The empty spaces….

Last week a friend invited a bunch of us to a ‘full moon’ cruise around the harbour in Karachi. The idea of being out in the open after sunset was a pleasing thought and armed with my camera, I headed for the pier.  The small boat was full of people, music and food, and once all the guests arrived, it sailed off slowly into the moonlight. At the start the water seemed oily and dirty, with bottles, cans and plastic bags floating all around. But once we moved away from the port into the open sea, the air turned cool and fresh, the water clean and clear, and the surroundings serene and calm. The vastness of the ocean has the characteristic of making humankind feel very small and insignificant. The cacophony on board slowly dulled as people enjoyed the peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

The expanse of the water made me feel like a small drop in the ocean, and I understood what philosophers mean when they say that in the larger scheme of things, our individual issues and heartaches have no significance. All humans desire, want and love, but standing at the helm of the boat I understood that what my heart desired was limited to my own being; in this vast, empty space surrounding me, my individual self meant nothing. Once we exit from this world, all our wants and dreams get locked away in our hearts for all times to come and die with us. Many more after me will stand at the helm of a boat and view the same sunset on a full moon night, and each of them will carry their own version of sadness and loss in their hearts.

While the wind blew on my face, I tried to capture the surrounding beauty through the lens of my camera, and somewhere along the way, I also calmed some of the unrest in my heart through these pictures; moments which would remain for all times to come even after I have long gone.

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The extent of loss…

She knew it was wrong, she knew it was unconventional, and she knew somewhere deep in her heart that it would never work out; but then love has the capacity to take away rational thinking and reasoning, and replace it with a hazy fog in the brain which incapacitates a person to think beyond their own self. Many years ago, Anna met a man who inundated the deep crevices of her heart with his warmth, love and passion. Despite recognizing the numerous hurdles present between herself and him, she gave her heart to him in complete abandon convinced that she had found her soul mate, and that the pieces of this complex jigsaw puzzle would eventually fall into place.

Anna belonged to a middle class conventional family who believed in following cultural and social norms and expectations. She completed her Bachelors from an all girls college and managed to convince her father to let her teach in a local school close to their house till her ‘fate’was decided. For readers not familiar with customs of the Indian sub-continent, it would do justice to the story to explain the preceding line in more detail! A girl born in a traditional Pakistani or Indian family has a pre-determined trajectory to follow: school (the simple basic type preferred), learning household chores (cooking being the front runner), and most importantly, learning the art of being accepting and compromising without question.

Anna was the eldest of a long line of sisters, and her paternal family had started the ‘marriage’ conversation as soon as she completed secondary school. Prospective families were scrutinized and boys interviewed; it is fair to say that Anna’s father was liberal and advanced by general standards, hence she was consulted on every potential proposal and her views given importance. Like all young and romantic minded girls, Anna was looking for a man who would win her heart at the first glance, hence, she delayed and dallied the ‘husband selection’ process as much as she could. But by the time she approached her final year of college, the pressure to succumb to a good proposal reached an un-manageable level and Anna got engaged to a young man from a good family.

The date for the wedding was decided and the preparations started in full throttle. With more than six months left to the wedding date, Anna continued her job at the school in the hope that her husband and new family would not object to her innocuous job. It was during those few months that a new male teacher joined their faculty, and Anna’s life changed forever. She was uncontrollably drawn to him and despite reminding herself constantly of her ‘engaged to be married’ status, she felt herself fall deeper and deeper in the vortex of love till there was no turning back. The intensity of the feeling grew beyond proportion when he expressed his love for her as well; though she knew that the hurdles in front of them were insurmountable, yet she followed her heart and threw all caution to the wind. The fog in her head blurred the reality on the ground, and their clandestine meetings and long phone calls became the focus of her day.

Her family noticed a change in her, and even her fiance commented on her lack of interest in their upcoming marriage. Days turned into weeks and Anna delayed taking any action till she found herself becoming an emotional wreck. Though she had been involved with the man for a short duration of time and he had not proposed marriage to her, his deep passion and her romantic belief that true love always wins gave her the courage to approach her parents and tell them she wanted to break off her engagement. Pandemonium broke out in the house and over the next few weeks, friends and family tried to convince her of her folly and the repercussions of a broken engagement in a conservative society. Despite all opposition and anger, Anna stood her ground till the upcoming marriage was called off. Winning this battle gave her confidence, though she could feel the disappointment in her parents eyes pierce her each time she crossed their path. She could also feel herself being marginalized by society who now viewed her with a different lens; a lens which saw a woman who was too bold and not the kind families would choose for their son. But the conviction that she had found her soul mate and his reciprocated love gave her confidence and she bore the brunt of the world’s disappointment while waiting for the tide to ebb.

As time passed, Anna waited for the man to propose marriage to her and send his family over; but weeks turned into months and though their meetings and phone calls continued, there was no assurance from his side. Naturally, love deepens when there is a physical dimension to a relationship, and though she happily gave herself up to him, she would feel her self respect and self dignity wane each time she met him.  At every opportune moment, she bought up the topic of marriage where he reiterated that his parents would not approve of his marrying a girl ostracized by society due to her broken engagement. As time passed, Anna knew that she was setting herself up for pain, disappointment and eventual loneliness,  but she brainwashed herself that he would see her devotion and one day convince his family.

At the home front, emotional distress was high as her father had not spoken more than a few words to her in the past months, and her mother was worried about the stigma of a broken engagement. People stopped inquiring about her availability for marriage as social circles had branded her as a ‘fast one’ who was ‘too bold’. The slow but eventual realization that he would never seal their relationship with the respectability of marriage slowly lifted the fog which had hazed her vision in the past. She started distancing herself from him and tried to build a new life which did not include him. Of course, this experience had wrecked her emotional frame of mind, self confidence, and belief in true love; but the paramount desire to regain self respect in her own eyes and the ability to view his actions as weakness made the pain of separation much easier to bear.

Today Anna is still teaching in the same school, though she has risen the ranks and become a department head and also the Head Mistress. The faculty in school has changed over the years and none of the old colleagues who had witnessed her downfall teach there anymore. Time has healed her relationship with her parents and they have resigned to having an unmarried daughter live with them forever. If you chance to visit the school and meet her, you would find her to be a strong, confident and self assured woman, but a closer analysis would show you graying in her hair, fine lines around her mouth and disillusionment in her eyes.