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2018 in retrospective

“If you’re waiting all your life, you won’t ever go”

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2018 was a whirlwind; not just any whirlwind, but a speeding, tornado-like, hurricane-like year that flattened me in all directions. From being inaugurated into the pioneer batch of Roses of Peace (ROP) Ambassador Programme, to internship with the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), to being a part of a youth outreach programme in my school’s Muslim Society, to almost going deaf and being stampeded upon in Foster the People’s and The Killers’ gigs (in that order), to taking up AERIAL at Aerial Fitness Studio, to having to stop Aerial temporarily because of my back, to exploring Bandung and Taiwan. Oh and also, to completing my first semester as a YEAR 4 student in NUS – this is it guys, my days in NUS are officially numbered.

But, 2018 was a rewarding year for me. It was the year I delved deep into social service and civil society. It was the year that I met a bunch of amazing, inspiring people throughout the year, people who have become dear friends of mine, where friendships were forged and deepened over meetings discussing projects and brainstorming ideas off one another, over train rides where we learnt more about each other individually, as a person. It was the year that challenged me the most as a person, for I had to step out of my comfort zones numerous times to connect with people, and to connect on a deeper level, beyond mere superficiality. It was the year where I learnt so much, about civil society in Singapore and about outstanding, remarkable individuals who have devoted a significant portion of their time towards service and volunteerism, for others – be it to help build an inclusive society for all, to provide for those who may be underprivileged, or to foster interfaith understanding and peace within the diversity present in Singaporean society. You see, these individuals and their stories will remain etched in my heart and in my mind, because they have inspired me to do better, be better, as a person. 2018 was an inspiring year, for me.

So you see, when people frown upon civil society in Singapore and about our social system, and upon the powerlessness and apathy of young people, I’ll simply smile and say “look closely again, things might just be changing, a little at a time”. So when people tell me that they feel like they can truly make a difference if they go overseas to help war-torn or disaster-stricken areas, I’ll simply smile and say “look again, you can make a difference here too”. After all, all you can do is try, try your very best, in the smallest of actions you can think of. Because that is where it starts. The work that ROP does, to empower youths of today  to become peacemakers tomorrow so as to promote a safe space and foster interfaith harmony among the diversity in Singapore  taught me that youths, not just policymakers, can create change. The people behind ROP are incredible and amazing. The work that MSF does, to build an inclusive society and to help build strong, stable families as well as to help those who might be vulnerable taught me the importance of never neglecting the invisible. The work that MSF does is so underrated but at the same time so, incredibly, manifestly important. The organizations that partner with MSF taught me that there is an entire network of voluntary welfare organizations that are doing some of the best work I have seen (in my 22 years of life – that’s not very long I know), to create this inclusive society and celebrate diversity. The work that The Hidden Good does (thanks to my time in ROP, I came to know THG) taught me that perhaps, the best way to raise awareness of social issues in Singapore is not only through reading scholarly articles on the state of the social system in Singapore but also through connecting with individuals on the ground and listening to what they think. And the work that Valour does, to reach out to our beneficiaries of the Jamiyah Children’s Home, to connect with them on a more personal, individual level, to see beyond their past, taught me that that is exactly how you should treat people, without any judgement, with kindness, compassion and acceptance instead.

Despite the anxiety attacks, sleepless nights and tremendous amount of fear and worry, 2018 taught me that silver linings prevail, and that there is still beauty even in the darkest of days. 2018 was the year that taught me a lot of useful, soft skills, things which I would never have learnt by reading truckloads of readings in school, and it deepened my resolve to continue with this even more. I am excited for what 2019 entails, and I hope it will be as fruitful – if not more fruitful than 2018. Bismillah.

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.

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

Ramadan 2017 

She heard the tadbir when she broke her fast with her family members, everyone present this time round, in-laws included.

She couldn’t help but feel a profound sense of sadness and loss – the tadbir marked the end of the holy, magical month of Ramadhan, the month where trials and tribulations were at an all time high, the month where endurance was put to the test but the happiest and most magical month of all. Her favorite month.

She did not want Ramadan to end, despite not tasting food and not letting water touch her lips for almost 12 hours. She did not want Ramadan to end despite the fact that she did not get enough sleep because she was working. No, she didn’t want Ramadan to end.

Because Ramadan was the time she sought solace and peace for her troubled, sad, frustrated and confused heart. She read more of the Quran and she made it her personal mission to understand the Quran, despite not being able to read the Arabic version entirely well (she needs to work on that). But she found comfort amidst the sentences written by the All Almighty One, in the divine Holy Book that was delivered to the most beloved Messenger, Prophet Muhammad SAW. She felt at ease, the feeling she craved for a very long time; the feeling which she struggled to find for a very long time.

The atmosphere, the mood was different in Ramadan. She could sense it. The camaraderie as your fellow brothers & sisters are going through the same thing, the kindness she witnessed, the acts of compassion & the patience. She did not want all of these to go away.

She really didn’t.

But she knows that like any month, days will pass; nights will pass; the dawn will break. She can only hope that she will meet Ramadan again next year, and that she will be even better than before. She can only hope that the takeaways she received in Ramadan will continue to stay with her throughout the year as she keeps them close to her heart, like treasure, like pieces of gold that are so very valuable. She can only hope the guidance, peace, comfort and solace will stay with her, and if they ever fade away, she can only hope she has the strength to get it all back.

“And whoever puts his trust in Allah; then He will be enough for him.” ~At-Talaq; 65:3

Eid Mubarak everybody. She wishes to seek your forgiveness for any wrongs that she has done – be it in her actions or in her words. She does not mean ill in her intentions. She wishes you well in everything that you do, she truly does.

Lots of love,

Shabira

end of the affair / ben howard

2016 has been a mixture of highs and lows for me. The main takeaway though, for me, was that I truly discovered myself in 2016. I finally understand myself, I finally know myself. 2016 was filled with uncomfortable moments that have forced me to delve deep into myself and to question my character and my beliefs. What am I truly made of? What are my inner convictions and my beliefs? Being someone who has put up so many barriers and walls to protect her heart, I forgot that these barriers became impenetrable even to myself. I told myself it is to guard people from coming in and from taking advantage of my weaknesses but in that process, I shut myself out too, such that I couldn’t understand myself. 

But Allah S.W.T works in mysterious ways, and I think He chose this year specifically to open up my heart to myself. He chose to put me in difficult and uncomfortable spots, to have unrequited feelings for someone such that I stray out of my comfort zone, stretch my limits, look deeper into myself and my capabilities, learn where I have failed and re-evaluate myself. Re-evaluate my judgments, my capabilities, my convictions, my justifications for taking certain actions. 

2016 was all about uncovering my true self for myself. 2017, insyaAllah, will be to act upon this newfound knowledge and to become a better person. Become a better person who knows what her limits are, what her weaknesses are and turn those to her advantage. 2016 was about stumbling and falling apart. 2017 will be about piecing herself back together to become a better version of herself, a much stronger version of herself. 

2017 will be better, insyaAllah. 2017 will be a year of constantly renewal, of constantly trying to better myself. Like an athlete training for a 10km marathon, 2016 was about knowing what my limits were – what my strengths and weaknesses were. 2017 would be to challenge those limits so that I can be a better runner in this journey of life. To be more confident, more brave, less unnerved, have less self-doubt and possibly use lesser social media from now onwards. Bismillah. 

A Rush Of Blood

once you walk through a storm

Finally, time to update this godforsaken blog. I’ve neglected this bloggy of mine so, so much, because of burdensome A levels which sucked my time and my energy out of me, to the point that I can only think of homework, tests, schoolwork and studying, leaving no time to tend to anything else, such as blogging.

I remembered writing a post here, a year ago, spilling my dread on the start of As. I dreaded the year that was coming ahead because I know what was to come, I know that it would be a very difficult and gruelling journey, yet a journey I must make, because, well, I chose the JC path, and it is inevitable that I would have to face the big A someday. But, I also know that it is a journey I have to make, a hurdle I have to overcome, because that’s the only way I can ever progress and be better, academia wise. I have to overcome this, I have to go through this, it’s the only way.

It’s just that, while I knew that it would be tough, I didn’t expect it to be so damn difficult.

I studied 10-12 hours every single day. Every single day after I come home from school, I did not sit down in front of the television and rested the night away or took the night off. (I could count with one hand the number of nights off I took). I stayed back in school to study, till 9pm/8pm on some days and when I got home, I CONTINUED. My weekends were spent on homework/tests/revision till I had no time for anything else, because when I was finally done or when I finally forced myself to stop because my brain couldn’t take it any longer, I was so tired, mentally tired till I couldn’t be bothered doing anything else. I made sacrifices, LOADS OF THEM. I remembered having to sacrifice family outings, friend outings, cuzzie outings, forced them to reschedule till I finish this journey so that I will be free to do the things that I really wanted. Heck, I sacrificed doing the thing I enjoyed most – reading and writing – because of A levels. 

Now that wasn’t so bad.

The expectations that came with each test/examination were worse. I had my fair share of happiness and I had my fair share of depressions. But both, were equally bad. Because with each A/B/C I got, teachers start to expect. They would pin hopes on me. They would see the potential in me, they would see that I can do well, that I can make them proud. But no, because with each expectation comes fear. You see, to me, screwing up your exams/tests gives you the drive to move on, to get up, to figure out what is wrong and get better so you won’t face that feeling of uselessness and powerlessness anymore. But the feeling of maintaining what you had excelled in, maintaining your A/B/C, that is so very difficult. You cannot screw up, you cannot make mistakes because when you make mistakes, teachers start to get worried, you will get worried and you might just lose faith in yourself because you could do it then, but you couldn’t do it now, so what happened to you?

And then there was the pain of disappointment, the pain of feeling hopeless, the pain that all your hardwork was for nothing. I was a hardworking student, I was very hardworking. So I put my 101% in each subject, I was too scared to neglect even one subject. But I wasn’t smart, so it was possible that I failed in a certain exam. And that feeling that comes, I would remember it: the feeling that you screwed up, despite working so hard, the feeling of “well it’s all for nothing”, that feeling is oh so overwhelmingly painful and depressing. (and I pray with all my hard that I will never face that pain on my A level result day because it will break me).

But the scariest of all was the anxiety attacks. I worried constantly that I wasn’t living up to my standards, because the pressure from my teachers, oh you can feel it alright. The pressure from myself? I exerted that on myself, hence the anxiety attacks. The panic pangs you get before exams, such that I had to force myself to calm down. The over thinking was the worst. I would over think so many things, and my mind would sometimes drift off to a far away place, such that I thought I might lose myself.

You may think, A levels was so drastic for you??? Honestly, I didn’t know it myself, I thought well, I just had to study 24/7 non-stop. I too don’t know why it was so tough for me, so difficult for me. Not everyone would have gone through exactly the same things as I did because well, no 2 people are alike and our situations may have been completely different. Of course, I know that I had a difficulty handling stress, I always do. So maybe that’s why my experience was so drastic. But I do know other people too faced problems, maybe I don’t know exactly what those problems were, or if they could handle it well, but I am sure they had them as well. I’m just sharing this on my blog to get it out of my system. If you just happen to read this and you’re sitting for As next year, or any other year, or even considering the JC path altogether and you get terrified, don’t be. This was my experience, it doesn’t necessarily have to be yours if you know how to deal with. And as with every storm that passes by, it will pass. It is always darkest before the dawn, but you will get through it. You always do.

I used to think, how did all my sisters, cousins and seniors get through this gruelling journey? But after getting past it, I learned one important thing, you just do. Day by day you keep on doing what you’re doing, and it’ll be over, eventually. No matter how long or tiring this journey gets, you will survive, you will finish it and you will overcome this hurdle, like how I did mine. I’m a survivor because I finished my A levels. I started my A level examination when the examiner said “you can begin now” on my first ever paper which was on 3rd November 2014 and I ended it when the examiner said “stop writing” on my very last paper on the 20th November 2014.

Will I ever forget this journey? Will I ever forget the stress, the anxiety, the sleepless nights? I don’t think all these will ever leave me, and I don’t think stress, panic attacks, nervous pangs will ever leave me either, because it’s embedded in my nature (face it I’m not a yolo, heck care, take it easy kind of person). But I do know this; when stress and anxiety attacks comes knocking on my door, I can face them better now, I can manage them better now, because A levels taught me how to. A levels may have been an academic examination, but it has taught me life lessons, important life lessons, essential ones.

And if you’d ask me, is this journey worth making, did I regret it? I would’ve replied you, with the utmost conviction that no I did not regret it, at all. The rush of blood you’ll feel after the end of the last paper that makes you a tad bit light-headed, the euphoria you’ll feel, the state of shock, “is this really over?”, is unforgettable.

A levels was difficult; yet I survived it, I can make it through anything now. 

xoxo,

ShabiraBasheer 🙂

Apparently okay is a new flirting word.

Hello World!

2014.

I am still alive.

Wish me luck.

For this journey is gonna be a gruelling one.

Either I just come up with a 4-lined poem that sucks terribly or I just felt like writing those sentences in different lines. The latter perhaps.

Ohkay so I actually bought this book and I read it within 3 days and I was initially going to type out an excerpt from the book which I liked the most but in the midst of typing it out, it somehow got erased and I felt real irritated coz it’s 1.13am. So I might just leave out typing the excerpt to another blogpost, sometime later haha.

Well, ohkies the book is a bestseller. It’s blue, white and black. It’s about two sick people falling in love. The story is sad. Loads of people have read it (it seems like I’m one of the few individuals that’s left in the world who did not pick up the book), it’s gonna be made into a motion picture.

Yeah you’ve probably guessed it by now haha.

John-Green-The-Fault-In-Our-Stars

It’s truly an incredible read. Humour was interwoven with tragedy, so you’ll laugh amidst your tears. The characters were beautifully developed and they were so raw and human. I thought Augustus Waters was some perfect and sexy guy every girl dreamed of having, but nope he had his flaws. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll stay up late to finish this one, and when you finally turned over the last page, you’ll end up experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Just staring into space, wondering how a book can screw up your emotions so badly, wondering how you got so lucky, still trapped into the character’s lives. It’s gonna take me some time to move on from Hazel’s world and into the world I am in now aka reality.

Humorous and tragic, it talks about love, friendship and leaving a mark (no not a mark, a scar) not on the universe, but on those whom you loved 🙂

Pick it up if you haven’t guys. And if you did, YAY I AM FINALLY INTO THE-FAULT-IN-OUR-STARS FANDOM 😀

xoxo,
ShabiraBasheer 🙂