He was a 16 years old boy of small stature but big dreams. His real name was Rafiq but everybody called him Feeka. As mentioned earlier, Feeka was a man of dreams. Just like a wall is made of bricks, human tissue is made of cells, Feeka was made of dreams. He dreamt of becoming a world renowned author. Yet, whenever he held a pen with the intent of producing a master piece, his mind went blank and his fingers grew numb. He read several books about how to become a writer but to no avail. One day, he became really infuriated by endless, fruitless hours of staring at walls with a pen in his hand and blank papers staring back at him from his writing desk. He decided to seek advice on this matter from a writer whose column he regularly read in the local newspaper. After some effort, he managed to trace the author in question, Mr. Majzoob Ahmed Qureshi. Qureshi Saheb agreed to meet him the coming Wednesday.
On Wednesday, Feeka spent more time in shower than usual. He put on a crisp white Kurta Shalwar, applied oil infused with Jasmine to his head and sprinkled a generous quantity of Itar on his clothes. Before leaving, he cast a look at his image in the mirror. On a last note, he tucked an expensive pen (that he used exclusively for his writing sessions) in his pocket and headed towards Shahi mohalla where the literary rendezvous was supposed to take place. A brief excerpt from Feeka’s conversation with Majzoob Ahmed Quraishi is quoted here:
Feeka: Assalam o alaikum, Sir. I am your greatest fan ever.
Quraishi Sb (Twisting his moustache): So is everybody else. What brings you here, young boy?
Feeka: Sir, I want to be a great writer. No, the greatest writer, just like yourself, sir.
Quraishi Sb: Your last sentence smells of great ambition. But I don’t want to discourage you. So what is it that you want to write about? Politics, history, current affairs..?
Feeka: I want to write a story. An epic story, like Romeo Juliet, Heer Ranjha, Laila Majnoo, Jack Rose…
Quraishi Sb: Cut it, I know where this is going. By the way, I can already tell that of all the titles you just mentioned, your only inspiration is the last one. So how can I help you, young boy? Surely, you don’t expect me to write a story and put your name as the author?
Feeka: Oh no, Quraishi Sb. I am an original writer. I just want you to answer some of my queries.
Quraishi Sb: Let’s hear them.
Feeka takes out his pen and a paper and assumes an alert position, ready to take notes.
Feeka : What should be the theme of my story, I mean, action, thriller,..
Quraishi Sb: Make it romance. It has universal appeal. You see, people from all religions, countries and intellectual caliber can relate to it. Everybody wants a piece of the pie, let’s give them the whole pie in your story.
Feeka: How many characters should be there in my story?
Quraishi Sb: The less, the better. Kill the hero’s parents in an accident before he was born.
Feeka: Err, Sir that defies some basic rules of biology.
Quraishi Sb: Alright, kill them in an accident when they were coming back from hospital with the baby. Everybody dies, but the baby.
Feeka: What about hero’s siblings?
Quraishi Sb (smiling proudly): The hero was the first baby in the family.
Feeka: What about the heroine?
Quraishi Sb: That’s a tricky question, we can’t kill them all in car accident, can we?—-a long pause—-The heroine’s mother commits suicide after discovering her husband’s extra-marital affairs and the husband commits suicide after hearing about his wife’s death.
Feeka (reluctantly): But if the husband loved his wife so much as to commit suicide in the wake of her demise, what was all that about—the affairs, I mean ?
Quraishi Sb: You are too young to understand human psychology, my boy. In a nutshell, at any given time, there should be a bird in hand and two or more in the bush. The ones in the bush can be replaced, but if the one in hand is lost, you are broke—–well, sort of.
Feeka: Alright. What should be the heroine’s name?
Feeka (blushing): Yes.
Quraishi Sb: Shoot.
Feeka: Dilshaad Begum.
Quraishi Sb: Is this your romantic best?
Feeka (confused): Umm, no..
Quraishi Sb: Good. Because otherwise, I would have thrown you out of my house. Let’s call our heroine Gulbakaouli. There is something mysterious about that name, like a fairy who lost her way to Koh-e-Kaaf and ended up landing on your writing pad. (Laughs). Poor, little fairy. (Laughs again). And name your hero Batlamyus. That’s the only name I can think of that rivals the eccentricity of Gulbakaouli.
Feeka: What should be the timeline of our story? I mean, birth to death, only youth, two generations?
Quraishi Sb: Like I said earlier, the less, the better. Haven’t you heard that sometimes a few moments spent between two complete strangers outweighs decades of camaraderie. Let us reinforce the potency of the moment instead of drawing on years of nonsense.
Feeka: What should be the location for this story? How about our desi Lake district aka Kaghan?
Quraishi Sb: Make it Karachi. It would be easier to have them shot dead by terrorists than to devise a believable death plot in Kaghan.
Feeka: That’s heartless. Please suggest an alternate means of death.
Quraishi Sb: It’s time you get going. (Pointing to unfinished manuscripts on his desk) I have business to attend to.
Feeka: Thank you Quraishi Sahib from the bottom of my heart. I am your greatest fan ever.
Quraishi Sb (Twisting his moustache): So is everybody else. Khuda Hafiz.
The same night, Feeka wrote his first story that went on to become the most iconic fictional piece of writing of the century. The story was as follows:
“Gulbakaouli and Batlamyus: A love story made in heaven”
Once upon a time, there was a Gulbakaouli and a Batlamyus. Batlamyus was an only child and lost his parents soon after he was born. Gulbakouli = same as above. Now, this Gulbakaouli was a girl of exceptional beauty. She had the eyes of a deer, long hair like snakes and the gait of a peacock. In other words, there was hardly any human quality about her. As for Batlamyus, he was tall as a pine tree and had the gait of a lion. In other words, he was the product of a unique genetic mutation between the animal and the plant kingdom.
One day, Gulbakaouli went to the market to buy medicine for her sick aunt. Batlamyus was playing cricket in the street along with a bunch of equally vain friends. When Batlamyus saw Gulbakaouli, the moment that wraps up in it years of camaraderie took place. To impress Gulbakaouli, Batlamyus struck a powerful sixer. The ball hit Gulbakaouli straight in the head and she died of severe head injury there and then. When Batlamyus saw Gulbakaouli die in front of his eyes, he couldn’t bear the pain and had a massive heart attack. All the other characters at the spot grabbed a gun and took turns shooting themselves. If the hero and heroine are dead, there is no point in having extras roam about.
Moral: Brevity is the soul of wit.
One of the perks of being ‘human’ is that one can lead a life of pretense, while carefully suppressing facts. In some cases, one person alone can manage to contrive multiple pretenses according to different situations. Mostly, the ‘pretense’ is an improved version of oneself, or one that evokes feelings in others that the person in question desires to induce. People usually fall easily for the pretense. After all, we cannot remove lid from a person and play peek-a-boo with the soul. We see what we are shown.
About ten years ago, I came face to face with a similar situation. One fine morning at school, our teacher introduced us to a new student whose family had recently moved from Swat to Peshawar. For the sake of this story, we will call her Ayesha. The seating arrangement in our class was such that students sat in pairs. As I was sitting alone that day, the teacher told her to take the seat next to me. As days passed by, we became good friends. Ayesha seemed to really enjoy talking about her family. In the beginning, I thought her family must mean a lot to her. After some time, I found her family-talk to be rather repetitive. It was annoying too because all our conversation revolved around how special Ayesha was to her family. I felt eclipsed by accounts of her mother cajoling her to eat ‘parathas’ (a special kind of bread) at breakfast, and her father showering her with fancy clothes and jewelry.
One day, Ayesha proudly said, “Do you know when I go back home from school, my mother asks me about my day. I give her detailed account of my day and she listens with keen interest.” To this, I replied casually, “When I go back home, my mother barely notices. She is a working lady and therefore very busy balancing work and household chores.” Unexpectedly, my sentence had a profound effect on her. Her expression changed from indifference to sympathy. Suddenly, she wanted to know more about my relationship with my family. I told her fabricated stories of my parents’ troubled relationship and portrayed myself as an unwanted object in the house. Ayesha was very impressed by my ‘bravery’ and being able to maintain a brilliant academic record despite family issues. That day, I felt like Superman when he first discovered his superhuman qualities. Nothing I told Ayesha was even close to the truth. I lived a very normal and happy life. Yet the impact my little, casual lies had on Ayesha left me astounded. I could tell her my parents found me near garbage when I was a baby and decided to adopt me, and she would believe me. Amazing! In the following days, our relationship underwent a role-reversal of sorts. I went on and on about my (conjured up) miserable circumstances, while secretly admiring the look of sympathy on her face.
A few months later, Ayesha suddenly went on leave without notice. I tried to call her a number of times but it seemed that her phone had been disconnected by authorities for not paying telephone bill. On September 15th, when it was her birthday and it had been a week since she disappeared, I requested my mother to drive me to her house. We bought a cake and a birthday present, and drove to her address which my mother got from school record. As we got closer to her place, it grew apparent that they lived in an unprivileged neighborhood. This was astonishing for me as she had described her background as ‘affluent’ on more than one occasion. As our car could not make it further past the narrow street, we parked it and decided to cover the remaining distance on foot. Whatever doubt I had of being handed the wrong address evaporated as I caught glance of Ayesha through the thin piece of cloth that hung down a door to provide its inhabitants some form of privacy. I would have walked in had I not heard the loud exchange of expletives between a man and a woman inside the house, probably her parents. As my mother and I stood in stunned silence, a passerby commented, “The usual circus this man and woman put on display for their eight children to watch and the rest of the world to hear. What a shame!”
On our way back, I pondered over our pretenses. Mine was a luxury. I could have done equally well had I not put it up. Ayesha’s was a necessity. She needed to cling on to some sort of fantasy to keep her sanity amid all that chaos. I did not meet Ayesha that day. In fact, we did not meet ever again. I let her revel in the vision that she had once a friend who thought she had doting parents who fed her ‘parathas’ and bought her fancy clothes and jewelry.
When human beings are young, they can barely fathom what’s happening around them. Children often have imaginary playmates. They talk with them and share toys with them. Similarly, it’s not unheard of a child to wake up in the middle of the night crying after experiencing a nightmare. Parents try to alleviate the child’s fear by explaining the difference between dreams and reality; fake and real. As the brain matures, it learns to partition the world into three basic zones; Reality, Imagination/Thoughts and Dreams.
The ability of a person to achieve this partitioning is strongly linked with his mental soundness. Take the example of a fiction writer. Tolkien’s high fantasy novel “The Lord of the Rings” continues to enthrall readers over several decades. Had Tolkien indicated believing in any part of his fantasy world, society would have been quick to label him as delusional. The thoughts of a normal person are not half as vivid as reality. One cannot feel pain just by imagining being run over by a truck. On the contrary, all the five vital senses of vision, hearing, smell, touch and taste come alive in dreams. How is it then that we manage to draw a clear line between dreams and reality?
There can be two possible explanations for how we make this distinction. Our sense of judgment is greatly affected by input from other human beings. For example, if Mr.X is going for an interview and a friend tells him that his tie looks odd, he might decide to change it. If the same comment is given by five different friends, Mr.X will certainly change it. Moreover, our faith in an idea strengthens if it is presented to us repeatedly, in an organized fashion. In the context of our argument, we can say an event is reality if:
- Overlap: People other than oneself can relate to it.
- Continuity: The actors (places, objects, people) in these events exist across subsequent and/or previous events.
Additionally, we associate certain conditions with dreams. The most dominant one is being in bed and feeling post-sleep symptoms.
What we perceive as ‘reality’ is deemed as such because that is the portion where majority of human minds overlap. Effectively, our ‘reality’ is one giant circle comprising of overlapping regions. For example, consider the following situation. I believe I work at FAST. FAST might just be my imagination. But the odds of that are very low because everybody in my family believes there is a university called FAST where I work. Thousands of people inside and outside Pakistan agree that there is indeed a university by the name of FAST. That’s a fairly large overlap area. Moreover, I go there five days a week. I go through the same routine every single day. That satisfies the condition of continuity too. So my brain reaches the conclusion that ‘I work at FAST’ is authentic information.
That said, lets zoom out a bit now. What we consider ‘reality’ might just be a figment of the imagination of an alien on another planet. Alternately, it might just be a bubble in the head of a so-called lunatic, whom we have confined to the mental asylum for digressing from our established rules of ‘reality’. Who knows?