"The greatest lie the Devil ever told was convincing humanity that he didn't exist."

It was the summer of 2004. I had lost my Grandfather that year and finally wrapped up my life in Toronto to move on to greener pastures in life in London as a law student. I was reading the Torah for a research paper I had due while my stopover at Doha airport, when an aged East Asian gentleman caught me reading the Holy Book. I definitely didn’t look Jewish so he was quite intrigued by my interest in reading the scripture. The gentleman, quite impressively, was the owner of a boutique investment bank that was listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange.  In no time we got into a lengthy conversation about our respective religious beliefs and why there was so much suffering in the world - this is now a cliché used by atheists and agnostics to falsify the very existence of God. While my inherent Islamism went at great lengths to justify God alongside an insinuation of “Socratic” discussion on how ‘suffering’ defines ‘peace’ as well as how ‘bad’ defines ‘good’; the gentleman provided me an alternative hypothesis. He suggested he believed in God, but he did not believe that God created the world or humanity – he believed the Devil did - perhaps because humanity appears to be created more in the reflection of the Devil than God.

So now when I contemplate back on the conversation I had with the gentleman, I wonder if God is actually the Devil in disguise and even if not, then God did create the Devil knowingly. Well, to the aforementioned thought any devoted believer would say Blasphemy! This is precisely what the Devil does! He will try to convince you that he doesn’t exist, then try to convince you that God doesn’t exist and that your prayers are useless and n vain as He works very subtly. Perhaps religion was created as a counter mechanism for nihilistic thoughts. That is definitely one positive consequence of the medium of religion amongst others.

In the midst of the whole political episode that took place recently in the youth circle in UK and Pakistan and the outrageous political affairs of Pakistan in general, I think I can definitely draw an analogy.The Devil attempted to convince everyone he didn’t exist, pretended to be “God” and knowingly created another “devil” in the minds of individuals thus seeking refuge in the existence of another. I apologize my friends; I am too humble to consider this notion for others as our boundaries and intentions are always flawed as human beings. I often wonder why I am charitable at times. Am I sincerely interested in helping others, am I pleasing God for a desire of paradise and even when I give charity discreetly, a thought crosses my mind if I am actually keeping it reserved for people to think good of me. I often wonder if my atheist friends are more deserving of heaven when they do charitable deeds as they perhaps have no ulterior motivation behind it. It is the problem of finding an “absolute” reality that none of us can speak definitely on as we are always told that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”. So, who is the Devil and who is the God?

I think the answer would depend on the perception of the “subject” and this reminds me of The Good Samaritan story. It is a tale suggesting that how you act is more important than what you believe. The most self-righteous individuals fail to act on their beliefs, but an individual who is despised, a Samaritan, acts more as a brother to a stranger than his own people. As I was discussing today with my colleague, I sometimes think that the people who constantly emphasize their beliefs to the world have the weakest faith in God of all or are intelligent enough to relegate them to be used as a political tool. They are perhaps the most susceptible of all to be bought-out based on material interests. Perhaps the western world is more Islamic than the self-proclaimed Islamic states.

I am quite inclined to think we might need to move towards a system of morality which is based on ‘absolute’ rather than ‘relative’ values. I think Socrates rightly pointed out that a justice system based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion and a vulgar conception that has no truth in it. It appears that indefinite markers of ethical absolution are somewhat necessary or we will have an existence of nothing substantively defined or attributed and essentially there would be no truth and no boundaries. It would encourage the philosophy of ‘nothingness’ that is the greatest example of a belief without sound application. But that is a contradiction to my very own compassionate being – I believe in human rights and all human rights are based on relative emotional values.

All in all, know that if someone comes to you claiming to be telling the “absolute” truth, be assured they are the Devil. And if I have convinced you, I have probably made you believe in the greatest lie.  

By Sana Hameed Baba

“In the Long Run We are All Dead” is a quote by a famous economist that many of us have heard of, John Maynard Keynes. While going through my CFA notes today, I thought not only might this be true for the economy or the circle of life and death in general, but also the fact that we become ‘dead men walking’ as we reach ‘maturity’.

Let me elaborate on my thought further. My childhood memories are now in some distant corner of my legal/financial/calculating brain, but I do remember that when my mom got my ears pierced for the first time in Karachi at the age of four; I cried like anything although I only felt a pinch. When I sometimes end up in hospitals now (thanks to food poisoning from Pakistani weddings and my chronic asthma), I hardly feel the injections while the nurses keep pushing needles inside me to find my veins. My point being, I felt much more alive and human when I was a child.

I used to take pride in small accomplishments and discoveries I made. My major accomplishment as a child of five years old was taking a shower for the first time by myself. It might sound horrific if I say this now, but I hated taking a shower as a child for the simple reason that I had a habit of getting soap in my eyes and then crying non-stop. It took me five years of my life to discover that if I kept my eyes closed and then washed my face with soap lather, it wouldn’t actually hurt my eyes. I feel no such accomplishment in washing my face everyday now; it is part of my ‘day management’ process.

I remember cursing God for the creation called ‘night’ as a child. Darkness has always been the worst of my fears. It wans’t until a few years back that I was able to label this fear as ‘Necrophobia’. As a child I loved life, school, friends etc but I wished to God every night to give me a short life so I wouldn’t have to see night time and sleep in the dark for an average of 65 years more. I remember sleeping between my mom and dad after watching horror movies or waking up from a nightmare. I absolutely love and adore my father, but I also remember the difference in comfort I got when I hugged my mom and slept peacefully after watching a horror movie while I couldn’t feel the same comfort with my dad. This was the first time I realized what people meant when they said “heaven lies beneath the feet of ones mother”. I have to admit I still sleep with my lights on in the room and it amounts to an excessive electricity bill which I have to pay every month, but I actually do not realize when I reach home, change into my sleeping suit and doze off to sleep to wake up for 7:30 am.

My father being in merchant navy and having spent most of my childhood on trading ships, I used to love playing hide and seek with my father while he was on duty in the control room at night. As of now I have been playing hide and seek with my parents for the last 9 years; I hide the whole year in London and go back three times a year to see my parents in Pakistan.

Sadly, I also clearly remember the sense of loss I felt when my first dog ‘Kitty’ died. I was about five years old and returned from school to have lunch with my parents and grandparents. My parents and grandparents were looking at each other as to whether to tell me of the sad news or not. My mom and dad then told me and took me outside to see Kittys dead body. I screamed , cried and went to sleep only to wake up screaming from a nightmare and being consoled by my mom back to sleep. My grandmother died a long time back but my same grandfather who hesitated telling me of Kittys death, passed away a couple of years back and I haven’t shed a tear on his death to-date; perhaps because I never got to attend his funeral as I was having exams to secure my bright future ahead away from Pakistan.

I used to be a romantic observer of nature all around me. I used to take time to watch the sunset, full moon and rainbows and as a result I was outstanding at painting and sketches. It just came naturally to me. However, I let this talent rest in peace after my grandfather’s death which was marked by gifting my father the first and last portrait ever I drew (along with someones help) of my grandfather.

I always enjoyed the rain as a child. For most of us who come from Pakistan, rain was an excuse for a treat of ‘pakoras’, some yummy tomato kethcup and ‘karake daar chai’. It might still be the same back home but its been years since I have enjoyed the monsoon season in Pakistan. I now dread the rainy weather in London and amongst other mysteries that I carry in my purse, have to keep an umbrella in the bag all the time, simply because it might cause tube closures and make me late for work. When it rains in London, there is what I call the ‘butterfly effect’.

I always knew death is dark and grim but I never knew as a child birth came with much more pain. Thanks to my mom being a gynaecologist, I got to watch a live delivery for the very first time in Sir Ganga Ram Hospital Lahore at the age of nine. Don’t get me wrong, my mom didn’t try to torture me. I was waiting for my mom to come out of the ward, but the door was left open where a woman was giving birth. It was truly Disgusting and a Shocking experience for me. Today, I hear of my friends giving birth right left and center. Its almost like my friends have become baby-popping machines (no offence).

Being such a romantic by virtue of my very astrology (gemini) I finally experienced my very first crush. I hated the change in my biology, approach and feelings. I hated the fact I couldn’t focus at times on my studies thinking about him, myself and our future. I loved repelling his thought out of my mind by envisioning a future where I would be the President of Pakistan and doing some great things instead of getting involved in relationships. I was only eleven and I used to promise my friends, This will be the Man I will Marry even if He says No! Ha! Soon I realized it was just a crush but this feeling for someone special had found a place in my day-to-day life. To fulfill this gap I started believing in someones future coming and collecting various cards, stuffed toys etc in a box for that special someone. Over the years, coming across so many people from the opposite gender and getting to know them, I feel this box is only as good as a reminiscence of my childhood and I shall gift it to myself the day I marry; not because no one deserves it as someone will only be as deserving as I make them, but because I have realized how important ones individuality is and that no one can become a part of my childhood.

I could have gone across the oceans to meet my better half if I knew where he was once upon a time, but now I am just ready as anyone else to settle with a compromise in my very comfort zone. It is perhaps because feelings have died with maturity. Alas! How I wish to go back in the past and be as sure of marrying someone now as my very first crush. Unfortunately, a part of growing up is realizing feelings die, marriages die, attraction dies and people die. Wise people around me keep telling me that marriage doesn’t end in boredom but with a transformation of the relationship into an even stronger bond with kids and family. I disagree. The moment the attraction flare dies in a marriage (which always does), people should be seeking therapy not kids. The first step in solving a problem is to acknowledge the problem which we mostly fail to do so.

So now when I am approached by men for meaningful companionship, my instantaneous reaction is to switch off and repel that person as I am insecure of myself; I am insecure that I can give that person meaningful companionship beyond that feeling of attraction. Whether I feel a certain attraction for a person or not, I now try to overcome it rather than going with the flow as I know it will die in a few weeks. It is however quite amusing that the child inside us remains the same even now in such situations. The feeling of attraction, love, rage, care, reaction all remains the same as when we were children. The difference is I just now know how it will end up: It is not Happily Ever After but Boredom Ever After.

So I guess I am pretty much already dead. Death probably lies in knowing everything. Perhaps this is the reason whatever happens after death has not been revealed to us humans. Because if we knew what happens after death we would probably stop living as it is.

By Sana Hameed Baba

Sunday, the 8th of November 2009, was just another ordinary gloomy winter day in London but I will always remember it as a day I learnt something important. I can’t speak for everyone but I have noticed that sometimes common people do and say a thing which tends to have a meaningful impact on one; and yes such incidents definitely don’t take place everyday which marks them as a distinguished occurrence. Such events sometimes reinforce my very ‘agnostic belief’ that all of God’s creation is at a certain point and place in time for a reason.

In order to get some routine groceries, which most of us from Pakistan can only get from the east quarter of London, I set out on my mission to go to Green Street. I call it a mission because it is almost like crossing the ‘line of control’ stepping into Bus No. 25 from Stratford station. There is a constant war for space! Physically I don’t occupy much space in this world (unless I start talking and come across as someone with plans of world domination) due to my thin stature, and so as always I managed to squeeze into the crowd on the bus.

Casually listening to some music on my iPod and few minutes into the bus ride I noticed a woman and a child who probably had been standing next to me all this while. The woman must have been about 30 years old, thin, not too dark and not too light complexion; average looking with long braided hair and was a typical depiction of a young middle-class mother from Pakistan who spoke relatively fluent English language but chose to wear her traditional dress, Salwar Kameez. Her child on the other hand was extremely fair, had blonde eyelashes, blonde hair and couldn’t have been more than 3 to 4 years of age. He was dressed in light blue pyjamas and jumper and a knitted warm muffler covering his head. The child looked like he was from the north western frontier part of Pakistan.

The moment I noticed the mother and child was when a perfectly healthy middle-aged African American woman took the liberty to sit on a seat which had just been made vacant and the mother politely requested “excuse me but can you please let my son sit here, he is very small and tired”. These were what we call ‘priority seats’ but the woman had the audacity to just look at the mother and say “So?” and carry on sitting there. If I ever did this to someone I would probably rebuild the World Trade Centre and jump off it! The chaotic bus ride that it was, no one bothered to stand up for the mother. And no, I did no such heroic thing as well. I was however disappointed in the very essence of human nature – selfishness.

Most of my friends know I lack that motherly instinct in me for some reason and I have no fear in openly accepting this; although it definitely is a repellent to all my marriage prospects. But just as healthy beings it is perhaps courteous if not our duty to take care of those weaker than us including elderly, children, disabled, pregnant women, animals etc. It gives me immense pleasure at times to see young people offering their seats to elderly in the subway and just brings a smile to my face. It brings alive my almost dead optimism in the goodness of human beings.

To go on with my ‘God of small things’ story, the child innocently enquired from his mother “why didn’t she let me sit mommy?” and trust me this child was an angel – he was not loud, he was not crying, he was not that obnoxious little creature that I term as ‘kids’, but an epitome of innocence. I hate to admit this but I felt a little protective about the child if not motherly. The mother then told the kid “sweetheart it is bad people who do such things and promise me that when you grow up you will never do this to anyone”. I overheard this casual remark, looked at the mother, smiled and then just cracked up. I just have a habit of finding amusement in the most serious of life’s lessons. I actually laughed because I felt sorry for the woman who was unable to give up something as small as a seat for a child i.e. her comfort. I am not sure if the child understood what the mother meant but I am sure with such constant reinforcements from his mother despite how people treat them, he will grow up to be a decent human being.

It was at this point I realized how easy it was for that mother to forgive and find a positive reinforcer for her child from a negative experience. So what did the child learn? He learnt that very basic feeling which differentiates ‘good’ from ‘bad’, ‘piety’ from ‘evil’ and perhaps ‘life’ from ‘death’. And in this spirit I finally called my friend after an extended ego battle to find that strength in our relationship after a meaningless conflict. Perhaps something good could come out of a bad experience?

The bus finally stopped and a seat was made vacant. I marked my territory on the seat by placing my bag on it, took the child’s hand and made him sit. The mother was very grateful for this and it all ended well. Although, it didn’t end too well on my corner of the world but then again, I am sure there is something positive in this too.

By Sana Hameed Baba