By Maria Amir
“The Guide says there is an art to flying,” said Ford, “or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” – Douglas Adams, ‘Life, the Universe and Everything’
I’ve never really considered my life in the context of time and space before. For the most part, I tend to view existence as a series of consequences and my reactions to them. These days, however, I find myself seriously contemplating the subtle dynamics of the time-space continuum… not so much in commonly contrived Trekkie terminology involving cylindrical beams of light, but rather as my own personal bubble of actions, reactions and timing. If I think about it hard enough, I can easily divide the past ten years of my life into alternative spikes and pitfalls on a sonogram. I’ve peaked in some years and plummeted in others.
I wouldn’t exactly call it a balance but it helps keep perspective. I am presently enjoying the idea of a personal reboot. Every time I find myself facing a large group of people sitting and listening to me speak (and not falling asleep), it is a colossal validation of something I can’t quite capture anywhere else in my life. It feels rather powerful and I suppose that is somewhat perverse. I never really saw myself as a teacher before, mostly because I haven’t really considered anything I know worth teaching. Still, it is proving to be an odd form of release… almost as if one is able to forego personal ambition without experiencing guilt. There is a colossal sense of relief in this, given that I was never much good at self-actualization. Teaching offers up the chance to feel ambition on behalf of other people, wanting, even craving their success without having to worry too much about ones’ own anymore.
It is the least selfish I have ever felt.
It is also the most free I have ever felt.
More recently I find myself contemplating sacred spaces. Crusty crevices marked in my day that I cannot quite capture but that might prove golden if only I could hold on to them long enough to let them be born. As it is, they are mere figments, conceived and aborted during my breakfast coffee or as I return to my office from class. I find all my good ideas, gentle hopes, idle quests melt away into one giant sieve of “wanting”. I’m not quite sure what it is I want anymore but I do feel that I am finally in that particular personal time-space continuum that relishes moving forward. I suppose it was a long time coming. Do you have that? That sweeping knowledge that you managed to think at least a dozen epic thoughts before lunch but that they’ve all dissolved by dinner? In Sanskrit they call it Bhrantapratavakavakya, the room into which we go on putting our hopes and dreams and desires. I can’t help thinking that at some point, it is beyond time we started looking for a key to the door, rather than an extended lease that allows us to add on more space to its piling proportions. Perhaps carpe diem is the order of the day
… or at least this day.
I have discovered that my car is a sacred space: all the in-between mandatory conversations I need to have with myself cloaked in the midst of music, traffic and idle stalkers on the road. I’ve always loved driving. The hellish traffic of Lahore; the familiar streets and the perfunctory juice-wala’s at chowks are a constant source of pithy inspiration, idly composed tweets and wry smiles. Driving allows me sanctimonious security shrouded in the illusion of momentum. Even if I’m only moving forward in a circle that always leads back to the same place. I find that I do some of my best thinking while dodging motorcyclists and navigating traffic, listening to Rafi and stopping for nimboo-naaryal at Hussain Chowk. It is why I love this city – when the weather is right; the traffic optimally erratic and the playlist particularly profound, one is able to tap into a personal frequency that is never accessible amid the complacency of home. Of to-do lists, to-go places, to-meet people and to-eat foods. It’s a composite of colour and alive-ness that cannot really be captured in words properly, so I will stop trying. But it is there. And it is sacred.
A new space I am discovering is the classroom. I find myself trying to empathize and emphasize with and for my students in equal measure. To make them have fun but not too much fun. To make them ask questions but not too many questions. To teach them what I feel they ought to know and to resist teaching them what “I know” instead. It’s self-deprecation meets self-actualization. But I know I am enjoying it more than I ever enjoyed anything else. I crave the adrenaline of entering a room full of people every day and not knowing for a split-second before I open the door if my voice will fail me. I love the sheer starburst of relief and ideas that follows when it doesn’t. There is a word in Japanese, Ikigai, that the people of the island Okinawa derived to mean “a reason to get up in the morning”. I understand it a little now. This is not to say that I feel teaching is my calling or something. So far, I’m not sure I am any good at it and a part of me will always seek a self soaked in words. But it is, so far, my best use of words.
Perhaps I am one of those cobblers that the French call bricoleur du dimanche, an ingénue with an undiscovered calling who starts building always without clear plans, always adding bits on the fly.
A flight risk, with a purpose that can only be sustained when there is a pitfall in sight.
A glitch with a chip on her shoulder but a smile on her face.
A cobbler, whittling together the prefect pair of shoes, improvising madly each time the heel collapses and she finds herself stumble.
Maria Amir is Features Editor for the magazine.