Monday, 8 January 2018

goodbye twenty-seventeen

christmas lights on regent street, london
december arrives with certainty, irrespective of the tempo of the year. it cares not whether there are loose ends or unfinished business. i have come to love the closing days of the year. the turn of the seasons is a time to gather thought. it is to hold the past, present and future in hand (momentarily).

i was never one for winter. even on days of utmost brightness, i was aware that darkness would come early, culminating in the winter solstice. but following the shifts of the earth and trying to understand the seasons has changed this for me. i am drawn to winter solstice festivals and particularly love the persian ritual of shab-e-yalda when mithra, the angel of light was said to be born. it recognises the triumph of love, knowledge and light over evil. the longest and darkest night is seen out with storytelling, poetry and food with loved ones. i stretch this philosophy across december so that omair and i make the most of it feasting with friends and family.  

in london, the days preceding the solstice were luminous, the sun so sharp and bright it made the edges of buildings like laser cuts. the nature writer robert macfarlane explains that days like these in the fortnight before the solstice are called ‘halcyon days’. i believe it is nature's way of demonstrating the promise of length and light, especially at a time when it seems (and is) so distant. in the meantime electricity comes into its element. all throughout december, buildings are strung with jewels of light. at its simplest, tiny bulbs on live wire are wrapped around buildings (as at harrods) to the more complex where strands of light are woven in creation like the angels on regent street. they shine bright against an ink blue sky with wings that come alive in varying intensities.

2017 was a year of departures. some evident, like the death of babcia (my grandmother) and others unexpected. the losses taught me that grief does not discriminate between either, although one could argue that the unexpected cases bring an inconsolable anger. many of these losses were to cancer, a thief of the kind that has stolen the peace of many. the thing about loss is that it is dimensional. it not merely about the departed but about the living too. this takes on a different meaning in a world where we live farther away from each other and are not always able to witness each others lives in their minutiae. or more importantly still, are unable to take part in mourning rituals. i know for certain that not being able to attend either of my grandmothers funerals complicated my grief. but it also gave me licence to craft new rituals, one that celebrate life and draw upon family traditions and loves.  

2017 was a year for stories too; personal, political and public. over the last two years, i have been particularly drawn to longform personal essays, spoken word along with books that speak to particularities. it turns out that the lives of others can give shape and texture to mine. the best stories are ones that have resonance because their intersections allow us to locate ourselves in them. i can think of many such stories, fictional and otherwise. some of my favourite longform essays from this year include ilona yusuf’s jam journeys,  sorayya khan’s raising brown boys in post-9/11 america, kate axelrod’s the condition that shielded my grandfather from heartbreak and kathleen alcott’s do couples that cook together, stay together?. there are many episodes of desert island discs in the spoken word category that bring together music and lived experience. the themes that emerged strongly from these were about resilience, showing up for friends and family and crafting the kind of life that you want to live. i also returned time and again to maria popova’s brain pickings which is a wonderful catalogue of human endeavour. if you are not already familiar with her work, she well and truly lives up to her description as  a ‘cartographer of meaning in a digital age’.      

i have spent the last few weeks wondering why stories matter so much. neil gaiman makes a persuasive case for stories through exploring their longevity. it appears that stories mimic living forms in their birth, reproduction, propagation and demise too. but it was not until shamil thakrar’s end of the year send off that i realised why stories took such a specific mantle this year. he writes - “in a way, it must be true that the stories that we remember and revere – whether historical or our own – define how we see ourselves. these stories must also surely be indicators of our values. if current events leave us confused, if we can’t make sense of the world, then we could do worse than use these stories to guide our actions. to then create stories of our own that in turn may even be remembered.”

reading his words returned to me an essay by mama. aptly titled ‘connecting dots’, it explores her mother’s journey who came to england by way of poland and germany after the second world war and eventually to pakistan after marrying my grandfather. it is in every sense of the word a personal story and yet engages so much of the world at large. this is because history and current affairs were the hands that shaped her - “history is composed of many layers; lifting them to discover what’s hidden by governmental dictation and the times we live in, or hidden beneath the belligerent voice of media, intrigues me. beginning with the history that’s in my bones, handed down through voices that lived it, sifting those offerings to determine what might be the real story – that is where truth begins.”

and this is the crux of the issue, the sifting of offerings. we are living in a time when stories are aplenty but where there are huge question marks around their veracity. we would do well to think about who is telling a story, who benefits from the story and who is missing from the narrative. i was struck by this time and again in the avalanche of stories of sexual abuse. these are not new stories but each decade gives them a sense of urgency and renewal and hopefully they will be a force that helps us make new strides in reconfiguring our relationships. because let's face it, this is about all of us.

2017 had more than its fair share of lemons, but as everyone knows, the tequila and salt is never far away. our travels took us to several places on the continent. our spanish sojourn took place over easter and saw us break parking rules along with the spaniards. in greece, the weather gods threw such violent tantrums, we were forced into swapping the sea for a hot tub. in july we spent a magical week with the blezat family where the rhythm of the day was to share meals and conversation, swim and sleep. september found us in northern italy that is famed for its hazelnuts, truffles and warming red wines like barolo and barbera to celebrate the marriage of friends like family. and finally in october, we went to poland in search of family history.   

in 2018, i would like to carry on getting eight hours of sleep every night. i assure you that it is golden. satire suggests that the news is suffering from a lack of it ‘(which might explain why it has become so short-tempered and erratic).’ i would also like to keep up with the creation of new rituals, especially those that combine friends and food. wislawa szymborska sagely notes, ‘life is performance without rehearsal’, but there is so much fun to be had in writing the script of your own character and play. this would not be possible without the generosity and spirit of the supporting cast of characters in my life. the chief protagonists (in no particular order) are my husband, my parents, sibling and his wonderful wife and the very many friends that we are surrounded by. i am looking forward to the next chapter.

for omair, a familiar tagline holds sway. in 2018 he intends to ‘keep calm and build on’.

whatever you choose, we hope that the new year brings you what you hoped for and more.

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