Why Do I Blog?

I have asked myself this existential question many times as I created and deleted blogs back in the early days when I discovered what blogging was. This is by far my oldest blog in terms of the number of days it has existed, although the posts have been few and far between. I think it survived the cut because I promised myself that I’d keep it, a reminder to myself that I have the medium in case I had something I wanted to reveal to any fortunate reader who stumbles upon it.

Even now I search for the answer [quite evident in my random tagline and confusing about me section], although with much less gusto than before. It is a little like not vaguely questioning our purpose in life and instead being content enough with what feels right and what needs to be done.

I have kept a personal journal since I was eleven. Back then while I pretended to study and do homework, I wrote about anything that struck my fancy: school troubles, new TV shows, parents breathing down my neck, difficulties of being a tomboy while trying to get guys to like you, being an introvert, friends, teen-drama and sudden life altering realizations. Even though it started as a respite from studying, it helped me become one of the best writers in my class [I was especially good at fiction, my English teachers read out my short stories to the class and my blood ran icy cold like the protagonist’s as he faced his arch enemy]. It helped me organize my thoughts and let me vent when I was upset [Why am I not allowed to stay over at my friends’ places? EVERYONE DOES IT!]. It helped me shape an identity for myself. While some of my friends were great artists and athletes, some were the best at school and some were the funniest people ever, I was someone who could affect people with words.

My right shoulder would start hurting sometimes because I would keep on writing a new story that would form in my head faster than I could write it down. Before I had a computer, I saw movies where the characters would write on the screens, and I could not wait to get my own so that I too would look that cool while writing. I once almost made my uncle leave everything behind in Saudi Arabia to come to us to Dhaka by writing a moving, emotionally blackmailing letter.

These days I am but a shadow of the prolific writer I once was. Things happened, life happened, writing took a back seat with assignments and TV shows and hanging out and marathon chat sessions. Sometimes I would surprise myself with a good piece and it would feel like old times again. I would feel guilty. It was guilt similar to not talking to an old friend for years. But even with all the gaps in the practice, even though I have never considered writing as a profession, I have always been fascinated with the power it has over the reader. I admire good writers and I admire people who challenge themselves to be better writers than they currently are [If the blogosphere is any indication, there are so many of those wonderful, beautiful people around!].

Which brings me to my initial question.

One of the reasons I blog is because I think having an audience helps. When I wrote privately I was more focused on making myself happy, getting stuff written, getting it on paper, getting it out of my head. When I knew someone would read it, I would pay more attention to the finer details and consider how the reader would perceive me. I do not have a lot of visitors. But I think the possibility of having readers read my blog makes me try to be better.

I also do it because in part, it scares me.

2013 was a rough year for me. I consider that the worst year of my life so far. The mantra for the year was to ‘Be Brave’. I wrote it on my wall, kept a photo with the phrase ‘Be Brave’ written over it on my phone’s lock screen, and when things got difficult, I repeated to myself: Be Brave.

The happy consequence was that the risky jumps I took have made this year a much fortunate, peaceful time for me. Being brave and making myself do what makes me uncomfortable is not completely terrifying anymore. One of those is to not be scared of what people may think of what I have to say. I worried that my insight was not thought-provoking, or important, or relevant to most people. So I would type up many things, only to delete them or never post them. But in time I realized I was the one who was losing out from this fear. I started writing for myself first and foremost, and this had nothing to do with me. So why would I let it scare me? So I decided to be brave about what I had to say and not worry that no one cares about it.

So I supposed the two parts above give a half-answer to why I have a blog. I like the fact that as I pursue this further I may find more reasons. Or maybe I will figure out that writing is not for me and I should have put some effort into palm-reading or anthropology. Like so many answers to so many questions over the years [for e.g., Q: Why does my mouth clam up when I talk to Guy X? A: Because you’re scared of sounding stupid, stupid] the answers to this question will present itself as I keep writing.

An ode to the Phuchka

It’s the perfect food. It’s texturally complex with a crispy, flaky, thin puri, filled with a soft concoction of lentil, potato, onions, chilis and an assortment of spices. An expert phuchka eater takes one of the hollow puris on one hand and jabs a thumb into it to make a hole. It’s a little like breaking an egg except you should not bash it against a hard surface as the puri is quite delicate. With a small spoon the expert stuffs it with the filling, careful not to break the puri completely while doing so. Then it is liberally drenched with the tamarind sauce, and popped whole into the mouth, where it explodes with a forcible burst of flavors that make you start assembling the second one while you chew your first.

I can never get enough of these.

It’s quite common to find a small, wooden cart manned by one person, with a stove and a big plastic bag full of ready-to-be-filled puris in the streets of Dhaka. There was a time when we were younger when my sister and I used to eat plates of these once or twice a week every week. While we aren’t that sincere to our dedication anymore, there has been no love lost between us and the phuchka.

It’s beautifully unctuous. It can be made to be mild for those who cannot take the heat. Or you can put your tongue through hell-fire depending on your preference for chili. And it can be addictive. My uncle’s friend who used to live in Virginia would visit our house quite often when he would come to Bangladesh. He would always bring a bag of phuchka with him on the way to our place, and we would over-eat and over-abuse our stomachs. Once we went to one of those carts one evening and he ate through fourteen plates. That’s about 112 phuckas. He lived to tell the tale and he tells it quite proudly.

Floral plate and retro phuchka

This particular food, like a lot of food we eat in Bangladesh can be found elsewhere in the subcontinent. For instance, it its Wikipedia page it is called Panipuri, which is the most prevalent term used in India.

Maybe it’s just in my head, but the phuchka from the streets taste better than the phuchka from any upscale place I’ve tried. If you ever find yourself facing a cart of food on a street in Bangladesh, India, Nepal etc, do try out a plate of phuchka, panipuri, golgappa or whatever name it presents its glorious self in.

To the unaccustomed, any spicy street food may lead to unwarranted stomach issues. However you will live through it. You will live through the pain on your tastebuds as the chili threatens to evaporate your soul [Spicy food should be eaten spicy. End of discussion.]. You will swallow a pill to ease your stomach. All the discomfort, if any at all, will be temporary. The magic of the phuchka will begin when you pop one in your mouth for the first time, and will live on in your heart for good.

 

Packing

I love the time before a trip starts – the time when you are packing and with the flight in a few hours. Nothing get’s my juices flowing but this anticipation of all the possibilities a trip may have. I love the first journey almost as much as the actual trip itself. If it’s someplace new it’s even better. I get little butterflies almost like I’m about to meet some important person or like it’s right before a big life decision.

So I’m off on my first overseas vacation in… years? It’ll be quite average in terms of things I do. We mostly plan on walking around town and we’ll see where it goes. Nothing extraordinary. But just the time away from the usual and getting to see a new place and trying out some new things is enough to keep me up all night before the early morning flight. I hope to see lots of colors and sounds and taste amazing food. If I had my way I would travel several times every year. But we all have to start somewhere, and right now I’m too excited to bother about what would be and what can be. The Now and Current is very, very cool at the moment.

Hope to come back with some awesome things to write about…soon.

Attack of the Elephants

I had an encounter with three elephants in the middle of Dhaka City a few weeks ago. I didn’t get to take a picture so you’ll just have to take my word for it. But as things go in Dhaka, it’s not that hard to believe.

My family and I were going to dine out for Iftar a few weeks before Eid. Going through a residential street this fine afternoon, it was the usual commute. The streets are crazy with traffic right before Iftar (it’s crazy with traffic most of the time but let’s just go with this for some well-meaning contrast). My brother in law navigates the streets and then stops dead on the tracks as the car faces a giant elephant in the middle of the street. We notice three more behind him. The handlers on their backs expertly maneuver them behind our car while the first offender stands in front of us. I had a moment to notice how amazingly beautiful they are just before panic strikes the general air inside the car. My nephew who is five and is amazed to find a walk-in zoo stares in wonder. My dad and my brother-in-law struggle with themselves to try to appear calm and composed for the rest of us. The first elephant in front of us puts its trunk on the hood of our car and we all feel the bump. They want money. I can sense my father and brother-in-law trying to stare down the elephant in an attempt to avoid the human-animal-crushed car debacle.

The handlers try to goad us for some money. But for some reason after a few tense minutes, and I suspect it’s their own apparent surprise at finding themselves in such a position to extort us, they let us pass, unharmed.
I’ve seen those elephants around after that incident. The next time they were simply traipsing through the streets, no doubt being hoarded towards another street to be used as thugs by their handlers. I wonder how they are treated and if they are unhappy.

If anything, it reminds you that you can never really be surprised at anything in Dhaka anymore.

Empty Streets

I’ve been away from too much writing and contemplating and thinking inwards recently. Eid just passed, and I guess the near empty streets of Dhaka just made me wonderfully empty headed. Although Dhaka is possibly the worst place to commute in, when half the population leaves for the Eid holidays, it’s a magnificent city to behold. Going from Point A to B is not a test of patience and nerves and doesn’t take longer than the actual task you are commuting for. The streets seem full of character that you can actually see without the millions of cars, rickshaws, taxis and people to distract you.

The city seems softer somehow. More hospitable. You can see the golden light at sunset and notice that there are a lot more trees than you first thought. It’s also a bit thrilling. Like you are a kid running through an amusement park the day it’s closed. I would avoid the roller coasters and just simply walk around and notice things that get lost when everything is shouty and loud and exciting and fast.