Stories of the flying carpet and genies of the lamp are more real than real thanks to the WIFI and 4G. Love it or hate it, the concept of time, distance and proximity continues to be reimagined each day. Mars is on the horizon!
Gratitude to the blessings of WhatsApp, I was catching up with a dear friend and artist from Lahore. He’s been meticulously photographing his painting and drawings and has chronologically published them online. In a conversation with him over this holiday season, I congratulated and thanked him for that sharing. I had sent him an article published on me in Attitude Magazine. In this article, I talk about the relationship between my body, and my healing practice, with two photographs of me naked at home. He felt it was rather brave of me to do so.
Healing and acceptance of self take all sorts of forms. I mentioned hosting a naked vegan dinner for men recently, and how therapeutic it was for all present to experience a common feeling of anxiety and shame towards our bodies. Despite some initial doubts that a few guests had about sexual excitement, sharing our vulnerabilities together made the gathering sacred. Elaborating further at how beautiful and restorative it felt to be ourselves without being judged; quite suddenly my friend asked, “would you have been who you are today had you not left Pakistan?” The innocence of the question took me by surprise. A famous verse of Ghalib spontaneously came to mind.
Na tha kuchh to khuda tha, kuchh na hota to khuda hota
Duboya mujh ko hone ne na hota mai to kya hota.
“When there was nothing, there was God; if there was nothing, there would’ve been God.
Drowned is my existence, had I not been; what could’ve I been?”
In an existential probe, the poet questions his manifestation as Ghalib, which separated him from what could have been God! But what resonated most from the verse is “what could’ve I been?” How can one possibly imagine something that’s beyond perception? I am what I am, having lived my journey including the thirty years here in England; by allowing time to reflect and accept myself fully. Had I stayed back, who knows where I would be today and what pathways I would have trodden?
However, it got me thinking and made me delve deeper into that question. I arrived in London from Lahore in 1988 at the age of twenty-five. From as far back as memory serves me before any label could tag me, I knew what tickled my fancy. I had lived through jibes and derogatory name-calling, above all — I lived in the judgement of myself! For eleven long years, there was no hope dictatorship of General Zia. Self-censorship, guilt, fear and hypocrisy flourished under his quasi-religious patriarchy. Being a student and later as faculty of NCA, the only art school then; afforded me the space to explore the self. It was my lifeline.
Even though my art school was the much-needed watering hole that attracted a diversity of progressives and created a tightly knit supportive community, it was rather a lonely affair to be gay. Back then it was okay to align with bi-sexuality, but homosexuality was and still is illegal. I felt obliged to comply with the ‘norm’. Like most people around me, family reputation and everyone else’s opinion came first. Bottling it in was the way, sexuality was a hushed taboo subject!
“Above all — I lived in judgement of myself!”
I arrived in London in the wake of HIV and Aids epidemic. Developed nations referred to it as the Gay disease, while developing nations blamed the White man. Like most believers of the tired East-West paradigm, I considered Britain to be fifty years ahead of the rest of the world; an epicentre of modernity and equality. Even though decriminalisation in Britain took place in 1967, it wasn’t quite as rosy as it seemed. Section 28 was enforced in 1988 which was overturned only in 2003. Today it is illegal to discriminate on grounds of gender and sexuality, but in daily lives many people of LGBTQIA community face discrimination. In Europe and North America, the Gay community has a strong political lobby, concessions are made, yet on a grass root level traumas are rife. Elsewhere, the world marshals gender binaries and sexuality is dictated via religion and culture, equality of human rights is much desired. The unleashed genies of WIFI at the rub of our hand devices connect with trends and developments across the globe as fast as the megabits can carry. However, there is a growing uniformity over individuality; the owners of media and digital conglomerates are a handful but operate under different brand names. Self-expression is monitored and controlled similar to Section 28. More centralisation and concentration of media ownership means less democracy.
I can only surmise how my life would have been different had I stayed in Pakistan. No doubt I would have nurtured my growth and sanity differently in an atmosphere seemingly polluted with fear. I would have found a way, along with the many millions, to continue to survive, and even thrive. I would have created a community as much as being fostered by the community. In these absent years, non-governmental organisations have emerged and worked tirelessly to support LGBT rights. Trans community is accepted on a parliamentary level; granted national ID’s and the right to vote. Kami Sid has taken the cause on a different level by first being the first transgender model, and now as a news anchor.
My journey of learning, un-learning, and re-learning tells me “What you seek is seeking you”. Living here for the longest part of my life, I had to turn inwards, to self, to relate to the world around me. I would have probably done the same had I been there, arriving where I am — my soul searching would have been a different route.
Its a privilege to see my friends art chronologically as a diary of emotional expression through time. I felt inspired to unveil my few drawings and photographs from a bygone era when identity had to be disguised. It reminds me that my primary love is to observe people, through my prism, to observe myself better. My understanding of self, with maturity, comes from sharing vulnerabilities, with unconditional love, and without comparison or judgement. I fondly review my discarded masks with respect, letting go of that which doesn’t serve any purpose.
Note to friend: when we meet next in person, and set aside a few days to reminisce the decades gone past; over some food, laughter, tears and hugs, maybe — we will arrive at the answer to your question!!
11 thoughts on “What could’ve I been?”
Love this. Forever asking “what if” but the quotation by Ghalib was spot on
A crucial question, “what if?”… self-doubt comes with a silver lining!
What a wonderful post by beautiful soul. Keep connecting with the higher purpose of spreading positivity and joy! Xoxo
Saransh babu I felt this would strike a chord and so pleased you enjoyed it!
So enjoyed reading this, Ali!
Interestingly, when I read Ghalib’s quote I immediately thought: we are who we are supposed to be, wherever we are.
Love reading/hearing about your journey of self discovery which continues for us all, always… no one remains the same!
Thank you for sharing xxx
Thank you Helen! An ex-student of mine from NCA added a beautiful thought in this by saying, “Had u stayed here u d still be da person u r.Water finds it’s level.”
Thank you my love for sharing. A brave, candid, looking back at life account.
Beautifully articulated and philosophical
Thank you dear Fatima! It’s often insightful when we look back to to fully appreciate where we are.
A beautiful and philisophical post Ali – you have achieved so much – internally and artistially.
Thank you Diane. Each challenge of this journey is a joy to witness from where I stand today — all the more gratitude to universe.