It’s the honey soft warmth of the sun on your face, your neck, after a week of cold gray clouds and rain, like a slow, deep breath, like climbing into a soft, clean bed after a long day and snuggling deeper into lavender scented blankets, like someone gently bringing their lips right next to your ear and blowing out all thoughts so that for one tiny moment, you close your eyes and feel at peace, that inexplicable elusive whispery feeling that never lasts for more than a few minutes at one stretch …
I find it a little amusing, as a teacher who loves all her students and finds herself annoyed but somewhat charmed by that one child who never fails to spill ink across his homework, at our human tendency to never be grateful, to always want that which is just out of sight, turning around the corner, realizing the restaurant we wanted to go to was the one we just drove by and can’t turn around for because it’s a one-way street.
And so it is that if I were back home in Karachi and I woke up to a day sleepy with clouds, a sky pale gray behind the bright green trees and red, brown houses, I would be delighted (till I would remember that I had to go to work and was no longer in college, where I could have ignored a morning class and ridden off in a rickshaw to eat some tiny qeema samosas with other similarly fair weather friends – relax, it’s a play on words, they’re actually forever friends). Here it’s the rare sunny day that brings me out of the house still wearing long sleeves and a jacket but so excited about donning sun glasses and sitting under the open blue sky, finally free of the eternal heavy whirly whorls of clouds. The exhaustion of always being cold replaced by the excitement of being able to take my socks off and poke the grass with my toes – indescribably joyful!
Imagine spending an hour in the brutal melting hot sun of a June afternoon in Karachi, where it takes less than two minutes for droplets of sweat to dot your upper lips, and ten minutes later there is a stream of perspiration sneaking down your back, where when you get out of your car (let’s say it’s a Suzuki Mehran and the air-conditioning isn’t that great in the summer) you realize that your lawn kee kameez is sticking to the small of your back and in the front to your stomach, wet with sweat, – now imagine you’ve bought your grocery and deposited it in the right compartments, and as you open the door to your bedroom, the soft, beautiful cool air envelops you – the air-conditioning was turned on half an hour ago so by this time it feels like you’re walking into a square-shaped paradise with a framed photo of you and your significant other on the wall and a yellow and teal bed spread.
Sorry, I got distracted – I’ll try a more succinct scenario – imagine walking into the shade of a leafy green tree on a warm summer day just as a cool breeze stirs awake, lifting up tendrils of hair to blow a cool breath on the back of your neck.
Or the cold hand of your mother on your forehead when you’re running a fever.
Or a sip from a plastic cup of Pakola – or coke if you’re more standard – filled ¾ with crushed ice.
A gulp of cold mint lemonade after 16 hours of fasting, beautiful liquid sloshing down a parched throat.
Thinking of all these metaphors with thoughts of Karachi in May. Because here, I’m still wearing a cardigan. Admittedly there are children all around me in the park in t-shirts but I’m afraid my body has not quite adjusted to finding 16 degree centigrade as summer weather.
Why didn’t you make gratitude our default state, I ask god, why do we have to remember and stop short, chide ourselves for missing the dirty, traffic-congested streets of one massive metropolitan while we wait for a nice, clean bus here in this small, clean, picturesque town of Nottingham, and tell ourselves that we need to appreciate the now for what it is, enjoy the fish and chips and not pine for bun kababs that are thousands of miles away, piled untidily in plastic boxes on bicycles and carts.
I often find it difficult to live in the present. I think it happens with all those list-making, time-managing, let’s-squeeze-in-grocery-shopping-in-the-extra-ten-minutes-before-the-bus kind of people. We get too wrapped up in figuring out the next day’s tasks or excited about the vacation we’re planning, forgetting that that particular moment may deserve a bit more attention. I mean it’s excusable to dream of quaint cottages by the sea and sand between your toes when you’re stuck at work in front of a painfully standard computer screen, but if you’re stretched out on your bed with the kettle just sixteen steps away – maybe put away those dreams for a later day, make a cup of frothy coffee and breathe in the very present scent of now, tinged with vanilla if you remembered to light your candle.
So I’ve been trying to be more mindful, cut my planning and scheming and laying out the next day’s schedule over and over again in my mind and instead, analyzing if the current moment calls for some attention, inhaling deeply, having a quick conversation with myself and agreeing, yes, this is quite pleasant, I’m at peace, this book is really good, poke Fahad’s arm, look out the window at the old people walk by our tavern-house, or send some good vibes to the rose-pot in my kitchen window – most of the flowers have withered away but there’s one bud left that I’m hoping will bloom and validate my green thumb.
I’ve realized how fleeting happiness is, real pure happiness – not a background staid realization that life is well and you’re quite content, something you acknowledge when somebody asks – so, are you happy? But that more vibrant, rainbows on my brow, gold in my eyes and an airy lightness in my heart feeling, happiness as a visceral sensation, when you feel like if you close your eyes and put your head back, stretch out your arms, you could float away. I’ve been training myself to recognize that sensation and hold on to it, for as long as possible, and bask in it. But it is somewhat similar to soaking in a hot tub – after a while your skin gets used to it and it peters off… which is alright.
As long as it doesn’t slip by unawares, unnoticed, as long as I can continue to catch it by the fingertips and draw it closer for a hug – the airy fresh sweetness of a Victoria sponge cake, the deliciously bitter nutty flavor of a flat white, the bright green of new leaves on a tree, the way he smiles when he sees me unexpectedly at the bus stop, the intense concentration of a 9-year old playing the trombone, the excitement of a toddler when he kicks a ball and it rolls all of three feet to his father’s proud sneakered feet - as long as all these are snapped in a quick Polaroid and stored away, it’s quite okay.