Rashid cover top

Syed Rashid Munirsrmunir@gmail.com

– 3:58pm

I don’t know where I am… Are we going to crash? Is this really happening? I am terribly confused. Am I going to die?

I hear people crying, shouting. The babies that were being a nuisance some time ago are surprisingly quiet now. I even catch a glimpse of a toddler smiling. I’m amazed looking at that young face, enjoying all of this; if she can face this, smiling, then I can too…

I start to calm down a little, even though the plane is showing no signs of recovery from its free fall. I look outside, and see huge puffs of black smoke coming out from the left engine. Or is it the Grim Reaper’s robe, billowing in the wind? I’m not sure. I should be afraid seeing the clouds completely perpendicular to the fuselage, but for some weird reason, I’m not. I feel numb, idiotic. Falling through the sky, with all the “zeal of the occasional worshipper”,[1] I turn inwards.

“Faith is a heavy burden. It’s like loving someone out in the darkness who never comes, no matter how loudly you call.”[2]

When you’re raised in a particular conviction, that’s the part of you that dies the hardest.

“I want to confess as honestly as I can, but my heart is empty. And emptiness is a mirror turned to my own face. I see myself and am seized by disgust and fear.”[3]

Now that I come to think of it, it had to be this way. The beauty, the elegance of it, is perfect. How fitting that I’m sitting with complete strangers, hovering over nothing, flying back to my country…

“When will you come back home?” was the relentless question that made my fly back. But, where is my home? Where do I start to belong, and when do I seize to do so? People tell me that I don’t fit the typical ‘Pakistani’ stencil (whatever that means). And I certainly don’t fit the ‘European’ stencil either; the color of my skin is too visible a reminder, as I’ve found out. So where do I fit in? I don’t know whether to be happy or sad about it. Because on the one hand, my adult life has been a struggle against stereotypes, but on the other, precisely this struggle has led me to be a foreigner everywhere, even in my own country. What does it feel like to truly belong somewhere, to be of a place, and never to feel out of it?

“The tender soul has fixed his love on one spot in the world; the strong man has extended his love to all places; the perfect man has extinguished his.”[4]

It seems that we are all on the move, mere visitors even in our own homes. Our age is of mobility and estrangement; our reference points now ephemeral and volatile. Home is now an abhorrent prison that decomposes time. Space has stopped being an obstacle. There is a mania for constant movement, since sitting still is akin to dying. Meanwhile, our postmodern society is built on attractions that seize to be attractive the moment you get to them: “wherever we happen to be at the moment, we cannot help knowing that we could be elsewhere, so there is less and less reason to stay anywhere in particular.”[5] There is always a restlessness to go further, to explore more. An adventure, a journey beckons.

In order to be found, Paradise has to be lost in the first place.

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.”[6]

Just beyond the border between ‘us’ and them’, lie the ones in exile, breaking “boundaries of thought and experience.”[7] The ability to straddle two or more cultures is not reserved for exiles only, but it does manifest itself rather frequently for them. It is a strange sensation though: what you gain is exactly what you didn’t want in the first place, since the cost involved becomes too high to bear sometimes. To find yourself equally out of place everywhere is a wonderful blessing and a terrible curse.

I can barely move a muscle against the force pushing me into my seat now…

I have to stop looking out of the window. I close my eyes. The smell of the ocean, the scent of moist earth, the heat of the sun, the warmth of an embrace, a hand gliding through my hair, the taste of her lips

All those moments will be lost in time, like… tears in rain.”[8]

A sense of loss is inherent to both love and exile.[9] But love “is the blackest of all plagues.”[10] If it had death’s ultimate mercy, there would be at least some pleasure in it. But it almost always passes…

“Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted.”[11]

Much of time in exile is spent “compensating for disorienting loss by creating a new world to rule”, which somehow resembles the “old one left behind forever.”[12] It is tempting for people in my position, out-of-country and out-of-language, to look back at the past, but we can only recreate it from imperfect fragments, since humans are not blessed with total recall. But that is what precisely makes it more valuable. The shards of memory acquire a greater resonance, indeed, because they are fragments. Fragmentation makes “trivial things seem like symbols, and the mundane acquires numinous qualities.”[13]

When I close my eyes, I can still hear wind rustle through the leaves of the peepal tree in our old house…

I’m hearing noises. Not the chaotic cacophony of terrified souls, but rather a calm, melodious chorus. Am I still hallucinating? I think the other passengers are praying, in unison, exile or not. I don’t need to speak their language to know what they’re saying. It is soothing to hear… I want to join in…

The man sitting beside me is reaching out to hold my hand. I smile awkwardly, and can barely reach for his sweaty digits.

Somewhere deep in my brain, I feel a vein rupture… Blood starts to ooze out of my left eye… I’m finally crying.

Time to go home. Time to belong.

“Time to die.”[14]

When we hit the ground, my internal organs will explode from the impact. All the bones in my body will be shattered into a million pieces. My torso will be torn in half by the seat belt, and then subsequently burnt. Death, for all intents and purposes, would be instantaneous. They wouldn’t even find enough remains to fill up a bag with…

Always the one who doesn’t fit in… a stranger everywhere, in perpetual exile.

My body is afraid, but I am not. For the guy who faints at the sight of syringes, this is remarkable. I feel proud and brave. If only they could see me now

The ground mustn’t be that far now. I try to swallow the last bits of saliva through my parched throat; there isn’t any. I look at my cheap Casio one last time. It is ticking away monotonously, mockingly even, unimpaired by its chaotic surroundings:

– 3:59pm

[1] Mohammed Hanif, A Case of Exploding Mangoes.

[2] The Seventh Seal (1957), original title Det Sjunde Inseglet, directed by Ingmar Bergman.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Hugo of St. Victor (a twelfth-century monk from Saxony) quoted in E. W. Said, Reflections on Exile.

[5] Zygmunt Bauman, Tourists and Vagabonds.

[6] Blade Runner (1982), directed by Ridley Scott.

[7] E.W. Said, Reflections on Exile.

[8] Blade Runner (1982), directed by Ridley Scott.

[9] E.W. Said, Reflections on Exile.

[10] The Seventh Seal (1957), original title Det Sjunde Inseglet, directed by Ingmar Bergman.

[11] E.W. Said, Reflections on Exile.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands.

[14] Blade Runner (1982), directed by Ridley Scott.

The Euroculturer: The Copyright of the cover photo belongs to Hamish Hamilton(UK), the publisher of Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist (1st ed.)

If you liked Rashid’s article, also read Europe: A Short Story

Rashid_new profileSyed Rashid Munir, Senior Writer

Rashid has a B.Sc. in International  Relations from LUMS, Pakistan. He is currently finishing his Erasmus Mundus MA at the  University of Deusto, Bilbao. His research interests lie in  post-colonialism, sub-altern studies, cultural and critical theory, and  citizenship regimes in Europe. Apart from his love of writing fiction, traveling, and exotic animals, Rashid daydreams in his spare time about a job in diplomacy, and is a big Ingmar Bergman fan.

5 thoughts on “3:59

  1. That is so impressive. The best article of the author so far. Every person will find something personal in this piece……

    Keep it up!

  2. This article is one of the most touching and inspiring of the author!

    “The babies that were being a nuisance some time ago are surprisingly quiet now. I even catch a glimpse of a toddler smiling”

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