"A writer and nothing else: a man alone in a room with the English language, trying to get human feelings right. " ~John K. Hutchens, New York Herald Tribune, 10 September 1961

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Happy New Year

Happy New Year, everyone.

I can't believe it's 2011. Babies born in nineteen ninety are going to turn twenty one this year. I feel ancient. I am a mid-eighties baby myself and really detest the ugly hairstyles and questionable fashion trends associated with my decade. But really, my decade was the nineties, the late nineties particularly when I finished school. Ah, those last few years in an all-girls missionary school were full of day-dreaming teenagers. The poster boys were Shahid Afridi (he still is a hero, was just younger and clean-shaven back then), Shahrukh Khan ("Kuch kuch hota hai, Anjali. Tum nahi samjho gi" and "Senorita, aisay baray baray shehron mein aisi choti choti baatein hoti rehti hain" - eww, and yes, I still remember these lines!), The Backstreet Boys (I thought they were horrible, frankly), and the ones who wanted to be really "different" liked Saqlain Mushtaq/Shoaib Akhtar, 'N Sync/Boyzone, and Amir Khan/Salman Khan. Sigh, ten years after graduating, I still think my world at that time was perfect for the fifteen-year-old me.

I remember these trivial details well. There was no fear, no worry, just a normal and healthy childhood. When I called home this morning from the warm comfort of my commuter train, my thirteen-year-old brother answered. After exchanging pleasantries he said, "Do you know Salman Taseer was assassinated today?"
"Yes," I said. "It's horrible."
"Not so horrible for me. I get a day off from school tomorrow," said my brother.
Both my sister who was sitting near him, and I, a world across from him said "Shahzil! Someone DIED! Should you be saying this?"
"Sorry, sorry," said my brother, completely non-committal.
How's it possible to think this way? Did I have the same mentality as a child? Granted he is twelve years younger than me, but in that moment this morning, I felt decades older. I have never felt so distant from him before.

In this situation, who do you blame? We've both had the same parenting, same facilties, similar schooling. The circumstances, however, of our respective childhood are different. When I was his age, I never heard a bomb blowing up my neighborhood marketplace. I didn't ride my bike across the carnage. My mother didn't go looking for me frantically in the street because she had heard hand grenades going off two roads down our house. My brother has seen and experienced all this in his thirteen summers. He has switched three schools to be closer to home. He has lost distant family members in street violence, bombings, and suicide attacks. His mother and uncle have been robbed multiple times at gunpoint. He has seen two monumental natural disasters in his country: the earthquake and the floods, along with the mass migration of internally displaced persons. His parents and sisters are paranoid about his safety. All this has led him to treat death as something trivial, an everyday occurrence. Something about his childhood is lost and damaged. He has grown up too fast, too soon. His eyes have hardened and narrowed. I don't see the mischief in them that was so apparent when he was five and was waving goodbye to me at Lahore International Airport in 2003.

It is two thousand and eleven, everyone. My little brother will turn fourteen this year. When I was as old as him, I was writing really bad poetry inspired by nineties Bollywood. They are horrible poems, but my childhood was beautiful enough to turn me into a poet. Hopefully we can all make an extra effort this year and do what we can to improve the world we live in. Resolve to make the world better in any way you can. Go green, even if it involves a small change like switching to paper bags. Write a small check for a charity every month this year - every dollar helps. Blog about what you see around you, raise awareness for the causes you believe in. Write to make someone's life better, even if it is for an instant. Put a smile on someone's face even if you have to contribute a joke to a local paper. This year, don't make colossal commitments. Start small. Do something for someone else. A tiny little thing. And see where it takes you.

Happy New Year from all of us at DWL. Sorry for the sadness, but some days laughter eludes me after the first paragraph.

Best wishes.