If you have ever, sir, been through a breakup of a romantic relationship that involved great love, you will perhaps understand what I experienced. There is in such situations usually a moment of passion during which the unthinkable is said; this is followed by a sense of euphoria at finally being liberated; the world seems fresh as if seen for the first time then comes the inevitable period of doubt, the desperate and doomed backpedaling of regret; and only later, once emotions have receded, is one able to view with equanimity the journey through which one has passed.
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And I ask myself what it is about me that makes this wonderful, beautiful woman return. Is it because I'm pathetic, helpless in my current state, completely dependent on her? Or is it my sense of humour, my willingness to tease her, to joke my way into painful, secret places? Do I help her understand herself? Do I make her happy? Do I do something for her that her husband and son can't do? Has she fallen in love with me? As the days pass and I continue to heal, my body knitting itself back together, I begin to allow myself to think that she has.
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Some of my relatives held on to imagined memories the way homeless people hold onto lottery tickets. Nostalgia was their crack cocaine, if you will, and my childhood was littered with the consequences of their addiction : unserviceable debts, squabbles over inheritances, the odd alcoholic or suicide.
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But it wasn't the right season to lift off. Not yet. I sat in my apartment and looked out over the city, and I just didn't feel any passion to write about the place. I didn't give a damn about local politics; I wasn't moved by the issues. I missed home. And I was frustrated by people who actually thought the world was a centre and that centre was here. 'The world's a sphere, everyone, ' I wanted to say. 'The centre of a sphere doesn't lie on its surface. Look up the word 'superficial', when you have a chance.
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Many skills, as every successful entrepreneur knows, cannot be taught in school. They require doing. Sometimes a life of doing. And where money-making is concerned, nothing compresses the time frame needed to leap from my-shit-just-sits-there-until-it-rains poverty to which-of-my-toilets-shall-I-use affluence like an apprenticeship with someone who already has the angles all figured out.
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What did I think of Princeton? Well, the answer to that question requires a story. When I first arrived, I looked around me at the Gothic buildings - younger, I later learned, than many of the mosques of this city, but made through acid treatment and ingenious stone-masonry to look older...
I push against the tree and run away, stumbling, the unreal night playing with me, gravity pulling from below, behind, above, making me fall. And I run through a world that is rotating, conscious of the earth's spin, of our planet twirling as it careens through nothingness, of the stars spiraling above, of the uncertainty of everything, even ground, even sky. Mumtaz never calls out, although a thousand and one voices scream in my mind, sing, whisper, taunt me with madness.
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Human beings don't necessarily exist inside of (or correspond to) the neat racial, gendered or national boxes into which we often unthinkingly place them. It's a mistake to ask literature to reinforce such structures. Literature tends to crack them. Literature is where we free ourselves.
For if there were a list of cosmic things that unite us, reader and writer, visible as it scrolled up into the distance, like the introduction to some epic science-fiction film, then shining brightly on that list would be the fact that we exist in a financial universe that is subject to massive gravitational pulls from states. States tug at us. States bend us. And, tirelessly, states seek to determine our orbits.
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The poets say some moths will do anything out of love for a flame [... ] The moth takes off again, and we both step back, because he's circling at eye level now and seems to have lost rudder control, smacking into the wall on each round. He circles lower and lower, spinning around the candle in tighter revolutions, like a soap sud over an open drain. A few times he seems to touch the flame, but dances off unhurt. Then he ignites like a ball of hair, curling into an oily puff of fumes with a hiss. The candle flame flickers and dims for a moment, then burns as bright as before. Moth Smoke Lingers.
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Time is our most precious currency. So it's significant that we are being encouraged, wherever possible, to think of our attention not as expenditure but as consumption. This blurring of labor and entertainment forms the basis, for example, of the financial alchemy that conjures deca-billion-dollar valuations for social-networking companies.
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It seemed to me then - and to be honest, sir, seems to me still - that America was engaged only in posturing. As a society, you were unwilling to reflect upon the shared pain that united you with those who attacked you. You retreated into myths of your own difference, assumptions of your own superiority. And you acted out these beliefs on the stage of the world, so that the entire planet was rocked by the repercussions of your tantrums, not least my family, now facing war thousands of miles away. Such an America had to be stopped in the interests not only of the rest of humanity, but also in your own.
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A common strand appeared to unite these conflicts, and that was the advancement of a small coterie's concept of American interests in the guise of the fight against terrorism, which was defined to refer only to the organized and politically motivated killing of civilians by killers not wearing the uniforms of soldiers. I recognized that if this was to be the single most important priority of our species, then the lives of those of us who lived in lands in which such killers also lived had no meaning except as collateral damage. This, I reasoned, was why America felt justified in bringing so many deaths to Afghanistan and Iraq, and why America felt justified in risking so many more deaths by tacitly using India to pressure Pakistan.
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Slowly, even though I thought it would never happen, New York lost its charm for me. I remember arriving in the city for the first time, passing with my parents through the First World's Club bouncers at Immigration, getting into a massive cab that didn't have a moment to waste, and falling in love as soon as we shot onto the bridge and I saw Manhattan rise up through the looks of parental terror reflected in the window. I lost my virginity in New York, twice (the second one wanted to believe he was the first so badly). I had my mind blown open by the combination of a liberal arts education and a drug-popping international crowd. I became tough. I had fun. I learned so much. But now New York was starting to feel empty, a great party that had gone on too long and was showing no sign of ending soon. I had a headache, and I was tired. I'd danced enough. I wanted a quiet conversation with someone who knew what load-shedding was.
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Many boys, probably most boys, have a first love before they fall in love with a woman. It begins the moment two boys realize they'd die for one another, that each cares more for the other than he does for himself, and it lasts usually until a second love comes on the scene, because most hearts aren't big enough to love more than one person like that.
I commit her to memory. When I'm alone, I feel a strange yearning, the hunger of a man fasting not because he believes but because he's ashamed. Not the cleansing hunger of the devout, but the feverish hunger of the hypocrite. I let her go every evening only because there's nothing I can do to stop her.
As a society, you were unwilling to reflect upon the shared pain that united you with those who attacked you. You retreated into myths of your own difference, assumptions of your own superiority. And you acted out these beliefs on the stage of the world, so that the entire planet was rocked by the repercussions of your tantrums, not least my family, now facing war thousands of miles away.
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In a world of intrusive technology, we must engage in a kind of struggle if we wish to sustain moments of solitude. E-reading opens the door to distraction. It invites connectivity and clicking and purchasing. The closed network of a printed book, on the other hand, seems to offer greater serenity. It harks back to a pre-jacked-in age. Cloth, paper, ink: For these read helmet, cuirass, shield. They afford a degree of protection and make possible a less intermediated, less fractured experience. They guard our aloneness. That is why I love them, and why I read printed books still.
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Americans need to educate themselves, from elementary school onward, about what their country has done abroad. And they need to play a more active role in ensuring that what the United States does abroad is not merely in keeping with a foreign policy elite's sense of realpolitik but also with the American public's own sense of American values.
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Certainly, historically, there has been more attention given in the international media to Indian English-language writers than to Pakistani English-language writers. But that, in my opinion, was justified by the sheer number of excellent writers coming from India and the Indian diaspora.
Islamophobia, in all its guises, seeks to minimise the importance of the individual and maximise the importance of the group. Yet our instinctive stance ought to be one of suspicion towards such endeavours. For individuals are undeniably real. Groups, on the other hand, are assertions of opinion.
What did I think of Princeton? Well, the answer to that question requires a story. When I first arrived, I looked around me at the Gothic buildings "" younger, I later learned, than many of the mosques of this city, but made through acid treatment and ingenious stone-masonry to look older...
Like many kids, I used to pretend all sorts of things. I would climb into a tree and imagine that I was on an island, that the grass below we was an ocean, that the leaves were the fins of sharks. Perhaps unlike many people, I never really stopped. I still have a childlike predisposition to fantasise and share my fantasies.
I think if you say that art and politics, or religion and politics, mustn't mix, don't mix, that is itself a political statement. Even if you are writing a 19th-century novel where the money comes from a plantation in the Caribbean and you don't talk about that, that itself is a political thing.