I swear we were infinite.

Pardon me for skipping past the usual commentary and jumping right into story mode.

My father invested in our first family computer when I was in 8th grade. This was back in the summer of 2002, I think. (I’m 23 now, stop doing the math.) Everyone had their own thing. I was into MS paint & Delta Force. My mother was in it for the music, to some extent. My father was into news & getting in touch with family back in Pakistan. For this intensive purpose, he brought home our first headset. Unfortunately, he would soon be turned off by the fact that the only people using computers in 2002 were my younger, douchespout cousins. My mother was too busy with her job and my brother was deeply involved in whatever headstart/preschool students get themselves deeply involved in. I wouldn’t know. That part of my life was spent in Pakistan. We have prep and kindergarten, and I can’t remember in which order.

Anyhow, this left me with all the computer time. Then came along a friend who introduced me to the art of piracy & downloading music without paying for it. I still remember that sunny, Sunday afternoon he came by my house to show me how to use Ares lite. To this day, I think of that as the first in a series of events that made me who I am today. That very day, I ended up downloading about seven songs; 56kbps was wild. As fate would have it, I was relatively new to music & didn’t know what I was downloading. I just saw whatever was on top of the ‘most-downloaded’ list & clicked away. What I ended up with was some Lil’ Wayne, some Lloyd Banks and some Eminem.

Now, despite a few scuffles and a stolen bike or two, I grew up in neighborhoods much safer than their’s. There weren’t any shootouts or people slanging cocaine on street corners. Yet somehow, I felt myself relate to the struggle and the culture that their music was all about. As all like minded people end up finding each other, it wasn’t long before I started hanging out with the crowd who had similar sentiments towards rap and hip-hop. I invested in my first MP3 player after saving up lawn-mowing money for a while. It was used, roughed up everywhere and it held 35 songs, with a slot for a memory card I couldn’t possibly afford. My parents didn’t find out about it until much later in time. I would download a few songs a day, and walk around listening to them until I had the lyrics and the beat memorized down to the very snares.

It was one of those days. I downloaded a song, turned off the 56kbps beast & started listening to it. Halfway through the song, it turned into an instrumental with the producer of the song ad-libbing their website and calling for people to rap on the rest of the beat. It piqued my curiosity and that very night, while I was supposed to be doing my homework, I started writing lyrics to it. My dad walked in on me a few times and asked if I was writing a poem, to which I replied in the affirmative & would do so for years to come. Once my “poem” was done, I played the instrumental & rapped over it. I never actually thought about recording because I didn’t think I could afford whatever it was that it took to make songs. Turned out, I was quite resourceful.

The next day I visited the website and saw hundreds of versions of that song people had already submitted. I downloaded the top five and although the first couple were quite admirable, I clearly remember scowling at the bottom few. My lyrics were much better and I had never been so sure of anything before.

I started searching the internet (yes, still on my modem) for information. Today, I can still teach you how to set up a home studio without spending a dime. I can show you how to make a pop-filter out of a stocking & a tea-strainer frame. In that research, which went on for several weeks, I learned about pirated software & beat-making. I downloaded professional versions of ProTools, Cubase & FruityLoops. My main software was Audacity though. I can get you a decent static-reduction using nothing but some pillow filling. Hilarious, I know. As I said, I was broke but I was resourceful.  I found my father’s dusty old, walmart headset which he had purchased for $16 and later on declared a waste of money. He didn’t even get around to using it with the Rosetta-Stone CD’s he picked up once. It was a lot of work, but it didn’t feel like anything at all because it put a smile on my face. This work was my play. At that time I didn’t think much of it, but I can’t tell you how proud I feel of my 15 year old self when I revisit those memories.

So, I sat down one lonely summer afternoon and I recorded my very first song. I must have had the house to myself each time I recorded, because I remember being pretty loud and repetitive but I don’t remember anyone inquiring as to what in the world I was doing! I recorded my song and I uploaded it somewhere on soundclick. I went around other people’s pages and practically begged them for feedback. Most of it was positive, to my surprise. Some were very specific about what they loved in my song, and this newfound appreciation added fuel to the fire. The general population usually has rappers pegged as illiterate nobodies, but the constructive criticism they provided was extremely professional. Plus, creating music broadened my horizons to all sorts of sounds. I listened to country, rock and roll, Latin, Arabic, anything I could get my hands on. I found myself downloading more instrumentals and spending more time writing to them.

I wasted a lot of paper & ink. I would write something before going to bed, and wake up to hate it. When I went to record, it would be quite a few takes before I was happy with my final product. I would sometimes record a verse about 17-20 times before it sounded good to my ears. As hard as many may find it to believe, there came a time when I was recording without writing. Given that those weren’t my best lyrics, but I would learn later on that it was a rare talent.

One thing lead to another as time went on. I got involved with other teenagers doing the same thing. We started our own record label. We built a website and we got one of my songs some radio airtime in Chicago & Atlanta. I was maybe 17 at that time. Along the way, I met many people who were encouraging and many who weren’t. I, however, drew more inspiration from the naysayers. At this point, I had about 25-30 decent, studio-quality songs with complete copyrights to the beats & the lyrics under my belt. Me and my friends made CD’s and started sending them out to record labels.

Bad Boy Records got back in touch. As excited as I was about the prospect of being signed to Diddy, an older producer told us to steer clear of the bigger names and find someone who would let us be more independent. Tony Yayo’s cousin in Florida also got in touch, but he wasn’t offering much besides studio time. We thought about being independent, but we didn’t have the capital to take on that task. The only label we found suitable for ourselves was an independent label located in Brooklyn. They offered residence, studio time, production & marketing and only asked for a small share of whatever sells.

It was decision time and it was senior year. I was way out of touch with my high school’s social circles and I barely maintained honor roll. No one in my family knew what I was up to. I’m pretty sure my dad thought I just watched porn all night on the computer when I actually sat there and produced my music. I would rather have him believe the former than the latter. I wasn’t sure of his reaction & I didn’t want the discouragement. Little did I know, discouragement was inevitable.

Lacking the funds and the motivation, I just sort of drifted away from making music. My passion lacked conviction. I was happy that I didn’t have to think about how to turn my hobby into money. I was happy with what I had. 40 some songs. Music, that I created. The first ever form of creative self expression that appealed to me. A year went by, I graduated. My friends moved. One went on to live in Kentucky. The other in Florida. The first one to move called me and told me about “a cat named soulja boy” who came and rapped at the same studio that he was rapping at. Soulja Boy, as you all know, went on to become quite famous afterwards.

2006 rolled around. I moved on with my life. I focused on my education, and didn’t look back again until recently.

It is with a heavy heart that I begin this paragraph. I’m not sure if it is my desire to create, once again, or the fact that life was so much easier back then that it is now, which leads me to feel this way. Or maybe it is the fact that none of the music I once made still exists, except for four songs that I left up on my label’s myspace page. You see, all my music was stored on these websites or with my friends. I didn’t keep any of it on the hard drive. I was too young to know any better. Since 2009, I have been trying to get in touch with those friends. This year, in 2013, I have practically begged the folks at Soundclick to retrieve my songs from their archives, but they refuse ever having encountered my email or my username. I find that hard to believe, but I don’t know how to prove them wrong.

My myspace is still there though. I don’t share it with people. They will taint my memories with their comments. Ever since 2009, I have only shared those four of my songs with 5 people. These five may have gone on to share it with others, or I may have  inadvertently posted a link publicly, but at least these were the only 5 to direct their comments at me.

I left a lot of my story out. It’s hard to condense 5 years of your life into one short blogpost, specially when you’re a terrible story teller. I tend to embrace verbosity, but I really tried my best to squeeze in as much as I could with as much brevity as the context would allow. I don’t know how else to end this. It seems like a dream unfulfilled. If not the main, then perhaps a part of the root cause of this occasional feeling of dissatisfaction. Yet I still feel like me and music will cross paths once again. I don’t think this blogpost ends here. I think I’ll be coming back and editing it every now and then. More for myself than for the readers, but I will be adding to it.

Perhaps, had I ended up downloading Kenny Chesney on that one summer afternoon, I would be a different man today. That, however, isn’t how it all worked out.

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I live on a deserted island.

Not really, but I might as well be. The way I feel right now, a deserted island might actually be a much better setting than my current location. Not only because of my ceaselessly welding neighbor and the loud public transport that runs all night on an adjacent highway; but also because I would like to stare into a deep, blue (or clear) body of water. Stare into the abyss, as they say, and have the abyss stare into me.

This is probably one of the most discussed Nietzsche aphorisms ever. Lost in translation, it is supposed to read roughly like this:

“Battle not with monsters lest ye become a monster; and if you gaze into the abyss the abyss gazes into you.”

In interpretation, the first sentence tells us that we become what we hate. We take on the traits of whatever evil deed or person or habit we pursue. The second sentence tells us how it happens. Some argue that Nietzsche clearly commands you NOT to battle with monsters, but the Hollingdale translation suggests otherwise. According to that, the first sentence says “he who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby becomes a monster.” Followers of this translation believe that Nietzsche is simply asking one to be more cautious when involving himself deeply in a conflict which is evil in nature.

I, on the contrary, always felt that this quote should be openly interpreted. It has always allowed me to learn something about someone from their explanation of it.

I never got past basic Philosophy in college, primarily because other disciplines closer to my career goals required my attention, but it will always hold a special place in my heart. Philosophy is practical poetry to me. I don’t think of things in the same terms as I once used to. Not when I’m in Pakistan at least. Burdening myself with my own thoughts is the last thing that I need. Recently, however, I haven’t been able to stop thinking of this quote.

Battle Not With Monsters:

I won’t bore you with too many “when I first came to Pakistan” stories, but this is sort of important. When I first came here, I was repulsed by the general insensitivity I witnessed everywhere. Now, this may in part be due to my particular location and company. I didn’t realize that until at least two years into my stay.  I have seen the softer, much more elegant and humane side of this country now that I’ve been here for almost four years. When I first came though, and my friends would testify to this, I was on a never ending roll about how cold hearted and thick-skinned the people around here are. The incident involving the brutal deaths of two Sialkoti boys, for example. Don’t even bother looking it up. It’s too graphic. Just take my word on the fact that the murders were public and absolutely barbaric.

Anyway, when I first came here, I fell sick a lot. I made appointments with the best doctors available and I was appalled by the lack of compassion they showed towards their patients. Something about walking into a clinic and speaking English with an American accent gets their attention, but those who don’t, basically get shafted. I often found myself in situations where I would have to take a relative or a family friend to the doctor with me. They admitted that the doctor never bothered to pay that much attention when they were being chaperoned by just a regular chap or by themselves even, for that matter. I was flattered, pleased and overwhelmed with frustration at the same time. I promised myself over and over again, that when I start practicing medicine, regardless of my demographics, I would be as generous as humanly possible towards everybody.

I am now four years into my medical education. Two of which involved actual interaction with patients in a clinical, hospital setting. Our professors don’t practice what they preach. I doubt they even consider doing so. They will tell us to be extra courteous and attentive towards the patient, the bedside manners they teach are commendable, and 10 minutes later they’ll be examining a patient while chatting on their cell phone. I should state that it’s a government hospital. Patients are provided with cheap healthcare at the cost of quality. Not to be confused with proficiency, which is still quite high, to my surprise.

I have yet to speak up against that nonchalant attitude. Whenever I witness it, I stand there and wonder why the attending would tell us something and do the exact opposite. I wonder why no one in my batch is even considering the idea of speaking up against it. In my head, I imagine telling one of my professors off and then I remember how some of them have a tendency to hold grudges against students and screw them over when exam time comes around. So I stand there, quietly. I scowl, sometimes. And while scowling, I wonder if I’ll eventually justify their behavior in my head & become what I hate.

Abyss Gazes Into You:

When we see something, we see it through the lens of our own mind. In the example above, a friend standing next to me might be perceiving the situation in a completely different context. He might be admiring the doctor’s ability to multi task, or he might be condemning the doctor’s inattentiveness to his wife on the phone. The fact that me and my friend are both perceiving the same situation differently suggests that there isn’t anything there at all. The doctor, and the patient, are a part of a void. A vacuous space which drags you in to itself. You empathize with the nothingness, you begin to fill it with things only you can comprehend and thus, you begin to view yourself through the eyes of that void. The abyss, the emptiness, stares back at you. There is nothing scarier than what it sees, because you see it too.

I just want to be myself when I get out of medical school. I want to remain in the same spirits that I came here with. I will battle not with the monsters, for I do not wish to risk becoming one. I will continue to gaze into the abyss. The abyss will save me.

Pakistan’s Democratic Delusion: A Case Against Voting.

Hold your hormones, youth of Pakistan. This post is not for the emotionally motivated, average teenager, who is so eager to bring a change that he or she will be willing to risk bringing the wrong type of it. Before you proceed, you will have to set aside your mob mentality and that false-consensus effect you carry around so pompously, feeling like an elitist political specialist because of all your social networking slogans and hashtags.

Did that sound familiar?

Good.

Here’s another assertion you might be familiar with.

You’ve been lied to! 

You stopped living in a democratic society a long, long time ago. Around 450 BC, to be somewhat precise. That was when the first, and sadly the last, democratic state was established in Athens. In Athenian democracy, candidates were chosen by lottery, a process known as sortition. This ensured that every citizen, regardless of how rich or poor, gets a chance to become a decision-maker for the people. What we have here, in Pakistan (and probably most other democratic states) is an Oligarchy. A system, where only the most powerful and monetarily influential people have the resources to run for office.

Take the next few lines with a pinch of salt. If the information in the paragraph above comes as news to you, you should abstain from voting. You owe it to the rest of us. You lack the ability vote in an informed, competent, and logical manner if you’re under the impression that you’re exercising your democratic rights. No one is saying that you don’t mean well. I, for one, am a firm believer in the fact that most of these ill-informed voters carry the best intentions. There isn’t anything wrong with being politically ignorant; as long as you don’t vote! 

Still confused? Let’s dumb it down a little further.

Suppose you were given an opportunity to elect the baker at your local pâtisserie. A select few candidates, rich enough to buy their way into the competition, came to you and talked for hours about what wonderful ingredients they would use in their confections and propelled at you every term in the book of a Cordon Bleu valedictorian. You as a mere costumer, rather than a connoisseur, had no idea what the hell they were talking about. And suppose you proceeded to vote. Wouldn’t you be voting in an uninformed manner & perhaps voting in a candidate unsuitable for the job? Wouldn’t it be better if you left the task to the handful of well-informed people who are familiar with the culinary vernacular and arts? Unfortunately, we might not even have a proportion of such people required to make a difference.

The system is flawed. You are being fed a false illusion of democracy and freedom.

If you vote, you endorse the system. 

Boycott the system. Do not vote!

When they come to question your intentions, tell them why.