Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Loss of Peace

It’s funny that I remember as a child my first memories of God and what He represented were the minarets of Masjid Al-Haraam in Mecca, and then of the Ka’aba. I remember hearing the azan and thinking that was God’s voice; that he was somewhere up in the minarets and was calling everyone to prayer. Soon after, I went from thinking He’s in the minaret to thinking he was in the Ka’aba, and that every time we went to the Great Mosque, that He was watching me from inside… or that somehow, that big black box was Him….. I’m sure such thoughts would be considered idolatry and blasphemous, but that is how I as a child perceived the concept of an omnipotent God. And with this feeling came a certain unsteadiness, a wariness- not exactly fear, but almost a discomfort of knowing He was watching, and perhaps a little malevolently. I’m not sure how much of that had to do with the “fear of Allah” that all Muslim children (and adults) are robotically instilled with. Probably quite a bit, which would explain why I had such strange feelings of unsettledness… But what’s even stranger (or more interesting) is that the older I got, the more those feelings dissipated to be replaced by a sense of calm and peace when I went to the masjid. I would notice more wrongdoings of people around me -- the littering of cups, or the pushing and shoving of the masses, and especially the obnoxious behavior of the police and guards towards women. The older I got, the more these behaviors bothered and angered me, and yet the sense of calmness that I felt within me, save for my surroundings, only increased every time I walked along the cool marble floors, or gazed upon the shimmering black cube. The last time I went there before we moved from the country, I sat in a row very near to the Ka’aba, and held my head up towards it and asked never to forget that image, that feeling. It was nighttime, undoubtedly the best time to be there, and sparse birds circulated the air above the lighted mosque. The ground felt cooler than usual, the grains of the white marble floors glittered more kindly from the reflection of the many surrounding lights than they did in the daytime. I prayed to Allah that I may remember that particular image and hold it dear to my heart forever,… and even now, 15 years later, I still remember it exactly the way I saw it through my 12 year-old eyes. I see the black sheets covering the Ka’aba rippling in the wind, I hear the birds crying above head, and I see my hands brought together in supplication; the lines of my fingers determined to hold every bit of peace and calmness to memory.

It would be an outright lie to say that I am still as religious (or even close to) as I was 15 years ago. And yet, my faith in God never falters. I cannot fathom a world without His existence, and every birth, death or the smallest experience of love or pain, only confirms to me that He must and does exist. I cannot explain my faith or the reasons for believing such, but all I know is that I derive a sense of peace and unity from such faith, and that is justification enough for me….. What I wonder is how to hold onto that peace, that sense of calmness, when everything else in life is so obviously trying to uproot every fiber of calmness that one can possess? I don’t find that solace in the motions of prayer anymore… at least not the motions that I ought to follow in accordance with the religion. I find a semblance of it when I close myself off to everything else and try to think, perhaps ‘meditate’ would be the word…or pray in my own way… but it is not good enough. Peace, as I have known it, does not exist within me anymore. I can look out onto a lake, or over mountains, or upon a bridge and feel that semblance of peace again, but it is always fleeting… and worst of all, any meditation upon life leads me to become more distressed, more often than not. Perhaps that ideal of peace and calm is only a childhood ideal; perhaps as adults all we can hope for is bits and pieces of peace here and there, to be uprooted by the disaster and distress of everyday life. Or perhaps, if I were inclined to be a little more optimistic, it has been a year so very devoid of inner peace and calm that any other year that is to follow will only be better…. In any case, what I wonder is where does one turn to for that peace of mind when religion simply cannot offer it anymore, when prayer is not enough? Blasphemous these thoughts may be, but in the midst of mental turmoil, the search for oneself or for peace of mind doesn’t have room for such distinctions. They are all questions that need answering… if only I knew how to answer them.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Wish You Were Here

As the candles dance in the forced breeze coming from the frantically spinning fan, I sit on my narrow bed and wonder about the concept of nostalgia. At any given point in time, we may experience a number of different triggers that take our minds through a silent film of moments in our lives. The flames flickering might remind me of my Stony Brook dorm room, Arnob’s music in my ears might remind me of hazy winter mornings in Dhaka, the touch of the wind on my bare shoulders might remind me of someone hundreds of miles away… and yet, all these distant or disjointed memories come together at the same time, making a whole new memory. Not just a whole new memory, but a cacophony of sensations: different languages colliding and conglomerating, colors, smells, touches, emotions, all of them crashing one after the other upon the mind, vying for dominance. What does one do with all these decapitated memories? Do we let them build upon each other and create a veritable monster of nostalgia? Or do we brush them off, throwing them in a pile of Unwanteds and just keep looking for newer memories? Is it possible to simply have a memory and not feel nostalgia? Is nostalgia the thing that makes a good memory good?

I would have no problems with nostalgia if it didn’t have the feelings associated with it; if it didn’t have that which defines it. Why can one not listen to a song without feeling one’s insides melting vein by vein, tearing away all shreds of sensibility? Why can one not smell something without thinking of nothing but that certain someone’s fingers, entwining and caressing, tugging at the heart? Why do we fall prey to such emotions when memories are really nothing but neurons and nerve impulses? It would be pointless to wonder what our worlds would be like without memories; but what if we lived without nostalgia? Would that make us more efficient at planning our present and our future, since we would spend less time upon the past? Would it not make us happier in a way, since we wouldn’t be spending any time or emotions on feeling sad or lonely or depressed? Technically, perhaps that could be the case. But something tells me that life would lose all its hope, all its charm, all its indescribable bits of honeyed happiness that we hold so dearly to our hearts. That must be where nostalgia lies; that must be the purpose of nostalgia. To remind us, with not just a small stab at our hearts, that those fragments of memories that float to us on lonely, hot nights like tonight are actually proofs of life’s cruel beauty. They come to us to make us pause in our mindless days and nights and remember things that once made us love life, or gave us hope, or gave us the reasons that we needed to get through our days. The after-effects of nostalgia are a bit harder to deal with, but I suppose if we can sort through the collage of memories one by one, we might come to look at them pleasantly, and stow them away for another day when we might need that memory… Perhaps I can yet learn to pick and choose my nostalgia. Until then, it seems appropriate that I’ll keep echoing Pink Floyd: How I wish, how I wish you were here….