Cousins of the Rainbow

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The ethnic make-up of our diverse extended family is fascinating to me. Just as the British library is a mere glimpse into the collection that is our intellectual heritage, the Human Genome Project sequenced base pairs to give us insight into what it means to be a human being:

The Human Genome Project (HGP) was one of the great feats of exploration in history – an inward voyage of discovery rather than an outward exploration of the planet or the cosmos; an international research effort to sequence and map all of the genes – together known as the genome – of members of our species, Homo sapiens.

National Human Genome Research Institute

I love that it is described as ‘an inward journey’, it seems much like this blog. I try and gather evidence of our history anywhere I can, because snippets of articles help me find pieces of our family story, and get me wandering in all sorts of directions. Much like this quote below:

Indians, who began arriving in large numbers in the 1960s, were slower to mix. They are now doing so—but along Jewish, rather than Irish, lines. For them, assimilation follows education: according to research by Raya Muttarak and Anthony Heath, Indians with degrees are far more likely to marry whites. Indians are not so much marrying into the white majority as into its suburban middle class, says Shamit Saggar at the University of Essex.

The Economist on British Ethnic diversity

There is an abruptness to the language, and the scooping, labelled generalisations do nothing for the image of The Economist. Despite this, however, it is one of the only articles I have found that tackles the subject.

I certainly hope I get to write more about it, or, for that matter, read about it.

 

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On Metaphor

In the Arabic language, the study of rhetoric, ʻilm al-balāgha, is fascinating.

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There are verses in the Qur’an that take metaphor, language and philosophy and lyrically blend them all together in one, startling space.

There is a beautiful type of extended metaphor in the Qur’an, and this particular verse (below) I like to think about when it comes to the death of a loved one, and the guilt over our part in their death:

 

إِنَّمَا مَثَلُ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا كَمَاء أَنزَلْنَاهُ مِنَ السَّمَاء فَاخْتَلَطَ بِهِ نَبَاتُ الأَرْضِ مِمَّا يَأْكُلُ النَّاسُ وَالأَنْعَامُ حَتَّىَ إِذَا أَخَذَتِ الأَرْضُ زُخْرُفَهَا وَازَّيَّنَتْ وَظَنَّ أَهْلُهَا أَنَّهُمْ قَادِرُونَ عَلَيْهَآ أَتَاهَا أَمْرُنَا لَيْلاً أَوْ نَهَارًا فَجَعَلْنَاهَا حَصِيدًا كَأَن لَّمْ تَغْنَ بِالأَمْسِ كَذَلِكَ نُفَصِّلُ الآيَاتِ لِقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ (10:24)  f

 

  • The parable of the life of this world is but that of rain which We send down from the sky, and which is absorbed by the plants of the earth [37]whereof men and animals draw nourishment, until – when the earth has assumed its artful adornment and has been embellished, and they who dwell on it believe that they have gained mastery over it[38] – there comes down upon it Our judgment, by night or by day, and We cause it to become [like] a field mown down, as if there had been no yesterday. [39] Thus clearly do We spell out these messages unto people who think – 10:24 (Asad)

 

I went to a baby’s funeral yesterday, and I thought hard about this metaphor. As human beings, we accomplish incredible things, death-defying acts, we are capable of breathtaking architecture, and tremendous charity, but when a baby dies, when we lose a member of our human family, we are utterly helpless. We are reminded that, though we may believe we have ‘mastery’ over everything, we do not create life, nor do have any hope in demanding our own immortality.

Every farmer who prays for sunny days during hay making understands this helplessness, as do the doctors who must tell another young patient that they have stage 4 cancer. Every mother who loses her child feels her insignificance, just as the poet who has knowledge of Arabic feels upon reading the Qur’an, even one like Labid whose poem was written by scribes in gold ink.

When Umar (ra) asked Labid, the famous pre-Islamic poet who had embraced Islam, to recite for him some of his poetry, Labid began to recite the Qur’an. “This is not what I asked you,” Umar remonstrated. Labid replied: “Well, I have given up composing poetry after Allah gave me al-Baqarah and aal-Imraan.” (Narrated from Qurtubi)

Vainglory

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I like this word.

Several of my friendships have been unbalanced because of the vainglory that mushrooms inside humanity. It is as nauseating as it is pitiable to witness the romance of one, narcissistic person with their narcissistc selves. A fascinating insight into the massage of ones ego is this hilarious piece written by Jill O’Rourke:

If you’ve ever watched America’s Next Top Model, you know that it’s a passionate love story between Tyra Banks and Tyra Banks, set against the backdrop of a modeling competition. So imagine what a love affair Tyra can have with herself on social media, a technology that was invented for people to talk about themselves.

Read more: http://www.crushable.com/2013/08/02/entertainment/tyra-banks-twitter-best-funniest-tweets/#ixzz3plto4Xbt

Ah, the love story that permeates most of ones life. The glossy-magazine sheen of facebook selfies and makeup-pouts allow the crying child inside feel as if one is the cover star of Hello magazine, finally.

I love what comment-leaver Darcie says on an article for the Telegraph magazine:

I’ve begun evaluating my motivations when it comes to taking photos with friends and then whether or not to post those photos. Am I trying to capture memories of a special moment so I can revisit them and remember? Or am I thinking about what would look cool on Instagram and prove to others that I’m loved? http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/21/t-magazine/female-bffs-power-couples.html?_r=0

Don’t misunderstand me, there a many forms to manifest ones vainglorious avatar, to spill out as deeply self-involved and annoy others with constant updates of ones self-labelled achievements like an irritating pop-up message onscreen that won’t let you get on with your own work.

Yet the particular brand of self-involvement required to actively create a personality online, an alternate, magazine self, with other virtual, magazine friends, means that less thought, attention and investment is made in the world one lives in.

I’ve found that a major impetus of the vainglory is to simply feel wanted and appreciated:

The desire for fame has its roots in the experience of neglect, in injury. No one would want to be famous who hadn’t also, somewhere in the past, been made to feel extremely insignificant. http://www.thebookoflife.org/your-desire-to-be-famous-and-the-problems-it-will-bring-you/

And so this moving, very honest and pathetic confession by Rachel Vorona Cote below, brings together all the elements of vanity that cause our imbalanced moments. The insignificance and neglect once experienced haven’t been fully examined, understood and accepted, so the only solution is to blame oneself:

“I can’t recall the details of the fight that prompted me to self-harm. I only know that I had angered one of my girlfriends and wanted to punish myself. This wasn’t unusual for me. I have never fought gracefully with women. From the earliest, I felt any misstep on my part carried an elephantine weight. Both shame and pride would burn in my stomach. I was a wretched friend, I would think to myself. No, I was obviously misunderstood. Regardless, I was going to lose her.

I was going to lose her—that was always my fear. My trespass didn’t matter. It was less what I’d done wrong than my paranoia and neediness that would inevitably weary my friend. I would take her departure as a bitter loss, but also as a personal failure. In my adolescence, when my heart thumped to the rhythms of social acceptance, foundering in friendship seemed like the biggest of all recipes for disaster.

…I know that I tend to need my friends in a more urgent way than they typically need me, and this friendship was no different. Her conversation and emails helped make my world more coherent. I had hoped that my company was similarly meaningful to her, and that she missed me too.

…My apologies were like clumsy origami. I hid the shame of my self-punishment inside expansive apologies. I was always apologizing not only for what I had done to injure my friend, but also for my own narcissistic masochism.

As I became more self-aware, I grew a little out of this intensity and myopic narcissism, but not all of it. At 30, I still worry that I’ve wronged or even mildly aggravated someone I love. My sometimes-disproportionate reaction to minor gaffes betrays my fragile sense of self, which I have based too much on the opinions of others.”

I have seen the deer-in-the-headlights expression of women that are as self-involved as this, especially since I lost you and my friendship lists underwent a mass-culling. I have realised the imbalance in my relationships, and confronted those that were far too needy around me. They were just my virtual friends, my facebook-magazine friends. Vainglory threatens to remove us from our human connection to each other and live in a superficial, airbrushed, CV-orientated, botoxed shell of a world.

What it means, I have realised, is that behind the photo-ready fun of a group of girls having coffee, a far more nuanced set of emotions threaten to spill out. Women don’t talk about the pressures of being around each other since individualism became central to our collective philosophy.

Durkheim’s critique on the number of decisions we are weighted with helps us understand how difficult this pressure, this ‘status anxiety’ (as Alain de Botton terms it) can get amongst people with whom you seem, on the surface, to have a great deal in common.

All the time spent around their friends, or posing for pictures together, what is happening is a lot of sizing up, mental arithmetic on numbers (age, weight, height), storing up details, carrying resentments and, eventually, before the friendships die a sudden death, sitting around a table pretending to still like each other.

Words are the Religion

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Your Daddy is dyslexic. His mother and father had both left school by the age of 11, so when he was 14, he had decided that he hated English class. The teacher made him read aloud.

In their home there were tabloid newspapers, and picture books when they had been young. Now, there is an old radio and three televisions. These are the windows into the outside world. They didn’t go to church, and until today never had central heating.

When I met him, in a mosque after walking the Marylebone High Street, the childhood he described was an age away from where we were.

He was only 16 when he began to attend the Sufi circle at his local mosque. This place had provided a balm, a healing for the life he had come from. They chanted ancient words in Arabic, as foreign to him as eating with chopsticks.

I was born, just as he was, a child in a big family calling a council estate my home. The social housing in East London brought together many kinds of people. My English neighbours were alcoholics that had never gotten married, whose children were mistakes. There were petty criminals and scary dog breeders. We, like the other immigrant families, lived among the neglected indigenous population of England.

I was instilled with a deep sense of moral obligation towards God and my family. Our Muslim identity was something we breathed at home, praying together and learning together. Achieving academically was very important.

When we were moved to a better neighborhood, and I attended school in Hertfordshire, that is when I learned what it meant to be different. There was a girl in my class whose father was a Tory MP, another girl whose sister was at Cambridge. Their houses were enormous, with thick carpet and big gardens and lovely bathrooms. I would go home where the 6 of us lived on the first-floor and devour my library books.

On Cultivating Beauty

We’ve bee through such a tragedy, losing you. I cannot moralise it, it is the saddest thing that happened to me.

I am extremely gratified to have the life I do, and for your father, but your stillbirth was a tragedy unlike any other.

We were floating along, helping whoever asked, (you become popular, opening your door to strangers) riding our bicycles because we couldn’t afford a car (telling ourselves we were saving the environment) not establishing roots anywhere, (enjoying our youthful freedom) no structured boundaries and no organisation. And then you began to grow inside me, so I went into over-gear with trying to sort our family out, all the while lingering in my mind was the knowledge that it was probably too late, because a baby was coming and we were behind with planning a more comfortable, stable future. I went to the Job Centre because I was fed up of hearing that unemployment rates have dropped under the coalition government whilst I couldn’t find full time employment for a year after graduating. When I was in the last trimester of pregnancy, I still went to job interviews. I worked another internship and saved the £50 a week for you, to buy you a nice baby blanket and a baby bath. In that time, our floor began to show signs of leaky plumbing and the old, single-glazed windows rattled. Our flimsily-gathered ‘friends’ rang our doorbell at night and I cried. We struggled on, privately renting a first floor flat that wasn’t fit to raise a baby in, and saving nothing every month.

According to John Mirowsky, a sociologist at the University of Texas at Austin, biologically, having a baby is best early on, but the sociological impact is far from ideal.

‘At age 20 or younger, Mirowsky wrote, pregnancy is “more likely to happen out of wedlock, more likely to interfere with educational attainment, and more likely to crystallize a disadvantaged status.” https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/cusp/201211/whats-the-best-age-have-baby

Your presence woke me up to the stark reality of how an impoverished background can crystallise a deprived future, what Russell Brand terms a ‘down-payment on a slow suicide’  http://www.russellbrand.com/death-takes-small-bites/

You woke me up to the life I wanted for my children, free from dependency on the council-housing waiting list I had been on my whole life. During labour, I thought about all this, I thought about struggling and never sending you forward to the education you should be able to access, to the beautiful life I would like to cultivate for you.

It turns out, you were not destined to inhale any beautiful air, because you came into this world born still, but you cultivated beauty in my life, rather than I cultivating it in yours.

I changed rapidly from the grief, I was no longer acquiescent to an unfulfilled existence. My father said the grief would be empowering, and it has been. In ways I will describe here in the future.

Compelling the Tears of Mothers

Whilst laying awake in the small hours of this morning, it occurred to me that, whilst I can narrate this story of our family for you, my little one, I cannot begin to narrate its future.

Compelling me to tears, as a mother, is the fear and grief of my limitations. I have tried to understand and explore our unidentifiable identity, that which is uncategorised and unfamiliar.

Neither side of your family is what you could describe as ‘elite’. Not in India, nor in England. Rather, we are a people that blend and un-blend simultaneously with other classes.

To illustrate, you have, by your father’s side, an ancestor’s name ‘Arthur King’ carved on a War memorial that stands in the town centre. I was thinking about you while I sat looking at it through a window of a coffee shop. He was a man that was of an ordinary class, English and Anglican.

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The memorial says:

‘Remember with thanksgiving the true and faithful men and women of this town and countryside who in these years of War went forth for God and the Right.’

An interesting phrase ‘God and the Right’. The God it mentions, is that the same God your father believed in when he became a Muslim? Is God simply an extension of the ego that is always right?

The way we wage war, and the way we mourn those that fell in battle is telling through every representation, including the war memorials. It is something that I find tries to compel us to cry the tears of mothers, it tries to exploit that sense of responsibility and make us mourn. It is what Susan Sontag wrote about in Regarding the Pain of Others:

The 2003 paperback edition of the brilliant book by Sontag
The 2003 paperback edition of the brilliant book by Sontag

‘To those who are sure that right is on one side, oppression and injustice on the other, and that fighting must go on, what matters is precisely who is killed and by whom…During the fighting between Serbs and Croats at the beginning of the recent Balkan wars, the same photographs of children killed were passed around at both Serb and Croat propaganda briefings. Alter the caption, and the children’s deaths could be used and reused.’ p. 9

Watching other people in pain can profoundly impact our own choices, and that is exploited heavily in every conflict by those that represent it, to draw from us love for the Nation/the Queen/democracy or our own freedoms, and attempt to win others to it.

There have been Hindus, Christians, Muslims and Atheists in our family. We have also had refugees and gypsie blood blended together, through times of peace and conflict. Some, very few, have known money and privilege, others, were homeless or, like Arthur King, died in battle and were not so fortunate.

Bitterfly

Robert Montgomery
Robert Montgomery

Whilst typing, I misspelled a word, I had written ‘bitterfly’. I found it a curiously fitting way to describe falling upwards, because there is a granular bitterness in being disappointed with one’s life, and at the same time, blended with this disappointment is the knowledge that waking up everyday is not an option, life continues and grows.

The study of butterflies is called:

“Lepidopterology

(lep-i-dop-tuh-ROL-uh-jee)

MEANING:

noun: The study of butterflies and moths.

ETYMOLOGY:

From Greek lepido- (scale) + pteron (wing, feather), ultimately from the Indo-European root pet- (to rush or fly) that also gave us feather, petition, compete, and perpetual.” http://wordsmith.org/words/lepidopterology.html

Gardeners will tell you that the names of things are highly important. Latin names of butterflies and plants indicate their characteristics, just like the word ‘bitterfly’ describes me.

A fragrant, perfumed plant has ‘odorata‘ in the name, where ‘palmatum‘ describes hand-shaped foliage. I like the word ‘latifolium‘, which means it has wide leaves. I think I, along with everyone in our family, am latifolium, because our tree branches seem to stretch so far across the world.