Unsuccessful shopping

And I wonder what goes on in a man’s head during shopping trips. Do you think I nailed it?


I do not know how they talked me into it. Let me think. Oh, yeah. It was dear old mom, proclaiming her wish to visit the mall before being put to eternal slumber. It was Zoha, too, claiming proof of my undying love. Does filial duty and holy matrimony depend on becoming the family driver? That’s what it seems nowadays. Life is not fair.

I’d regret it, I knew. But I did it. If driving four miles in the rush hour to the nearest shopping centre with incessant female chatter boring into one’s ears is not proof of filial and marital loyalty, I don’t know what is.

To begin with, they wanted shoes. I steered them to the nearest outlet and spent half an hour watching them pull every footwear within reach off the shelves. It was Cinderella redone, minus the prince. The prince was off-duty, observing from a safe distance. After thirty minutes’ worth of bargain-hunting, they decided that that store was not for them. Enough to satisfy the common populace, but not for thrift-queens. They evacuated the store at full speed. I trailed after them.

The next shop housed miracles of every description, enough to entertain the two for twenty minutes, but not sufficient to entice them to a purchase. Then it suddenly struck Zoha that a newly-opened and very popular shoe store was just across the mall. She proceeded to lead us on a wild goose chase after this elusive establishment. Every person we asked pointed to a different point of the compass, until we had trudged through every part of the mall, but the white stag of our hunt was not to be found.

At that point mom announced that she was not leaving until she had procured an instrument to adorn her feet, so she and Zoha set off with renewed vigour to scour all the houses of footwear the mall had to offer. We went to shoe-palaces, we went to shoe-huts; we haggled over sandals, we bargained over high-heels; we combed every shelf of every store, but could not bring ourselves to buy anything. I say “we” because a man’s quest to protect his women from weird shopkeepers while those women strive to empty their man’s wallet is a noble and chivalrous mission, worthy of notice.

Finally, I refused to go on any further. I told them, quite seriously, that I loved them dearly, and had sacrificed three and a half hours to the cause, but was not going to endure much more. Upon this, they conferred among themselves, and came to the conclusion that the object of their desire lay in the very first shop we had entered. We set out towards this shop, but we couldn’t find it! After ten minutes or so, Zoha shrieked at the sight of our destination, and we hurried in. The friendly shopkeeper informed us, in tones of calculated tactfulness, that he had sold that very pair only five minutes before, but if we were interested, he could show us some new designs…

I shepherded the protesting ladies out of the shop, out of the mall and into the car, and drove in a smouldering silence calculated to quell the strongest soul. Mom didn’t even dare suggest a visit to the tailor’s.

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Father’s Day Cover Story for Us Magazine

“When the academic year starts,” Baba says, “I’ll get you a small car to drive to college in.”

“Really?” I ask.

“Sure,” he says.

“Over my dead body,” Mama interjects hastily. “You are not driving anywhere alone.”

I laugh at her intensity. “Don’t you trust me?”

“I trust you,” she says emphatically, “but I don’t trust the society.” It’s Baba’s turn to laugh.

“You can keep it in the driveway and polish it up,” he says, winking, “and we can take it for a spin around the neighbourhood.” I grin. I know that this scenario is as likely to turn into reality as the first one, but I appreciate his (theoretical) willingness to empower me as well as Mama’s concern for my wellbeing. Childrearing is a dual process; two different styles combine to form the whole aspect of parenting. If either element were missing, my upbringing would be incomplete. To quote Jim Plouffe, “We (men) are not part-time mothers; we’re full-time fathers, and children need both.”

Daddy may I…?

“I never dared to speak up in front of my father when I was your age.” You must have heard that at some point or other. That’s because when our parents were children, father-child relationships were defined as “me father, you child; me decide, you obey”. Period. Fathers were shown report cards; playground conquests and disappointments were for mothers’ ears—if mothers also thought that it was better to keep children at a distance, their offspring had to seek intimacy elsewhere. This style is convenient for parents because they don’t have to deal with the consequences of being flexible about where they put the full stop. If you don’t play with the baby, you don’t get puked on. If you aren’t your children’s confidante, you don’t have to listen to their problems. If you keep your child in a box, you save the mental and emotional energy needed to let it go out into the world. Your kids don’t “speak up”: no “buts”, “it’s not fair”s or endearing goo-goo eyes when they want something. Many families today still consider it the proper way of handling children, but times have changed. Schools involve parents in their child’s affairs as much as possible, putting stress on fathers’ participation; the media highlights the importance of fathers as well as mothers; factors like “child psychology”—previously unheard of—are talked about now. However, the main change is due to those fathers who decide that they want to be closer to their own children than their own fathers are to them; those men who appreciate that a child’s upbringing begins not only in the mother’s lap but also on the father’s shoulders.

Children are not the only ones who come without instruction manuals…

…fathers do, too. A father has to define himself; when he does, it combines with other factors to give the final framework of how the child is brought up. For example, the issue of getting permission for something is different in different families:

“I’ll ask my father.”

“I’ll ask my mother.”

“If my father agrees, my mother will too.”

“I have to ask my grandfather/chachoo/other important figure.”

“Have you forgotten? I never get to do anything.”

Children tend to have trouble deciphering parent-talk, and father-speak is no exception. This is compounded by the fact that male psychology is different from females’. The most common (note: common, not only) mode of male self-expression is: when they’re upset, they’re angry; when they’re depressed, they’re angry; when they’re disappointed, they’re angry; when they’re frightened, they’re angry; when they’re nervous, they’re angry; and when they’re angry, they’re angry! (Females can follow this pattern as well, though they are better known for the crying pattern than the angry one). Therefore, children are likely to misinterpret father-speak because it is essentially different from mother-speak. Fathers do express worry and concern conventionally as well, but it is more practical to sharpen your translation skills than to wait for them to talk in your language.

Being involved

Fathers who want to play an active role in their child’s life try to be involved in many ways, but it’s harder than it sounds, especially as the child gets older. It’s easy to love a small child; as John Crudele says, “Kids spell love T-I-M-E”—and they measure it by quantity, not quality. Fast forward several years, and “spending time” takes on a whole new meaning. He can arrange the most spectacular “family bonding time” in the world, but the child will resent it if it makes him miss his football match. He may or may not be open to the idea of watching it with his father. He may prefer to watch it with his friends. Or perhaps, the father decides to do something with his child that he enjoyed when he was young, thinking she will enjoy it as much as he did, but she does not have the slightest inclination towards advanced origami. The majority of children consider their parents old-fashioned and out of step with the times. That doesn’t make it any easier. To quote one parent: “When I ask my son about his day, he just says ‘fine’, but when he’s on the phone with his friends he talks for so long.” The average teen would take this comment as a criticism of his talk time, missing the point that his father just wants his child to communicate with him as well. If the child is unclear how to talk to his father, his father does not have a PhD in teen-speak either. He does, however, have a PhD in “useless comments”. They are not actually useless, but if you do not understand them, that’s what they appear to be. You know what I am talking about: those little things fathers say, most of which make sense when you think about them seriously, like Howard does in “The Kid in the Red Jacket” by Barbara Park:

My father gave me some advice. I was explaining how much I hated to eat lunch alone, and he looked right up from his dinner and said, “Horn in.”

“Er, horn in?” I repeated, confused. I guess it must be one of those old-time expressions they don’t use much anymore.

“Sure. Be a little pushy. Stand up for yourself,” he explained. “Sometimes you’ve just got to take the bull by the horns.”

“Oh geez, not more horns,” I groaned.

“Bull by the horns,” repeated Dad. “Haven’t you ever heard that before? It means you’ve got to get right in there and take charge. If you don’t want to eat alone, then just walk up there tomorrow, put your lunch on the table, and say, ‘Mind if I join you, fellas?’ That’s all there is to it.”

I didn’t say anything, but kids just don’t go around talking like that. If a kid came up to a bunch of guys eating lunch and said, “Mind if I join you, fellas?” the whole table would fall on the floor laughing.

Still, I knew what Dad was getting at. Even if you’re the shy type, you have to get a little bold if you want to make any friends. Sometimes you even have to sit down at a lunch table without being invited. You don’t have to say, “Mind if I join you, fellas?” though. I’m almost positive of that.

As for the other comments which do not make sense, they are comprehensible when you consider the sentiment behind them. For example, if my father calls the screech made by a car when it suddenly brakes “drifting”, he’s not being ridiculous, he’s just trying to sound relevant to his children, who may or may not take it as an opportunity to explain what drifting really is. Remember, one day you will be the one using some term and your kids will be the ones rolling their eyes. Give him a break. He’s only trying to reach out to your world.

Fathers appreciate attention. If yours has a mobile phone/an email account, send him a text/email (a forward message, “hey there” message, anything). It’s a compliment to someone who has the impression that you leave him out of your technological pursuits.

I have this mental image in my mind of the child jumping into a sea of friends, pastimes and academic work, with the father standing on the shore, alone, watching. We talk about finding ourselves, our soulmate, the meaning of life, and stuff like that—what about helping a man find the little child he used to bounce on his knee once upon a time? That child has transformed into something that challenges his understanding. The child just needs to realise this in order to recognise his father’s efforts, stop rebuffing them and bridge the gap, but it doesn’t stop at that; he must get a two-way traffic of talking and listening flowing. It’s easy enough when you accept that there will be foibles and fumbles on both sides, instead of expecting smooth sailing all the way and getting frustrated with every bump and jolt. When the father gets to actually know his child, he stops looking for his lost toddler because he no longer needs him; he has his grown child to enjoy.

They say “mother knows best”. I say mother knows best about some things, father knows best about others, and those things they don’t know, others know best. Grandparents, for instance. My parents are convinced that they are the only ones experiencing bumps on the road while raising their teenage son; once Baba said to Dada Abu to talk to my brother about it. Dada Abu said, “Jaisey tum sudhar gaey they, is tarhan ye bhi sudhar jae ga.” (“The way you turned out right, he’ll turn out right too.”) Whoever says expertise comes from experience sure was right.


Originally published in Us Magazine, The News.

A traditional occasion

The Abdul household did not have many distinctive customs, and if it wasn’t for Saliha Abdul, they might not have had the few they did. As it was, she was the most involved in keeping them alive, sometimes to the extent of annoyance and always to the extent of the tradition being dubbed a “Salihan” one. A few days before Eid-ul-Azha she brought her latest case to the study table, where her brother Anas was grappling with algebra.

“I’m totally uninspired,” she announced as she slipped into a seat, diary in hand. Anas momentarily stopped doodling on his textbook to shoot her a quizzical look.

“I’m trying to record the upcoming Eid in Abdulian history, but the material just kills imagination,” she explained. Anas knew she was referring to her practice of dedicating a single line to every major event of the year in her diary; she had it open at the page for 2008 already. Drawing the wheels of the unfinished car zooming across “exercise 10”, he replied, “How can you record something that hasn’t happened yet?”

“By writing it down,” Saliha grinned.

“No, I mean–“

“I know what you mean,” she interrupted. “It’s just that I already know each and every thing that’s going to happen. There’s no chance of something noteworthy occurring this time.”

“Why?”

“Don’t you know?” Saliha made a face. “We’re getting some shares in a cow this year. No animal market. No calling the butcher over. No watching the meat being prepared, even. The only way anything different can happen is if the meat flops out of the package and does the bhangra.”

Anas paused before replying. “You know, some people would like being spared all that trouble.”

“But ‘all that trouble’ — that’s the whole point!” Saliha answered impatiently. “If we didn’t have to go out of our way to do something we don’t usually do, it wouldn’t be special.There’s no fun in waiting for a packet of meat to arrive on the kitchen counter. That’s the end result of bringing an animal home, I know, but it’s the process itself that’s interesting, don’t you think?”

“Easy for you to say,” Anas remarked. “You don’t have to do the work of getting the animal and everything. You’re just the spectator.”

“Just as you don’t have to cook it to the satisfaction of the extended family,” Saliha countered. “You’re just the diner.”

“OK, OK,” Anas said hastily. “My objection is overruled.”

Saliha kept her eyes on him for a few moments to make sure he was serious before she spoke again. “Anyway, seeing an animal being sacrificed is good. Not entertainment-wise, but education-wise.”

Anas smiled. “Yeah, if it doesn’t go overboard. Remember last year?” Reaching out for Saliha’s diary, he flipped the page back. At the head of the page was written, “2007, The Year of…” followed by a list of continuations. His finger came to rest on “…The Two-day Vegetarian”. Saliha chuckled. Their six-year-old cousin had freaked out upon seeing the goat being slaughtered. He had vowed never to eat any kind of animal’s meat. He faltered in his undertaking when he discovered that this included biryani, chicken nuggets and other favourite foods. In a few days, he had reverted to his old diet, the only exception being goat. A dish of meat on the dining table would always be met with the inquiry, “Is it goat?” On being invariably (and often untruthfully) being informed that it was beef, he would happily consume it.

“Zain is a funny little thing,” Saliha said, “but people more than twice his age act even funnier. You should see the way some of my friends react.” She began an exaggerated mimicry of disgust in a high, peevish voice. “I really can’t stand the smell of all that meat of sacrifice on Eid-ul-Azha…phee-yew! I can’t eat it, either.”

“Hey, some folks are sensitive,” Anas interjected.

Saliha giggled abruptly, as if struck by a sudden thought. “Too sensitive,” she said, flipping back several pages of her diary. “2001, The Year of the Pre-Eid Goat,” she read out.

“Aw, man.” Anas grimaced. “You don’t have to remind me of that.”

“Why not?” inquired Saliha mischievously. “The heartless parting of Lala and Anas. A tragedy to rival Shakespeare.” She was talking about the time the Abduls had bought a goat two months in advance in a bout of misplaced enthusiasm. They had arranged for its food and water, even set up a goat stall to protect it from the elements, but having taken all inputs into account, failed to consider the goat’s output. The maid refused to clean up after Lala, and Mrs. Abdul did not last long as head of maintenance. Consequently, the Abdul children came home from school one day to find Lala on the menu. Anas, who had developed a strong attachment to his four-legged friend and had spent many afternoons feeding it from his own hand, not only refused to eat Lala, but spent many days in mourning in his room. Saliha, on the contrary, was quite amused by the whole business. “I’ve always said that was movie material. In the usual animal film, the protagonist ends up releasing the creature back to where it really belongs, in the wild. This film could have you releasing Lala to his true destiny…the dining table!”

“Ha-ha, very funny,” Anas said in a flat voice. Then he perked up suddenly, as if he remembered something the same way Saliha had. Turning over a few pages of the diary, he jabbed a finger at an entry and smirked. “The Year of the Rampaging Cow,” he said. “You couldn’t stop screaming.”

“I wasn’t screaming, exactly,” Saliha said defensively. “I was simply exhibiting a perfectly human reaction.”

“Known as screaming,” Anas added smugly.

“Known as alarm,” Saliha contradicted.

“An external sign of which is screaming,” Anas persisted.

“I merely yelped,” Saliha conceded, “which is a very natural thing to do when a thing that big charges past you.”

Anas put his hand up to break the swift exchange of rebuttals. “Two things,” he said. “One, whether it was natural or unnatural doesn’t matter. Two, it kicked the butcher and rushed off in the opposite direction to you. I think the shock registers better in your memory than the actual scheme of things.”

“Whatever the ‘scheme of things’ was,” Saliha bypassed the point, “it made a real mess out of the car.”

“Yeah,” Anas agreed, remembering the dented side doors and shattered windows. “But it was really funny about Sameer.” Sameer was their elder brother.

“Funny?” Saliha raised her eyebrows. “It’s a mercy he was in the right side of the car and the cow rammed into the left. What was he doing in there, anyway?”

“Um, fetching an extra coil of rope for the butcher, I think. But he came out crying.” Anas rolled his eyes. “Big, independent Sameer, too good to mingle with us small fry, bawling like a baby!”

“He didn’t have any warning,” Saliha said seriously. “Having a few hundred pounds of angry cow smash into the side door from nowhere isn’t exactly a pleasant experience.”

“I would have thought your natural emergency siren was enough warning,” Anas chortled, swinging back to the subject.

Saliha sighed in response and began flicking through her diary. “Here’s another one — The Year of the Camel Buffet.”

“When did we have a buffet of camels?” Anas frowned.

“It means that the camel had a buffet,” Saliha replied.

“Oh, that.” Anas shook his head at the memory. In their excitement over getting a camel, they quite forgot to consider the reach of its long neck, and tied it near the wall, moreover, the wall bordering the neighbour’s fruit and vegetable garden. The creature had a nice night sampling everything within range, and Mr. Abdul ended up paying for the damage from his own pocket.

“That was the time Papa perfected his money-worried look,” Saliha said thoughtfully, referring to the partly anxious, partly peeved look their father wore when financially challenged. “That’s why it doesn’t take him a second to whip it out now.”

“Like today,” Anas reflected. “Only I thought it was because Mama was hankering after the Eid sale at Rose Boutique.”

“Not this time.” Saliha opened her diary at the section for 2008 again. “Everything’s already so expensive that this year is going to be The Year of the 2/7ths of Cow…which is the flattest line I’ve ever thought of. Some help, please?”

Anas knew it was no use telling her not to give so much time and thought to the idea. Instead, he said, “Look at it this way. Focus on what we’re getting, not what we’re not. It’s still a lot compared to what many people have.”

Saliha raised her eyes to the ceiling. “The moral lecture doesn’t exactly answer my–“

“Try considering what I just said,” Anas cut across her. “This Eid may not be so predictable after all.”

“How?” Saliha was skeptical.

“Why don’t you consider this case study…Experimental little cousins. Generous adults. Put the two together, and what do you get?”

“The Year of the Car Key Stew.” Saliha rolled her eyes. “If Chachoo knew his keys would end up in the cooking pot, he would have thought differently about giving it to the kids to play with.”

“And we were dumb enough to think the poor cow had somehow eaten the keys, until someone pointed out that the dish from which we found it was brain masala.” Anas chuckled. “The fact that no digestive tube goes up there killed that theory.” He spoke more forcefully then, about to drive his point home. “Tell me, could you have foreseen that?”

“No,” Saliha replied immediately, with a half-smile.

“Are the factors that governed that particular outcome absent from the equation this time?”

“No…” Saliha drew out the word slowly, as if she was busy considering the meaning.

“Then there’s no reason to lose hope,” Anas declared confidently. “If it’s not the kids, it’ll be some grownup. If not one of them, the neighbours will do something. As long as you have the human element, you can’t be bored.” He smiled. Saliha had to smile back. “I’ll take your word for that,” she said.

“You won’t be disappointed,” Anas replied. “If nothing happens, I’ll do something.” His sister rolled her eyes at this pronouncement. “Don’t worry, Salihaa-aa.” He said her name in a goat’s voice. Saliha burst out laughing. Anas, who had expected her to be irritated, frowned slightly.

“Wow, you’ve done something already. Thanks,” she said gleefully. “It seems you’re possessed by Lala’s spirit. I’ll have to make this year The Year of the Haunting Goat.”

“Not unless you want to make it The Year of the Shredded Diary,” Anas replied silkily.

“In that case, it would be The Year of the Mangled Gameboy,” Saliha returned just as smoothly.

“At this rate, it will be The Year of the Failed Mid-terms,” Mrs. Abdul said, coming up to them. There was a touch of severity in her voice. “You’re never going to let each other study, are you? It’s talk, talk, talk the moment I turn my back. I’ll check back on you in a minute; you two should be doing something useful by then.” She turned on her heel and started to walk away.

“Sorry, Mama,” Saliha got up from the table. “I was just wishing Anas Eid Mubaa-aa-rak.” She grinned. Anas scowled. Their mother was already out of earshot. When she returned, she saw Anas alone at the study table, seemingly engrossed in simultaneous equations. She didn’t see what he was really doing: drawing torn diary pages under the wheels of the sports car sketch. Whether that actually turned out to be the fate of Saliha’s prized possession is, of course, another story.


Originally published in Us Magazine on 5. 12. 2008. Original link:

http://jang.com.pk/thenews/dec2008-weekly/us-05-12-2008/p22.htm#1

Parenting Facebook with Facebooking parents

Give someone a fish, and they will eat for a day. Teach someone to fish, and they will eat for a lifetime. You don’t want to be bothered by anyone ever again? Teach them how to use Facebook.

When our mother wanted to join this popular social networking site, her innocent offspring never dreamed that

–they would have a third contender for Internet time on the laptop

–drama serials would no longer vie for space with football matches on the TV

–their mother would learn to employ the phrase “two minutes” in the same flexible manner that youngsters use.

It’s not that she didn’t use the Internet before. In fact, she was the first one to start using it in the days when its chief social service was email, becoming electronically connected before her children did. It’s just that learning the ropes of social networking is a totally different ball game from email, especially when you’re the type of person who never, ever clicks without knowing beforehand what it will do. (I think that is the factor that distinguishes youngsters’ learning curves from their parents’. The former learn how to get around websites on their own but the latter are reluctant to venture into the unknown. And before net-savvy parents blast me into oblivion, let me add that this is not a universal rule.) Due to this reason, I made a habit to take something to do as I took up my post as chief advisor alongside my mother as she made her debut on Facebook. I must say, her excitement level was much higher than that of her been-there-done-that kids:

Brother (in a matter-of-fact tone): “I thinned out my friends list recently, and I still have 400 Facebook contacts.”

Me (dully): “I have around 250.”

Mama (her face glowing with enthusiasm): “I have three!”

Every person who has travelled with their parents along their Facebook learning curves has had one feature in particular which turns out to be tricky. With my friend, it was the “notifications” feature, where you get alerts whenever someone interacts with you. Her mother, an official personal assistant who uses the Internet every day, was disturbed by this:

“But why do they tell me about it? I didn’t ask them to tell me.”

Ammi, it’s so you know what they’re doing.”

“But I don’t want to know what they’re doing!”

My “tricky” bit came along one day when I saw my mother get up from the laptop and head towards the phone, instinct told me to ask what she was doing; usually nothing short of an earthquake  could interrupt a session of her favourite online game. My gut feeling turned out to be right:

Mama: “I’m calling our Internet service provider.”

Me: “Why?”

Mama: “The Internet isn’t working.”

Me: “What in the Internet isn’t working?”

Mama: “FarmVille.”

Notice that I knew what question to ask and did not take her assessment of the status of the Internet to be final (that’s chief advisor experience talking). I stopped her from making the call by explaining how a faulty Internet connection was different from a website being down and how a website was hosted on different servers from the third-party applications featured on it. Chief advisor Iqra saves the day! Or, well, one call centre employee’s day, anyway.

A usual day goes like this:

Me: “When the load shedding is over and the electricity comes back at 6pm, I’ll go write that on Facebook.”

Mama: “Sure you will, but at 6:10pm. My game crops are going to wither otherwise.”

Me: “All right.”

Mama (later): “Hmm, Anam’s crops are all withered and she’s been neglecting her other games, too. She usually keeps up with her games. I wonder what has happened. I’ll have to ask when I meet her tomorrow.” (Later, reading aloud): “Support us in the fight against…but why are they sending me this? How did this get into my inbox?”

Me (coming over): “See, over there, it says ‘sent to all members of…’. You’re a member of this group.”

Mama: “I never signed up for this group!”

Me (clicking over to the group): “See here? ‘Remove as member’. Why would it say that if you hadn’t already joined?”

Mama: “But I didn’t join this!” (Pointing at an affiliated group): “I meant to join that one!”

Me: “…”

I may have lost online time but I got a friendly Internet presence who gets genuinely excited over virtual roses sent to her by her daughter—a fair exchange any day. I like seeing her around. And the best thing is that she no longer wonders why on earth we spend so much time on Facebook because she clocks in regular hours herself!

Life Management

Dear Human,

This is to inform you that life as you know it has been binned. There were a lot of complaints regarding life as it had been, so it was decided that a new system be adopted, which will hopefully be pleasing to everyone. As of now, life is an RPG. There is no need to worry; this letter outlines everything you need to know.

 

First things first. You will not age! That does away with the whole search for everlasting youth thing. No need to bother scientists with genetic research and the like. Convenient, huh? Instead, you will gain experience points as you defeat monsters on the field, which will allow you to move up from level to level and become stronger. This will allow you to be able to kill stronger beasties and become even stronger, until you hit the roof, level 99, at which nothing will pose a challenge to you anymore. At this level, you can either choose to revisit old areas and watch adversaries shrivel up at your mere presence, or you can head towards one of the crazy-insane-ultra-mega-super challenge dungeons to pit yourself against crazy-insane-ultra-mega-super enemies to obtain useless special items and abilities, useless because there is nothing besides wimpy regular monsters to use them against. This new life will be heaven for obsessive-compulsives.

 

Ah, money! No need to worry about that anymore. No more sitting 9 to 5 at a desk working your bum off. Just go out there and kill some fiends who will hopefully drop some coins on their way to the afterlife. You’ll make a nice pretty bundle for yourself after killing a million of them, which you’ll have to spend on better equipment so you can kill a million more. Speaking of work, the word “boss” has a completely different meaning in this new world. It no longer means the red-faced guy who calls for you as you’re about to sit down to a cup of tea or the person who gives you days off from work as if they came from his personal bank account. It now means a usually large monstrosity of variable shape and appearance whose purpose of existence is to sit around filing its nails (or whatever equivalent it has) until you come along, whereupon it makes a dramatic entry and proceeds to unleash a barrage of sequenced attacks on you until you bite the dust or compel it to do the same. A good boss is that which knocks you down in two seconds flat whereas a poor boss is that which can be hack-slashed to oblivion without having to work out any strategy. Remember the system of exams you had in that old life? Well, here you have bosses. The only difference being that bosses can bite (or flash lightning or shake up an earthquake, as the case may be).

 

You will also be relieved of listening to Aunt Nono’s daily report on how her blood pressure is doing. You can only talk to certain people and that too when you approach them; they don’t initiate conversation. They will rattle off a few lines and will only change what they say after you pass a major milestone in your life. Talk about kicking MySpace, Facebook and the rest right in the teeth! And of course, that outdated device called the telephone, too.

 

No life is free from duty. Many responsibilities will fall on your shoulders. Not the old fetch-the-milk and take-out-the-garbage, however. All the residents of the communities you visit will entrust you with the solutions of their worries and mishaps. You will have to find lost pets, recover and deliver letters, parcels and keys, carry messages (we scrapped that annoyance called the Internet, remember), kill any beasties they want removed, and, in short, act as a messenger, exterminator, matchmaker and agony helpline all rolled into one. Lots of patience is required, as every single person will unload their sad life story to you. Saving the world from grave peril, tyrannical domination and global warming will all fall to your lot. Of course, not a single soul besides you will be capable, worthy or just plain unlucky to have the job handed to them.

 

What if the slings and arrows of fortune prove to be too much for you? Have no fear, just pocket some restorative items to use when you’re feeling run down. If you need more than a boost, just drag yourself to the nearest save crystal/ring/emblem/thingy—a whole new you! (Let the anti-wrinkle advertisements beat that!) We ditched illness; too much trouble. Afflictions with a cure just one potion-drink away is the way to go. Don’t worry about not being able to carry enough stuff; even if all you have is a utility belt, you can carry a caravan’s worth of things easily. Now that we touch upon the subject of clothing, it really must be mentioned that females aren’t allowed to wear more than 500cm2 of cloth. They can think of imaginative ways to make getups that give the appearance of being clothed, but on no account must they exceed the limit. It’s detrimental to the environment. We don’t want people getting bored, now, do we? Don’t worry, it’ll have absolutely no practical effect. You’ll be able to move around snow-capped peaks and bug-filled forests and go head-to-head with slime-spewing lizards and flame-breathing dragons just as easily as you could have done wearing the appropriate garb.

 

It is hoped that these guidelines will be useful. Wishing you a cyclic, explorative and successful life,

The Management

 

Dear Troubled,

It has come to our notice that you have not found the current mode of life suitable. To facilitate your desires, we have done away with the RPG system and have set up a new system in its place: the Platformer system. As before, we will discuss the implications of this change to make adjusting easier for you.

 

Life is now much more streamlined and linear. The walk of life is clearly set out before you in a continuous path with well-defined obstacles (canyons to jump across, levers to pull, high ground to jump up to, to name a few. Talk about problem-solving made simple!). You will no longer face the hassle of making choices. The challenges to be faced will be promptly sent your way for you to handle them one by one. No more strife for energy and wealth; both are laid out along your path for you to collect. You don’t have to juggle a caravan of items now, either. Just remember to keep an eye out for life tokens along the way; as failure to pass most obstacles results in instant death by falling on a wall of spikes, being crushed between two walls coming together, drowning in a swamp or other interesting methods. The use of a life token brings you right back on the field, though.  To break up the pattern there are mini-tasks where you assist the incapable inhabitants of the world with menial jobs. You can also get new abilities that will allow you to pass new obstacles and help more of the populace. Of course, you must vanquish evil in this world, too, by spending 95% of the time getting to the evil and 5% defeating it. Your life will not be devoid of purpose once you have done this, as the evil (or its twin brother) will crop up once more for you to handle.

 

Here’s to a repetitive, fulfilling and bouncy life,

The Management

 

Dear Discontent,

You have complained about the Platformer life, so we bring you a life without bosses, creepy-crawlies and limitless regeneration: The Sims! Here’s how this life is going to be like:

 

You get to choose what you’ll be like from a selection of custom-made options. You also get to choose who you’ll live with and what they’ll look like. Such flexibility and choice was unheard of in the past lives, including your original one. Your main aim is to make sure the meters meant to be high remain high and the meters meant to be low remain low, keeping your hunger, mood and energy etc in balance. You can also design where you’ll live however you want—once you get enough money for it, that is. To get money, you send yourself off to work and sit around waiting for yourself to come back so you can deal with the meters again. You have the choice between free will and no will. With free will, you will automatically deal with the meter that needs the most attention; with no will, when you are unattended to you will simply stand and scream at the heavens for days on end, urinating on the spot, having fits, until (due to lack of attention) you ultimately die, vanishing to leave a gravestone where you once were. No matter, you can always make a new you. Making friends is essential. Just invite people over, command yourself to give them compliment after compliment, and after awhile they’ll open up enough for you to do other actions. If a fire breaks out in your house, simply cancel the action of panicking and hollering that you are carrying out at the moment and direct yourself to get the fire extinguisher. When you put food in the microwave, it is compulsory for you to stand with your face in the microwave window. While dancing, simply follow repetitive, angular, jerky movements; your fellow dancers don’t know how to dance any better than you do. Best of all, time is in your hands. You can make it flow at a normal pace, or, if you’re engaged in an activity you know will take some hours, set it to fast forward so you can get to the next activity quicker. If life gets monotonous, just get an expansion pack to get more activities to do.

 

Quite simple and non-threatening. We hope this will satisfy you at last.

The Management

 

Dear Hopeless,

You fail to like anything we set up for you; obviously, you don’t have the neurons to appreciate complexity. Therefore, the best thing for you is to live as Pacman. Your whole life is on a single screen. Just eat all the food there is (the best, and possibly only, source of motivation there is) while avoiding the ghosts. If you can figure it out, eating the special food lets you eat the ghosts too. If you manage to complete one level, go to the next. Nothing new to do, just a new maze to negotiate; hopefully the novelty of this will not overwhelm you.

 

The sheer challenge of this will be enough to keep you occupied for eternity.

The Management


 

Originally published in SPIDER Magazine.

How to kidnap a child (Bollywood style)

First, go find two people who’re at daggers with each other. It isn’t hard to find such a pair. A ruined business partnership, a botched love triangle or an inherited family feud will do. If you’re lucky, you won’t even have to search for one: some lovelorn, hate-ridden scumbag will come along sooner or later and shell out cash for you to kidnap someone’s child.

 

Once you get the job, obtain the victim’s father’s phone number (usually from thin air) and give him a threat, which you cut off the moment he tries to reply. Wait until the poor father has stationed FBI agents around his house, then don your most gangster-style black leather and go to do the deed. Make sure the police are right outside the child’s door before you snatch the kid from its bed. Ensure the policemen flooding into the room see your leather jacket whipping out of sight. It adds to the drama. If you’re lucky, the victim won’t be a child at all, but a beautiful young girl who will promptly fall in love with you while you show your manly indifference. If it’s a kid, take it back to your hideout (which stands out a mile due to its gloomy, derelict, haunted look, instead of being inconspicuous). Make sure you choose the most typical, clichéd hideout you can find. If it’s not a kid…well, you still have to take it back to your hideout. And don’t forget the manly indifference.

 

Now, go out and tail the father. While he goes ahead in the crowd, you stride behind in black leather and dark glasses. Never mind that you stand out like a sore thumb. Who bothers with disguises anyway? Call him up on his mobile and mention the clothes he’s wearing and his location (preferably Marks and Spencer and next to the busiest shopping mall in the country, in that order). While he spins around on the spot wildly, looking in all directions, demand an outrageous sum from him. Remember to cut the call just as he begins to stutter back.

 

When the haggard father turns up unaccompanied and deposits the money in a paper bag into the dustbin, or (more preferably) clutches a briefcase to his chest and calls out for you, remember to make a dramatic appearance out of the shadows, with some lightning flashes in the background. Take the money and declare that you’re going to cut up his child into sheesh kababs and sell them for five rupees each, at which he will whimper and plead for his child’s life. At this point, police will pour in from all sides, even though they were not contacted by the father. This is your cue to show off physically impossible kung-fu moves and slash your way through every police officer that comes in your way. However hard you try, you will eventually die a dramatic death at the hands of the hero (to which the first two-thirds of the movie was dedicated). The kidnapped young girl will wail over your dead body and then go off to live happily ever after with her saviour, or commit suicide in your honour. Who said kidnapping was easy?


 

This was originally published in Us Magazine, The News, on May 30, 2008.

Link to original: http://jang.com.pk/thenews/may2008-weekly/us-30-05-2008/poster.htm#1

Where to begin!


“Still going through those files, Grn? I thought you weren’t interested in those.”

“Oh, but Zlt, I am fascinated.”

“I do understand that to be a fine piece of fhlp-work on the cover…”

“No, no! It’s the people, Zlt, the people! They are almost a race in themselves. I cannot stop reading about them.”

“I must record this in the annals of the Old Files. Someone actually interested in reading them! We haven’t pulled those out since that investigation into how they ended up destroying the whole planet.”

“I’m not talking about the whole race, Zlt. Just a section of them, it is called a… a country, I suppose…”

“Eh? So what’s the name of this…country?”

“Ah, we must give it to the learned ones to decipher, it is beyond me. As far as I can make it, they never managed to live up to that name themselves.”

“What’s so fascinating about them, then?”

“What isn’t fascinating about them, Zlt! They had such a unique system; it was impossible for them to survive in it on their own. Most of these — what were they again? Yeah, countries, did most of the work themselves, but this one here, it was only sustained by the High One Himself, otherwise it couldn’t have existed.”

“This is interesting. Tell me more, Grn.”

“Well, they had a highly absorptive culture. They left the absorbing up to their little ones, and you know what kidlings are like, Zlt. They went and absorbed everything that glittered in frenzied gluttony, until even the grown ones went around in the delusion that the traditions so plentifully absorbed were their own.”

“They must have had very fascinating celebrations.”

“That was what I was reading about when you came up, Zlt. It was about a certain very interesting and singular event of these people.”

“What was it like?”

“It was an event of the spring. But what makes it even more fascinating is the remarkable ingenuity of these people. It was a characteristic of theirs that they blew up anything and everything into immensely great proportions. This spring-festival did not escape that rule.


During this spring festival they flowed out of their abodes in droves and into the workshops, where they vied against each other to take away the largest and the most costly of the paper birds. This is a trait that will manifest itself throughout the proceedings, Grn; their love to outstrip each other, and for finding newer and newer ways to do so. When they bought the flying tails of these paper birds, they bought rolls and rolls of them, and what is more, they bought the very same type of flying tail that their lordlings told them not to buy. Everywhere, on their picture-pieces and in their paper-pieces, it was said not to use those flying tails, but these people, they made them, and sold them, and bought them, and what is more, Grn! The very lordlings who had forbidden the use of these flying tails made use of them. The common folk, they had only to use the name of a lordling known to them, and the tail-inspectors did not confiscate the forbidden tails from them.”

“That is certainly a most singular way of proceeding, Grn.”

“That is not all! They set up enclosures in which to hold the festival, and told the people to fly their paper birds there and not on their rooftops. But…can you tell me what they did, Zlt?”

“They flew the paper birds from their rooftops!”

“Correct, my dear Zlt.”

“But did the tail-inspectors not catch them there?”

“Ah, it is the same way as with the forbidden flying tails, Grn.”

“I see now.”

“And when they flew the paper birds from their rooftops, they came in great numbers, and sent forth much noise and clamour from their ingenious wave-systems, so the people residing nearby may not sleep, and stay up all night to bask in the reflected glory of their superb flight.”

“Even the babies, Grn?”

“Even the babies! The people were not allowed to wrap their little kidlings in slumber on the night of that festival.”

“Surely they must have a great energy system, to drive all those wave-systems?”

“Ah, their energy system! I am coming to that. First let me tell you how they flew their paper birds.”

“Was that not a very simple task, Grn?”

“Oh, no, my dear Zlt.”

“Was it not a simple mounting of the paper bird on the ebb and flow of the air, and maneuvering it with the flying tail?”

“It was not the mechanics of the flight, but the previous principle that I mentioned; the
principle of outdoing each other. From each rooftop came forth larger and larger paper birds, and louder and louder clamour, and every time two paper birds’ flying tails crossed and cut, it was accompanied by the terrible war cry, ‘bo kata!'”

“A riveting scene, indeed.”

“Indeed, Zlt. What strikes me as curious was their willingness to lay life and limb on the line in pursuit of these majestic paper birds.”

“Was it not a harmless flying festival?”

“I am afraid not, Zlt. It was a matter of life and honour. The sight of a falling paper bird compelled the watcher to catch it before it struck the ground. It was a pact much honoured. “

“What a noble people, Grn.”

“Ah, that is not all. You asked about their energy system, no? It was taboo for the paper birds to be caught in the trails of this system, and many gave their lives to free a bird from the trails’ snare. Why, the festival was marked by a shutting down of this energy system, due to the snapping of a trail here or there.”

“Were the flying tails strong enough to cut the energy trails?”

“They were unkind to those who came in the way.”

“Ack! Why would they use flying tails of such horrific description?”

“That, Zlt, is beyond me. These flying tails were forbidden by the lordlings.”

“Now I see why.”

“But the people did not see. Pity.”

“But wait, Grn. Were they not told in their picture-pieces and their paper-pieces…?”

“It is a country also blind, Zlt, but that is another story.”

“One I would love to hear. Have you read enough of the spring festival?”

“There is not much more. They squabbled and speculated much over it, as they did over everything else, but they did not change anything. Every year they raised their masts to catch the winds of change, but those winds instead served to drive their paper birds higher and higher year after year.”

“A most singular nation, indeed.”

“Indeed.”

“In fact, I am beginning to look beyond the fhlp-work of these files. I must endeavour to read more about them. The happenings which they record are fascinating. Enough to keep one busy one for all eternity.”

“And since we’re three-twelfths into that, it won’t matter spending one-twelfth of eternity studying these files, no?”

“The question is only, where to begin?”

“Where indeed.”

 
 

 

Originally published in Us Magazine, The News, on February 23, 2007.

Link to original: http://jang.com.pk/thenews/feb2007-weekly/us-23-02-2007/p22.htm#1