Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Loving The Stranger In My House

To have a child with special needs is a painful experience, but to have your parent become a child with special needs is an excruciating experience. I know because I live through this torment daily – my mom suffers from senile dementia.

For all of us our earliest role models (good or bad) are our parents. We are to quite an extent a product of our parent’s influence on our early formative years and the values they gave us while we were growing up. My mother has always been the strongest influence on my life; it was she who taught me to stick with my principles even at the cost of lost opportunity. It was she who insisted that I become an independent and strong person who did not have to rely on anyone to survive. It was my mother who gave me the resilience to fight all odds and win. When I look back I remember a very proud, strong, independent woman with high morals and strong principles. But today that woman does not exist.

When people think of dementia they usually think of Alzheimer’s, but my mother suffers from a form of dementia in which she loses track of time so things which happened 3 years ago she will insist happened this afternoon. She sometimes cannot differentiate between the real and the imagined, so if she has been thinking of something or had a dream she will consider it an actual event. She has become extremely paranoid so other than me, she thinks that everyone is her enemy, her anger levels have also risen considerably so that if one corrects her on anything she goes off the handle. In short her entire personality has been distorted.
She is no longer my mother, the woman who taught me to be me. She is a child who is spoilt, petulant, stubborn, will lie compulsively without even realizing what she is doing and clings to me for survival. I am living with a stranger who looks like my mother, but there the resemblance ends. She is a stranger.

However, amongst all her convoluted thoughts and emotional see-saws, one thing remains constant, something that neither time, nor mental disease can take away, and that’s her love for me. Perhaps its this love which because of her condition takes on the form of paranoia and the need to cling to me. And its this love which keeps our relationship together.

I am an only child – a fact that I was extremely proud of by-the-way when I was young. I just could not imagine a life where I had to share my parents with anyone. But now that very fact which made me feel so special at one time has become the shackle I cannot nor want to break free from. At times I do wish there was someone else who could take care of her or some facility where I could check her in for a short period so that I could recharge my fraying nerves, but alas no such facility exists in this country. There are appalling old people’s homes where people are sent to wait for their death, by children who no longer want them. But I want her, she is all that I have, once she is gone there isn’t a single relationship left in my life that I can call my own – I have absolutely no other family ( no, no, this is not a line meant for sympathy it’s the truth and I’m absolutely OK with it). My mother is not merely my mother anymore, she is also my child.

In our country perhaps the people who have the worst deal belong to the urban middle class. The rich can afford to solve their little life issues and the poor – well they are usually so far pushed in a corner that they don’t really care, survival becomes the prime operative in their lives. But the urban middle class, people like me who are educated professionals have a strong sense of ethics and we are always concerned about our reputations, we are always conscious of the kind of approval or disapproval our actions will draw from our social circles.

A lot is done for the poor, nothing is done for the middle class. Why don’t we have retirement facilities or places which are retreats for the elderly, where they can be taken care of when their children need to travel for work, or when their children simply need to take a short break?

I am not saying that I find my mother a burden – no not at all, she is at the moment my sole purpose for existence and the connection of love is perhaps stronger than ever between us. However even when I have to travel for business it beomes a huge crises which leaves me completely drained. I have to travel this month for a week on business but I am panicking about what I will do, who will take care of her? She will not allow any nurse in the house that will trigger off another episode.

Everyone needs a break, a few moments where they can be with themselves, a few moments where they can forget their responsibilities, a few moments where life shimmers with the possibilities of what can be rather than the harshness of the reality of what is.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Love and Ishq

In Persian, Arabic and Urdu there is a little word "Ishq" which is at the heart of Sufi tradition. According to Wikipedia in English it means "love without lust". But anyone familiar with these languages especially Urdu will tell you this little word means a whole lot more than that, and any Sufi will tell you that this one word is the basis of an eternal quest.

Lately love and Ishq have started to be used interchangeably when someone wants to express the strength of their love, but I have always felt that such an exaggeration belittles the depth of Ishq. I have been trying to define this word for my own clarity but I realize that it is difficult, the best I could do was compare Love and Ishq and here are some thoughts that came to my mind.

Love says be mine
Ishq says I'm yours

Love says 'us' and 'we'
Ishq says there is only One

Love says 'I want to be near you'
Ishq says distance is immaterial

Love says 'I want to spend my life with you'
Ishq says my life is for you

Love possesses
Ishq releases

Love says 'as long as we live'
Ishq says life is a mere stopover on this journey

Love yearns acknowledgement
Ishq yearns knowledge

Love yearns gratification
Ishq yearns absorption

Love intoxicates
Ishq brings clarity

Love says 'you are the centre of my world'
Ishq says ' I'm part of the Universe'

Love is finite
Ishq is infinite

Love brings joy as well as pain
Ishq only brings ecstasy
Love is a feeling
Ishq is a state of being

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Mother(land) on Mute

Parents are precious not only because they give us life, nurture us and give us unconditional love. They are also crucial to our existence because it is through them that we learn the earliest markers of our world map. Our beliefs, our habits, our attitudes are all influenced by what we observe and hear from our parents or guardians in the early years of our lives. It is through our parents that we learn about our family history and get tethered to our roots and it is these ties which give us our unique identities and stability throughout our lives.

Children who grow up in dysfunctional homes, where they were constantly pulled by their parents towards their side grow up with scars which rarely heal. But even worse is where one parent is so dominant that the other’s voice is muted and their children grow up almost alienated from one side of their family. Such children not only have emotional scars, they also grow up confused and ignorant of who they are, unaware of 50% of their own family history.

Now imagine a family in which both parents hail from diverse backgrounds, each with a glorious family history and though the mother is present in the house she is merely a convenience provider. The father and children both ignore her whenever she has anything to say and simply take her for granted. Can one even imagine what emotional baggage such children will grow up with? Can these children ever grow up to be wholesome? In fact it will be no surprise to anyone if such a childhood nurtures the seeds of sociopathic behaviour.

They say that when the parents are from different cultures and diverse backgrounds the children have a tendency to be more robust both physically and mentally as their gene pool is varied. We Pakistani’s are lucky to be the children of parents who are not only completely different from each other, but both are custodians of glorious traditions. However we live in a dysfunctional home where our mother is a mere convenience provider and our father is the most dominant member of the household. When dad is not at home some children use his fear to get the others to do their bidding.

So who are these parents? Our father is our Islamic heritage and our mother is the land on which we were born – after all don’t we pay tributes to the ‘motherland’ in all our patriotic songs? Both our parents define who we are, both have histories to be proud of. In fact we are unique because of our diverse background. We are the inheritors of a truly vast historical empire. But alas we have completely ignored the history and heritage of our ‘mother’. Is there a wonder that we are spawning a whole generation of intolerant sociopaths?

I recently asked a young MBA what he knew about the Kushans and he replied they are small pillows … Aagghhh the anguish that answer gave me! We have selected only those portions of our history which coincide with our Islamic heritage, perhaps as an attempt to justify our existence – but why do we need this justification? The ancient history of India is completely ignored in our schools as if we just emerged on this land with Mohammad Bin Qasim.

Any mention of ancient Indian history draws a look of discomfort from most people and the usual response I get is “Sualeha that is the history of Hindus – we are Pakistanis and we are Muslims”. Err…there was no Islam during the time of Moejodaro, Harappa or even the hey day of Taxila, in fact there was no Christianity either. And I have news for all of you - technically speaking all Pakistanis are Hindus. That may shock you but its true.

The word Hindu is a corrupted version of the word Sindhu. In Sanskrit Sindhu means river and the term Sapta Sindhu i.e. 7 rivers was used in the Rig Veda to describe the area around the 7 tributaries of the Indus – Sutlej, Beas, Ravi, Chenab, Jehlum and 2 tributaries from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Afghanistan and the Indus river itself. The early Persians who visited this region called this area Hapta Hindu and the people who lived in this region Hindus (or Sindhus in Sanskrit) which simply means the ‘river people’. The word got associated with religion much later, in fact the people of this region did not call their religion Hinduism, the term they used was Sanatana Dharma or simply Dharma. So you see all those who are currently living in the land of Pakistan are the original Hindus.

We didn’t all migrate from the Middle East or Central Asia to this land. It has been ours for millennia and we should be very proud of it. Why are we deliberately ignoring our birthright? No wonder we have become a landless nation. We inhabit this land but are we really connected to our roots? The way we treat our most precious monuments is shameful. Our loyalties are confused because we have not been able to merge both our heritages and hence we negate one at the expense of the other. Where do we really belong? Are we part of the greater Muslim Ummah or are we part of the Indo-Pak subcontinent? The logical answer of course is both, but we didn’t learn early on in our lives how to incorporate both of them in our world view. So now we are like the children of the dysfunctional home where the mother has been ignored for so long that we have become emotionally fractured and scarred.