimes you need to disappear. I needed some space to breathe after some rather serious “creative combustion”. Instead of talking about that, though, I thought I would talk about music.

If you see me walk down the street, at my desk at work, or even standing in Hyde Park after my evening run, you will see someone plugged into headphones, in a world other than the one that you and I presently occupy. Likely looking up into the sky – either at the clouds or the moon or planes passing by. I have found a little nook in my mind that music seems to create. I can’t quite describe it. It’s like a space in which a random selection of notes, played in sequence don’t just create a melody, or a harmony, they create something more. They create magic. And that magic creates peace. One way or another, something is created.

Let me walk you through what I have been experiencing. I have been listening to this Punjabi song called Baliye/Laung Gawacha. I do not understand Punjabi and I do not have a clue about what the song means. I don’t want to because I have ascribed emotional meaning to this song and I’d rather keep it that way. You can find it here.

It starts off as a typical quote, unquote Rock song – frolicking in drums, harmonies, riffs, and inconsistent beats as Haroon Shahid sings his lungs out. It is energetic, it is frenetic, it is…desperate. It’s like standing out in the open and seeing that bolt of lightning in the cloudy sky at night when you know, you just know that a thunderstorm is on it’s way. The kind of thunderstorm that causes roads to flood, dirt to wash out, rats to drown. But it’s just lightning and by 3 minutes and 10 seconds into the song, you lose hope – the rain won’t come. As the reverb of the last guitar chord fades into the air, you feel as if the wind will carry the clouds away and with it, the rain.

And then…it begins, as all good things do, in silence. It is a moment that I have come to subconsciously associate with closing my eyes until that gentle thump of a beat. As soon as I feel that thump, my eyes open, as if for the first time. The next minute is magic.

A plucking of some guitar strings – electric and acoustic, some violins pulsing as if blood flowing through veins.

Thunder is born.

You hear a voice, a strong yet gentle voice beginning the classiest megh malhar (a sanskrit raga that was said to make it rain) you will ever hear. Quratulain Baloch plays off of this…thunder. She is you as you look at those clouds that teased you with the lightning. You look at them with every ounce of will that you have as you try to make it rain. But you do not fight it, you are one with it – just like her voice glides on the music rather than cuts against it. She isn’t pleading with the clouds to make it rain, she is merely seducing them. She knows it will rain.

At around 4 minutes and 19 seconds you see the bass guitar player twist and contort his body, slithering like a snake trying to stand as the music, the thunder, takes you over. You feel it in your bones, in the very marrow that makes you human.

And then…the drums. The rhythm quickens as the clouds begin to open up. It’s working. But its a drizzle, not a downpour, not yet. That requires more. The clouds demand more. The instrumentation gets more complex, but you keep going – her voice, your voice now in it’s own element within the frame that is the music. The harmony acting as the wind and carrying your demands, your desire, your voice. You don’t need to sing any more, you just need to be patient.

Finally, after the music, after the clouds themselves are in the position to create your reality,

Magic.

With the slightest of effort, the most eloquent of tongues, the most languid of glances,

Mera laung gawacha

The music now in full flow, the rain beginning to pour, rain that you have created through your will, through your intent, through your faith, through Iman. She is a part of the music now, they feed off of each other. You are one with what you have created, it isn’t hard, it just is, because you have willed it to be.

Creation is the single most combustive act you can partake in. Creativity requires energy, it requires effort, it requires action. Whether it is to write a blog post, to make music, to self publish a book, whatever it may be – creating is an exothermic expression of love that is fueled by faith.

I took that time away to find what it is that I wanted to create – did I want to write a book? Did I want to make a movie? Did I want I want to make a million dollars in revenue?

None of it.

I wanted to create me – myself, my world, my reality. And I will. I won’t settle for less than exactly what I want. Neither should you. All it takes is love and faith. All it takes is Iman.

Welcome to my world.

 

Telescope III: Tuyo

I went back home to Dubai for the Bank Holiday in England. The scorching sun felt good on my skin, driving on the charred roads with smoothness that is customary when two superheated objects rub against each other.

There was a strange moment after I reached home:

My satellite family – all four of us once living in 4 different corners of the world, were now in the same room. That room wasn’t a hotel in London or San Francisco, neither was it the living room in my mother’s apartment in Doha. It was at home, in our kitchen. A concept, an occasion that seemed to have become rarer as the years went by thanks to the operational difficulties and opportunities of life. But that didn’t make it strange, it was just rare.

The strange part is what happened next – I plugged in my iPhone and started playing music. My music, the songs that I had been listening to, as the four of us prepared what could best be describe as a pre-all you can eat, dim sum extravaganza snack. Someone mixing olive oil with garlic, chili flakes and salt; someone slicing some fresh baguette; someone frying a little bacon; and someone preparing a little hard Iranian cheese with fresh mint.

As we did this, Rodrigo Amarante’s Tuyo played on the speakers: the guitar flowing like water off of a waterfall, the drums rhythmic but not overbearing, and his voice crooning lyrics that can only be described as succulent –

Soy el fuego que arde tu piel
Soy el agua que mata tu sed
El castillo, la torre yo soy
La espada que guarda el caudal

I am the fire that burns your skin
I am the water that kills your thirst
I am the castle, the tower
The sword that guards the fortune

None of us speak Spanish and at that moment, none us needed to speak Spanish. We were not connected by a language, we were not connected by music, pulsing over speakers that are too large for a kitchen as we each prepared something to bring to the table. We were connected by something deeper – if the air was skin, the music was the subcutaneous pulse, the blood flowing through the veins beneath the skin, you could feel it, you knew it was there. It was a moment of subconscious harmony. Amarante continues,

Tú el aire que respiro yo
Y la luz de la luna en el mar
La garganta que ansío mojar
Que temo ahogar de amor
¿Y cuales deseos me vas a dar?

You the air that I breathe
And the moonlight in the sea
The throat I want to wet
That I am afraid of throttling
And what desires are you going to give me?

I remembered another similar moment after we all whipped up a meal in a kitchen that was thousands of miles away from Dubai as I played this song on a small, but robust docking station. I watched two people dance to this song. It was mother and daughter: mother showing daughter how to lead, daughter following clumsily, studiously. Their eyes locked in a way that only a mother and a daughter can ever lock eyes – drowning into mirror, into the same pair of eyes. Even then, there was this subcutaneous pulse created by more than just the music. 

The then and the now – so far away yet so close – bound by this song in this language that I can barely claim to have a passing understanding of despite having studied it for years, and being exposed to it for even more. Both moments were, in their own way, expressions of love, expressions that we genuinely care for one another, and they were framed in these whimsical lyrics. And as the song slowly drifted to a close,

Dices tú: Mi tesoro basta con mirarlo
Tuyo será, y tuyo será.

You say, “My treasure is enough just by looking at it
It will be yours, it will be yours.”

Something occured to me –

When you love someone, you tell them.

When you care about someone, you show them.

When someone is special to you, make the effort.

It could be as easy as framing a moment of togetherness in a song that completes an image that you will carry with you forever. It could be as stupid as that grand gesture that you make without knowing whether or not it will even be received let alone achieve what you want it to. But you do it anyway. What is life otherwise?

So be bold, be brave, be foolish, be crazy, be stupid, be you. Don’t wait, don’t sit around and feed unrequited emotion – it will squeeze you, it will suffocate you, and rest assured, it will kill you.

Have the faith, the Iman, that regardless of whether or not you get the reaction or the outcome you desire, that you, my friend, have made someone feel special. And you have done so, by doing something special, because at the end of the day – special people do special things.

The rest is up to them, and to Iman.

Apologies and Assurances

My apologies for not posting in a while – I had been working on another project (the same one that delayed the last post) and had been pre-occupied with my day job all week. I assure you, there will be at least 3 posts this week including 1 poem. So I hope, dear reader, that you have not given up on me – we have a long, long way to go you and I. The first post will be up later today so stay tuned.

And in the meantime – read the quote on the featured image. It’ll play a big part in what’s next.

V

Microscope IIIc: Walking

Gravity is a funny thing. I’ve been listening to a lot of John Mayer recently. Particularly ‘Gravity’. The song itself is like butter – smooth, voluptuous, everything you want but not quite it. It’s not your lifelong treasure of destiny – not mine at least.

But what of gravity itself, not the song, but the concept. That unknown force that keeps us anchored to the ground. I hate gravity. To me, walking is the greatest act of defiance known to man – our ability to walk is our refusal to be weighed down to the ground. The ability to move forwards, backwards, left, and right is what precipitated running, what gave birth to flight. It is the essence of our humanity – to get up and walk.

As you can clearly see, the practice of walking is extremely personal to me – akin to prayer. If kneeling at church is to find your place in the universe, if standing at a temple is singing to the cosmos, then walking is to look for the answer. When you kneel, when you stand, you are a slave to gravity. When you walk, you’re a slave to nothing.

And today, I find myself walking far more than I ever have, probably more in the last 9 weeks than I have in the last 9 months. But do I feel any freer? Not really. I have never used walking to seek freedom, it has always been there.

I have used walking as a contemplative mechanism.

I have needed to find a lot of answers recently. Answers to questions I never thought I would have to ask. Questions about myself, my past, my present, my future. Sometimes, I have had to find the strength to go on, sometimes the quiet to stop my mind racing. None of it has been easy, walking has made it tolerable. One day, perhaps, I’ll get to tell you more about it.

So what are some of the more interesting walks I have been on recently? I could tell you about the time I walked back home from the temple from the last blog along the canals of Little Venice. I could tell you about the walk from my apartment on Wells Street to Regents Park, getting lost near the little waterfall, reminiscing about times past. And what about the numerous walks in Hyde Park? Getting lost in the trees, feeling so fragile in the open.

No.

Let me tell you about the simplest, strangest, and certainly calmest walk I take –

Every morning, after our daily team meeting, I take 15 minutes to walk from my office in America Square to the Starbucks down the street. It is not a glamorous walk, after all, the Tower of London is right around the corner. Perhaps it is the funnel created by the skyscrapers around me but there is a particular direction to the wind as I walk down the street – as if it cuts across me as opposed to into or behind me. I am usually halfway through Gravity at this point where the guitar gently takes over somehow making my head feel lighter. All the anxiety, all the worry, all the thinking from moments ago disappears as I enter the shop.

A friendly face at the counter, with an all too familiar name, welcomes me with a smile,

“Peach green tea lemonade, lite ice?” She asks me, knowingly.

I give her a half smile, a simple nod, and an empty look. I pay and walk to the corner.

I pick up my drink, I take a sip – paradoxically, the cool liquid envelops me like a warm hug. I take one step after another, out into the windy street, back to my office. I look up into the cloudy sky as Mayer croons, 

“Gravity, stay the Hell away from me.”

The thing is you can’t logic your way out of Iman. Gravity can push you down as much as it wants to but it is Iman that makes me look up into that cloudy sky and say,

One day at a time, one step at a time. You’ll get to where you want to go.

Not where I need to go, but where I want to go. Walking on a cloudy day to a Starbucks down the street is enough to remind me that I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul. Because I have Iman.

Next Post Coming Tonight

My apologies for not posting in a while – I have been working on something rather big and perhaps I’ll tell you about it one day. Just know that it is important, and is filled with Iman. I will finally be taking a break this weekend but rest assured, my piece on Walking will be up before I leave tonight.

Stay tuned, dear reader.

Microscope IIIb: Standing

I can honestly count the number of times I have visited a temple on one hand. It’s not something that I confess to be particularly ashamed about – I grew up in the middle east and as with any polytheistic religion based on iconography, it was fairly easy to circumvent the usually infuriating trips to an overcrowded building with very little in terms of architectural divinity.

Temples around the world are not the same as temples in India. There’s something lacking in them, almost as if they aren’t connected to whatever is up there in the same way – I can’t quite describe it – think of it as the difference between a wireless, router driven wi-fi and a wired internet connection, one of them can be shaky, the other is almost always steady and stable. I think it’s the same difference here – India being the wired connection, everywhere else acting like wi-fi. Putting that aside, though, I decided to go to the Shri Vallabh Nidhi Mandir, rather conveniently promoted with the extremely 21st Century monicker – SVN, in Wembley.

You know when they say someone is a fish out of water? That was me. The only thing I knew was to take off my shoes. Everything else? Nada, nein, nope, not a clue. I’m a terrible Hindu. Those who know me, the very few, would know how much I hate the feeling of vulnerability that is associated with not knowing. Even if it is my own faith. Luckily, Iman isn’t intimidating.

I walked up the ornate steps of this building that looked as if it was carved out of a single piece of limestone, into a small space (6 feet by 6 feet at most) where you rang a bell (which I did rather sheepishly, at first) and you prayed by pouring milk and water onto a little Shivling (an incarnation of the lord Shiva, the Destroyer). I noticed the people around me, praying in their own fascinating ways,

Someone lay flat in front of this Shivling, his head touching its base.

Others with knees bent, kneeling.

And then people like me, standing, perhaps slightly bent over, pouring milk and water.

Regardless of how they prayed, though, everybody around me said the same three words –

नमःशिवाय

Om Namah Shivaya

It means to salute Shiva, but to me it was more about how those three words felt in the moment. They weren’t fearful of this "Destroyer of Worlds", this deity whose third eye causes cataclysms. They were peaceful, almost as if they were meant for resonation, not prostration. As if that Shivling was an antenna that caught onto this chant and beamed it into the heavens. It was extremely powerful.

I continued on into the “Great Hall” where there was a circular path laid out with statuettes of most of the Hindu deities. The usual suspects – Ganesh, Radha, Krishna, Saraswati (the Goddess of Education and a personal favorite of my dear mother’s) – and some of the more obscure variety. I have always known that Hinduism as a religion, as a doctrine, as something, operates differently – it reflects worship, not prayer. Its a strange dichotomy, you worship aspects of life in Hinduism, you don’t pray to them.

Take Saraswati as an example, she is the Goddess of Education. You stand and bow to her, you respect her, you may petition her, but you worship her because you worship education. It’s a fascinating concept and I remember being shocked at how I had never taken a more acute interest in this.

I walked around that hallway perhaps four or five times and just took in the veneration. I wasn’t feeling particularly good that day, coming off a bout of dehydration and feeling extremely anxious. But walking around that space, standing in front of representations of the diversity of life, they reminded me of something. They reminded me that there is a lot in life – education, occupation, dedication, appreciation. There is love, everywhere. There is hope, everywhere. There is Iman, everywhere.

All you have to do, all you have ever had to do, is look.

Have a good week, my friends.

Microscope IIIa: Kneeling

All Saints on Margaret Street was, up until a few weeks ago, just another charming and enchanted building I would walk past in London. It is a few feet away from my apartment, opposite a Buddhist Temple, with imposing towers adorned with the Cross. This should be reason enough to use it as shelter when a hurricane hits you. I remember the first time I walked into this old, stone building that looked as heavy as it was. Hallowed ground comes with it’s baggage – not a bad thing in this case.

Its ornate and gilded interior providing the perfect refuge for someone seeking divine intervention. It’s often typical to think of a higher power after an evidently PTSD inducing experience. I remember looking at the giant arch above me – Alpha and Omega adorning its opposing sides. It was 6:35pm on Wednesday, the 21st of June, a scorching day. My shirt was drenched in sweat, my eyes were red with tears. I’m not ashamed to admit it.

I interrupted the typical Low Mass ceremony that takes place at 6:30pm everyday except on Sundays (5:15pm). There were three other people standing in silence facing Father Alan Moses. He looked at me, and said sternly,

“Son, if you’re here to pray, kneel before the Lord, find a seat, and confess your sins.”

For the first time, in ages, I cannot even recall how long it’s been, I bent a knee.

There was a power to the act of kneeling, a foregoing of our human stiffness. Let me clarify something here, I am not saying that I am a born again Christian or a man of the cloth – as always I am respectful and in awe of all faiths, of the strength of belief, of the humility of giving yourself to something greater. I am in awe of Iman.

I rose and took a seat, the first seat on the third row to the right as Father Moses continued,

“May all those who truly repent be forgiven for their sins.”

A little while into Mass, we were all called to receive Communion – non-Baptized folk could receive a blessing. As you would suspect, I went up and asked for one – something I now do every day.

“May the Lord bless you and all the angels pray for you.”

I knelt back down, feeling the power of something greater than me. Perhaps it was a heightened state of emotional reception or perception, perhaps it was the hurricane, but in kneeling, for the slightest moment, I found a sliver of peace. 

I now go to All Saints every morning, and kneel in front of that gilded arch. I don’t say any prayer, I don’t recite any scripture, I just kneel and imagine a hand on my head –

“May the Lord bless you and all the angels pray for you.”

Amen.

Microscope III: The Trilogy of Prayer

In the last 6 weeks, I have found myself engaging a variety of…spiritual pursuits. The kind that you have already read about and some of the more, eclectic variety – God men and mad men, touts and trumpets, fountains and fantasies. I genuinely enjoyed writing the piece on prayer. It was born out of a rather difficult experience, writing about which was even more cathartic than I originally admitted. As such, I thought I would turn the microscope onto the forms of prayer I had mentioned in that post. 

Stay tuned throughout the upcoming week for my Trilogy of Prayer – Kneeling, Standing, and Walking.

V

Bifocal banter: madness

An excellent piece by my friend, Amanda. An absolute privilege to be mentioned in it!

Amanda Schlumpf

London, August 1, 2017

Where the telescope ends, the microscope begins. Which of the two has the grander view?”

Victor Hugo, French poet, novelist, dramatist, invites us to ponder upon this question. The telescope enables us to see distant unreachable objects from close by; the microscope allows us to look deeply into the hidden workings of everything that is around us.

Both seem to show the obvious and simple, but reveal anything but that. They are merely magnifications.

In the end, our ordinary eyes and unconscious behaviour and bias see what they want to see. Everyone’s world has its own set of lenses.

As such, a friend of mine wrote a poem about madness, which subtly hints that madness is not really madness, but a sense of elevated perception. If we look closer into distance or proximity, there is no such thing as a grander view.

Madness

“Love…

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Microscope II: Madness

Not a lot of people know that I originally started by writing poetry – perhaps it’s apparent in my writing, perhaps it’s not. A wonderful friend of my describes my writing as that of a poet. As such I thought I would share a poem I wrote on my way to work a couple of months ago.

The piece is called Madness. I would love to get your thoughts on it!

Madness

Love on a real train,
Like a tangerine dream,
Louis the fifteenth
Draped in moonlight sonata.
A bird in the air,
Flanked by fireflies,
Blanketed by the clouds.
Frenzied obsessions,
Built on untrue confessions,
Find the hidden meaning,
Hear the blind nun screaming,
Ready your swords,
Guitars playing power chords.
Madness is not taught,
Neither is it earned or bought,
Madness is inherited brilliance,
Gifts of generational passing,
Percolating without asking,
Trickling into your brain,
Permeating every fiber of your being,
Giving you sight without seeing,
Traveling a thousand miles a second,
Count from one to five,
And see it come alive.

Happy Monday, my friends.

P.S. – Amanda, this post was inspired by you!