Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day

I am not sure why but I have always associated the strongest emotions and feelings with color, fragrance, or flavor. If you ask me what hard work smells like, I would say it was the scent that effused from the car that returned at night to our home with the man who would leave for work early in the morning. That I used to smell this aroma climbing the stairs of an office building in Karachi--an office building where people parked their cars all different ways, where signs of lawyers and other businesses hung on the façade among a myriad of telephone and electricity wires; an office building where several ground floor shops were of perfume-makers who would put their artistic potions in colored bottles of peculiar shapes, where a Pathan would run his teashop under the stairs. When my brother and I would sprint up to the third floor, on the behest of my mother who would be standing outside that building--the two of us pushing each other along the way--we would smell the redolent mixture of perfumes and hot tea, and then in a third floor office filled with cigarette smoke, sitting surrounded by law books, we would find the most important man of our lives.

Like most fathers of the world my father took care of the economic structure of our household. He worked very hard through his younger years and because of his toil we always remained a step out of the brutal ring of poverty. And being financially secure made it possible for us children to make independent decisions in our lives.

My father's second most important contribution in my upbringing was in setting my direction in seeking knowledge. I always found him surrounded by books; reading the titles of the books by his bedside I learned the names of Bertrand Russell, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Descartes and other great minds. My father never coached me about what I should study in school, but watching him read books I learned that no matter what field I choose for my vocational training, I must find solace in philosophy and good literature. That I may work as an accountant or a garbage collector, but when I find time I should read literature and philosophy to entertain myself and to try to reach the pinnacle of human intellect.

And it is because of this training that I live with the confidence that if ever circumstances suddenly became unfavorable for me, that if the clouds of benevolence that constantly hang over my head ever disappeared, if doors are ever slammed shut on my face, if I am ever pushed to the ground and told of my utter failure, that in the most miserable situation I would live with the inner peace that I have strived to gain true knowledge, the knowledge that illuminates the path to the heavens, the knowledge that I sought through guidance received from my father.

[Originally written in Urdu. That text is here:]