Archive | August 2017

Once in a lifetime, once in a lifetime, once in a lifetime

“give me a shot in the night; give me a moment; some kind of mysterious” Shot at the Night // The Killers

The song softly plays in the background, & a wave of newfound appreciation of The Killers suddenly hits me.

This summer break for me was not epic at all; it was not adventurous nor do I have extreme tales to share with anyone, unlike many who have gone overseas and did remarkable activities. But there’s magic in the mundane; in the ordinary; in the familiarity too.

I’ve undoubtedly learned a great deal in the past 3 months, new things which I couldn’t imagine learning 6 months ago. I’ve become clearer in my outlook & in my goals. But most importantly, the spark in me to do the things I truly love were rekindled (and it continues to remain lit, for now). And for that, I am extremely happy & I am thankful to Allah. Perhaps this is why I also feel this sense of bittersweet feeling on this Sun night, as Shot in the Night plays in the background because I know that schoolwork will once again take its toll on me, causing that spark to be diminished.

I come to school feeling refreshed, with my mind a tad bit clearer and my heart a tad more willing to contribute, to what I can. May Allah guide me as I continue on this academic path, and on the path to continually improve myself. It’s not going to be easy, but I hope I’ll have the strength, courage and patience to keep holding on and never to lose sight of what matters. Here’s to a new academic year 🙂

Lots of Love,

ShabiraBasheer

 

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Why Everyone Needs to Watch (and Read) The Handmaid’s Tale

(Apologies if the post is messed-up and unstructured, for I have so much thoughts and feels for the show that I just needed to write them down).

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Before school reopens for me, before the summer break comes to a bittersweet end for me, I (binge)-watched Hulu’s The Handmaid Tale. I read the book a month ago before watching Hulu’s adaptation of it, courtesy of my friends who somehow knew my interest lies in dystopian fiction and cautionary tales.

I loved the book – I loved the horror, the cruelty and the unsettling nature of the entire fictional tale that is also a reality at the same time. A scary, harsh reality that consists of torture, rape, policing of women’s bodies and female genital mutilation (FGM). This is what makes the book so disturbingly riveting. But first, a background.

The US Congress has been overthrown by a Christian theocracy, a sort of Puritan Evangelical conservative movement, and the entire country has been renamed to be The Republic of Gilead. Fertile women are rounded up and dumped in propaganda schools – to be converted into Handmaids. Handmaids, a title to mask the horrible fate of forced surrogates, are brainwashed and indoctrinated by Aunts (who are undoubtedly evangelicals) as they watch porn and are taught to repulse at the disgusting nature of loose, consensual sex, abortions & birth control pills, since they are the bane of today’s troubling low birth rates. Women aren’t producing children, because of these evil, moral-less phenomenon, it must be stopped! Consensual sex is practically non-existent (well, except for Nick and Offred – later on in the book & the series. It’s a cathartic act that symbolizes resistance for June).

The story is narrated by a single Handmaid, named Offred. Her name is a wordplay in itself – it means Of-Fred, with Fred signifying the Commander that she has been “assigned” to participate in forced impregnation, masked in yet another seemingly sacred term called the “Ceremony”, as if what they are doing is so very valuable, a ritual if they would like to call it and not at all psychologically distressing. Her name – her very identity already shows subjugation. The Wives of the Commander are implicit in this very act, in a disturbing threesome way as they hold the Handmaids’ wrists down and their bodies symbolically become a singular vessel. This is state-sanctioned, mechanical rape at its core.

When I heard Hulu released its 10-part season in April of this year, I was actually quite curious to watch it, because having been frustrated at that cliffhanger of an ending from the book, I wanted to see how this tv adaptation is going to be different or similar from the book. Having watched the entire season 1 of the show AND read the book, I actually prefer the tv show than the book itself.

I love the tv show because it is so chillingly visual, which enhances the brutality and the twisted nature of the tale. I was absolutely horrified when I read the book, but when I watched the show, my horror magnified. The colors in the show, mostly dark and black within the confines of the house, reflect the bleak aura and the hopeless mood of the scenes displayed. It is strongly juxtaposed by the bleached, almost too-bright colors of the outside world which is so jarring and outwardly deceiving as it conveys a tranquil and peaceful suburb, almost as if unaware of the hidden inhumanity happening within the confines of the homes.

The slow, unhurried conversations & long eye-contact between the characters are reminiscent of real life conversations, which hence exude an unsettling and distressing atmosphere once again, almost as if this is reality. The ominous background scores, coupled with the contrasting red cloaks of the Handmaids walking about on the streets as well as the slow, dreary development of the events in the show make it look like it came right out from the horror genre (and rightly so, since the entire concept of it is horrifying to say the least).

Because it is a tv show and not a movie, it needs to sustain viewers’ interest. The tv show added multiple perspectives – ones which aren’t present in the book – and which I thought are a nice and necessary addition to the book. It added various backstories to Nick (whom I’ve come to like ALOT, I hope they don’t kill him off in season 2), to Serena Joy, to Luke and even to Ofglen. I loved what the screenwriters did to Ofglen’s and Nick’s story. It’s a fantastic addition, as compared to the book.

But I’m not here to talk about what the tv show did right, or what it didn’t address. Sure the show has its downsides and critiques as well, like how it totally brushes off the race equation. There are already articles reviewing season 1 of the show, and those articles are so brilliant and insightful, I don’t ever think I can rival them. Examples would include this one by The Guardian and by The New Yorker.

Both articles are absolutely fantastic and there are many more which I’ve read that are equally fantastic and insightful as well. What I’m here to talk about is how timely and apt this series came, in the current political climate. When Margaret Atwood wrote this back in the Reagan era (in 1985), it became a chilling extreme tale that is cautionary and feministic in nature to warn readers of what could happen if women’s rights are stripped and if women’s bodies are policed by others. However, Atwood’s classic, dystopian novel was again brought to light especially in this period, in the Trump administration as the feminism becomes transposed in our era. The tv adaptation couldn’t come at the right moment.

When I saw the Women’s March on the show, I can’t help but think of the Women’s March protests a day after Trump’s inauguration. When I saw how Ofglen is mutilated down under, I can’t help but think about FGM that is (still) rife in the developing countries, and how they justified it on religious and cultural grounds. When I saw how the Handmaids slut shame Janine as they chants “Her fault” when she confessed to being sexually assaulted, I can’t help but think of how some victims of rape/sexual assault are being shamed for not dressing appropriately, for being out so late into the night and for “asking for it”.

When I saw how it is Serena Joy who orchestrated this uprising and complete overturn of the Congress into this evangelical, Christian movement, I can’t help but think how some women are indeed accomplices of the patriarchy and the oppression. When I saw how Ofglen is being tortured for being a “gender traitor” (code name for lesbian, gays, trans and bisexuals) and how her lover is hanged for precisely the same reason, I can’t help but think of the harsh and cruel treatment meted out to the LGBT individuals in some countries.

Most frighteningly of all, when I saw how the government of Gilead is being run entirely by men; by how policies regarding women’s bodies are being regulated by men, it is a chilling similarity to the picture of Trump and his administration (which had no woman in sight) signing executive orders which affects the reproductive rights of women. It is a book rooted in patriarchy and patriarchal notions, as its core lesson is on how women’s rights are stripped away from them and how their bodies are no longer their own, as it comes under the control of men.

This reduces the power of women, drastically. Their bodies are simply made to be vessels of reproduction. And what is more frightening is how the story is set in the future. You see, both the book and the show maneuvers (impeccably in my opinion) between the present (Republic of Gilead) and the past (USA). So you can really see the differences between how women were like and how women are now. But those differences do not happen overnight, they happen subtly and they take their time, as seen in both the show & the book. The signs were there; and the characters in the book simply brush it aside, thinking that all these would eventually pass. When their credit cards are declined and eventually cancelled, Moira and June (Offred’s real name is June as established in the tv show) are undoubtedly puzzled and disheartened, but they reassure themselves as they reason with their self-doubts that all these will pass and things will eventually get back to normal. Sounds familiar, does it remind you of today?

Even Aunt Lydia alludes (both in the books and the show) that all these things which are happening to them might seem unusual and weird in the beginning, but it’ll soon become normal & ordinary; a new normal. And indeed it has, indeed it has. I guess this is a lesson in itself. It might be hyperbolic or an exaggeration, but one cannot deny that the book is a warning – of these slow changes as they become symbolic and significant as time passes, paving the way for a dangerous and bleak future ahead, especially for women (yes this includes Serena Joy) and for men like Nick who are inevitably trapped in the system. We are living in the era of pre-Gilead, I think.

It’s a book and a show rooted in power & oppression as well, set against the backdrop of all things female. Do yourself a favor and watch this show, because it is perhaps the best show to have come out from television in this year so far. (I know I am being very biased when I say this, because “best” is indeed a strong word, but there are a few writers who have the same stance as me when I say this.) A brilliant, unsettling, dark, distressing, twisted and ominous tale, it’ll leave you thinking for days. You can literally write review essays addressing the themes of the book & the show.

Unbearable

 

#latenightthoughts #latenightrants

She prays to Allah to give her the strength, patience, courage and guidance for nights like these. Especially strength and especially patience. Because to not know, to be stuck in an emotional loop, it is so very, very frustrating.

She wonders if any of her friends or anyone she knows, knows how it feels like to be stuck in a vacuum? Like an astronaut floating in space, unbeknownst of anything down on Earth? Or like an inmate awaiting death row, counting the non-existent days, minutes till his eventual demise. All she’s left is constant wondering and sometimes it gets difficult.

Why is it difficult? Because she wonders if it is all worth it; this waiting, this keeping it in. It’s so very amazing, she herself is so surprised at her innate ability to be so calm, composed and to not reveal anything on her face. She will not be the betrayer of her very own emotions, her own thoughts, her own feelings. Not right now, not at this moment. She knows it is not the right time yet.

She feels stuck in this loop, this stasis. On some days, she wants to just let it all out, not caring and not giving a thought as to the consequences, the ramifications. Because she just wants this burden to be out of her chest, so that she can finally move on and be free from the shackles imposed on her, by her.

But she knows she can’t, at least not yet. The worst part, she knows, is not knowing if it’s all worth it in the end, if her patience, her wait would mean anything in the end. She is so close to giving up, because she doesn’t know if it’s worth her effort, her time, her feelings. This is the part which she cannot seem to grasp at all. But she knows that all she can do is to be patient. So very ironic, she thinks.

For you, a thousand times over

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“There is a way to be good again.”

A heartwrenching tale & a tear-jerker, The Kite Runner taught me all about redemption, loss, consequences, love, childhood & war. Khaled Hoseini, you’ve done it again. A Thousand Splendid Suns wrecked me, The Kite Runner wrecked me even more.

We all know every actions of ours has consequences. Those actions are shaped by our choices, which are in turn shaped by our circumstances, by the people around us. You see, it’s a journey ultimately. It boils down right from the circumstances we’re in, how we make sense of it all, how it shapes our choices, and how those choices will eventually end up into an action we decide to simply do. It’s a dialectical relationship, with both individual and environment playing a part.

And the consequences that come after every choice; every action we make. We live with those consequences, we make sense of it. And this is again a dialectic. How we make sense of it is is ultimately shaped by who we are. And sometimes, we’re too hard on ourselves for making the choices we made, for carrying out the actions we did. We blame ourselves. Guilt is a powerful thing.

I empathize with Amir. I really do. He has flaws, he has layers. He is, ultimately a human who is too hard on himself for the choices he made when he was a child. But the thing is, Amir is lucky enough, indeed so very lucky, to have a chance at redemption. Redemption is a powerful, powerful force. It’s a second chance to undo your wrongs, to undo the choices we made, to undo the very consequences that have resulted. It’s a way to move on. And few people can get a chance at redemption. Indeed, for most of the time, redemption comes at a moment in time that is too late.

The story in The Kite Runner reminded me that redemption can come for every bad choice I had, for every questionable action I made, for the consequences my actions and my choices have created as a result of my own psyche and the circumstances around me. It’s a way to forget about the horrors of the past, and to begin a new path, to create a new set of consequences but it is one that is ultimately filled with a “turmoil of uncertainty” (to quote Hoseini in his novel).

Redemption can be sought. It doesn’t come just like that. An opportunity knocks, in the form of a long-lost, old friend & mentor. “There is a way to be good again”. And just as how your actions are shaped by the choices you made at that point in time, so does redemption come when you decide to pursue it, to seek it, to obtain it.

The path is never easy. It requires iman, patience, compassion, self-evaluation, hardship. But most importantly, it requires forgiveness. The strength to obtain forgiveness not just from others, but from yourself. Sometimes the most difficult person to forgive, is yourself. And sometimes, the journey takes a very, very long time, with no definite outcome, ending in sight. 

That doesn’t mean you should stop trying though. It doesn’t mean you should stop in this path of redemption. And it especially doesn’t mean you should stop trying to seek redemption for your actions; for your mistakes. After all, those who can seek redemption are truly lucky. There are others who are not so lucky, because it came too late for them. How long will you take, until you say it’s too late?

Photo is taken when I was in the beautiful country of Oman, Dec 2016. 

Lots of love,

ShabiraBasheer