Afshan Samee: Coming Home
In the month after the Lahore Literary Festival, I thought it would be interesting to get up-close, anecdotal impressions of four delegates: either by the compere interviewing them, or indeed an attendee of their session, someone who had interacted with them more deeply than just seeing them on the podium.
I go first. The wonderful fantasy writer Usman Malik and I had a session with the author Aamer Hussein, but I want to throw the limelight on another delegate at LLF: Afshan Samee.
I met Afshan at a common friend’s house some time ago. Indeed, though I met her for the first time at that dinner, I knew of her because she is the sister of designer Hassan Shehryar Yasin, whom I would like to think of as a friend. She had just published her first collection of poems, titled Coming Home. She had brought a few copies to the dinner, which she gave away… and ran out of very soon!
She told me she would send me a copy. Since she lived in Dubai, I thought that was that. After all, we had just met. However, on a following trip, with a courtesy typical of both siblings, she asked for my address and sent me an inscribed copy.
As I read her book, I understood that Afshan had been through a period of deep malaise, only to rise out of it. There is a Sufic simplicity in her verses:
I fled to the sea weeping
My mind screaming its stories
A little child
Hid behind the door
Waiting for the darkness
The sea came to me in its eternity
Laughing, breaking at me feet
Mocking my lies
Who am I
That love comes
Again and again
To take me by the hand
And bring me back home?
What was the malaise that had struck this good-looking, articulate, bright woman, married and with children? What had led her to go to the sea, searching to end her life—even if metaphorically?
What was the malaise that had struck this good-looking, articulate, bright woman?
When I ask her, she says that a series of events led to her depression, most notably the separation between her parents. In her blog, https://afshansamee.com, She expands on the phenomenon of depression:
Growing up, as I watched my life spiral out of control, I became more and more separated from happiness. I felt an almost constant state of disconnect, from the people that I loved to world that I lived in…
I did not realize at the time that epicenter of that separation was within me. At some point during my childhood, unable to cope, I had got up and walked away from myself, and my life. The dissolution of this core relationship would ultimately lead me to the furthest point from myself.
Notice Afshan’s vocabulary: she got “separated from happiness”, “I felt an almost constant state of disconnect… “, “… the epicenter of that separation was within me…”, “unable to cope, I had got up and walked away from myself and my life.”
I have known people with depression, and they tend to blame the world rather than recognizing that it is they, for reasons big and small, who have disconnected from it. That world might seem supremely indifferent to some, but other minds recognize its inherent goodness: “Who am I/that love comes again and again/to take me by the hand?”
In my mind too, it is almost a necessary pre-condition towards wellness and positivity to recognize this inherent goodness of the universe (as put forward by the late astronomer Alexander Zaitsev and others), in order to reclaim your place in the world, to recognize that however small you might be, you are entangled with the universe in ways that you simply do not understand.
I am reading these days about Quantum Entanglement: how a particle in your world can affect, simultaneously, another particle across the vast sweep of galaxies and stars… they communicate simultaneously, faster than the speed of light, according to physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. This, in a poetic nutshell, is what Afshan talks about when she invokes “the sea in its eternity” acknowledging her, as it were.
Afshan did see a psychologist for her depression, but very shortly. Basically, she read deeply to help herself reclaim her “life vitality”—she describes depression as being deprived of it—and became a trained Martha Beck international life coach, who has been helping others for almost a decade.
At her session, her brother asked her a question about the 52 poems in her book representing the 52 cards in a deck. Personally, as I get to know more about this woman, I feel that she considers life less as a game of chance and more as an interconnected journey: “I believe we are all connected to God, to each other, to this beautiful planet in such a profound way that the fate of the one is the fate of the other.”
Coming Home by Afshan Samee, Oriental Press, Dubai