Archive for December, 2014

It is 8pm on a Saturday night and instead of being out with your friends or even catching an old movie on channel 7, you are all dressed up in a salwar kameez sitting in the bedroom of a ‘family friend’ with a whole bunch of other girls/guys talking about nothing in particular. This is a Saturday night many desi girls live out on a regular basis. We get dragged to ‘dawats’ by parents who think that they are keeping us in touch with our culture when in reality throwing together the same mix of young adults on a regular basis to do nothing but sit and talk can only result in one thing. Gossip.

I am not singling out the Bengali (heretofore known as desi) culture because I think that they are the only ones doing this, rather because it is the culture I am part of, have experienced and would very much like to see improved. I spent a considerable part of my adolescence being dragged to parties aka dawaats by my parents who deemed I was too young to stay at home alone and that I needed to socialise with the children of their friends. These children, some my actual friends and some acquaintances are all very intelligent in their own respect. But put us all in a room together and something happens – instead of using our intelligence to discuss world affairs, news or any topic of any importance or relevance – we invariably turn to gossip. The words, ‘did you hear…’ feature almost as frequently as ‘I saw on facebook that…’

Seemingly harmless conversation that begins with the intention of discussing something everyone can take part in, quickly becomes chatter that is insulting, hurtful or both to someone that is not present in the room. This is especially the case if the quintessential joker is present and feels the compulsive need to make people laugh at someone else’s expense. We find this acceptable and continue to do this as we age. As ‘Aunties’ we will probably continue this habit the same way we see our parents do. This is a vicious cycle that has severe repercussions on people’s lives. Idle chatter can lead to heavy consequences within families that is not limited to just quarrels and upheavals.

So where does this compulsion to gossip come from? Do we just re-enact what we see? Every Bengali knows someone who has been told off by their parents with the words, ‘(so and so) aunty said that …’. It is sad that our parents take an unusual delight in nitpicking through the lives of others and spreading carefully constructed ‘facts’ or even blatant here say with little regard for the consequences of such ‘entertainment’. The premise of ‘sharing’ between parents in a social circle is to keep each other informed which is commendable. But the misuse of such a captive audience to spread malice has resulted in broken homes, marriages and trauma to young women who are the subject of ‘discussions’ based on everything but fact.

Our generation may not ‘gossip’ with the same fervour some of the older generation show, but our inadvertent gossip is just as dangerous. To be very clear, any comment made about a person who is not present that you have not said or will not be able to say to the person’s  face – is ghibaa. Backbiting. The only exceptions are:

  • to protect from the evil of another person, including situations where one is asked to vouch for the integrity of a marriage prospect
  • when the person being talked about does not conceal his violations of Divine commands
  • to describe any fault of a patient before a physician for purposes of treatment
  • criticism about a narrator of traditions (hadith).

Most of us however are just the captive audience in a room with a gossiper. So are we still accountable? Yes. Our amazement, our exclamations of, ‘oh I didn’t know that’ and even our silence makes us accomplice to a wrongdoing. Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) narrated from the Noble Messenger (s) who is once said to have forbidden both backbiting and listening to it. Then he (s) said: “Lo, whoever does a favor to his brother by refuting his backbiting upon hearing it in a gathering, God shall save him from a thousand kinds of evils in this world and in the Hereafter. And if he does not do so despite his ability to refute it, on him shall be the burden of one who commits his backbiting seventy times.” [Al-Hurr al-`Amili, Wasa’il al-Shi`ah, vol. 8, hadith no. 16316]

So the next time you are at a dawat and the conversation seems to be veering towards gossip, take stock of who is in the room and pick a topic that the majority will be able to partake. An upcoming holiday, a book, a movie, an idea, a recent news item. Even taking interest in the life of a person in the room is better than discussing someone who is absent. I have been the gossiper who has been pulled up by a person who says, ‘hey he/she isn’t here so let’s not talk about them.’ And I am grateful for the reminder. So be that person, because as Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”


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Today, the heavens opened and rain poured liberally on my new home town. Your old one. As I stood looking outside my thoughts flit, as they often do, to you. There was a time when you were the first and last person I contacted on any given day. There was a time when you knew my every thought, feeling, action and dream – sometimes before I had even said a word. The fact that this is no longer the case still hurts.

There is no communication between us and I wonder how we got to this point. I recall writing about friendships drifting together and apart a while ago, but I never imagined it would foretell the future of our relationship. Ours was a friendship forged by the stars. And now the words “goodbye my lover, goodbye my friend’ ring in my ears as I write this. For you loved me in a way I didn’t know I deserved.

I don’t clearly remember our first meeting, but I remember the subsequent ones, the constant surprises in our conversations when one stated a fact about themselves and the other said, ‘me too!’ Brought together by endless similarities, our age, our friends, our families, our situations, heck even our geographical location! (to think you lived on the next street for so many years without us meeting!) Our conversations were epic. Epic. In you, I found a confidante who listened, who never judged and who was always there.

It helped that we were going through the exact same things at the exact same time. For a period of several years our lives took the same trajectory and we had the same struggles, thoughts, fears and dreams – made the same mistakes and bore the same repercussions. And then you moved to Canberra. At first it wasn’t so bad, you came to visit regularly and whatsapp meant our conversations could continue regardless of the newfound distance. I didn’t see it then, but that was when the trajectories of our lives took slightly separate paths. In the years to come we grew apart but neither of us felt it acutely.

And then it happened. Suddenly there came a day when not only had I not spoken to you in weeks, but I couldn’t even recall the last time we had spoken. Nothing had happened to cause the rift but time and distance. There had been no fight, no argument, no one single thing that would mark the end of a friendship. This is probably why it has taken me so long to process this ending. It completely blindsided me. One day I knew you were in my life and the next – you were not. You called me from the plane to tell me you were going to get married. You had boarded the plane and the call was your closure but it took me completely by surprise. My rock. My support… was going away. I felt a gaping hole and a growing sense of betrayal. But now, I understand. We had discussed so much, I knew too much. I was a constant reminder of your past at a time when you were trying to move into your future. I know this because I was trying to do the same.

In the days that followed, like it always had, our lives mimicked each other. We had finally met and married those elusive men we had spent countless hours talking about. We married within days of each other without consulting each other, or without introducing each other to our new best friends. And it has been months since, now living in your old hometown that I drive by places we had been together, that I recall something you once said.

On one of our many walks you told me you dreamt that I would marry a man that looked good in a Panjabi and stubble, one that recited poetry, and we would live in a place with French doors opening out to a forest. My love, you are gone from my life today but your dream is my present. He does look good in a Panjabi and stubble and he does recite poetry to me on our balcony with the French doors. We live in Canberra which is filled with trees and this gift you have given me of my present lacks only one thing. You.

I know the heart is not an infinite thing, I know life is constant change and that maybe in order to make room in our hearts for our new best friends we had to say good bye to each other. But I will not for this life is constantly changing and it may bring us together again one day. Till then I hope the dream you dreamt of my present is as sweet as the present you have. I hope our countless hours together bring a smile to your face if they ever cross your mind and I hope, so very much – that you my friend have found a new best friend worthy of your love.

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