Category: Writing

I’ll Meet You There (2020)

A Muslim cop goes undercover at his estranged father’s mosque while his daughter hides her passion for a forbidden dance, uncovering a shocking family secret. (IMDb)

This blogpost is available as a podcast here: https://anchor.fm/moniba-mehboob/episodes/Ill-Meet-You-There-2020-e15t0li

Poster from https://illmeetyoutherethefilm.com/

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.”
– Rumi

I doubt there is anyone who hasn’t read the above quote by Rumi. With this as its titular phrase, the recently unveiled movie I’ll Meet You There sure had big shoes to fill.

Written (with contributing writers Rajeev Dassani and Uttam Sirur) and directed by Iram Parveen Bilal, I’ll Meet You There is a confusing movie about confusions between the past, present, and future intermingling with themes of identity, hybridity, and faith in the context of immigration. All of the actors have done a fantastic job of their given roles, the direction is good enough, the setting and the dressings are all as they should be. I found nothing lacking in those aspects. However, when it comes to the plot, the themes that the movie tried to tackle, the character development, and the dialogues, I felt there was a lot of room for improvement and clarification. You can leave loose ends when your characters have been developed well enough for the audience to reach its own conclusion, but when your plot and dialogues leave so much unsaid…

Watching this movie was like watching a beautiful abstract painting come to life and eventually end up as a muddy mixture of several different colours standing out, as they so often do. I can say both good things and bad things about the movie, but let’s start with first impressions.

The movie began with intriguing parallels between the movements of salah and ballet. The protagonist, Dua, is shown dancing gracefully as in other frame, Muslim men pray in congregation in a mosque. To a Muslim, these parallels can be irritating as they were to me, but perhaps this is what the movie tries to do. It tries to blur the lines. It pinpoints some burning questions, brings them forth for examination, and just when we expect the flames to go off, it pours water on them. I say this because I honestly felt the movie had great potential. It addresses some scathing issues of the immigrant communities in America and elsewhere, but it just seems afraid to bring the address to its deserved and needed climax.

Some of these scathing issues are of the Muslim communities facing a lot of unjust judgment, interrogation, and hurdles after 9/11. Some are of parts of Indian / Pakistani cultures melding together and being minterpreted. Some are of love and modesty in modern life. The movie also addresses some feminist questions: What does Islam say about how men should treat women? What does Allah say about how we should dress and conduct ourselves? It mainly tries to talk about intentions. The bottom message in the paraphrased words of the character Baba: If your intention is clear, then do whatever you desire. This message is what confused me the most. Since the movie seems to set out to correct the representation of Muslims in mainstream media, I feel the movie should have stuck to that and seen it to an end befitting the religion and culture it was trying to represent. Instead, the movie resolves upon what seems to be a sufistic ending which I don’t want to spoil for those who haven’t yet watched it.

I admire the writers for showing clearly the prejudice Muslims often face in foreign countries, especially after 9/11/ I admire them for showing the repurcussions of that, for holding the system responsible, for showing that a man does not go against community for duty, and does not cower from duty when it clashes with community. I admire that they had courage to show how teens go exactly towards what you try to fiercely “protect” them from, and how good parenting always gives reasons for why something is being encouraged or discouraged. I do feel that some parts of the movie could have been excluded, for example the romance between Shonali and Majeed seems to contradict the representation of Muslims. I also feel that Dua’s mother shouldn’t have been kept an ambiguous figure.

One thing I’ll give a lot of credit to this movie for: It made me think. About a lot of things. For a lot of reasons. Perhaps not in the line the movie tried to take its audience, but it made me question numerous things, and for that, I’m grateful.

From my drafts (1)

We keep rewriting our story

Sometimes in red, sometimes in blue ink, and sometimes with water, sometimes, salty water

Each revision in different calligraphy

Short, stout letters or looped, elegant letters; hurried and dragged handwriting or deliberately hung alphabets

And many parts of the story remain unwritten

Whatever the reason, some things we don’t want to record and so only the stars know and our hearts know – because the heart goes on feeling and the stars have no choice but to observe.

Things like this beg no title

There’s this gullak in my brother’s room. It’s made of rough brown clay, unvarnished, pink and blue flowers painted on it. The slit in it is hardly wide enough to slide a coin in. I wonder who made it. Who was the potter? Was it an old, withered man with permanently muddy fingernails and a family to support? Or was it a young amateur boy looking to earn some roti for his orphaned siblings? It could be an old potter’s little boy, continuing the family profession and carrying on the legacy. The gullak has an imperfectly embossed bottom half. Whoever made it, is he still alive? Or maybe it was a she. Maybe it was a woman with soft, unaccustomed hands trying to shape the gullak, her first gullak, because she needed the money to buy rice she could boil for her baby who needed to start on chewy food. I wish we had the power to touch an object and be able to see who sweated to create it. It would make us so much more grateful.

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There’s almost always an empty mug on my side table. I drink tea twice or thrice a day and then forget to pick up the mug. And it’s always a mug. I can’t drink in cups. They’re too small. And the tea can never have too much sugar. It makes my head spin. The mug is usually blue. Blue happens to be my favourite colour- along with dark green, bright yellow, and orange. I don’t really believe in favourites. I like all colours in different shades and contexts. When I was young, I hated pink and everything girly. I scorned at every girlish activity which people expected me to take part in. I rebelled against almost everything my elder sister liked. Now, pink fills up at least quarter of my wardrobe. I find I’m interested in jewellery, pretty clothes, bangles, knitting, cosmetics, and even cooking to an extent. But I’m most interested in writing and reading and the question of identity. A friend asked me a few days back, why are you so obsessed with identity? (The question of identity in Pakistani novels happens to be my research topic this semester, and I have a related topic in mind for my dissertation too, hence the question) So I found myself telling her about my imagination games in my childhood. My cousin and I used to talk for hours on the phone, sharing our “imaginations”. We had whole imaginary worlds made up in which such interesting things used to happen. They were more exciting and more fulfilling and perhaps more distressing than our real lives. I suppose everyone has these imaginary worlds with imaginary friends and even foes. Mine had a huge all-encompassing organization which used to authorize and facilitate numerous identities for one person. The bathroom mirrors were the operational screens for this organization. It was a whole complicated world. I had many different identities. And then in that imaginary world, it eventually got too difficult to manage all identities. So I killed off one, gave retirement to another, imprisoned another eternally, and had one married off and away. A few just vanished on their own as my interest in them dissipated. Perhaps that is the root of my obsession. Perhaps it goes deeper.

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They say decentralization is one of the key themes of the postmodern world. We have no centre anymore since denouncing God has become a popular trend. Everything else that tries to be the centre fails. There’s a problem in everything. I’d say having so many problems with every problem too is a key theme of postmodernism. It’s a strange thing, this postmodern era. Everything is fragmented and disconnected. The means to find connection too are disconnected to no end. We float, our ideas float, our problems and their solutions float, all looking to find a centre when the centre never vanished.

Mamlaat (ramblings of insanity)

Wo dhun pata nahi kb milegi. Wo jurm pata nahi kb maaf hoga. Wo jurm jiski maafi na maangi jaaye kabhi maaf hoga bhi k nahi hoga? Maafi bhi kia cheez hae. Maangny waaly ka dil halka krdeti hae. Baaqi maannay waaly ko agar maanna hota hae wo wese bhi maan he jaata hae. Haan agar anaa ka masla ho tou nahi maanta. Lekin dil k maamlat mein anaa ka kia dakhal. Wo dhun najaanay kab milegi. Wo jurm najaany maaf hoga k nahi.
Mere zehn mein uska ehsaas esa hae jese ye baahar ki aawazein. Raat k 2 bj rahy hon ya dupehr k. Ehsaas nahi jaata. Najaany achha hae k bura. Najaany jurm maaf hoga k nahi. Qaidi dekhay haen na? Wo jo haathon mein hathkarriyan nahi pehntay balkay apni zaat pe taalay rakhtay haen. Wo hotay haen darasal qaidi. Apni zaat k qaidi. Insaan ko qaid he hona hae tou apni zat mei kyun ho bhala. Kisi aur zaat mein hojaaye. Najaany jurm maaf hoga k nahi. Najaany maafi maangy bagher kabhi milti hae k nahi.

dark period within evolution

Everything evolves, sometimes into nothingness, and sometimes into expansive energy which holds power to bring a million dreams to life. Within that process of evolution is a dark period: one in which little light enters, always to be consumed by the darkness. But if we can hold on to that little bit of light, cling to it and climb it like a rope till we can get hold of all that light, well then that energy tantamount a golden wand of granting wishes is ours to claim.

We’re in that dark period. Perhaps all humans are at this age, but WE are in this dark period. Frustrations, greyness, exhaustion, despair, hopelessness, unsettling uncertainty which looms over every single thing; it makes us doubt our very being. We’re alive, we’re not very conscious. We’re awake, we’re not really conscious. We’re breathing, we’re just not really conscious. You without me, me without you, you uncertain of me and me of you, or not of each other but of fate. And of course, fate is something to be uncertain of. It’s that fireball which could either set you on fire and burn you to ashes or set you on fire and light you up into a likeness of a celestial being.

Such a pity, this dark period. Such a pity. You and me, we try to turn it into words; dark words, curling in on themselves, hiding a depth of meanings, curling, curling, curling, like that snake which suffocates. And within those words we lose parts of ourselves and we don’t realize it. Years later, we’ll look at these, gather those scattered parts and hold them close to our hearts. Years later, when hopefully we will have reached that light. Years later when hopefully we will have grabbed hold of that expansive energy and turned it into…. I don’t know what. You tell me.

Life’s a metaphor; give it meaning

pixlr

If given the opportunity, I would dig a well with my bare hands tonight. And it would be better than facing the possibilities that loom ahead.

How would it be better? Wouldn’t it really be the same? You’d have to face the consequences of that; Dirty fingernails, stained hands, lost mind, hallucinations in the soil. It might even become a grave instead of a well.

You posed my dilemma better than I did. It’s death either way.

It’s death every way. But there are better ways to get to death than digging a well with your bare hands.

Pray, do tell. And the well was metaphoric.

Even so. Even more so. Buy a spade, get some appliances to help you dig, and then dig. Take your time, let the digging soothe your mind. Then begin placing bricks and make the boundary. Place the bucket, attach a rope, let it swing. Go get your water.

Hah. Okay… And what if the spade is bent or breaks half way through the digging? What if the appliances are excessively slow? What if the digging destroys my mind? What if, in the end, the well never takes shape?… What if, by then, all water dries no matter how deep I dig? What if, when I’ve built the well, the water never comes, or I’m not alive enough to fetch the water?…

If we were to “what if?” so much, we’d sit still and just breathe in one place because what if we’re not able to savour the next breath? What if our next movement kills us? What if? Well I’d at least die content if I had tried to build the well. Death will come every way. Go big or go home.

Our mind is confined to the what ifs. That’s the reflex arc of human mind. We’re trapped. We just go round and round in the whirlwind of what ifs, and it often ends up destroying us. It’s only when we’re through the storm that the wind settles, and even then, new winds begin to rise almost instantly.

We confine ourselves to the what ifs. We can go past them and actually solve problems. We don’t have to keep on banging the latch when there are ways to open the door ourselves. We just have to get up. Go through the door if nothing else is possible. Because in the end, it’s more about our own determination and strength rather than the opportunities we were given and resources we had.

It’s easier said than done. Uplifting words make situations seem brighter than they are when really; the sun isn’t rising anytime soon.

Uplifting words do a lot. Let them affect you. If you’re deflecting positivity, chances are you’re deflecting most good things when they’re trying to get to you.

So… No well?

No well. Go book your tickets.

November Winter: Inevitable Revolution.

May you become.

It was a cool November night, unusually mystical atmosphere. The universe seemed anxious and excited. It was apparent in the restlessness of the wind, the impatient tremors of the leaves, the contrasting stillness of the sky. Nature seemed to be waiting.

Oh look. Look at that woman stepping out of the car, sporting a swollen belly with much difficulty, but oh look at her radiant face! Look, oh look! The universe is holding its breath. It seems to be in sync with the woman’s breathing- as if already treasuring the baby she holds in her womb, already cherishing him in a veiled cocoon.

Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.

Do you hear that? A baby’s wail. The mother’s sigh of relief, her silent tears streaking her face, the sheen of perspiration on her forehead. See? That woman gave birth to the universe’s gift. The nurses smile. The father rushes in. The baby acknowledges his mother and father with a curious, quiet look. His eyes. They are a microcosm of infinite hopes and dreams, of simmering passion and smoldering determination, clashing with fate. They hold wonder and greatness within, colliding with all odds. See that look. His parents are gazing at the baby boy in wonder, and he bears that look, as he would for the rest of his life. A faint smile plays on his pink baby lips, so subtle, as if he hides the secrets of the world in the void of his mouth. The universe smiles back, a slow and rueful smile. Nature had been waiting for this baby. He shall be a great man, insha’Allah, but greatness does not come easy.

Happy new year, Baby. May the 22nd be the best so far, but lesser than the rest. May you get everything you wish for, everything that is good for you. May the world become your canvas, may you write the stuff of eminence on it, may you change lives. May you find your purpose and fulfill it.

May you be a revolution.

On the beginning of a new phase of life

       Yes,
       It shall test you, it shall challenge you.
It shall tire and frustrate you.
       It shall stretch you, it shall wring you.
It shall dismay and disturb you.

       But remember darling,
       It shall reward you, help you grow.
It shall afford you your dreams.
       It shall indeed taste sweet in the end.
It shall bring you to me and me to you.

       And sweetheart,
       If it tests you, you have the strength.
You have the wit, the fire in you.
       If it stretches you, you always have a home.
You have me, and in me, all the space.

       My love,
       Take me- I am your bed and blanket.
I am your storm and rain, your breeze.
       The spark to your fire, the water to put it out.
I am your home- come live in me.

      ~Moniba.