This ramadhan I am slowly and steadily working my way through 3 very different courses of reading. None of these were planned, but as fasting looks for all intensive purposes to be unattainable for me this year, I wish to at least attempt to make the educational and spiritual aspects of this month significant for my own development.
Perhaps fairly obviously, I chose to read an English translation (without tafseer) of the holly qur’an, but while this might be taken as a matter of course to be a staple piece of ramadhan reading, I chose it because, despite having been Muslim for 12 years now, I still have failed in my responsibility to read the qur’an from cover to cover. Naturally, any real comprehension of the sacred text and its meaning can take years to achieve, (if at all in this crazy world of fleeting fancy and flailing dedication), surely to read, reflect and try is better than gritting one’s teeth through a graveyard of unfulfilled promises made to the self.
My second reading option is a research based study on the life of Imam Reza (A.S). Since my ziyerat trip I’ve been determined to study the lives of the 12 Imams in their entirety, and to take my understanding of their lessons beyond what appears ordinarily, (i.e., those texts that dwell of physical characteristics and skirt around the surface of the analytical). The text its self is a heavy read, without many frills, and as it is a literal translation from the Arabic, without the passion one might search for in such a text. It does however, focus on fact, and draws out key incidences which, while routed in commonality, single out Imam Reza (A.S) as an exemplary leader, teacher and descendent of our holly Prophet (peace be on him and his family).
The third text I have chosen (and the first to be completed), is ‘2 lives, by Vikram Saith. To choose a fictional text, and that too, one written by a Hindu, might be viewed by many as a time waste, or even a heresy by many reading this, but Vikram Saith and his writings have always served as a critical beacon of guidance to me in my most darkest of moments. His words can often penetrate my heart where no human being can, and when I need to retreat, looking for a safe space in which to contemplate, recharge and re-evaluate my current position in this earthly struggle, I am drawn Magnetically to Saith’s words. I first discovered his writings while in school. I was gifted a copy of ‘a suitable boy as an Easter gift by my parents, and I loved it so much I completed its 900 or so pages during the long weekend vacation. I then made a point of reading it at least once each subsequent year, and was enchanted by how its twists and turns seemed to mirror the complexities in my own life, while my reaction to each character’s life choices seemed to alter too with the passage of time and maturity as they shaped my unformed personality.
2 lives is the soul novel Saith has written since ‘a suitable boy. I stumbled across it during a weekend trip to Inverness, with a man I had met on an Asian marriage site. Amish Thakkar was a wonderfully passionate and eccentric individual. We undertook a bazaar courtship via Email: exchanging letters which were riddled with double meanings, hopes and unexpressed expectation. We ultimately met in Edinburgh; Amish had been visiting the capital to attend an impromptu book reading given by Vikram Saith, (A shared passion which at that time we did not know we shared). I had heard about ‘2 lives, but had not read it, and on the long but highly pleasurable drive through a cold but sunlit day to Inverness, he drew out the essence of the novel for me, sharing most eloquently the poems and the passages he had memorised to heart. He almost idol worshipped the personality of Saith, and in some ways, struck me as the closest I might ever come to meeting the author himself. Amish too was a writer, but sadly did not party me to any of his utterances. We spent an indescribably beautiful weekend together, and then parted, never to speak, write or to meet again. Whenever I reread ‘2 lives, I am reminded of him, and of those other surreal connections which have left lasting scars and diamonds on the surface of my life. 2 lives charts the life journeys of an Indian man and a German woman, thrown together by the pain and uncertainty of the 2nd world war and the post war period. Their losses, their cultural differences and their colourful interactions with those around them, serve not only to inspire by their example, but also to take one in to a realm where one’s own losses, complexities and dilemmas are scrutinised under the microscope of self criticism/reflection, in an intensely painful, yet profoundly beautiful way.
The final leg of the novel concerns its self with the death of Shanti (Saith’s Uncle), and the complicated intricacies of bidding farewell to such a character, while managing the fallout of such a death; wills, family relations and unspoken words of love, reproach and question. The novel ends, with a reminder to us not to be as foolish as the generations that past before us, and to reflect how in all probability, we could well have been born as each other; to choose communal hatred over individual blinkeredness, which will, Insha Allah, one day, metamorphosis in to love. As I read these words, I always close the book and shower its back cover with unstoppable tears. The rain from my eyes is a statement of my own vulnerability, of how much I hold inside, and how much pain I am still unable to let go of. Most people believe that Muslims are people of forgiveness, forbearance and great tolerance, (that is, those who have not encountered terrorism, or wahabi thought). Perhaps, for the most part, these kind complements are true, yet when I meditate on my frail self I am ashamed of what stares and weeps back at me. I am a creature of unspoken anger, composed of pent up emotions and every day challenges which will remain for me permanent childhood complexities, so that I am perpetually dissatisfied and unknowing. The pain that eats me up shifts from vulnerability, to sorrow, to a fire that fuels my activism and pushes me forward. A few years ago, following my first reading of ‘2 lives, I underwent an intense period of counselling, discussing the till then unspoken. The counselling help, because the counsellor and myself shared a unique relationship and understanding of our own, (for another post I think), and for a time, I put to bed the skeletons and nightmares that tormented my solitude. Forgiveness however, was not to be; somehow for me, forgiveness meant acceptance, something I was adamant I could not, and would not ever grant to the perpetrator. That anger still rears its head from time to time, though more recently I’ve begun to wonder if the disassociation I exercise serves only to torture me, rather than to act as the curses just deserts which I try to avenge on my abuser.
It is the first time I have read this novel in ramadhan, and for the first time, the tears felt heeling, because they came from within me, they made me tired, yet strong and accepting of the reality that they came as a release from Allah (SWT) rather than from shaytan. Still, tears, no matter how soothing in the short term, reveal more questions than they pinpoint answers, thus leaving me with my emptiness, and my chronic inability to elevate me beyond the past to such a degree that I can find my own answers, or at least be content in their unanswered state. When I think of my family, my future husband and all those others close to me, I am terrified by how none of them actually know me, because of the torrents of pain that I have to hold back. At the same time, I am strangely impressed by how much I kept safe from my parents during my childhood, in order to spare them from a pain so consuming I know they still could not carry it, nor could I carry them were they to uncover it.
The above few paragraphs perhaps sound a little self indulgent; they are not meant to be; I am under no illusion that many live with these dichotomies on a daily basis! I just think that from those I have seen, the majority balance them out far better than I ever have, and doubtless ever will. As I progress through ramadhan however, the utterances of Saith are perhaps the truest statements of intent which occupy my soul on the struggle for perfection; i.e., not to become the same pathetic fools that came before us; and to recognise that elements of the abuser lurk in the survivor too; for no soul can interact with another without, even in the subconscious, gaining aspects of its rust, and sparkles from its silver.
“Oh Allah, most merciful, most kind, forgive this complex, wounded and vulnerable creature. Ease my suffering and change my wretchedness in to dignity. Take my disassociations and turn them in to worship, take my tears and make them intercede for me on a day where a sinner like me will wale only for intercession. Take my pure dreams and make them a reality, take my nightmares and cast them far away. Carry out justice in the matter of my abusers, and enable me to seek refuge and acceptance in your divine justice rather than hunting for the same within my weak, incapable self. Enable me to see truth and falsehood for what they really are, and do not make me a slave of the past, nor a victim of unmet wants, make me a dedicated student of your ahlulbayte, and an Executer of your divine will that you chose exclusively for me, and let me revel in its pain as well as its pleasure, using the pain as a tool to elevate my soul, rather than drag it down and backwards to humiliation and cycles of destruction. Do not permit me to live out the failures of my past generations, nor a deficient meek follower of those who fail around me; instead, grant me the strength that comes only from knowing you, your teachings, and your Ahlulbayte (A.S), so that one day, I shall see true love for what it is, and embody it in the person of being a shia; a real, unadulterated, and very beautiful, shia, doing nothing more, and nothing less than that which you write for her and expect from her, and maybe, in this reality, will come peace, and with the time you grant in this earthly pilgrimage, will too come certainty, so that fear has no space to breed, and the hereafter is attained with ease. Bestow upon me gentleness from near you oh Allah, the most merciful, and close of all, …, Ameen".