By Maria Amir
It appears you are still here. I do not know if this goes against you or whether it falls in my favor but I shall take it. I apologize in advance for wasting your time but it appears that I am somewhat of an expert in the art of time suckage. Only, this is the first time I have coveted an audience for my ministrations.
I have recently been musing the merits of singledom in Pakistan. I confess this is an odd sentence for me to type, given that the words ‘single’ and ‘Pakistan’ have seldom been permitted to co-exist peacefully for extended periods of time in my vocabulary. And yet, for the first time I can truly relish the idea of being alone. I suppose I can sustain the thought long enough because it now exists without pithy, petty qualifiers of what my life ought to look like. This is an odd, unpredictable, upside to divorce. The fact that if one is able to survive the harrowing experience intact, the potential reward is an unprecedented sense of self wrought in self-reliance. I am experiencing for the first time that I may just well be enough, perhaps not for someone else but certainly for myself. This is new for me, feeling content in my all-too obvious contamination. Not overjoyed, mind you, just complacent. For once in my life I don’t find myself running against something: time, tradition, expectation, potential or love. The downside of this ‘settling into my own skin’ has been accepting my failings ad hominem ad infinitum.
This brings me back to this letter, my current state of between-ness and you. I find myself in the midst of my शून्यता (Shunyata) or Buddhist emptiness and it feels good. For the Buddhists, Shunyata reflected the observation that everything we encounter in life is ultimately empty of soul, permanence and self-nature. It’s actually meant to be a good thing, kind of like a tabula rasa from expectation. Being back in Pakistan has brought me to this place and for the first time I can appreciate its peaks. I have been hoping to escape this country for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, I used to think that if only my parents hadn’t returned to Pakistan they wouldn’t have gotten divorced. As if being in this country was what made my father what he was rather than him carrying his country everywhere in his shirt pocket. I used to think that if we stayed in Bali, the sheer spectrum of color and flavor would somehow supplant itself in our skins through its own lyrical osmosis. I used to think places made people rather than the other way around. I hung on to that premise for the longest time and more recently it was about freedom.
I thought that I would only begin to think and feel and practice accordingly when I left this place and yet my marriage taught me the exact opposite. I learned, in perhaps the most humiliating way conceivable, how much people ‘can’ matter if you are stuck with them and I recognized that I had learned to think and be myself in opposition to my surroundings my whole life. Somehow, the sheer complacence of Europe was somewhat jarring and oddly debilitating. Us Pakistanis, we’re used to operating in opposition to something… ideas, individuals, ideals, ideologies. Hard as it is, there is an odd sense of redemption to be wrought from belonging to the fringes in a country where those fringes need constant cloaking. It’s harder to be put in a box when you’re already anonymous. A friend of mine recently scolded me for being ‘one of those’ perpetual Pakistan-se-zinda-bhag types. Earlier, I wouldn’t have felt any guilt in wanting a better aggregate experience for myself but for the first time I am realizing that my criteria for a ‘better life’ may well be skewed.
I am alone.
I am alone in Pakistan.
The absolute freedom I am immersed in at present is by itself somewhat exhausting. I suppose the most likely outcome of completely being oneself is to trip on the premise of purist expectation and self-delusion. I suppose that is why I have sought you out again. I have long been in the market for a stranger to bounce my paltry platitudes off of. It sounds delusional and unhealthy and yet it is way more productive than me talking to myself enough to rule out talking to actual people.
I suppose anything I tell you here will serve as an alibi for something else. In some ways speaking to you, whoever you are, serves as my life’s ultimate exclusion clause. Your still being here does, in some ways, serve as evidence of your being privy to the secrets of the universe, mine and yours. You, or the idea of you, a person who’s presence makes me aware enough of my own to not need to impress you, may well be my only remaining connection to my former self – the version of me that believed in public infatuations and personal flirtation to a quasi-surrealist degree. I suppose you, who read this, also relish that elliptical algorithm in your DNA that renders you incapable of enjoying perfection. Yours is a voice raked raw in sulfur by the claws of Cupid, either in the shot-of-bourbon rasp of Tom Waits or the bitter-baked syrup of Ella or perhaps the sad, best-friend comfort of Cole. Or mayhaps your voice is marinated in a post-barfi-bite that only works for ubiquitous Urdu, like Noon Meem’s or perhaps you are boisterous and burlesque in Punjabi puns, pontificating in colloquialisms like Lohar.
I wonder how you and I would talk, if we could, for tone is everything. I suppose it would be trite for me to deny here, that what I am actually cultivating is my own script for infallible romance. One of those vignettes in-the-margin one-night-stands with no one and everyone in particular. Something with absolutely no real dialogue but countless conversations constructed in lip-synced lines and borrowed catchphrases. I imagine you reading this by a window, on a cloudy, overcast day (rather unlike mine) hopefully overlooking a large body of water. I would paint the water cobalt blue and put you somewhere in Santorini but that would kill the lack-of-plotline I’m going for. I hope you have your feet up as I cannot abide people who read or watch television… or do anything that gives them pleasure with their feet firmly planted on the ground. It reflects a cold, calculated sense of propriety. I sincerely hope you are as improper as they come.
I suppose Russell Brand puts our between-ness well in his “My Booky Wook”, “I hope it is not necessary for me to stress the platonic nature of our relationship – not platonic in the purist sense, there was no philosophical discourse, but we certainly didn’t fuck, which is usually what people mean by platonic; which I bet would really piss Plato off, that for all his thinking and chatting his name has become an adjective for describing sexless trysts.” Lucky for you and I, Plato also called love the ‘most serious form of mental disease’, which renders our particular romance of sexless trysts perfectly acceptable.
Maria Amir is Features Editor for the magazine.