Intangible Traits and Life Abroad

Faaiz Gilani
6 min readMar 31, 2023

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The distance, the absence and a void…

Credits: Insta @ferra_nova

The steps back home at night are an opportunity to ponder over the day as it went by. Sometimes there’s a gleaming smile as I walk past strangers on Bricklane, extending kindness to strangers around me, and some days I feel like the only soul in an alienated land. My professor, back in my final year of Undergraduate, asked if we ever felt lonely in a crowd of people. Back then, the question seemed like a joke. How is this even possible? However, the trains where you cannot even find space to stand near rush hours, streets filled with tourists and cafes occupied by people who always look in a hurry have made me reevaluate the nature of the question, and now I agree. Nevertheless, this piece is not a rant about how lonely I sometimes feel (I am sure my mom smiled reading this) but more of how even your intangible traits change with the shift in the scenario.

A couple of years ago, my overthinking side repeatedly asked an odd question that no one would think of. Do people wrong me as I am too kind? Would the world still be the same if I turned hardcore and rude? I know that was stupid of me to question, but with some bad examples making my life difficult, this query became unavoidable. Fast-forward to this day, while I did learn to say “no” and take a stand, the big smile that shuts my eyes is there every single day of my life, and there is no reason why it should go away. How did this change happen? The alienated land full of strangers is the perfect testing ground for observing your behaviour with others. London, a city known for people with low empathy and lacking time for anyone to care, does have a heart too! “You do not realise it, but kindness attracts kindness, and the people around you value you for that”, were the golden words of an anonymous friend. Earlier, I disagreed with the claim, but now, when I approach random strangers with a kind act, seeing their faces light up with happiness from the unexpected gestures is fuel for my smile and vow to remain kind-hearted regardless of how bad the situation is. (P.S you can meet jerks too. A guy waved at me, I waved back, and he showed me the middle finger)

The Faaiz from before was lazy. Hardly given any responsibilities at home. He often avoided the opportunity to learn new things, content with his little bubble of life. I mean, as long as life goes along smoothly, why bother learning a new skill? But once I found my footing here, the thought of having to do everything on my own paved the way for me to be adventurous too. Wherever I went, or whatever circumstances I faced, the initial thought would be to give it a go by myself first. Yes, I can mess it up, but if I do not embrace the challenge, being a coward in itself is a failure. Very often, I would fail. Too much oil in pasta. Burnt the onions while cooking. Messed up a whole website design. Got toilet paper instead of kitchen rolls. I sat on the wrong train. This list of embarrassments is endless! Nevertheless, the confidence you gain with your failures remains parallel to none. While earlier I would be scared of failure when trying new things, the mind wholeheartedly accepts new adventures, knowing there is a risk of messing up, but that only excites one to try harder. To explain it in simple terms, I would compare it to academic progression. Back in O Level, when I got a C grade in an Add Math quiz, fear of failure engulfed my entire personality. However, at LUMS, I got a C grade and was later sipping tea with friends, knowing I cannot change anything, and it did happen. So now you would see me experimenting with new cooking recipes, walking down unknown alleys, signing up for things I see no immediate use for, eating various cuisines and even exploring new skills regularly. Every crazy idea that springs up in my mind gets a proper opportunity to show its talent and is considered before I move on to the next one.

This brings me to another change which is related to the earlier text. Apart from the imaginary replaying of times I lost arguments, I would treat the past as events I cannot change and never ponder or question my actions. However, with a move away and without constant reminders from my parents, it was not hard to lose track of my life. The day would end, and when your mind starts recalling everything you did, only a few hours of productive work against several hours wasted binge-watching cringe Pakistani dramas, scrolling through Instagram reels or investing hours on conversations that should have finished a lot earlier. Accountability, in the absence of friends and family, was non-existent. Credit to a good friend, I decided to set out goals, reflect on my activities and accept every new idea that comes along the way! With a small diary constantly in my bag (which I sparingly use as my poor handwriting only makes it ugly), each hour of my life was interrogated inside my brain. Recreated “Inside Out”, but instead of emotions, we had morning, afternoon, evening, night and midnight as the main characters. Slowly, yet surely, the ability to focus, be productive, disciplined and open to new avenues returned to my soul as I look forward to more challenges awaiting my arrival!

Before arriving here, one of my biggest flaws was the sudden loss of temper I would have. It’s not like I would randomly get enraged over the silliest thing, but rather, if I was hurt by something, instant anger was the ace mechanism for this lad. There’s a perception that those who hardly get angry, but once they do, can turn out to be scary is valid even in my situation. However, the harsh life of a global city has sucked the anger out of my body (thanks London?). The rapid pace of the global city ensures that there is no time to carry vendettas with those who wronged you! You hit an obstacle, but learn to go around it rather than face it head-on! Little by little, the capacity for patience kept increasing, with anger slowly fading. Now, the most hideous curses would remain reserved for only the spoon when I am scrubbing it with soap, and it would resist my efforts. Or when the bedsheet won’t cooperate when I would try setting my bed. The multifold increase in patience has also made the heart more resilient to “ghum”. Having a bad day? So what, you have it often now. Did someone hurt you? It’s okay, you would not meet that person anytime soon. Unintentionally, there is a protective layer on one of the biggest organs of the body, with no one passing through to disrupt the calamity inside.

My mom always says that you never realise the importance of something until they are no longer there. While my mom may have been referring to the “Teenday” that she made for dinner, I took that to heart and apply it to every situation out there (yes, I do miss Teenday with a good crispy paratha, preferably triangle shaped). These days, I miss my home to an even greater extent, with three phone calls respectively to each parent and constantly texting them, and Arham sending me details of his FIFA matches. However, the comforting point at this stage is the character development I am relishing and the maturity I gained living on my own. If you have watched Puss in Boots, you would know how Death personified into a frightening wolf. For me, loneliness has personified into a character, and we both are best friends! First, it used to haunt me, but now, there is calmness and loads to learn from its presence.

(The author has now holidays and is wondering what to do in his free time)

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Faaiz Gilani

An aspiring writer, with no prior writing experience, talking about his experiences to help others getting bored in Quarantine……….enjoy my short stories!