An observation

We’ve all- collectively as humans from all walks of life- this historic obsession with height. We feel that if we could see everything from a lofty station, or attain high ground or genetically perfect ourselves to be taller, we’d be at somewhat of an advantage. In these frantic efforts to attain height, civilizations have erected mammoth structures at great humans costs: the pyramids of Giza, the Taj mahal, ancient Maya temples and now roaring skyscrapers that litter every ideal urban landscape. Rarely has man ever been content with the smaller version of anything- architecture, wealth, popularity and the single most inflated trait in all the

wanderings of the mind.


The entire house was silent. No bird sang, no tree rustled and the air was still. I sat in complete silence admiring the tree outside- a mighty, towering being that remained constantly grounded and persistent through all kinds of seasons, civilizations, ages and time. At that moment, the world and this life seemed dreadfully finite- a wisp of dust that could disappear with the passing of a mere moment. At that moment, these were the wanderings of my mind.

Why do our tongues fail us when we need to express ourselves the most?

Why do our breaths fall short when endurance is demanded of us?

Why do our eyes fail to absorb the beauty that surrounds us in that temporary moment of bliss?

Why does the comfort of our circumstances only become apparent when we witness misery?

Why do we go back to the same people, the same places that pierce our flesh?

Why do we revert to our naivety and foolishness when the illusion of happiness is restored?

Why cant everything be okay, without any ifs or buts, or hidden costs, or dread of the “worst yet to come?”

How can something seem unimaginably vivid and colorful at one instant, and so very ugly and dark at the next?

How can children be expected to frolic in gardens of sweet poison?

How can women be expected to be fearless when an unfamiliar silhouette on the sidewalk is enough to make them run?

How can men be expected to enjoy a life that they have by the grace of a 9-to-5 job?

When will the luxuries of this world be portrayed as what they truly are-an escape?

When will the sufferings of the masses be brought forth as an imminent reality, rather than a charity case in the distant world?

10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World-Elif Shafak

’10 Minutes 38 Seconds in this Strange World’ begins with The End- Tequila Leila, a sex worker in Istanbul, lays dying amidst the garbage in the outskirts of the city. Istanbul begins to awake from her slumber in the hours of the early morning, but Leila prepares for eternal sleep. Her consciousness begins to ebb away, but for 10 minutes and 38 seconds, her brain stays awake conjuring up distant memories of her life-memories of the weight of salt, of the taste of lemon and sugar, of the smell of cardamom coffee.

1947 saw the birth of Leila Afife Kamile in Van, a small city located in Eastern Turkey. Her mother Binnaz, who had experienced 6 miscarriages prior to the birth of Leila, was forced to surrender Leila to the care of her husband’s first wife, Suzan, who was without child. Leila would henceforth know Suzan as her mother and Binnaz as her Auntie. As a child, Leila was as curious and as inquisitive as innocent children are, fascinated by the colors on the carpet which she would gaze at until they came to life, moved by the animals and wildlife around her-the diverse species of birds and fishes that inhabited Van- and mystified by the women around her who led an almost paradoxical existence. Leila’s transition from child to teenager was a turbulent one which coincided with her father’s growing inclination towards religiosity, and was accompanied by sexual abuse at the hands of her gregarious uncle. Thus, the Leila who viewed life through a vibrant lens of possibility, who longed to wear colorful fabrics and style her hair according to the latest fashions of Audrey Hepburn and who wished to explore her own likes and dislikes was snubbed by her father’s hateful lectures, by the fearful reality of the consequences of her uncle’s actions and the silence of her mother and Auntie. Aged 17, Leila impulsively resolves to leave her home and family in Van for the uncertainty of Istanbul, where she hopes she will find the liberation to build her own life.

In Istanbul, Leila Afife Kamile is no more, and it is Tequila Leila who begins to work as a sex worker in a licensed brothel owned by a woman known as Bitter Ma. She becomes an outcast but she is not alone, for, although her blood family have disowned her, Leila finds solace and support in her water family, her friends. These diverse personalities include Jameelah, a Somali worker, Zainab122, a dwarf, Nostalgia Nalan, a transgender, Hollywood Humeyra, a runaway who performs at nightclubs and Sabotage Sinan, an old childhood friend. To describe Leila’s bond with her water family Shafak writes, “They were her safety net. … On days when she wallowed in self-pity, her chest cracking open, they would gently pull her up and breathe life into her lungs.” Even as the life departs from her eyes, the support of her safety net remains. The 5 friends are determined to save her from the humiliation of being laid to rest at the Cemetery of the Companionless, a graveyard for those who have none to claim them, and where the dead are recognized by numbers rather than names. This endeavor shapes Part 2 of the novel, The Body.

Shafak describes Istanbul as a city of multiplicities, she writes “In truth, there was no Istanbul. There were multiple Istanbuls- struggling, competing, clashing, each perceiving that, in the end, only one could survive.” The betrayal of this city of different faces, of clashing ideologies, of the old and new could be felt most acutely by the outcasts that occupied it, the trans-genders, the runaways, the obese, the dwarfs, the protesting students and the ‘misguided’ women. While the novel deals with many difficult themes, such as inequality of rights between men and women, mental illness and sexual violence, Shafak has described this book as a ‘life-affirming novel’ because it explores the themes of friendship and self-sufficiency. While it is true that Leila and her friends have seen grave injustices and violations of their rights, their resilience and defiance against the stereotype of outcasts crumbling in front of society’s cruelties make them anything but victims of their circumstances. This is truly a masterpiece, and Shafak beautifully makes use of sensuality to shape this book into an evocative experience for the mind and soul.

Step Sister-Jennifer Donnelly

Jennifer Donnelly, author of Step Sister, succeeded eloquently in presenting a lesser unknown, brighter side to a widely beloved and unexpectedly dark tale. This is the tale of the ugly stepsisters and the beautiful orphaned maiden, a tale of Chance and Fate. The book begins by describing a gruesome scene of two step-sisters, named Isabelle and Octavia, cutting off their toes at the persistent demands of their mother to win over the Prince. Unsurprisingly, they are unable to fruitfully carry out this endeavor and instead Ella, the elegant step-sister who is a victim to the hate and cruelty of her step-family, catches the Prince’s attention after which they live happily ever after. This is where the classic tale ends, where we are told to believe all tales should end. But, for Isabelle and Octavia this is only the beginning.

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A New Normal

One’s psychological, social and emotional well-being shapes their mental health, which is important for an individual to be able to cope with stress, perform meaningful work, contribute positively to the community and work fruitfully. More recently, societies have seen the adverse effects of neglecting one’s mental health in the rise of mental illnesses which are responsible for disability, increased rate of suicides, substance abuse, chronic physical illnesses such as aches, pains and gastrointestinal distress and for contributing to the global burden of disease. It has therefore become increasingly apparent that this neglect of an invisible concept has led to tangible issues.

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