Abida Mian's Blog

An outlier that's living, learning and being myself…

Archive for December, 2013

Islamic Funeral

Religion seems a rather alien concept to me. Given my name, Abida, is Arabic, I’m already assumed to be born and to die a Muslim. However it was only a couple of weeks ago that I stepped into a mosque for the first time in my life. My dad was unusual for his generation, unlike many South Asians who were shop-keepers, he was highly educated, naturally gifted in Mathematics and Physics. My dad told me that when he was a small child in India, in those days, he had to swim across the river to get to school every morning, there was no other way. I asked him what would happen if you couldn’t swim? The answer was simple, you wouldn’t get educated. It wasn’t surprising that he was a strong swimmer. The reason that I mention this was that his philosophy was that the most important aspects of life were education, family and kindness. He had his faith but he never thought it necessary to go to mosque and pray, it’s what you do with your life that is of any worth were his thoughts. Given that he drank alcohol, it was bizarre that the one aspect of the Islamic faith that he did strictly abide by was not eating pork.

I’m trying to paint a picture of a non-traditional Muslim family. We had an unusual upbringing, the only non-white family in the village, my dad thought it best that his children didn’t feel segregated, so we celebrated Christmas and Easter like any other normal child. He was multicultural with the opinion that if you live in a country, you should respect their traditions. One memory that makes my friends laugh is when one day out of the blue, I told my teacher that I should be exempt from morning assembly at school because I was Muslim. Really, Abi, she retorted? She smiled and said ok, and I thought great, except I was in this small room with a few other children in total silence. I was so bored, the next day, I decided it wasn’t so bad to sing hymns in assembly. My teacher and friends knew I wouldn’t last five minutes.

We knew dad was dying but nothing really prepared us for what was to follow. We researched the internet and found that we had to bury him within 48 hours, given that a post mortem wasn’t required. With the kindness of family friends who were practicing Muslims, they were able to guide us through the process. In Islamic faith, a dead body has to be washed prior to burial (known as the ghusl) by family members of the same sex. So my brothers had to go to the mosque and wash our fathers dead body, as one can imagine, they found that pretty horrific, but got through it. Then his body was wrapped in white cloth (enshrouding) and placed in the coffin. The men and women are kept separate in two rooms for the prayers (salah), an unusual aspect is that anyone who also uses the mosque for prayers can be present, so there were people that we didn’t know in the rooms. My dad’s coffin came to the women’s room first. I went to the coffin, but when I saw his face it broke my heart, that wasn’t my dad, it was his shell, my sister-in law grabbed my hands and told me to block that image out of my mind, to focus on good memories of him. I didn’t look again. We knelt on the floor, but as I didn’t know how to pray, I just read a few verses of the Quran with a scarf around my head. Then the coffin was moved into the men’s room, on speaker, we listened to a man start chanting. It felt strange to me, as I didn’t see the point in it all, he’s dead, why are we doing this, and why am I separated from my brothers? The worst part was to come, only men can bury, so I wasn’t allowed to go to his grave until the day after.

First and foremost, I’m a human being, no better or less than any other. I’m an ex-scientist, I have my own mind and don’t follow convention. I’m agnostic, I think once you’re dead that’s it, no after life, of course I can’t say that I’m right, because I’m not arrogant and can’t offer proof, it’s just based on intuition. I am however well-brought up and respectful of faith; that day no matter how hard it was, I followed the tradition because it wasn’t about me, but about my dad and doing the right thing. Cremation of the body is forbidden in Islam, but I would prefer that than burial. Once you’re gone, all that’s left is your shell, it doesn’t matter where you’re buried, my dad is in my heart and mind.

When you look at me, you see someone of colour (an Asian woman), if you hear me speak (a Welsh woman), if you read my name (a Muslim woman). Who am I? A human being, none of those questions matters. I always smile when someone asks where I’m from, I simply say nationality or ethnicity (to be politically correct), and what’s your faith? – actual or expected? 🙂

When I heard the news that we would have to switch off dad’s life support, I cried continuously, I feared being there at the end, watching him die, but the strange thing was that it was all very peaceful. When he drew his last breath, for a fraction of a second, I wanted to join him. I don’t fear death, because for me there is no unknown, just peace…

iPhone 5c Pink

I try not to let technology rule my life, I find it somewhat unhealthy when I walk past people on the street and they’re busy texting, or someone answers their phone when they are in the middle of a conversation with someone. However, I have to agree that life with an iPhone is soo much easier. I can check when the next bus is arriving, my oyster card balance, schedule reminders for birthdays/meetings/appointments, check work emails, the weather, FaceTime, take good quality photos, and a handy feature of iOS 7 is that I can block calls when I need some alone time.

I was in need of an upgrade, and was initially undecided between the 5s (latest version) or the 5c. Yes, the colourful bright coral pink 5c looks like a kids phone, but it has all the features I need, and it works out cheaper than the 5s. I use my laptop for buying/downloading stuff, and I have my iPod, so the 5c is more than adequate for me.

On my shelf

On my shelf, need to clear the 218 unread emails 🙂

Back of iPhone: Coral Pink

Back of iPhone: Coral Pink

iPhone box

iPhone box

To prevent scratches, I wanted to purchase a cover, the only downside is that there are more buying options for the iPhone 5s than 5c. I ended up ordering a wallet style case by Orla Kiely through John Lewis, the retro design and cheery yellow interior (with slots for cards) and wristlet is perfect 🙂

Orla Kiely Multi Stem Wallet Case for iPhone 5

Orla Kiely Multi Stem Wallet Case for iPhone 5

Inside cover - love the yellow.

Inside cover – love the yellow

Front Cover: Orla Kiely iPhone 5 Case

Front Cover: Orla Kiely iPhone 5 Case

Inside Cover: Orla Kiely Case with my iPhone 5c

Inside Cover: Orla Kiely Case with my iPhone 5c

Winter 2013

Given a stressful couple of months, lack of sleep, not eating well, I thought it prudent to take some multivitamins to help boost my immune system particularly at this time of year. I’m a fan of the Solgar brand, there are many favourable reviews on amazon of their VM-75 multivitamin and mineral formula with anti-oxidants, and one of the doctors at Biolab recommends it, so I’m now on my second bottle. They are potent (high RDA levels) but I would say I feel less tired, my nails are growing quickly and my pee is neon yellow (caused by high-levels of B2). The high levels of B-Vitamins in this formula should not be a cause for alarm, they are water-soluble, and therefore any excess (not used by the body) are simply excreted in the urine. I only intend on taking them a few months of the year. You’ll see in the picture, that they are large tablets (also available in capsule form), but as my doctor told me as a little girl, if you can swallow food, you can swallow tablets, some people fear the size, but it’s fine. I take mine after lunch with water, any fat in your meal helps with the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins.

Solgar VM-75

Solgar VM-75

Hair often becomes drier  and unruly this time of the year, what with the central heating indoors, cold air and rain out, I always recommend Aveda products they do make a real difference. The below are my pick of favourites, the damage remedy set was an Xmas present from my sister-in-law, this line helps to strengthen hair. The smooth infusion style-prep is used before blow-drying as a heat protectant and given the name a hair-smoother, and finally the brilliant shine spray is great for controlling frizz on dry hair. They are expensive but you don’t need a lot of product per application, so it does last a while. I also love the Dry Remedy range (not shown in the picture) really adds moisture to hair, it’s quite thick and can weigh down someone with fine hair, so really recommend it best for people with thick hair. I do use cheaper products like Herbal Essences, but Aveda products are a great pick-me-up for hair.

Favourite Aveda Products: Smooth Infustion Style-Prep, Damage Remedy Gift Set, Brilliant Spray-On Shine

Favourite Aveda Products: Smooth Infustion Style-Prep, Damage Remedy Gift Set, Brilliant Spray-On Shine

The beauty of flowers: Kensington Gardens & The Chelsea Flower Show 2013

I totally forgot to download the photos taken from the summer. I love flowers, always puts a smile on my face.

Kensington Gardens Summer 2013

Kensington Gardens Summer 2013

Chelsea Flower Show 2013

Chelsea Flower Show 2013

Chelsea Flower Show 2013

Chelsea Flower Show 2013

Chelsea Flower Show 2013

Chelsea Flower Show 2013

Chelsea Flower Show 2013

Chelsea Flower Show 2013

More flowers, lucky with friends…

Pink Flowers

About two weeks ago, I had the worst weekend. I listened to an old voice recording of my dad’s, and this wave of emotion just hit me. I eventually fell asleep but dreamt about him. I was a young child and we were solving quadratic equations, my dad had this blue book dedicated to parabolas and hyperbolas. I went to touch his face but I couldn’t reach him, then I just woke up at 4am. I had that blue book on my shelf (a happy memory from my time with him), and got out a pad and started going through the questions to see whether I could remember how to solve and create the graphs – it was like riding a bike, I remembered, dad would be so proud, I thought 🙂

On the Monday morning, I went downstairs and at reception were these beautiful pink flowers for me. Richard (the porter) whom I’ve known for around 8 years, bought them for me and in his card wrote ‘thinking of you at this difficult time’. My eyes lit up, I told him that work bought me pink flowers and they made me smile, so he did the same thing. He understood what I was going through as he lost his father a few years ago. He also sent flowers and a card to my mum, as he’s very fond of her. I never thought a man could be that kind and thoughtful. He’s been incredibly supportive, to most other people I usually say that I’m ok, but with him I can open up and show my emotions, for someone like me that’s rare. I admitted to him that the one person that helped me through the grief was my baby nephew, I love him soo much, and that’s when I realised that I’m ready to have my own. Yes, they’re expensive and a burden, but they are worth all the hardship, but now it’s a question of finding a decent guy to make them with. Richard described me as one of the nicest people he’s met, but that not many people would know unless I go out and socialise more. You’d be surprised to learn you have your share of male admirers that ask me about you, even my daughter thinks you’re beautiful – that made me smile, Rich is such a lovely guy.

Then one of my best friends (who started off as my old uni lab partner) cancelled his plans to travel back to see his family, so that he could see me. As soon as I saw him, he just opened out his arms and let me cry all over his shirt. Then he gave me a bag full of DVDs of old classic childhood movies and microwave popcorn, and assured me that it was a gift to keep my mind occupied, and that I don’t have to return them – a joke, because after I split with a guy in the past, he asked me to post his DVDs back to him first-class, this time I didn’t have to worry 🙂 I never met any man I would trust my life with apart from him, we will never be anything more than just best friends (bloody typical!), as he’s gay, but if I could describe the perfect personality then that would be his – we can chat for hours, never argue, and he’s never said anything offensive – surely an impossible task for a man 😉

Another good friend invited me to stay with him and his wife, and a client at work offered to fly me out to their holiday home. All really kind gestures, but I need time alone to come to terms with my loss.

I was lucky to have had the chance to spend more time with my dad when he retired, as he worked abroad when I was growing up. I would write letters to him every week, then he bought me a typewriter. We would speak every Sunday without fail. The past couple of years, he was able to call me everyday. I miss that. I remember years ago, there was a client at work that was in his thirties whose wife died of cancer, leaving behind a small toddler for him to bring up. He sent me an email as he was having trouble with a leak to his flat, the person who’s job it was to get it fixed wouldn’t return his calls, he asked if I could help chase on his behalf. Although, it wasn’t my job, I felt a sense of compassion, this man was all set to embark on a life with his wife and child and it had been cruelly taken away, he had a stressful job, so having persuaded an ex-colleague to drive me to his flat, I took photos and then contacted the managing agents to organise for them to repair the damage, I then went back around to inspect that it had been done properly. He was very appreciative. I thought of him the other day, I can’t imagine what he must have gone through.

A colleague of mine said that in losing my father, I should use it to re-evaluate my life, that the one failing I have is relationships. It doesn’t matter what watch or car you have, it’s all bull s***, what matters is that the people you love are with you at the end. People are more important than work, you need to switch off and open up more. He was right. The most priceless moment for me was the night before my dad passed away. I spent hours holding his hand, his eyes staring up straight at the ceiling, he couldn’t acknowledge me. I was extremely disappointed, as during those three weeks in intensive care, he was either heavily sedated (eyes closed) or eyes open but unaware of his surroundings. There were a few days which I missed when he was out of sedation and able to communicate through pen and paper, we kept his writings, first he wrote KFC (when I heard that it made me smile – sadly he wasn’t able to have one), then he wrote Pavg = VI cosφ, to prove he was mentally still there (he was a power engineer). As I got up to wash my hands and remove the apron, my brother was hovering over him and tried to stare directly into his eyes, by some miracle, he smiled at him and everyone was shouting to him Abi is here (they all think dad hung on in there to see me before he passed away), he turned around and smiled directly at me for a fraction of a second, then he was back to his original position staring at the ceiling. During that brief moment, I felt the pieces of my heart slowly beginning to mend.

Most people like talking about their emotions, but I find writing is cathartic, hence the long blog post. Based on getting older, life experiences, I’ve learnt something, I want to experience what my parents had, to love someone so much, that I’d want to be with them holding their hand until the end. It’s seems strange now that my dad has gone, I spent my life holding back on relationships because I was worried that he wouldn’t approve. I met someone a while ago and he ended up falling in love with me. I was cautious wanting to wait to see how things developed, but he didn’t want to be a secret, and gave me an ultimatum, either we get married or he walks away. He was offering me a good life where I didn’t have to work and I’d want for nothing, but at the time my dad was ill, I had to put him first above my own happiness, in the process I ended up upsetting a genuinely nice guy, and took a hiatus from wanting to be with anyone thereafter. Now, I am able to move on and focus on me. In 2014, I’ve made a list of things I want to achieve: violin lessons (I was very good at school, but my dad thought it interfered with my studies, so gave it up), charity work (helping others makes you feel good), joining activity groups to meet more nice people. The most important one is wanting a family, the next person I meet will be the father of my children (fingers crossed). I’m not sure whether I’ve met him yet, either way I can’t wait…

Death comes to all of us; I have an insatiable thirst for life, and don’t intend wasting a moment of it…