The writing prompt

’Twas a bleak evening. Unwarranted rains lashed against the window while Narnia deleted the clump of text on her screen—her feeble efforts at writing an article.

It’d been a while since she’d strung one sentence to another, in perfect coherence, forging each paragraph as worthy as the next one. All established writers face this, she assured herself. Except that her first publication was still due.

As she crumped the metaphorical piece of paper that held her desperate story, she stumbled upon something rather uncanny.

In retrospect, that was her impetus to publish her first novel, and many subsequent ones.


A tribute to The Daily Post. It meant a lot to me.

Zorba: The unlikeable yet likeable

Zorba

You don’t often come across a book that inspires, confuses, and offends you at the same time. Zorba the Greek did all of that and more to me. Though I’d heard of the title before, I only pursued it because my brother recommended it. He’s not an avid reader, and so since he cherishes it, I guessed I would too.

Through the first few pages, I started to get bored. It seemed like any other fiction — a writer and his friend travelling abroad. It wasn’t clear where they headed or what they intended to do there. My only impetus to keep reading was the hope that a flash of interest would hit me as I turned some page. That page didn’t come for a long time, and I slacked in the mean time. Other priorities came up, and some days I just fell asleep even before opening the book.

It didn’t help that I was reading a misaligned PDF on a digital device. After eight hours at work, the idea of staring at the screen didn’t excite me. Regardless, I snuck in at least an hour on most days. Needless to say, it took me longer to read this than any other book. But that’s not because of these petty situations.

The real reason — I realised later — Zorba took me longer than I’d expected is because Zorba is an idiot. I couldn’t get my head round to like his weird personality that a world of avid readers adore. I hated him. Everything he says seemed to trivialise women, casting them as the weaker sex. He insisted on protecting and respecting a woman, and how when a man does all that, she’d offer herself to him like a slave. As if to prove his point, he takes advantage of a lone woman pining for love. He showers her with praises, gifts, and sweet talk until she falls in love with him and croons for marriage. I felt disgusted. And I couldn’t help but wonder why literature celebrates such an egomaniacal character.

As I read on, however, I realised that he wasn’t bad. Although his speech is fake, his intentions aren’t. As a reader at that point, Zorba’s character evolved so much, displaying an uncanny ability to express love toward the woman he’d seemed to have used. It was only as the story progressed to more aggressive scenes that I understood Zorba reveals his characteristics bit by bit, and it’s almost impossible to assess him midway through the book.

Not only does he express his care for the woman he’d seduced, but he also shows empathy as he fights for and defends another woman who the townsfolk mauled. To me, Zorba then rose from manipulative to compassionate.

While it’s the underlying characteristic I gauged from the narrative, throughout the book Zorba does other little things that hard to hate. Where we speak our mind, Zorba’s unique attraction is that he dances, instead. His playing the santuri, living as if he’d die at any moment, working like a dog, his extensive philosophy of existence—everything of his everyday habits is aspirational to say the least.

“Luckless man has raised what he thinks is an impassable barrier round his poor little existence. He takes refuge there and tries to bring a little order and security into his life. A little happiness. Everything must follow the beaten track, the sacrosanct routine, and comply with safe and simple rules. Inside this enclosure, fortified against the fierce attacks of the unknown, his petty certainties, crawling about like centipedes, go unchallenged. There is only one formidable enemy, mortally feared and hated; the Great Certainty.”

As page after digital page I flipped, I admired Zorba. I still hate that he patronises women and is shameless in thrusting his opinions on others. Regardless, I saw that while Zorba is everything that’s wrong with humankind, he’s also everything that humankind should persevere to become. Not only is Zorba’s character flawed, but it’s also philosophical—a realistic portrayal of human qualities. As I shut the book, I felt as if I’d spent my time in the company of an ordinary human—one who’s good and flawed. In the end I’ve acquired the ability to see through both qualities in Zorba, and still respect him for himself. It’s as if I now can discern the difference between an opinion and the person who holds that opinion. After all, opinions change, people often don’t.

Only way forward

When nature redefines tragedy

and media recreates parody

no recourse have we to do

but redesign our strategy—

form and reform policies

and to reframe fallacies

trying to renovate lives

by relocating those hives

ever looking to rebuild future

forever striving to restore hope.

Jet lagging

I love waking up early. I love challenging the sun and facing it upright just as it shows its face from behind the clouds. But not even I enjoyed being wide awake at 2:45 am.

Well, my preferences didn’t matter, because the day after we landed in a timezone about 11:30 hours away from home, my system was so messed up that at two am in the morning, I felt as awake as I’d have felt at 1 pm at home.

Ah, the miracles of jet lag.

on air

The weird thing about being jet lagged, though, is that for the most part of the flight, my symptoms were different from the rest of my colleagues. Sure, we were all up by 3 am, but while they were all hungry at odd hours and remained jet lagged for over three days, I was in and out of jet lag in less than 24 hours. Apart from being jealous, to everyone else, I was the elephant in the room—the only one comfortable with the drastic change in time.

When some of my colleagues heard that I’d be traveling over the seas, they all said the same thing: regardless of how drowsy I felt, I shouldn’t ever sleep before 11 pm on the day I land. That shouldn’t be too hard, I thought as I boarded my first plane to Dubai. It was an overnight flight starting at 4 am and no sooner had I gotten on that I yawned far and wide. A few minutes into the flight, however, I was still up. I couldn’t sleep even though my eyes drooped and my brain bored. By the time the sunrise became visible over the clouds, they had served breakfast and I felt active again.

It didn’t take long for me to to doze on an off, but I didn’t ever once fall into proper sleep. It hit me hard only when I landed in Dubai. It was a brief transit, and we spent no time looking around at the massive airport—something I regret to this moment. Our next flight was even longer: 15.50 hours.

The enormity of that flight dawned on me when I felt as if I’d spent 2 days on the plane when we had in fact flown only for an hour. But we made it through, and landed not as excited as I’d hoped I’d be, but thankful beyond expectation. In hindsight, though, the flight wasn’t too bad. But at that particular moment, I was glad my feet found land. I still wasn’t sleepy, though. It was only while in the cab with end-of-summer breeze whizzing past my ear that I realised how sleepy and tired I felt.

To ensure we didn’t sleep, our colleagues sponsored dinner and we spent a long night wolfing down fancy burgers and kickass milkshakes. When we called it a night, it was early in the morning back home. Tired as a log, I had a peaceful nap—until I woke up at 2:45 as fresh as a flower, cursing the colleague who predicted it. That afternoon, the weight of the sleepless nights came crashing down on me. And it didn’t help that I was in a boring meeting with sleep in my mind.

That night, things started falling into place. I fell asleep on time and awoke on time. From that day on, I’ve been one of the few to tolerate the time zone variation without a pill or pain.

And I couldn’t help but feel proud.