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.

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 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

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!

Telescope II: Prayer

What does it mean to have faith? How is it possible to show that you have faith? For most people, myself included, I would suspect that it is through prayer. But what is prayer? What does it mean to pray? I cannot speak for you, but I can certainly speak for myself.

I have never considered myself particularly religious. I was born into a Hindu household, but we were never religious. My grandmother chose not to eat beef primarily because her teeth hurt and it would be hard to chew. No, we were never religious. We respected all faiths at home – celebrating Diwali, fasting during Ramadan, lighting up a Christmas tree, and not really knowing what Kwanza was.

Our living room at home in Dubai is, to me, the most religiously harmonious place on the planet. In it, you will find a painting of Jesus looking at the serene face of Buddha. In it, you will find the Lord Ganesh, flanked by two paintings that say Allah. It’s no surprise that I have always considered that living room my happy place.

I will not lie to you, I did not write yesterday because I found myself in an emotionally difficult place. I will not lie to you, the last 6 weeks have been the hardest of my life – when you are faced with the idea that the life you imagined for yourself might not be possible, or presently impossible, you tend to give in to the sadness of loss. You tend to lose faith. You tend to lose Iman. Just thinking about it makes me uneasy.

In the last 6 weeks, I have found that there no greater peace than in re-embracing my spirituality.

So, what is prayer? To me, these days, prayer is peace. Prayer is singing to the universe and hoping to hear back. Prayer can be daily, it can be weekly, it can be every decade. But prayer is prayer.

I went to a temple for the first time in almost 10 years yesterday. 10 years. It’s such a humbling thought to realize that you have lived long enough to have last done something a decade ago. I walked past dozens of Hindu deities, the same prayer to each one. I sat with what could best be described as a cornucopia of old ladies, singing songs that could well have been in Chinese. Seated there, legs crossed, eyes closed, peaceful.

I go to church every day, Low Mass at All Saints on Margaret Street in Fitzrovia. My dear reader, if you ever wish to join me, to share in the peace of prayer, I will be there at 6:30pm every day. The ritual of contrition, of believing in something more powerful than yourself, the ritual of earning a blessing somehow puts my mind at ease. I spoke to a bishop of the church yesterday, asking him about the power of prayer,

“It’s not about asking the Lord for what you want, it’s about asking for the strength to be a better you in the service of good.”

Isn’t that beautiful?

I thought other rituals that I had somehow formed a spiritual connection with. Walking. I love going on long, ambling walks. I walked home from the temple yesterday – it took me 3 hours and I loved every second of it. I walked along a canal in the middle of London that ran for 7.8 miles. My mind raced the entire time, it zoomed way beyond the canal, way past London, across the world, to the East. How could it not? But taking one step after another, towards home, there is prayer in that.

There’s a wonderful, wonderful quote from a Bollywood movie I love, it’s called Delhi-6 and I suggest you watch it for all it’s manic brilliance. The original Urdu/Hindi goes something like this,

Zarre zarre mein uska noor hai,
Jhaank khud mein wo naa tujhse doore hai,
Ishq hai usse to sabse ishq kar,
Ishq hai usse to sabse ishq kar,
Iss ibaadat ka yahi dastoor hai,
Ismein usmein aur usmein hai wo hi,
Ismein usmein aur usmein hai wo hi,
Yaar mera har taraf bharpoor hai.

Roughly translated it means,

His light permeates each and every particle
Look within yourself, he is not far from you
If you love him, then love everyone
If you love him, then love everyone
As these are the rules of prayers to him
He’s in you, them and everybody
He’s in you, them and everybody
My friend is there completely in all directions

So take a moment, a brief flutter of your day, to think about what it means to you to pray. Think about the rituals that you share not with others but with something above you, something within you. Take a moment to appreciate it, to smile while doing it. Take a moment to remember that prayer is a beautiful, beautiful ritual. And maybe, just maybe, prayer can have the power to work. Take a moment to remember that faith, that Iman, it exists everywhere and in everything.

Have a good week, my friends.

The Coffee Shop

I find it tremendously hard to focus these days. As I sit here, in the Nordic Bakery in Soho, London, I remember my thoughts about writing in coffee shops – how invigorating people I knew used to find the smell of freshly ground coffee in the morning as they hid themselves in the deep recesses of dark coffee shops while the sun shone outside. I was always more of a sunshine person, the warmth on my skin, like a blanket enveloping me as I faced the world outside. Come to think of it, I was always an “outside” person, I would stand under an umbrella in the rain, outside. I would watch snow fall in a ski jacket, outside. I was never built for the coffee shop.

But somehow, today, I find myself in a coffee shop. There’s a very large latte to my right, adjacent to the laptop on which I write, to my left is a picture – I’ll tell you about it one day. With any luck, I will explain it the way I wish I can. I write a lot, in recent days, I’ve written even more, always for myself. I smell the coffee next to me and it gives me what I have been craving, so desperately, for the last few weeks – focus. I sip the coffee, to my great surprise, it truly is invigorating. 

So, in this temporary reprieve of mental stability, let me introduce you to this blog. Have you ever watched the movie, Chef? If not, I suggest you do. If you have, I suggest you watch it again. This is my food truck. I will have my own food truck one day, when a career, a non-restrictive visa situation, when all the operational difficulties of life aren’t a factor anymore. Until then, I hope I can serve you my words.

The name of this blog is Iman. Iman means faith. To me faith is belief. Not just belief in the power of the universe, it’s ability to resonate back to you. It is also my belief in myself, in the power that I possess to cause change. Whether it is to end conflict in the world, to achieve my goals, or, perhaps, to win back a heart. Faith is a sweet, sweet poison, it permeates every inch of you, it binds with your soul. As much as I wish I could take credit for this, I remember someone telling me about a quote by Victor Hugo,

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

Victor, you beautiful bastard.

Iman is about the telescope – my long term vision, and the microscope – my self, my best self. And the faith to achieve both.