Musings of a fickle mind

Life as I see it changing in my head

Merey log

Pakistan. It’s hard to sum up how this country makes me feel but I will try and begin from a very recent experience – flying in to Pakistan. When you’re there, high up in the sky at a height of 30,000 feet, one can hardly tell one country apart from another. Yet, when I realise I’ve flown over the border from Afghanistan in to Pakistan by following the flight’s on-screen route, I feel a sudden rush of excitement and happiness. I cannot tell I’m in Pakistan or even see anything on the ground, not yet. But what I DO know is that this is MY land, my motherland, the land that gives me my identity – Pakistan, the land of pure. As we start closing in to the Lahore airport and the plane starts descending, things on the ground start getting more visible until I can see individual homes lit up in the night sky and individual cars running about on roads that I can begin to identify. This time, the feelings are even more profound. I don’t know much about these people in their houses or cars, in fact I know nothing about them. Nothing except one thing – they are merey log, my people, Pakistanis. My brothers in national identity. Yes, I criticise these people and this land more than anyone or any other else, yet they are MINE. Nothing gives me more pride than acknowledging, sharing and celebrating the success of a fellow Pakistani. The feeling is inexplicable and I wouldn’t trade my Pakistani-ness for the world. Not now, not ever, and especially not when I’m flying 30,000 feet over the land. 

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Of Ironies

I have this crazy obsession with the most unusual thing in this world – carpets (and rugs). Not for the purpose of home furnishing, but just to feel the fabric. It’s hard to describe how the touch of the carpet fabric on my feet and fingers feels; rugged and rough, or soft and smooth, it doesn’t matter. I can play with the fabric for hours (yes, hours) on end. On one of my birthdays, my sister gifted me a piece of carpet just for this reason. So one would think it ironic that my elder son was found to be allergic to dust and so we had to remove all carpets from our home since they are good dust absorbers.

But if that was any huge sort of irony, it would pale in front of what I may have to come face to face with my younger son. In my 2 years of being a stay at home mother, I have ran private tuitions for students for various reasons. During this time, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot handle primary age students, mostly because I have no patience at all for their speed of learning. Patience, with them, is needed in unsurpassed amounts. So now, having to come to terms with the possibility that my younger son might be autistic, it seems almost humourlessly ironic that I have the patience of a hungry baby. Yet, as cliché as it may seem, motherhood teaches you things you possibly never thought would be possible. For me, patience might be one of them.

Nevertheless, it is still a bit too early to diagnose anything and so my GP has suggested keeping a diary to collect evidence and record his behaviour. He added that it may be useful to make videos of his interactions (or their lack, thereof) with others to that effect. And if there is a mother of all ironies, it would be this – that I’m making videos, not for the obvious purpose of them serving as beautiful memories, but for the purpose of documenting a painful experience.

I don’t think I quite understood the meaning of irony as clearly before.

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Hell is here and now

I recently read Elif Shafak’s ‘The Forty Rules of Love’ and suffice to say that it had me completely absorbed. The book itself may not be the best book written but following my previous post and the state I was in, the book felt like it was speaking to me. While I will constantly quote from the book, particularly the Forty Rule of Love by Shams Tabrez, over the next few blog posts (unless something more important comes up), this post is about the one thing that particularly struck me about the book – its emphasis on love. So much so that one of the ‘Rules’ of Shams Tabriz says:

Hell is in the here and now. So is heaven. Quit worrying about hell or dreaming about heaven, as they are both present inside this very moment. Every time we fall in love, we ascend to heaven. Every time we hate, envy or fight someone we tumble straight into the fires of hell.

This ‘Rule’ resonates so well with me. The more I ponder over our existence, the more I believe in the absence of a literal Hell and Heaven, and the existence of allegorical Hell and Heaven on Earth. I imagine how societies that were at unease with one another centuries ago now live in perfect harmony in some parts of the world. Black and white, men and women. I imagine going forward, the differences and divisions we witness today would vanish, that people will live as one, discarding the prejudices that come with these divisions. I imagine a world where Jews and Muslims are one, homophobia is unthinkable, men and women are equal, there are no rich and no poor, no Americans and Arabs, no ‘them’ and ‘us’. A world where we are all ‘one’ and that will be our Heaven. Shams says that when you learn to love, you find yourself, and when you find yourself, you find God, and he says to find love, you have to look inside. Such a beautiful and profound thought.  Because the truth is that these divisions are what hold us back from reaching a utopia, the state of nirvana, heaven, and to get rid of them, we need to look inside US and get rid of our prejudices. This has happened in the past and will continue to happen in the future and there will be a point when everyone will live in harmony. It makes me envious of future generations who would be so much more tolerant and loving than us and with this I like to factor in reincarnation to make myself believe that I will be part of that future. Wishful, maybe. For now, all we need is to learn to love.

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Dissonance Between Beliefs and Actions

Cognitive dissonance. An extremely politically loaded term nowadays. People tend to throw it around when others do not seem to agree with their point of view. Most commonly, I have seen atheists use the term for theists when theists cannot scientifically prove their beliefs. Sounds fair for the atheist to do this.

I, on the other hand, experience a different sort of cognitive dissonance within the same context on a regular basis. More often than not, I find myself agreeing with atheists. But I even more often wonder whether cognitive dissonance is at play here. Why I tend to believe with atheists is usually because how I view the world does not tie in with how my religion wants me to view the world. Yet, I tend to stick with my beliefs. Atheists would tell me I’m experiencing cognitive dissonance, and I am. Just not the sort they think I am. I have a desire to stick to my religion but find I am unable to do so given my personal views or actions. For instance, I want to believe in God, but miss my prayers on a regular basis, do not read the Quran, have drank in the past, do not agree to homophobia or chauvinism in our religion etc etc. The list goes on. Given that my actions do not tie in with my belief, I try and rationalise my shortcomings, reduce the dissonance. Our religion is not so strict, God is forgiving, the version of Islam practiced widely is not the true version, there is no God. Rationalisation. I am constantly trying to adapt my preferences to my behaviour. I am willing to readily believe atheists and their arguments because if I don’t, I’m constantly living with the feeling that I am sinning and the easy way out would be to make myself believe that I’m not. A bias exists through which I am trying to achieve consonance in what I do and what I belief. What makes me believe in this state of mine even more is that it’s not only atheists I agree with. Anything or anyone who gives me an ideology that differs from mainstream beliefs of my religion, I tend to bend towards it. During this period, I have explored many ‘options’; Sufism, Quranist movement, agnosticism, atheism. All, not because I am convinced my religion is wrong, but because of my uneasiness with how I wrongly follow my religion or how I don’t want to follow my religion. After all, no one wants to be wrong.
This thought has been troubling me and has been at the back of my mind subconsciously but was recently brought to the forefront by a discussion I had with a fellow on Facebook. This fellow was a Christian who was criticising Islam. During the conversation, I made a comment regarding his confirmation bias. I told him he was only looking for what he wanted to find and he was not willing to see the other side’s argument. While I was making this statement, I was thinking of my own hypocrisy. I was thinking about how I look for arguments against my own religion when it comes to things that matter to me and how I find other ideologies’ points of view on these matters so much more appealing and how I look for these more than I look for justifications for opposing beliefs in my religion because I am willing to look for the former than the latter, giving rise to my own confirmation bias, only because I’m trying to reduce my dissonance.

However, this recognition has gotten me nowhere. Leon Festinger, the person who coined the term cognitive dissonance, suggests that people engage in a process he termed “dissonance reduction,” which can be achieved in one of three ways: lowering the importance of one of the discordant factors, adding consonant elements, or changing one of the dissonant factors. I have already tried adding a consonant element by considering agnosticism and atheism, and changed the dissonant factors by considering Sufism and the Quranist movement as they set in better with my points of view. Both haven’t been done wholeheartedly, though. The last option left is lower the importance of one or more of the discordant factors by coming to terms with what I believe to be flaws in my religion and let them be. This option is one I’m not willing to consider at all, which leaves me in quite a rut.

The fact is that sooner or later (more later than sooner), I’ll break free of this dissonance and come to accept a new identity. Which? What? When? That is yet to be seen.

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Shades of Women

Note: This is not a critique of a particular blog or opinion, just my opinion on where the focus should and shouldn’t be.

The only thing worse than stereotyping is counter stereotyping, and the only thing worse than discrimination is reverse discrimination. But more often than not, what I see from activists tends to clearly fall into the categories of counter stereotyping or reverse discrimination. Only in the last 2 weeks, I came across 2 different articles/videos that reek of counter stereotypes and reverse discrimination.

The first one was a video parody of Robin Thicke’s song ‘Blurred Lines’. While there isn’t enough I can say regarding the vileness of the original song, this ‘feminist’ parody is anything but feminist. Feminism calls for equality, not the degradation of the other sex to raise the status of one. This response to the original video by depicting women as sexually assertive and intellectual is a clear counter stereotype of sexually oppressed or exploited and intellectually lacking women shown in the original video. This was the most resentful of the three examples I came across.

The second one also comes from a feminist but is a little subtle in its reverse discrimination against the women that does not fit the writer’s definition of them. The blog starts off well by claiming that women perpetuate misogyny in our Pakistani culture themselves, but quickly turns into a narrative of the kind of women that might be anything but the party animal, career oriented, sociologically aware, single woman who takes into account no one’s but her own opinions while making decisions. Once again, the reverse discrimination against women who would rather not have a career, are more interested in cooking up a storm in the kitchen than in brewing a strategy in the corporate world, would rather watch Piya ka ghar pyaara than Newsroom or the 9 o clock news, make decisions with mutual agreement than outright rejections etc, is rather unsettling. Generally, we come to accept the differences amongst ourselves. Yet, why do the modern feminists try so hard to not see the blurred lines (pun intended) of the feminist movement but are hell bent on perpetuating a single ideal of what a woman should or shouldn’t be. Why do women insist on being stuck on a 70s notion or 20th century view of liberation that does not consider individuality. A liberated or empowered woman does not and should not look, act or think in a particular way. We should be able to celebrate diversity. Women should be able to make choices that they are comfortable with, not fit into a (reverse) stereotype of a career-oriented, intellectual woman. What kind of liberation is that? Does it not defeat the purpose of liberation if you’re going to free them from one cage and lock them in another? Especially when increasingly people have increasingly come around to the notion that a career is not everything.

Personally, I think women should be free to make their choices; whether it’s choosing to religiously read Vogue or Financial Times, opt to work or even be the bread winner, or to stay at home (if she has the luxury to)(This should also be a choice accorded to men, by the way), be sexually submissive or sexually assertive and decide if she wants to watch Vampire Diaries or Sky News. The keyword here is ‘choice’. So, it would be better if feminists would stick to bashing the systems that make it hard for women to make these choices than bashing the women who make these choices, and understand that this world is more grey, less black and white.

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Greedy laws by a greedy god?

Marx’s religion as “opium of the people” has never been more evident than in today’s world. The proletariat are kept at bay by the bourgeoisie by using religion as a tool for social control. What more can be said of the recent debacle of Shahzeb Khan’s parents pardoning Shahrukh Jatoi and his accomplices, in the name of God. Emma Goldman’s words are very exacting when she says:

God has created a kingdom so despotic, so tyrannical, so cruel, so terribly exacting that naught but gloom and tears and blood have ruled the world since gods began.

How else can anyone view the law of Diyat but one that advances a worldview that justifies oppression? I am no scholar, but there are no defined amounts as to how much blood money should be paid. It begs asking the question, is it the same for rich and the poor? Is it relative? If a rich person kills a poor in cold blood, does the rich pay according to what he can afford? If a poor person kills a rich person, does he pay what he can afford? In the latter case, would the compensation be enough for a rich person, who would undoubtedly call for the law of Qisas to be applied instead? If it is not relative but rather a fixed amount, wouldn’t it still be easier for rich people to pay an amount as opposed to poor people? Isn’t this the worst manifestation of tyranny?

Let us, for a moment, forget that the amount itself creates inequality. Let us, instead, think of the consequences. In a world full of greed and money being the might, anyone settling for blood money is labelled a sellout. This further maligns the one who is already oppressed and already the victim, in favour of the oppressor. Nonetheless, it isn’t hard to see why such a label is attached when the blood of one’s child, such an immense sentiment is traded for money which forms the basis of the materialistic world. The disparity of the two is unreal and unimaginably preposterous.

Yet, what other laws can be expected from a God who Himself, not only encourages but thrives on the greed of the humankind. A God that tempts its followers with an eternal paradise where rocks are made of pearls and jewels, buildings are made out of silver and gold, clothes are of the finest silk (and the list goes on), or a God that asks for thankfulness, gratitude and appreciation for what He has bestowed upon mankind in the form of rituals and sacrifices, it is not startling for such a law to be enacted or permitted by such a God.

As for me, I would rather have Allah, Al-Adl (the Just), Al-Muqsit (the Equitable), than Allah, ash-shakur (the Rewarder of thankfulness), al-Muhsi (the Accounter)!


Economics of Being a Working Mother

When it comes to feminism, I am absolutely pro-choice. So, I really can’t bring myself to agree with the second wave feminism idea that a woman at home is wasting her talent and limiting her possibilities. I believe women have every right to choose to stay at home; the keyword being ‘choose’. However, I am a number cruncher and a finance person and so I have to see this in the way I know best.

Many people who support women staying at home refer to the value of a mother staying at home and raising good quality human beings, some suggesting that it is priceless. I have personally heard this argument to make me feel better about myself over a million times. More recently, to give weight to this argument (because money is the only way an argument can be given weight), the value of a mother/homemaker has been quantified. This particular article places a value of $96,261 per year on a homemaker, not just a mother, in 2012. Another one suggests this value is $112,962, or $17.80 an hour. Looking at this from a financial analyst’s perspective, a mother or homemaker who chooses to go to work instead of staying at home has an opportunity cost nearing $100k. Quite a massive opportunity cost considering that women who make this decision would be earning, on average, $45k annually, otherwise. It is worth debating that the values calculated here are greatly exaggerated and women who work might still be doing all these duties listed when they’re not at work. But debunking this claim is topic for another post altogether.

So why is it that I still don’t find being a stay at home mother an appealing prospect (apart from the fact that I can’t possibly start asking my husband to pay me for what I’m worth)? What I want to highlight now is another aspect of economics that shifts the tables on this argument a little and is something that bothers me most about being a stay at home mother.

If you’re anything like me (and your husband and miscellaneous relatives are anything like mine), you would’ve heard many a criticism of your parenting abilities. You must have also seen people who have a natural control over children and seem to do so without breaking a sweat. This brings me to my economic perspective; one that is referred to as efficient allocation of resources or allocative efficiency. In simple words, it means allocating your resources (generally limited ones) to the most efficient use where the marginal benefit is equal to the marginal cost. So given that my speciality is in finance, or some other mother’s speciality is in nursing, while others specialise in childminding, it only makes sense that I, as a resource, am allocated in a finance department in some organisation, the other mother as a nurse in a hospital and the third as a childminder in my home/nursery. It would mean that the outcomes are being maximised for all of us and those who are using our services. The marginal cost of children losing the motherly touch will be compensated for the marginal benefit being created by services provided by specialised mothers and the better quality of their upbringing itself by people who are specialised in it. So, next time someone tells me the opportunity cost of being a working mother is high, I’m going to tell them I’m reducing the deadweight loss of the society by working.

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