It’s always mildly amusing to bump into people who have recently returned – mid-life – to religiosity. Too often, I find that people feel like they need to breathe some fire and brimstone to make up for the long absence from piety (or so they imagine it to be). They wag fingers at other people for not being adequately high-strung, and for arriving at a path of moderation instead of remaining at the stage of one’s adolescent extremism – while they themselves just got there.
In moments of deficient humility and excessive influence from the nafs, one is tempted to be somewhat patronizing and say, “Relax, buddies, cool it. Don’t you come checking our ID’s now. We’ve been hanging out here a while when you were busy partying.”
The secret to getting work done lies concealed in mastering the internet, and not letting it master you.
The internet is like the nafs, the carnal self, which the Sufis say must be mastered, so that you ride the steed instead of it riding you.
The internet is akin to a thick, fragrant vine that twines around your hours and strangles them to suffocation. Its hundreds of tendrils attach themselves to your mind like those neuro-tubes they use in sci-fi movies.
Each email reproduces like gremlins: the quicker you respond to them, the greater in number they return until you are crushed beneath their weight. This is the case with both friends and work.
And many emails come equipped with distractions: My favorite is the one line message that says : “Check this out” next to a youtube link or a .wav file. What, pray, makes you think I will spare 5 minutes to ‘check this out,’ when I have no idea whether it will show me cat cartoons or men playing beer pong or a sentimental video that asks you to remember the women in your lives?
But with work emails in particular, you are required to respond to emails – true. So how can you keep it manageable? I have a disease: I respond to emails quickly. I spend a great deal of work-time on my laptop and I am online, so I see ‘urgent’ queries about assignments and papers as soon as they hit my inbox. And of course, responding to an email is quicker than reflecting upon the organization of a book manuscript. So I tend to respond right away. Then I realized that when I respond, 2 or 3 emails follow in quick succession. ‘Hey, she’s available. Let’s have at it.’ Each question results in a 3 new ones. So I have devises a strategy to protect myself from my quick-response disease. It’s called ‘Delay Delivery.’
For some time now, I’ve been trying to uncover tools that will simply keep the internet shut on my laptop for a certain period of time. The problem is, when I’m writing, I need articles from EBSCO and JSTOR. Yes, it’s possible to keep writing and to delay writing that passage which needs a database search, but why not look up the newest literature?
“Recent literature.” Sounds benign enough, but it’s deadly. It’s the Blob. It’s coming, and it’s going to get you. You reach out to get it, and it’s got YOU. It’s smog. It’s multiplying as we speak. Heck, it’s multiplying, and you’re making that happen. The tsunami is coming.
So you reach out a tentative finger to “recent literature” and it envelops you. One article? Hey, take 24. By the way, there are “more like this.” There are related articles and some of them are most-cited. Surely you wouldn’t want to miss them?
This poem I wrote on Eid in 2005, feels uncomfortably appropriate for tomorrow’s Eid. Still.
they announced Eid today.
my house is silent.
i hear more sirens than usual outside.
my husband’s at work.
i couldn’t get out of bed and go
to eid namaz.
i really should push myself, i thought,
and go, but thought, then, go for what?
so my husband and i can split up
at the mosque front door to go and sit
with our respective strangers inside?
so aunties in abayas can look
at my pants, because they’re shabby and
because they’re pants, and then look up
at my face unseeing-
When we’re done i come out and wait
for him in the cold parking lot
watching people hurry to cars
and segregated parties in their
tight little colour-coordinated groups-
while a bearded man in a jalabiya
stares at this female body jammed
outside in a twisting river of men.
when i got out of bed at last, i didn’t
want to, and i couldnt stop crying
in the shower.
ammi has cooked two types of sivayyan
and put them out in glass bowls,
with carrot halva and Kashmiri chai.
My Eid outfit complete with sparklies
is lying ironed on the bed.
Auntie Shaista in the drawing room loudly
waits to see how my outfit looks.
Little Izza is knocking at
my door, asking when i’ll be ready,
when I will come out to admire
her pink sharara and bright new shoes.
Asad is watching TV, but
the corner of his eye is waiting for me
Abbu and Imran are just returning
in white kurtas from eid namaz.
in the fortunate first world
where I’m supposed to be bettering my life
and speaking english all the time–
here, where there is no dust, no flies,–
here, in the warm clean tiled shower
i can’t stop sobbing
Alone, with sirens screeching outside,
i prayed two rak’ahs afterwards
with seven takbeers
and seven tears hit the ja’inamaz
with far too loud a splash, and then
i read some pages of the eleventh sipara
and sent sawab to the Prophet,
my shaykh, my uncles and aunts,
grandparents, like ammi does, and then
I’m sorry i didn’t go to Eid namaz
and then i couldn’t stop crying again
my heart broke right there on the rug
and spilled wide open
and i said please don’t be mad at me.
look, i’m here, and my outfit’s in Lahore,
and Izza’s knocking on the door,
and I have no sivayyan,
and my heart the poor tattered heart
that I know You love
is broken today.
He looked at me, with those quiet eyes
and said, yes, I know. i cried again
and said that eid is eid
only because You’re here with me.
ten years in this new home of mine
and still eid day is not quite eid.
They say it’s eid today, but there,
on the rooftops of Lahore, young boys
saw a little sliver of moon that shone
through smoggy clouds and snaky cables
as an eagle swam across the sky.
Here, i saw no moon, i saw
moonsighting.com, and wrote an email-
eid mubarak exclamation point-
and cc’ed it to everyone.
i thought of calling ammi to say
eid mubarak. but i was afraid
my voice would catch, and she would hear
who i am here
and then i’d know for sure that she
was there, and there are no sivayyan
on my IKEA table, no halva
on the stove, no kashmiri chai
steaming in pretty china cups
no smiling niece outside my door
and no red kurta on my bed