A few days ago, I did a post and my story behind a new project I've been working on, Jeddah Reads. It is a project that aims to build a positive and vibrant reading culture in the region through different initiatives. One of the current initiatives I'm working on, is building libraries in schools that don't have them. Since this is just the beginning of the project, I'm working with very limited funds and resources and there have been many kind people who have asked if they could help out in any way possible so I decided to put down a post through which people can. I don't need funds but I do need help in kind. 

A little bit of a background
Apart from bookshelves and labour, one of the main resources needed for the libraries are the books, of course. As per the requirement of different schools, we need a majority of Arabic and English books and for some, we may even need a limited collection of French books, each for different age categories. According to different school's requirements, there are four types of libraries we are looking to build:

1. Small (320 Books)
2. Medium (500-660 Books)
3. Big (1200-1800 Books)
4. Portable Weekly Library for Schools that don't have the space (Differs based on the school's requirement and number of children) 

Age Categories
1. 3-5 years
2. 6-8 years
3. 9-11 years
4. 11-13 years
5. 13-15
6. 15 and up

Where you can help?
We've put down this list, the different books we need for all age categories. Apart from the list, here are the categories of books we are looking at, and here's where you can help, donate your books or volunteer to buy one or two of them and have it sent to us here. 

Book Categories:
1. Fiction & Poetry (all kinds, books from this list are appreciated, culturally diverse fiction including middle east fiction,  poetry collections, graphic novels, etc)
2. Non-Fiction (good biographies, self-help & development, memoirs, history, philosophy, how-to books, travel books, etc) 
3. Skill-Based Books: This would be part of the non-fiction category but to bring special attention, we would like books that teach different skills, especially for children. 

1. English and Arabic. Especially, famous works of literature translated in Arabic would be required. 
2. French. We don't have a list for this but very basic french reading would be nice since some schools do require it.

How to go about it?

People Worldwide: If you do want to buy or already have books you don't mind donating part of the list, then email us at jeddahreads@gmail.com with the name of book/books you are willing to send and we'll revert back with the mailing address. You may check out Book Depository, Better World Books, Eurospan Bookstore, Wordery for free worldwide delivery options or check out this list for other options as well. 

If you want to donate a book that is NOT part of the list, then please send us an email with the book/books you want to send. We will do a quick check and confirm whether we can take in those books or not. Since these are for schools, we want to make sure we get quality books that meet certain standards and wouldn't be willing to take anything and everything. 

People living in Jeddah: We're gonna have a book drop off station starting from tomorrow  (23rd February) for two weeks, between 1o am to 6 pm at Al-Hamra. Please email us, with the name of the books and we will send in the exact location where the books can be dropped off. 

Other ways you can support this project:

1. If you are part of an organisation or yourself as an individual would like to sponsor a part or the complete library for one school, then email us at jeddahreads@gmail.com and we can get back to you with the cost details. 

2. If you are a writer or publisher and want to send in your books, email us. 

3. For those living in Jeddah and are interested in volunteering to build these libraries, contact us with a short introduction about yourself. We need all the help we can get.

4. Spread the word. 

5. Follow us on all our social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram & Pinterest

For all those are willing to support this project in any way, thank you in advance <3 
Art by Igor Morski

Sometimes, I tend to keep a couple of things to myself. Sometimes, work demands not to. People have asked, are asking. So, what is ‘Jeddah Reads’? Some people mistook it for a book club and some, for a random Facebook page. It is none of the two and this is the story behind it. 

About two years back, in November 2014 to be exact, I was interning with a social enterprise here in Jeddah, called the Young Initiative Group. It was part of my college’s requirement to intern in the social development sector. One thing I have been extremely grateful to my college for, because it didn’t only allow me to go venture out to intern but, it opened my eyes to the social and development sector and the hidden influence media and advertising had to offer in this sector. During this internship, I also met two of the most genuine people in my life, Fidaa Al-Hassan and Dania Al-Masri who have been my guardian angels to say the least and older sisters throughout my internship and also, ahead in this project.

We had a small office, I was as always very quiet amongst everyone but I think three of us shared the common introversion connection and our shared passion for social causes (and books). One day, Fidaa who is an advertising graduate herself, asked me about my prospects in my field and what I loved about it. I shared with her my aspirations of taking up media and advertising in specific because I thought it could be applied wonderfully for social causes, if implemented correctly. Something, I delved into deeper during a course module on 'Social Change Communication'. I didn't really want to work for brands and commercial products. I wanted to use communication that would go beyond commercialisation and perhaps, change perceptions of not wanting to buy products but instead towards a particular cause or maybe just at being better people? We were on the same page on this one and she asked me to use my office time to research on different social causes that needed attention in Jeddah.

After a few days, I had a list of ten causes I thought were important locally, with basic research on each one of them. The list included causes such as respect for all nationalities, giving to the needy, attitude towards the opposite gender, women empowerment, treatment of maid servants, traffic rules, cleanliness, promoting books and reading, unemployment and wastage of food. She then asked me to pick the three most important and feasible ones and trowel into more research and finally, we would pick one that I could work on as my own independent project. At that point in time, given the high penetration and use of social media in the region, I was mostly looking at it as a ‘Social Media for a Cause’ project and the three shortlisted causes were; a) Treatment towards maid servants, b) Promoting an active books and reading culture and c) Women Empowerment (of course!) 

Obviously, the cause of reading won the popular vote, not only because I was passionate about it myself but because, there was nothing like it in the region and the consequences of not having it, undoubtedly creates ripple effects. If you're reading this I don't think I need to tell you why exactly it is important. It's not even about the field of literature  but, just a basic habit that is essential in everyone's life regardless of what he or she does professionally.

The cause to work on had been decided but I couldn’t do anything without the right research.  There was a share of secondary research, but nothing Jeddah specific and nothing concrete. I spent the next two weeks developing questionnaires, spread across diverse people in Jeddah. People who came from different countries, worked at different companies and went to different universities and schools. It wasn’t too widespread per se, but it was enough to determine the significant data I needed at that point, some insights being, 96.5% of the respondents believing that there was a definite need to create awareness for a positive and inviting reading culture in the city. Out of the respondents, 48% of them were readers themselves.

What more motivation did I need, right?

The reasons behind the lack of such a culture cannot be attributed towards one reason alone but, is really just a combination of different things. Some of them being simple things that we may have taken for granted, like a library in our schools. You will be surprised at the lack of libraries in many public schools in Jeddah and education is supposed to be free here, locally, at least. There is no lack of funds but, there is a lack of interest, a lack of awareness, the lack of effort. Other reasons include the access to good books. There are namely two bookstore chains here. Jarir Bookstores and Virgin Megastores, apart from that you will not see independent bookstores or anything more than just these two or of course there are many, only selling school textbooks though. Sadly, even the bookstores hold a limited variety of books than what we are used to in other places, and even then, they’re pricey. I was lucky I was part of the Indian Embassy School during my schooling years in Jeddah. We had a well stocked library and library classes dedicated to quiet reading times. I spent my last one and half years of high-school in another school, Indian oriented but a private school partnership of the like, and we had just one tiny room that was supposed to be a library. It didn’t include anything beyond a few children books and we were barely made to visit the library. It was a pathetic excuse for a library, really. Today, my sister who is in the same school talks about how they’re rather discouraged to read for pleasure because, “pay attention to your academics” almost forgetting that academic books alone will not help children prosper.

I think we undermine the power schools and our curriculums have at large in inculcating a basic and one of life’s most important habit and of course, the problem doesn't end there. Some of us may have even grown up with libraries in our schools but yet, as we grow up we lose touch due to different reasons and thanks to the distractive digital age right now, the chances of being turned away to our screens and not our books is pretty high and to be honest, I am guilty about this myself. 

The problems are multifaceted. It includes the local system, the lack of effort, lack of a literary market, the lack of literary events, the baffled mindset, the cultural barriers and so much more. I could write a paragraph on each of the causes and their respective effects in this context but I will leave that maybe, for another time.

Under the research conducted, out of a list of reasons to pick from, most respondents believed “Lack of good bookstores and public libraries”, “Lack of awareness and exposure” and “Attitude of the people” were the top three hindrances contributing to the lack of such a culture and an interesting insight from one of them, when asked what got them to read said; 

Being an Arab, I read a fact about readers across the globe that said,
An average Israeli reads 8 books a year.
An average American reads 4 books a year.
In ever 4 Arabs, ONE reads a book a year.
So I decided to increase the number of books I read to 1 book each month.”

Other inputs on the same, included; 

"I've always loved stories, but what attracts me most is the understanding of human psyche that I get from books. With all the reading that I've done, I've come to understand people, cultures and societies better - but most of all I've developed an acceptance for all kinds of people. "

"I was inspired by my siblings and my family friends who meet up every now and then to discuss a book they've read, more like a book club."

"It helps you relate and think you're not alone in the struggle whatever it is. Also books and words make you feel like you're part of a bigger world."

"Intellectual stimulation"

It was heartwarming to learn what got people to start reading, it was motivating to learn that this project did have more potential than I thought. I was highly determined to go forward with this. I created a digital campaign plan, a content calendar to go with it and looked up more than 30 social campaigns on similar causes over the world to keep me inspired and told myself, okay, this is it. Except, I had to go back to India and back to college (cause, of course I need my degree) and with time I realized even just having it solely on the internet is probably not going to change anything. I told myself I'd work on it whenever I got back to Jeddah.

I was in the beginning of my second year back then and eventually with time, I learned that everything I was learning could be applied towards what I wanted to do. I knew I couldn't do it unless I am physically in Jeddah but it's never too early to start planning. I'm the kind of person who always tends to carry a little notebook around, so during flights, classes, lectures and random evenings, I would always be jotting down ideas, pointers and rough plans. When I moved back to Jeddah, I sat down with my notes, with all the different ideas and I began figuring where to fit all the pieces together and before I could do that, there were always a few obstacles, family commitments and last minute travels. Months passed but, finally I settled in by November. I met some lovely people. Before kickstarting it all, I needed to go out there, locally, look at what I could find and Alhumdulillah, I'm glad I've found people who are supportive and open to the idea and are always willing to help in different ways. I want to give people the credit they deserve, Fidaa and Dania who have always helped me to brainstorm every other week and refine my ideas and Mariam Al-Abbas from The Humming Tree who allowed me to put together my plan in a clearer manner. 

It's February 2017 now. I have managed to put together my pieces together and to be honest, things are not extremely easy to do here, especially in comparison to India so I don't know how far this project will reach but I'm hoping I can achieve what I have set my mind to. When people ask, what is it, this is what I have to say. It is a project, that aims at building a vibrant reading culture in the region, through different initiatives. It involves many layers because problems that are multifaceted, do not have single solutions. It includes building libraries in schools that don't have any, it includes inculcating reading cultures within work environments, it involves meaningful local collaborations, community events and bringing in the reading culture within public spaces and a lot more that I don't want to give away too soon but what I can give away is, I've managed to learn and adapt a lot of what I've learnt in Advertising to this model. Advertisers and Communication professionals around the world work tremendously to convince, influence people's mindsets and behaviours and it is safe to say that, it is exactly what I'm trying to do, too. I want to make Jeddah Read.  

P.S: For everyone who has asked about how they can help and support this project, there are a few ways you can help in kind, I will be putting up another post on how to go about it, by tomorrow.
'Art Lessons' by Pascal Campion
The other day, I stepped outside about half an hour before iftaar (the time we break our fast) and across signals and streets I saw young boys distributing dates, food and drinks to people passing by in cars. This month, this social enterprise I previously interned with, has actively been involved in their monthly "Iftaar Sayem" where they train young volunteers to work for 30 months in packaging and  distributing food across various poor neighborhoods in Jeddah. Similarly, there are various organizations who actively work at giving food supplies for the month of Ramadan and many even for the entire year. I remember this one time, I was inspired and drawn by someone because of their niceness, generosity, whatever one wants to call it. One morning at 7 am, me and a friend of mine were out for a cup of chai (I remember this being during Ramadan, so he was sipping tea, while I watched) While being engrossed in our conversation, a middle aged poor lady came begging for money, outside the tapri.  Instead of loosely handing over change, he asked her, "kya chahiye?" "bas chai peeni hai thodi" she replied, honestly.  He said to the bhaiyaa, who was brewing the usual adrak ki chai "usse chai de do, jo bhi chahiye, mei baad mei pay karta hoon" and it was just that, that warmed my heart. It may seem like it was a small thing, it was just tea right but, I think most people on the other hand would have probably just given out some change or many, would have ignored her completely. It's always been these little things that have drawn me to people, and have inspired me in some way or the other.

The point of putting these little snippets together is to remind myself and reflect on the act of giving. How, people in our community sometimes seem to focus on other acts rather than this, simple yet extremely rewarding and a heartfelt, contenting act.  I've realized that most times, it is the genuinely nice people, the people who give out good vibes, who are the ones to give and who have within them the quality of being generous and giving.

The other day, I was watching these tiny, 4-minute episodes of Tariq Ramadan's Ramadan Chronicles Series where he quite consistently talks about the act of giving and serving the poor and how this is a fundamental part of Islam. After praying, it's the second pillar of Islam, Zakat (refers to donating or using a certain percentage of your earnings to help the poor. Most people do this by calculating their yearly amount and dividing that for different purposes such as donating to needy children's complete education, school renovations, winter blankets, food supplies for the year, etc spread across the year) , which I personally feel people probably take for granted or don't talk about enough but should be, considering the amount of lives it helps and of course, I think it slightly makes the giver's life better, happier, warmer.

Giving, though I think could be in any form and not necessarily money. For young people like us, who aren't really earning yet, it could probably just mean dedicating time to a volunteering organization who require people to give time out to distribute meals, it could mean giving out extra blankets in the winter or water during the summer.  It could mean giving out  knowledge, whether it's through teaching someone a skill you're good at it, or just by giving someone the right book that would open their mind. Giving could also maybe mean, giving love to the people who need it. Not everyone needs money, someone out there probably just needs inspiration too . It could actually mean so many different things for different people and I guess that's the beauty of it all, because that just means the world could get better, a little better than it is through these little acts, the consequences of which often go unnoticed. Sometimes, while going through tumblr feeds, I often realize that there are so many great stories out there, some great artists who take inspiration from reality and all that's around them to construct deeper meanings within, there are some great poets out there who make you feel happy because of that one line that, probably gets you to ponder aimlessly and there are times when I think, that maybe sometimes these are the things that go unnoticed. Not every one's piece of writing, picture of a sketch is going to go viral or get a million hits and notes, but I guess it's just the little impact it manages to create for an ordinary person like you and me, it's all part of giving and sharing; giving out positive things, important ideas, creative inspiration, thoughts worth thinking about, information that you'd never known otherwise and just even mere happiness that creeps in because you read that random, yet important comic. That's the other thing that's beautiful, the ability of the internet in helping us make sharing the good things much easier and for today, for me, this is just the one thought I want to let this post linger with.

Since this post has been revolving around this theme, there's this really important campaign I came across, Just One Bookdedicated to rebuild and restock a library in a town of 1200 people in Northern Sierra Nevada. In short, the library here is not stocked enough, in fact books here haven't been stocked well since 1992. They're approaching people to donate any one book they wish, keeping in mind that they're using them to help young people open their minds about different things so, diverse books and classics are highly appreciated! There's also an Amazon Wishlist the blogger has put down in case you're not sure which books work. Do have a look and help out if you can. 

"When you learn, teach, when you get, give." — Maya Angelou
Artwork by Pascal Campion
It's been a long while since I last posted here. I'd say time passed by with college, graduation, emotional outbursts , moving countries and such but at the end of the day we all know it's also quite procrastination that comes into play.

It's been a month since I moved back to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia after completing 3 years of college in Pune, India. It was possibly the most life transforming and beautiful years of my life, to myself I often say, "It was another world". Well, more about that some other time. 

As an attempt to bring back my blog to life and mainly, get back to writing before I forget my basics, I thought I'd start with a simple Ramadan Series, that would help me reflect and write about the different thoughts that fuel me every day during this month and since an integral part of Ramadan is to alter your routine, mend and make new habits, I think it makes sense. However, these thoughts may or may not be religious in nature because lets be honest, just because it's Ramadan we all don't have solely religious retrospections and thoughts lingering all the time. The funny thing though about this is, it is the fourth day of Ramadan today and I've only been able to write one post yet. Mending habits they say? One's got to start somewhere. Interestingly, I remember reading somewhere, that on an average it takes about 3 weeks for a person to build a new habit or quit an old one. In life, many times we find ourselves trying to struggle with the different things in our lives. There are times when we've all tried to break a bad habit or have tried to inculcate a new habit into our routine and as experience says, it's actually not that easy and I think that is mostly because, we don't see results in one go or we sort of just give up in a way and I don't mean in the deep philosophical way but, in the simple way because of how we are. A very good example of that would be, when I was trying to build on my "early morning" habit, I aimed at 6 am everyday and in the beginning there were times when I instead woke up at 6:45 am or 7:45 am and found myself to be instantly disappointed and convinced myself that I should go back to sleep cause I did not wake up at 6 am and looking back I think about how silly that was but, it probably does happen to all of us within different moments of our lives, within the different actions and habits we try to mend.
“You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” - Darren Hardy 
Recently, I was reading this wonderful piece on the similar theme and how the writer found ways to build on her morning habits, which consequently helped her become a more productive person. Similarly, my brother the other day talked about this book, The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy which talks about almost the same thing in a much profound way. About the little choices we make. The habits we mend and the routine we try and recreate every single day and how that's quite integral in our personal and professional lives. With the beginning of Ramadan there have been several reminders explaining just that, that this isn't just the month of fasting and the ability to try and live without food and water from sunrise to sunset. It is a profound  month that motivates you to mend your ways,  indulge in the good; whether it's through volunteering for social projects and various charity drives or whether it's just about controlling your anger and language and being kind to people. It is essentially a month that is not the means or the end but the beginning of a better self and I think this could mean a million little things for different people.  For me, right now it's mostly about mending my ways, one of which includes filling a blank page everyday.
“It's not the big things that add up in the end; it's the hundreds, thousands, or millions of little things that separate the ordinary from the extraordinary.” -The Compound Effect | Darren Hardy
Art by Pascal Campion
That moment when you were low on sleep so you stood there in the rain laughing at 3 am, at a bus stand. 
The time when you broke down and cried because,  life just didn't seem to make any sense as you searched for something deeper.
That night when the electricity went off and you and your friends decided to celebrate new years right there, amidst candle lights and impromptu karaoke sessions. 
That moment when you didn't want to hold hands and they did right inside your bag.
That moment when you met someone for the first time and all you felt were positive vibes.
That moment when you danced in front of an audience for the first time.
That moment when you put on something or started practicing something for the first time.
That moment when you opened a page of a book and the words within connected to every inch of you.
That moment when you were so tired after an Ed Sheeran concert and you fell deep asleep in the bus back, amidst the heavy rain, cold night and warm friends.
That moment when you read a wonderful story and felt inexplicably overwhelmed and lost in the real world. 
That moment when the words just didn't come out at the right time.
That moment when you blurt out all the wrong words.
That moment when you witnessed the Niagara falls for the first time and wondered what paradise would be like.
That moment when the cutting chai was just perfect whilst the cold breeze blew and the rain poured a little.
That night when you and your friend "got high on life" and sang along the night while it stayed young.
That moment when you looked into his eyes with that knowing look, trying to speak what words hadn't.
That moment when you spent your time with tears and silence cause you realized you'd been too naive.
That moment when you turned blank in front of a crowd, even when the craving to say the things out loud were creeping in but, then you realized you were just an awkward penguin.
That moment when your batch felt like one big loving family and you thought nothing in the world could break that kind of love and togetherness.
That moment when the music somehow synchronized with the thoughts inside your head and the feelings within. 
That moment when realized you had lost a friend.
The time when you  talked about unsaid feelings and honest rambles only to make your soul feel lighter.
That moment when you hugged someone for five whole minutes, for the first time.
That time when you found out that, someone had been lying and cheating on you the whole time.
That moment of  high after watching a beautiful film.
That moment when a whatsapp conversation took on to a new leap, to something you'd never imagined could happen.
That time when you thought you'd made a fool out of yourself at dinner cause all you did was laugh at things that weren't even funny. 
That moment when your batch won and the rain just poured in that very moment of victory.
That moment when you could suddenly make sense of the inexplicable connection you have had with someone.
That moment when your heart raced a little faster, your stomach knots tangled within and uninvited somersaults took place. 
That moment when two of you were perfectly comfortable in each other’s silence.
That moment when you finally built up the courage to confess to someone that you'd been in love with them.
That moment when all your doubts came true.
That moment when your thoughts met clarity.
That time when you danced your ass off cause finally people didn't matter as much anymore.
That time when you met someone for the first time without realizing the impact they were going to have in your life. 
The time you spent hours in a library just talking about different things that mattered with someone you hadn't really been close to.
The time when you spent those minutes in the car with your family, holding on to the silence cause goodbyes were too hard. 
That time when you had your family reunion after more than a year and all you were  grateful for was being born in that very family.
That moment when you witnessed the sun set beautifully across a rather busy street.
That moment when hours passed and you were still there, at the dining table with your family laughing at irrelevant jokes.
The time when you sat all night talking utter bullshit to your older sister cause all she had was a CA exam the next day.
The time when you randomly danced at a bookstore cause they were playing The Tide is High.
That time when your childhood friends thought it was fun to experiment waxing on each other.
The time when you felt so grown up just because your older sister started sharing her inner most secrets with you.
That moment you realized that growing up was actually overrated.
The time when someone dedicated a book to you and all you were left with were no words.
The time when as a child your dad bought you that 120  Faber Castell colour pencil set and you couldn't imagine if there was anything as beautiful as that. 
That moment when you stole money for the first time cause all you wanted was a packet full of candy.
The time when you started understanding the  difference between right from wrong.
The time when you suddenly couldn't figure right from wrong anymore.
That moment when you spent the stormy night on a balcony swing with your best friend, contemplating life and all that lied ahead.

The thing with these moments are that, they are never really "little" as they may seem and they never really come back in their true essence. Perhaps they're never meant to that way, just like how they were never anticipated or planned for. These are the moments that merely cease to happen and the marks and influences they leave on us are often underestimated, understated and most importantly, irreplaceable. 

Lucas Scott, in a voice over from One Tree Hill once said, "As happens sometimes a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment. And sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment. And then the moment was gone."
Love is not calling every night and love is not texting every minute or texting first. Love is not liking the same things or appreciating the same art. Love is not lust or infatuation and love is not the amount of selfies you take. Love is not the number of dates you've been on or the places you've been together. Love is not your Facebook relationship status or your Instagram dedicated posts. Love is not all the goodmornings and goodnights. Love is not telling each other you love them every single night. Love is not the amount of hugs, roses and kisses. Love is not baby, honey or babe.  Love is the way mom makes sure dad's shirt and tie go together to match his pants and love is the way  dad makes sure we have juice packs ready for school. Love is sharing a special book with someone and love is the way you hold your books so close because the words within mean so much. Love is sleeping on my parents bed and feeling a different comfort and warmth altogether. Love is dad turning red on the mention of mom jokes and love is mom making our favorite dishes just so we can have a good meal.  Love is the infinite happiness you feel when you meet someone after a long time and love is finding time for someone no matter how busy you are. Love is reading a book or watching a film and thinking to yourself, "This person so gets me." Love is living away for 7 years and still managing feel the same spark of love within and love is not being bored of each other even after years of being together. Love is being able to find a connection with someone you've never even met and love is thinking of him or her transcending the barriers of time and distance. Love  is being there for someone even if they haven’t been there for you. Love is mom making sure the tea is perfect for dad and love is the way my little sister hides in the closet just so she can scare my brother and they could laugh about it for the next one week. Love is feeling at ease and comfort just by talking to someone. Love is the sadness you feel in someone else's sorrow and the smile that creeps in in their happiness. Love is praying for someone in secret, ignoring how bitter they've been towards you. Love is feeling guilty after sinning and love is forgiveness. Love is your submission to God cause you trust him with fate and all the things you cannot comprehend. Love is the way dad wakes up for fajr and tries to make sure we all do too. Love is having someone believe in your dreams and love is the thoughts you're thinking from  miles apart. Love is helping someone cause you genuinely want them to do well and love is admiring someone for who they are rather than how they look. Love is my sister texting her husband every time she leaves the office and Love is mom making sure everything is organized at home.Love is fate and love is universal. Love is not limited to a guy and a girl, but an amalgamation of all that is around us. Love is not a noun, perhaps it is a verb or maybe love can never exactly be defined but it sure can be found if only we do look around. 

I flick back my daughter’s curly locks. Her curly locks and hazel eyes are what make her mine. “She looks so much like you, a little Sara isn’t she?” They say. I’m glad she does because, looking at her delicate little eyes mirroring mine, I adored the power of creation vested to all mothers. There are no visible traces of her father. She is a fine young lady now. They ask, but I do not answer, or humor them with a friendly nonchalant shrug. They talk but I choose to ignore; some things are meant to be hidden, meant to be buried behind. After all everyone lives with that potent secret within and this was mine. A secret attached to the strings of the past, of the bygone. It was secret to be kept, for it instilled fear where it pricked the most. A secret that wasn’t meant for the open ears of the world, for it was a sin and most sins are our greatest secrets.

I was eleven and I was wearing my light blue frock with those lacey frills on it, I’d always been typical girl ever since. We were at our Alibagh farmhouse for Mother’s family’s annual reunion. It was not every day that Kabir Mamu and his family were in India after all. Like every summer, Kabir Mamu’s family would come down to India and what followed was an event of gala dinners, political debates, enquiries about the children, and ice-cream extravaganzas. The ice-creams were always there, and at that age, it was those rich dollops that excited me the most. Kabir Mamu was one of my favorites. He bought me chocolates and candies that you’d never get in India, along with pretty skirts and random souvenirs that were thrown in a new bag every time.
Kabir Mamu had two children, both were older than me. Sami was three years older and his elder sister Zara was studying to become a doctor. She was too old to play along with the little ones, but Sami somehow enjoyed playing with me and our five cousins. We were called ‘the little ones’.

That year we were playing in the little garden outside the farmhouse; it boasted of a small unicorn sculpture too that sprouted water from its horn. We all belonged to the same age group. Sami, being fourteen was the oldest, and supposedly hip, but still loved to spend most of his time with us.  Like all the children all over the world, we were playing hide and seek and Adnan was counting while the rest of us rushed to find the best place to hide. Hide and Seek is one of the evergreen games that have been played for centuries, long before the men came up with wooden and electrical toys.
There were a bunch of bushes outlined along a circular path. “Come, come here, no one will find us here.” Sami called out as he guided me to hide with him behind those bushes. One generally trusts someone older to be creatively amazing in coming up with the most interesting places to hide. It has always been such.

“Sami, what are you doing here? Mummy’s calling you. Go.”  Kabir Mamu called, one hand on the back of the unicorn.

“Papa! We’re hiding. Go away, he’ll catch us.” Sami whispered, motioning him to keep moving.

“Sami! Go bĂȘte, I will hide with her if you want. Go. Mummy’s calling.”

Sami muttered something and got up as his father squeezed down and got closer to hide with me. He smiled cheekily and I smiled back, no one was going to find us here after all. We waited; the smiles still in the air.

He held my hands, and peeked from behind the bush. He cupped my cheeks, and stroked my hair. I had always liked Mamu. His hands agilely went up to my then barely developed breasts, caressed them and gradually stroked my thighs. I shrugged a little then, for I felt slightly uncomfortable.

“You’ve grown up quite a bit haven’t you, Sara” he said, whilst he put his hands on my waist.

“Mhmm” I responded unknowingly.

I felt strange, I shrugged and he stopped but it felt weirdly eerie, darkly unsettling. Sometimes you don’t need someone to tell you what is right or what is wrong, the feeling within is deep enough to convince you.

He smiled cheekily, and I smiled back as I viewed Sami standing at the distance. As a kid it was funny to see my cousin secretly, not listening to their parent.  But, sometimes it wasn’t listening that mattered. It was observing.

Seven years had passed. I was in college in the United States, studying Economics. I’d never had a boyfriend whilst most of my friends did. Having a boyfriend always meant that there were going to be physical touch, and I was too fearful of that. The typical family reunion continued, year after year. Kabir Mamu always looked at me in a strange manner, leering, I figured later. His eyes and the unsolicited showing of teeth held me back every time he came close. I was growing up and my instincts and consciousness were only growing stronger, maturity came dawning. I didn’t smile at him anymore; I could barely look him in the eye. The thought, the inadvertent sensation of his touch back then would still come back to me every time I touched myself. I felt like a stranger to my own body, because I felt I had betrayed it.  I remember when my mother was trying on a piece of clothing on me and I shivered a little away as she touched me.“Don’t be shy, silly girl” she said. I wasn’t being shy. But she wouldn’t know, no one would know.

We were at the farmhouse in Alibagh, again, like always. It was nearing midnight, the aunties and uncles were sharing stories over drunk laughter while I was sitting in a one of the first floor rooms, alone, spending time with my books. Snuggling up in bed with an old hardback parchment-smelling book, and a loose nightie draped over, is my fondest of all fondest memories. I still remember the aqua-blue nightie and the copy of Jane Eyre of that day.

The door opened and Sami walked into the room. I shot up to sit modestly and put on the blanket over my thighs.

“Hi there”, he said smiling.

We had lost touch gradually as we were growing up. Hide and seek was a thing of the past or, was it really?

“Hey, what are you doing here?” I asked, my love for my privacy and my time, shattered. Briefly, I hoped.

“Well I  just wanted to chill you know?”  He said as he came and sat on my bed, yawning as if this was normal.

“Yeah, well I was just going to sleep anyway.” I said casually as I tried to avoid conversation and wished for him to leave soon.

“Oh well, you could do with some company, right?” He smiled a smile I knew well. And to the horror I wished wasn’t, he looked at me and rested his hand on my thigh.

“Excuse me?”

“Yeah? What is it Sara, stop being this shy girl that you’ve become. Remember how we used to play together?” he said, it stung and swelled in me a sense of vexation.
As I took a few seconds to string together words to be thrown back, his seconds were used in pulling out the blanked in one swift motion.

“It’s hot isn’t it.”

“Umm no it’s alright” I replied in reflex and took back my blanket.

“C’mon Sara.”

“What’s wrong with you, Sami? Just go, go hang out with people your age who would actually want to be with you”

“You know you’re a woman now.”

I screamed. I called out. No one heard me. But I didn’t struggle. Before my voice could reach out to the drunken beings outside, the string of moments passed by quickly. Nothing was said, while it transpired. The sound of the unbuckling of his belt, the known sensation of his hands over my breasts, the mien of his dominance over my body, the gasp of the first thrust, and the tears, left me scarred. The pain and consequences  lingered behind as he left like a bird that had just finished its pecking of grains.

“A child out of wedlock?” they say in astonishment. My family was quiet, unnervingly cold. I had expected anger, frustration, disowning, and worse. What I was met with, was perpetual silence. We were a family that drank alcohol, ate pork, never prayed five times a day and the least, we rarely ever fasted. Everyone including us knew we were Muslims, just by namesake. But the notion of a child out of wedlock was now subjected to a major sin. Oh, the irony. People somehow, never failed to surprise me.

“Abort the child, what will people say?”

“Okay, give it for adoption at least? You are so young, how will you take care of this child?”

I didn’t tell them and I didn’t fight back but I conceived and I am, yet bringing up my own daughter. “You are a woman now” he had  said after all.  
Settling comfortably in the United States took time to get accustomed to. I didn’t have the money, or the father. I became a teacher, my Economics degree now defunct. I saw the first graders, and wondered how many of them were born out of such dark nights and above the hardbound copy of Jane Eyre. None, I hoped.  

“Sara, are you sure you’re okay with me publishing your story?”

Yes . I am a woman now and a real woman does not hide. A real woman does not embrace pain in silence. No, not anymore. A secret can only be bottled up for so long. The bottle needs to be opened and some secrets are meant to be unrivalled . They say some of our sins are our greatest secrets but this isn’t my sin after all.

I looked at the student. She was from one of the batches I had taught, a good fifteen years after coming to US. Well, my daughter wants to be a writer. 
Part 1

I woke up to the noise in my head. Thoughts were gushing in, scattered, and interrupting one another.  I checked my phone for the time. 4:50 am. I still had another four hours before college. Not that I attended classes anyway. I switched on my mobile data and checked if she’d left any message. Nope, nothing. There wasn't any message and I didn't leave any either.  I knew I should have, But I didn't. Like this, for most things in my life, I didn't know. The only thing I was sure of was my ambition. People called me over ambitious but I didn't see that as a bad thing. I was almost towards the end of my college life. My career was approaching but again, it seemed like a blurry picture too. My life was as messed up and cluttered as the thoughts in my head. 

We met virtually. It was amazing how easily we could converse and exchange thoughts. We shared a couple of similarities which is what brought us together, emotionally. We both loved tea and we both happened to like philosophy. We shared the same favourite colour and we also enjoyed talking about books. These were little things, but I figured it collectively had to mean something. We were compatible I thought and she was lovely. The one major thing that set us apart was our music. I was a metal head and she, a soft rock girl. I never showcased my emotional side and she, I sensed was probably an open book of emotions.  I didn't realize how a year had passed by so quickly. We’d been talking almost every day, connecting thoughts and building emotions but, we hadn't met yet and other realizations were built instead. I couldn't balance this anymore I thought. My ambitions were important. I didn't quite know how she could be so optimistic about us, I couldn't anymore. The distance was too much and my career was something I had to look forward to. I know I was hurting her, I know I was leaving her hanging but, like everything else, I didn't know.

Part 1

wasn't sure if I was over analysing everything.. Every word said. Every punctuation placed and every emotion expressed.

He said, “You have to be brave.” Friends say I've been too naive. People say you have to be strong. They say you should be indifferent. But, I wasn't. I wasn't exactly strong; I broke apart every time someone left. I was what they called ‘too attached’. I was emotionally attached to be precise. The fragments of my emotions depended on people. I couldn't be indifferent. I dwelled on little details. The one word he said. The one word he didn't say. The promises he left empty. The disappearance before he even appeared.

We were cities and miles apart, yet I gave away a piece of me. Just like that. Maybe I was too faithful. Maybe I was too optimistic. Once, in conversation and tales with a friend, she mentioned that, I am too optimistic and apparently, that wasn't a good thing. It was eerie to hear that. It wasn't because optimism wasn't exactly a negative thing but, because no one quite knew about the pessimistic thoughts I’d moored to the forsaken pier sides, deep within me. No one knew of the insecurities that were built inside.

Part 2

There has always been so much pressure around me. I was the oldest; I had my set of responsibilities that I had to perform. I had to make sure I matched up to people’s expectations and I had to make sure I did well to eventually get a good job and further work towards all those goals I had set for a long time now.  For boys, it’s always been like that. Our lives are structured in a way to make us drive and strive towards our goals and I'm not sure she understood that completely. I wanted to tell her to give it time and maybe destiny would bring us back together. She understood philosophy after all. Instead, I ran out of words. I let our conversation afloat and I knew exactly what this was doing to her. But, again. I didn't know. 

Part 2

I was in my room. My walls were painted red and black. There were quotes, lyrics, lights and photographs showcased by the black backdrop, while the red walls were shared with my exclusive bookshelf that held all my books, my companions as some called it.

I was just back from a tea-coffee evening with a friend. I was tired, not only because of the long day but, my thoughts tired me. Putting my head to rest, I thought to myself, maybe my friend was right. Maybe I was too optimistic in a way. Maybe this was because of the books we read, the movies we watched and the music we listened to. They shaped our perceptions, subconsciously. Maybe these perceptions brought in hope, optimism and expectations or maybe it was just the way I chose to be. I was a little too philosophical anyway.

Even though the forces of negativity pulled in thoughts that expected the worst, even though I broke a little every time someone hurt me or just left, I somehow learned to let go. Over the past, I had learned to pick up the pieces and move forward and find meaning within everything.  The pain and heartache always lingered, but the track had to stop. The music had to change and the next track would play.  This time I broke again. Someone had left, yet again.  For me, the tracks seemed so similar. However, the lyrics were different and the music tuned to a different rhythm but, the message, the emotion and the genre were almost, always the same.

Part 3

I am supposed to be studying, but instead, I spend some time reading online. I play a Three Days Grace track. They’re my favourite. Ira would say it’s noisy and that they don’t make sense. I would just tell her she didn't listen deep enough. Maybe like now. Things are a mess but I wonder if she can see beneath. I wonder if she can understand that maybe this is how things are supposed to be. Maybe we’ll find our way back to each other. Maybe we have to go towards our own directions and goals and eventually find each other. Maybe I'm thinking too much in philosophical terms but maybe she will understand. She understands philosophy after all.

Part 3

My speakers are on, Coldplay plays on.

When she was just a girl, she expected the world.. but it flew away from her reach ...and the bullets catch in her teeth..


I am searching for that letter, the letter he first wrote to me. The only letter he wrote. Those were words that had lurked in hope. Those were the words that were supposed to mean something.  I’m flipping through pages. The pages are full of memories, photographs and dreams. Amidst a hundred pages, I find the blueprint to my dreams. My ambitions put together through magazine clippings, sketches and purple inked words. Concerts to visit, places left to travel, books to be read, stories waiting to be written, perceptions to be shaped, people waiting to be met. There is so much that lay ahead of me. There is so much I’d forgotten about amidst the pages I left behind.

I pull out the page and get up to pin it up on my board. I pick up one of my companions from my bookshelf. Thanks for the memories by Cecelia Ahern. I plug in my earphones and play.

Life goes on, it gets so heavy. The wheel breaks the butterfly..every tear, a waterfall, In the night.. the stormy night, she closed her eyes..In the night, the stormy night.. Away she'd fly..
Powered by Blogger.