house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Thursday, 20 February 2014


I slowed down when a rusty Mehran cut across the road, without indicating, to vanish down a side street.

I stopped when a Mercedes driven by a glamorous matron burst out of a side street without slowing down.

When a bicycle appeared ahead with a vast load of firewood and three small children perched on top, I gave them a wide berth.

As I did with the camel.

And with the family of five, all in black, walking along the tarmac at midnight.

Then I made my mistake.

The lights had gone red when a yellow Porsche overtook me - is it called 'to overtake' when the car in question shoots between you and a small school bus, to run the red light and cross the intersection?

A middle-aged bearded policeman witnessed all this, gave the driver a friendly wave and stared after the speeding car, hand on heart, like a proud parent.

My mistake was to roll forward and come to a stop on the pedestrian crossing which - as we all know - means nothing on these streets. In fact, all you need to ensure a successful suicide mission is to step onto the zebra. I once stopped the car at a zebra and waved a man across. He refused to take a single step and looked daggers at me instead.

But here I am now, an inch over the white lines and Beard-in-Uniform is Not Pleased. The hand-on-heart suddenly takes a darker, Napoleonic air and he strides over. I've had it.

'Apke yakata yakata' he barks at me. I understand the snarl, I do, just not the words, alas. My bad. My mad. I address him, politely, in Romanian. I start with the first verse of the national anthem which tells us to rise against the barbarian tyrants. I stop to draw breath.

'You don't speak Urdu?' he says, in English, momentarily thrown.

'And YOU speak English.' I note, also in English. Second mistake. And third mistake: I smile.

He reverts to a stream of Urdu, delivered with a toxic glare and in anaerobic conditions (i.e. without taking a breath, oh-la-la!). I understand the word for 'home' - strangely reminiscent of the Romanian word for 'claw'. Is he exhorting me to go home? I am staggered at his vitriol. His beard trembles, his chest puffs out, his words rattle like pebbles in a tin can. A younger me would dissolve into tears (the current-me undergoes a lip wobble and a numb nose - both mild signs of shock). Mid-speech, Bully-Beard drops his notebook. It puts a little undignified muffler in his flow, as he folds himself double to retrieve it. On the flip side, it gives him the idea to fine me.

The lights go green. A million cars start trumpeting from behind. Barbabully waves me along with a scowl and a show of squashing a cockroach on the hot tarmac.

And so we go back to our lives: I to my chaos of words and work and family; he to his precarious mid-ladder balancing: on one side his musty power repertoire, which consists of bullying his family and anyone on his tiny traffic patch; on the other side, a 6th sense and constant vigilance, to spot and kowtow to any greater bully than himself. His cardboard castle, his neon uniform, his rusty and tremulous beard depend on it.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Forgive? Forget? Eff Off.

"How does one know if she has forgiven?" asks Clarissa Pinkola Estes (because she has an answer and she's twitching to give it  to us).

"You tend to feel sorrow over the circumstance instead of rage..."

Six months ago, a poultry farmer from Multan employed two boys - aged 7 and 9 - to help on his farm. Each was going to earn 300 PK Rupees (less than 2 £) per month. Per month. He beat them every day, for every little mistake. He never paid them their wages.

Do you feel like staving his head in with a mud brick? If you do, that would be rage. Mud brick in hand, I'm scanning the horizon too.

"You tend to feel sorry for the person rather than angry with him..."

When they couldn't bear any more abuse, the boys wanted to leave and asked for their salaries. After 6 months of work, each was owed 1,800 PK Rupees (10 £). The farmer tied them up and beat them with wooden sticks. It wasn't enough. He beat them with iron rods. It wasn't enough. He rubbed chillies into their wounds. When they passed out, he dumped them in the road.

What monsters are these? Angry? Bloody hell PEOPLE? 'Angry' is such a sweet, roll-on-the-tongue and not-much word. I am SO FAR beyond anger. Anger plus all the chillies you can grow in a lifetime. Anger plus armies. Anger plus Hell.

"You tend to have nothing left to say about it all", concludes Clarissa.

Well, I have much to say and rather loudly - although just now I find myself all numb. Because imagine, how every day we go about unwarned and unaware that men and women leak away their humanity until there's nothing left and then this happens to children in their care.

The boys are alive, in hospital. The man was arrested but won't be prosecuted unless the children's families lodge a complaint. A small amount of money may ensure their silence on the matter. The law machine may remain idle.

And then the farmer? Returns to his chickens. Finds new child-slaves. The newspaper? Drops the story. The nation? Not a squeak. Monica? A growl in the dark, a blog read by, at best, some 15 friends.

Forgive? Forget? Not a chance, not before children are safe on our watch.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

On Words and Power

I'm not sure that living is an art. I have an inkling it might be a gift, a habit, a quest or a random series of tasks. In my case, there's that plus coffee and plus words.

An 'Art of Living' course also appears to be a series of tasks: yoga, breathing, meditation, discussions, games. The most important thing being that you allow yourself the time to do them day after day after day.

I must admit I'm not good at any of that. I fidget. My mind wonders - and wonders mainly if it shouldn't be doing something else. If it shouldn't be dragging me elsewhere. Lists of unfinished stuff trickle in and gradually take over.

Ok, modern life doesn't exactly nourish our spiritual side. The Art of Living reveals it, revels in it. And it's fascinating to see how much people hunger for it.

At the Art of Living, before learning a breathing technique we were told it would unlock some powerful emotions: 'Some people may find themselves crying', the teacher said, 'others may laugh. Just let yourselves feel these emotions, have these reactions. They are for a reason.'

All cryptic and compelling. We performed the breathing exercise, then lay on our backs in deep relaxation. Loose-limbed and light-headed, I perched on the rim of my being and regarded my supine self through a turquoise lens filled with sunshine. It was truly lovely. Just then a suppressed sob stabbed at the silence to my left. Followed by some sniffling. Followed by what clearly signaled a complete capitulation: the man simply wailed like a toddler, on and on.

The blue lens of my peace shattered and I found myself tossed about in a storm of sound. Others had hurried to join the sorrow, but at this point a laughing camp had also formed and was winning the battle of decibels:  the hall sounded rather like a night hunt in the savannah.

This went on for minutes and left me mute and pinned to the floor. I felt many things, but suspected none of them - not the annoyance, not the amusement, not the fascination - were the result of my personal quest for the power within.

The next day, I eased myself into the same breathing sequence with some dread. I shouldn't have worried: the teacher did not mention our possible reactions to the exercise, and surprise - there was no reaction. We did the same exercise, we relaxed. The room remained quiet (yep the smile on my face made no noise).

Please don't condemn the smile: I had just discovered how much of the 'power within' lies in words. Words can suggest, can plant emotions and that's enough: people will leap to feel them, people will weep and laugh and reach their individual catharsis. And I smiled to know that my own quest has always been to learn to use this power, to use words like a mirror that captures the whole sun and turns it round and points it at the sea of souls.

And if that remains elusive, at least get me some coffee.