Diamond in the rough – Roaring Springs, PA

What’s in a name some ask. If a town is called Roaring Springs the first thought would probably be that of rushing rapids complete with adrenaline junkies flexing their muscles against the might of Mother Nature’s very own Hercules – water.
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Whilst the drive to Roaring Spring from Clearfield PA is filled with clouds kissing the hills and wild bushes enveloping the ever green pine trees. The roads mimic life with their blind turns and hidden verges.

Upon arrival at Roaring Springs you are greeted with the soul calming tranquility  that only Roaring Springs can offer. The quietness is amplified by the sweet chirping of the birds. It is here where you feel God reaching out His healing hand that touches your soul to leave it serene and quiet. It is here where you can experience the sound of the stones crunching beneath your feet and you realise that the roar of a car engine disturbs the peace akin to a tornado that passes through shattering everything in its wake.

Standing on the grass it feels like the earth is taking away all your troubles cleansing the heart from all anxiety.

What Roaring Springs PA also tells us that sometimes our alter ego is not all about being irresponsible and vain, it might just be about experiencing the majesty of God’s love first hand and realising that the best things in life are indeed free.

Happy Easter

Easter is a festival that celebrates the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. From a ritualistic perspective Easter shares a similarity with Eid ul Fitr which follows the holy month of Ramadan. 40 days of fasting commonly referred to as Lent followed by celebration.

Lent is a period of sacrifice culminating in the ultimate sacrifice made for us humans. And as Christians we celebrate that our sins have been washed away by Jesus’ blood.

Indeed Jesus taught us to pray by saying ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us’. How often can we do that and how often do we actually forgive people? It’s a question that plagues me deeply sometimes. 

Easter at its very essence is a renewal of faith. A message of hope particularly from the darkness that surrounds our lives. A wiping clean of past transgressions, a new lease of life. Hence the coinciding of Easter with the first Sunday of Spring. But how often can we do that? How often is it actually water under the bridge? 

Life has a way of making us vengeful but the only person we tend to punish is ourselves possibly because we have either been too trusting or too loving or just feel that people have taken advantage of us. But do we actually need to live in the past and let our fears dictate our present?

Faith in its essence is living by a code that requires us to be more trusting of God than we are of ourselves. Being more God like is a lifelong process strewn with failures. But it is in our failures that we see our mortality and experience the grace that God bestows upon us.

Let us therefore use this Easter to forgive one another but more importantly ourselves for the mistakes we have made. Let us wipe the slate clean and wow to ourselves to live a life with a closer personal relationship with God. Let this Easter bring a new season in our lives a season bursting with freshness of hope, love and light. Happy Easter all. 

The number 10

The number 10 jersey in football is reserved for the best. Pele, Maradona, Zidane and Messi just to name a few have donned this sign of respect and adoration. Looking back, this jersey was assigned to the playmaker. Those familiar with football will know that the playmaker basically runs the show for a team. He is the glue that holds the team together. In short the playmaker is the heart of the game.

Speaking of heart, being a supporter of the Pakistan cricket team is not for the faint hearted. Their performances like our heartbeats raise you up onto cloud number 9 and pull you down to the depths of despair.

On 2 October 1996 a star was born into the cricketing world that has since shone brightly for the men in green. That star rewrote the record books and changed the way cricket is played.

The enormity of his feat is understood by the fact that the record stood for 18 years and only one person has equalled or bettered it. Despite the Chris Gayles or the AB DeVillers or the Virat Kohlis trying no one has been able to do what this man did in Kenya that day.

His batting heroics left many a captain scratching their heads and millions worldwide mesmerised. To say he pioneered a change in the thought process of cricket fans and players would be factual. He made the impossible possible.

The man was named Sahibzada Muhammad Shahid Khan Afridi. There is only one, the man who can turn the game on its head with his sixes, his googlies or brilliant fielding. The man who defines Pakistan cricket – heart. The mind says you play sensibly but the fearless heart says just play. Akin to a person jumping from a tall building where the mind says what if I fall and the heart says what if you fly.

Over the past two decades a lot has changed in cricket. But what has not is the fear and excitement that the name Afridi brings to foes and fans respectively. In an era where match fixing has ruined reputations and careers Afridi has held his head up. Outspoken yes, but never has one questioned his commitment and honour. He has always given his best and yes he has gone down fighting but that is the gladiator that is Afridi. He will fight till his last breath.

I once thought what would happen if I were to do my job with 60,000 people shouting my name and millions of people expecting me to perform. The sheer pressure would not let me move a muscle. Yet Afridi has done it for two decades.

The heart of the Pakistan team is the number 10 and like our hearts it has its ups and downs. So let us open up our hearts and give a fitting tribute to the only man who can make it go Boom Boom.

Thank you Lala for the wonderful memories. The cricket world will always and forever only have one Shahid Afridi. And I can boldly say he made my country proud.

Motorcyles

My love for motorbikes is possibly second to none. Its a passion that makes me literally risk life and limb everytime I sit on the saddle.

Why would I do it some might ask.
A motorbike fulfills your senses like nothing else. Whilst exhilrating a motorbike is also unforgiving to lapses in concentration, over confidence, or laziness. The gravity can only be appreciated when you land flat on the ground with a bruised ego and broken limbs. Having said that a motorbike gives you a sense of freedom- a freedom from everything that bothers you. When you are riding its just you against the world.  The most primal feeling you can get in this world – survival. All who ride will know of the pitfalls of a person talking on the phone when driving, someone pulling out of a lane without looking. Someone deciding to change lanes and indicating as an aftethought. You are quite literally fighting for your life.

Some might ask if you would ride only when its nice and sunny. All weather riders are a rarity even within the motorcyling community. Yet when you do ride its a wonderful experience.

I suppose motorcyles represent living your life one ride at a time. Living and not existing. You see in a car you are in an enclosed space. You are secure. On a motorcyle you pay not only for your mistakes but mistakes others make.

On a deeper level motorcycles remind me of life and how unpredictable it can be and that when life throws you a curve you take it. You ride through the storms that leave you with low visibility and desperately balancing yourself on a machine. That sometimes going round a corner means going down on a knee. That when the sun is out it doesnt always mean its a smooth ride. That when the cold winter winds blast against your chest and freezes your knuckles you keep on going.

They tell me that sometimes you have to bend to take a bend, that you are hanging over just to go faster – pushing yourself to get better. But above all they remind me to enjoy all the seasons life brings us.

Observations 

Why would a man cheat? Why would he get up and leave and why would a wife not be able to keep a man happy? Is it a phase every marriage goes through? Is it the woman or the man or both? Is it the fact that contentment breeds resentment and a woman cannot love a man because the man relaxes or indeed the woman relaxes? 

The myraid of questions coupled with soul searching led me to observing how loyalty is percived by men and women. Most women particularly those after the age of 35 know the one thing they could use to ensnare men is rapidly declining – “their charms”. Instead of embracing this many resort to covert manipulation……men those gasps you hear…its just the women thinking “how does he know?”  Manipulation comes in the form of honesty. How many women have asked us to be honest to them including our mothers and then there is always a form of lie sometimes camoflagued as “I did not want to bother you with these trivial matters”. How many realised that working late is far better than going out with friends? 

We have all grown up with emotional blackmail in one form or the other from the women in our family to friends to colleagues. Its just how we are conditioned. Our social conditioning has led to good behaviour reward – it starts at home with the mother conditioning us men that her being happy is reward for good behaviour when she isnt she doesnt talk to us, all the other women we encounter in our lives including our wives do the same thing reward us for our good behaviour otherwise known as chivalry. 

How is marriage viewed by men and women? My observation which is limited I must admit leads me to state that marriage is difficult largely due to how men and women view love. Let me put it this way. Are you concerned about the feelings of the cow whose carcass produces the steak you enjoy? Nope. Men when you realise that your role is to provide absent from emotions expectations will be more pragmatic.

We are selfish both men and women. Men need women to further their race. Women need men to take care of them. Its a simple equation that once understood helps to keep things in perspective.

But why manipulate when direct statements can help? 

To answer this question we have to go back into the inherent conversational tools women use. Subtly is the key word here. The term security would also be relevant. How many times have we heard that a woman is insecure? Lets understand security from the perspective of a business transaction. If we go to a bank for a loan the bank asks for some sort of security possibly an asset. What does that mean? It means that the bank is trying to minimise its losses from lending. In other words controlling the outcome of a lending transaction. 

Many of us have heard our elders say marriage is a compromise because it is. Marriage gives a woman security which means that she knows that the guy is not going anywhere. Which means she can relax into her natural state. The facade of love disappears and the inate cold heartedness comes out. Thats what confuses most men, the fact that the sweet girl they married is now the woman that eats at their peace and well being. My observations are that this is just the way it is -a price to pay for furthering your race. 

So what makes men cheat? Is it the longing for companionship or the sweetness that they once saw in their wives or plain simple compliments. It could be either or all of those things. I suppose thats why the religions particularly the Bible asks women to respect their husbands. It is the kind of self control that women are called to exercise because I suppose its against their nature. 

And whilst this post might be termed minsogynst by some it is not that. I would like to think its about the clarity of thought that comes from knowing that life is unfair and the only way women could ensure survival was through controlling the men that they produced offspring for. Its about survival and when it comes to that anything goes. Hence the oldest profession and the sweet-to-nasty transformation. 

Capriciously endearing

Hoarse voice and beaming smile. That is how I would describe that Sunday at Lords’. Just as a reminder it was the 21st of June 2009. It was a warm day in London, the sun (a rarity) was out. Driving was a no no so the tube was the only option. Getting on at Baker street everyone was wearing green some (including yours truly) had the famous flag draped around their shoulders. An air of anxious expectation hung about. You did not know if it would be worth the effort. Some even lied about this just being a good day out. You see supporting the Pakistan cricket team and being outcome independent is at best an excercise in futility. 

Mercurial as they are the boys in green are a breath of fresh air. Unorthodox flair is what closely describes these hugely talented men. Would Waqar’s toe crushers not leave you in awe? Would Inzi’s dismissive pulls to the “white lightening” not have you spell bound? It did and thanks to you tube it still does. Who can forget the game against New Zealand – Lala running towards the boundary and taking the catch before raising his arms in celebration. Those moments of genius are reserved only to the men in green. Genius that like magic leaves you yearning for more. Genius that makes you wake up in the middle of the night and sing the National Anthem at the top of your lungs whilst risking anti social behavioural compliants. 

Supporting Pakistan though is not for the faint hearted. The love-hate relationship that cuts through your heart with a dropped catch and raises you to cloud number nine when the Rawalpindi Express rattles Tendulkar’s middle stump and in the process Eden Gardens into hushed silence is what dreams are made of. I suppose these men in green show us the unpredictability that life brings us. 

How can I forget the winning runs and the lap of honour. How can I forget strangers hugging each other united only under one flag. How can I forget shouting at the top of my lungs “dil dil Pakistan, jaan jaan Pakistan” smiling as if I somehow had a part to play in it. All thanks to the men in green. I can say I was there when Afridi hit the winning runs. I was there when the National anthem was sung by thousands of ardent Pakistanis. I was there when Younis lifted the world cup and the spirits of the nation. 

Capricious yes, but like the warm smile of an innocent child the bouncer to an Australian in Australia makes you their most ardent supporter. You love them because in some way or form they are you. They remind you that it is in those fleeting moments when life is enjoyed and that you continue working, taking on the accolades and the insults in your stride. That moving on to the next game is the only choice you have. Yes my heart aches when Pakistan looses but it equally jumps for joy when Pakistan wins. Difficult some might say but the challange is endearing nonetheless. Tum jeeto yeh haaro humain tum say pyar hai…. How difficult it is to write that down only a supporter of the Pakistan cricket team can understand! 

An attitude of gratitude

I grew up at a time when the cars had carboretors and planned obsolescence was not a norm. I give away my age I suppose. But also things were a lot more real and a there was nothing virtual. There was no google or wikipedia or the internet. You took notes on a piece of paper and you read books that were printed on paper.

Yet the wonders of technology let me type this post on my phone whilst I lie in bed pensive about how the virtual took over the real.

An interesting conversation with a dear friend of nearly two decades incidently through technology spurred this thought pattern.  Reminiscing about those times when landlines were modern and if you wanted to offer condolences it was not just a text message or a virtual hug. You went in person and hugged in person and gave the most precious commodity we all have “time”. But I suppose we move on with times-change is inevitable. The flip side is that technology makes it easier for us to be in touch with people on the other side of the planet. My last memories of my eternally rested father are a blessing of the internet. 

In those days things were built to last, people fixed things because consumerism was not rife. A good pair of shoes was meant to last a few years. Your first job lasted until retirement. I guess it was the same with relationships people were content in what they had. Some might say because they did not know better. Doubtless, they made things work. Till death do us part meant exactly that.

Where did it all go wrong? Granted, consumerisum makes our lives easier, but it does add complications. For instance, nearly everything that makes our lives easy relies almost entirely on electricity. Yet we are raising awareness on the green agenda. Without electricity we might be transported back into the stone ages.

What is gratitude though? Is it knowing that you have a better life than your ancestors? Or is it just a case of appreciating every blessing that we have thanks to our fellow men.

I suppose gratitude extends to the associations we form whilst living this limited life – our families, friends, acquantinces or even the stranger that helps out in a moment of need. Its about appreciating the individual quirks that make us human – prone to errors of judgement.

Gratitude to me is waking up and thanking the Almighty that He has blessed me with another day to live on this wonderful planet that we call earth. Gratitude is being able to sit at home and enjoy the pleasures this life has afforded me. Its being able to ride my motorbike, see family through the internet, type on my smartphone and update this post instantly. But its also about appreciating the people who have been in my life. And everyone has taught me something that has shaped my personality. Some through their words some through their actions and some through both. Its been the deeply penetrating heartaches and the stomach hurting laughters all of which have taught me that change is inevitable.

How often do we stop and take a deep breath and just are thankful for the moments that could one day become memories. Moments when someone talks about the ‘good ole days’ with a glint in their eyes. Moments when your dreams became realities. Its those moments which although fleeting burn deeply in the recessess of our memories. Carpe diem I hear! If I were to sum up gratitude it would be to enjoy all the seasons life brings us, it means not letting success get to the heads and failures to our hearts. Easier said than done you bet! But arent you grateful you can still try! 

Ode to a friend

Almost 17 years ago life brought me face to face with a fresh faced youth. A youth with passion in his eyes and fire in his belly to become someone. Some might say it is like that when you are young and naive. True, those were times when life was a lot simpler the grey was a thin line dividing the black and white, cynicism had not yet permeated existence and yes the world was our oyster.

Albeit, there was something different about this youth, maybe it was the laid back attitude that reflected his quiet self assurance or maybe it was the quick wit that left many spell bound and speechless. Or maybe it was his deeply analytical yet highly accurate ability to know what people were talking about. 

Although we met for work – the lines between professional and personal were very blurred back then. Work was personal and colleagues became family as time progressed. Maybe it was the openmindedness that led to forming friendships that have stood the test of time. Whatever it was I am glad events unfolded as they did. 

Our first meeting introduced me to another lifelong friend, about him another time. Astoundingly I noticed that this youth understood not only my naivety but also my fears of the unknown. Things I now find simple were a lot more monumental and complex back then. I was explained over lunch what I was expected to do, I suppose my enthusiasm far outweighed my ability to get the job done. My eagerness to get going got me on the team. 

That was the first assignment where I was on own. As exciting as independence was the flip side was greater responsibility.  Stricking a balance between the stress and excitement is still something I graple with everyday. 

We were travelling for work and they say you find out about people only when you are living with them. I learnt that behind the passionate eyes lied a humble soul. A soul that wanted to help, to understand and to get things done.

Over the years we became accustomed to the arm over the chair whilst talking or the backward tilting head nod together with the “haan bhai”  but what remained unnoticed was how he brought people together by using social gatherings as an excuse to bring now families together.  Yes many including him got married and had offspring. Yet the excitement never left the eyes, despite the responsibilities life was stil lived on his terms.

I guess these words or any for that matter will never be able to fully reflect the person that was Naeem but I suppose they serve as a reminder to all of us to possibly tell the people that mean something to us what they mean to us before the regrets of leaving things unsaid start compounding.  We cannot bring Naeem back but we can always remember him and his family in our prayers.

Of women and love

In the not so distant past a candid conversation over drinks with a few strong, independent women ensued. The flowing conversation took its cues from the drinks and inevitably the most discussed yet least understood topic came to the fore. You guessed it love – the eternal bliss for mere mortals.

An announcement from another woman about getting married garnered the usual “awwws” congrats..you ladies know what I am talking about.

Following the celebratory toast, the conversation about the white wedding dress, the engagement ring and the whole nine yards got me thinking. I blurted out a feather ruffling question. Would the guy marry you if you were in your pajamas?

 As you would expect the unconscious yet deeply instinctive covert conversational tools that are all so womanly subtly yet effortlessly turned it over to me. My resounding yes, caused many a dainty finger pointed at my lack of understanding of what women want. As if I needed any reminders! 

I quietly gathered that these wonderfully intelligent women had understood that my simple question did not focus on the pajamas but the underlying dichotomy of the paradoxical love concepts segregating the male and female species.

Talk to any woman and she will equate love from a man to be all forgiving, all stable, all consistent and all devoted obviously with the freedom to do as she pleases. In short a strong man who she can submit to. But how does she know that the man is strong? Obviously, it isnt just a case of direct questioning. It is a case of walking your talk and doing it consistently. Tough ask but hey, she is giving up control. You think it will be easy? 

Ask what she gives him and the answers vary from a laundry list of adjectives to a simple “he gets me”.  Ask a man what love is to him and it would simply be a woman that respects him for who he is in return for which he will give all that is him.

I went to the Bible for guidance on love between a man and a woman and found an interesting verse that commanded a man to love a woman like himself and a woman to respect a man.

The obvious question was what is a man to expect? And who does what when? Do I love her first and then she respects me or does she respect me and I love her? Or is it a simultaneous process. The idealist in me said its natural like all the fairy tales. I see some raised eyebrows and blank stares.

But the more important thing to note is that women and men love differently. Have you ever noticed that if a man cheats he is labelled a pig and if a woman cheats he doesnt love her. Ask a man what he does and he will say everything to keep her happy – like he should I hear. So he does his part yet doesnt get respect. Tough as it sounds thats just how it is. Life is unfair and that extends to love. 

Yet the very essence of love is yielding control or at least that’s what they tell you. Societial norms and expectations inhibit the baring of souls even when cohabiting. But would the baring of your soul get respect? Clearly weakness for a man is shunned by society yet the damsel in distress card is played conveniently by many a woman, particularly the one with the loudest voice for gender equality.

Love in its various forms is the stuff of dreams, the essence that makes us humans. Yet it is the most widely abused concept. Many a man and woman have fallen in love and the deeper they fell the harder it hurt. I read something interesting about love “If it dont hurt it aint real”.  But does it have to be that way I ask. Or is it just a utopian ideal formed in our impressionable minds at a young age that we continue to carry through well into our adult lives.

From what I have gathered so far, love in its various forms is about giving and more importantly, absent from expectations for anything in return. Its about risking it all, taking that leap of faith on the likes of normal individuals. Fully aware that it could land you face first into a brick wall. Yet how many of us actually take the plunge wholehearteadly? How many bare our souls?  Age and cynicism are directly propotional and our past does not help us in yeilding to love. We tend to focus more on what we do not want than what we do want.

So guys take the plunge and when she tests your will. Smile inwardly and know if she didnt think you worthy she wouldnt be so bratty. And ladies try being a bit more respectful that’s all a man wants. 

A man among men

They say women are born and men are made. Cliched as it sounds it is resoundingly true. The inescapable question (at least on my mind) is “What is a man”?

In as far as I have observed a man is all about strength, determination, self discipline, perseverance, love, devotion, stability, consistency and the willingness to sacrifice his all for the ones he loves. Whilst not exhaustive, the attributes listed above can be observed in ‘men’ we all love and adore be it statesmen, leaders, sportsmen or pioneers. My experience to date on point-in-time observations of many males leads me to state that whilst we might see some we will not see all the qualities listed above in most males. Consequently, a male embodying all the above earns what all men crave from any relationship ‘respect’. And yes it is earned and many a man has spent his lifetime earning this intangible yet exceedingly important asset.

Respect is a 69 year old man maintaining a regular exercise routine of 45 minutes a day. An achievement in its own right at least for the likes of me. But what is more astounding is the story of how life put this man down but he got up and fought like the man we all want to be.  Picture this, being on a wheelchair and unable to perform daily routines without assistance just three years ago through what doctors termed as a weak heart. But nay said the heart of this man, he promised himself he would get back on his feet and achieve this feat. And achieve he did, because he had the perseverance, self discipline and determination to not be defeated. He started with small steps beginning with his daily routines and built on it over time. Now many would say its a great story. But what about the other attributes? How does love, devotion, consistency, stability and the willingness to sacrifice come into the picture. Patience they say is a virtue. Read on and you will find out.

Love and sacrifice are strangely married, lack of either makes for existence and not living. A man is expected to demonstrate his love through sacrifice hence our celebrations of Valentine’s days, the engagement ring, the white wedding dress et.all. These are essentially designed for women to be celebrated and so they should, but I digress. Ask someone who has been married for nearly four decades and he will say love is not about the Valentine’s days, the wedding anniversaries or the birthdays. It is about the renewal of the commitment to love a woman every single day till you die. And boy what a commitment. Yeah that’s what boys say, men renew this commitment every single day and night. The self same man mentioned above did this and how you would ask. It is by sleeping on the same bed with the same woman for 38 years without any threats to leave or accepting to sleep on the couch. That is the kind of stability that a woman craves, a man who will stand by her when the storms rage within her. Oh and the storms do rage, the quiet nods from the women reading this are testament to the validity of this statement.

But his sacrifice was not limited to his wife, his offspring saw that he did not have any friends he associated with. In fact, the only time he was not with family was when he was providing for them. A man without friends some might say, no a man who knew that devotion to family was more important that having friends. Again a big sacrifice to make when the experts will tell you that having friends outside of your spouse makes for a healthy relationship. Without doubting the validity of the advice, the experts are for normal people, males with some manly qualities. A real man does not look at the odds, he focuses on his goal and keeps doing that until he gets there. That is where consistency comes in, doing this day in and day out over nearly four decades that is consistency personified.

Fortunately enough the point-in-time observations above encompass my entire life. I had the good fortune of calling this man “Daddy”. And Daddy earned his respect not by moaning when the times were rough but by standing tall and making sure he did what he had to till his last breath. Inevitably, I lost him not so long ago, he always said you are better educated than me and I always said but you are the better man. A man among men!