To Prove the Unprovable
My dad always told me that if you encounter a roadblock or a problem anywhere, five ‘Why’s can get you to your answer - if you repeatedly question why you made a silly mistake in the final step of an insanely simple arithmetic problem (which I’ve never ever done before, believe me), you will arrive at the root cause of that mistake. Asking those questions will lead you to these axiomatic statements, which have to be true. If it’s a mistake you make in an excruciatingly simple test, the answer to that fifth ‘Why’ will show you what you have to work on to improve in the future.
Gödel’s theorem works in a similar way. Many of you might not have heard of it since it is one of those few mind-numbingly complex concepts that hasn’t been adulterated by wannabe science-fiction writers (Whew!) According to traditional mathematics, there are two kinds of statements - true or false. And for both these kinds of statements, there are definitive proofs. However, according to the Austrian mathematician Kurt Gödel, there existed these true statements that were unprovably true; they laid the foundation for mathematics and were essentially everywhere. If one started to make these unprovably true statements axioms, then it would create a ton of other unprovable statements below that one that have to be true. He called it the “Incompleteness theorem”.
A hole was torn through mathematics, with long-standing unproven conjectures actually turning out to be unprovably true. Some mathematicians tried to cleverly sidestep this hole by just ignoring it altogether - ignorance is bliss, they say. Others were worried that their entire life’s work would have been futile (don’t we all love an existential crisis). A few of them even dedicated the rest of their lives to finding some of these unprovably true statements - and there were millions!
Inexplicable truths are all around us, and not just in mathematics. There are these inexplicable truths in my life, and I don’t know why they’re there, but they’re there. The definitive statements are just those actions and things that happen in my life that have a solid rationale behind them, but the unprovably true statements are those things that are just there but don’t have any reason to be there. Especially the people around me - some have seen me at my worst and my best. They have inspired me and motivated me to keep on going, no matter what. They’re like oatmeal; they sustain me.
This article, like most others of mine, may just seem like a dumbfounded attempt at writing something profound, but to me, this feeble attempt of an article just serves to appreciate my inexplicable truths manifested as the people around me. They’re like the mismatched pieces in the jigsaw puzzle of my life - clearly not perfect for me, but they’re the ones that make me whole. Without them, I am simply incomplete.
I love you all, you know who you are.
Deities and Dichotomies
This article takes a fairly sharp detour. Beware.
The beginning of Riot was a flurry, with everyone scrambling to turn in the final versions of their articles, apprehensive about what the response would be; our lovely editors, kindly reminding everyone to join countless meetings; our designers, making Instagram posts at an abnormal rate - essentially, the works.
One of these days, our (exceedingly patient, might I add) designer asks me for quite an undemanding task. I was to write a short bio, along with my name and a picture of myself. easy enough, right? I obsessed over the short paragraph that would be up on the website, and the picture I would use; after all, this was what strangers would see. Although I changed it quite a few times, they graciously accepted each version, and offer to put up the final one at the last minute.
There was one thing I did not hesitate over though - My name. And it’s odd - technically, it wasn’t even my full, real name.
While this newfound information might be nothing short of confusing to you, the people close to me know that I have always had a long, long name: quite a mouthful. My last name happens to be Ahmed, which has always left people dumbfounded - Ananya happens to be a Hindu name, and my middle name Aaliya, belonged to no religion, with the exception, of course, being Bollywood.
The name that I had chosen to go along with the photo of myself was Ananya Aaliya. That, as you now know, isn’t my entire name, but I went with it. To be honest, I had been doing it for a long time. In the first grade, I would simply say that I had only a first name and a middle name, knowing fully well it wasn’t the truth. When people assumed that I was Hindu, I did not correct them, because to me, it seemed like it would be far too confusing to explain my very intricate heritage to them, and that the possibility of me being interfaith was far too complicated for anyone to comprehend.
Being a girl with a Hindu mother and Muslim father, my very existence seemed like an enigma to some of the people that I came across. The two communities that seemed to be each other’s bitter rivals, adversaries, threatening to tear the country apart over their difference - how was it possible that I was both of them together?
And naturally, as I do with other areas of my life (such as math. I despise math), I simply ignored the entire thing. I continued telling people that I did not have a third name, and if they knew I did and asked about it, I would shrug and tell them it was far too long to explain. Often, though, I wondered about it myself. What did it mean, in this country and era, to be interfaith? To me, it meant that I had people questioning the validity of my existence constantly. Are you a terrorist by any chance? Do you side with the tyrants? Every time I was asked jokingly if I was Pakistani or Indian, I would laugh it off, secretly seething inside. Was it inherently wrong to be two things simultaneously?
As much as I'd love to say that, in the end, I completely came into my own skin, that wasn't entirely true. But I was changing - I developed my own opinions, and realized that there was nothing that stopped me from being a blend of different things. I refused to think of my two identities as if they were mutually exclusive.
Dichotomies are a one-or-another thing.
I am not.
Da Capo by Jane Hirshfield
Jane Hirschfield is a poet well known for the use of themes such as awareness, consciousness, and an engagement with the vicissitudes of both the world’s outer events and more interior realms. “I felt that I’d never make much of a poet if I didn’t know more than I knew at that time about what it means to be a human being,” Hirshfield once said. “I don’t think poetry is based just on poetry; it is based on a thoroughly lived life.” (Poetry Foundation)
Antilamentation by Dorianne Laux
Laux’s free-verse poems are sensual and grounded, and they reveal the poet as a compassionate witness to the everyday. She observed in an interview for the website Readwritepoem, “Poems keep us conscious of the importance of our individual lives ... personal witness of a singular life, seen cleanly and with the concomitant well-chosen particulars, is one of the most powerful ways to do this.” (Poetry Foundation)
What the Living Do by Marie Howe
Marie Howe was born in 1950 in Rochester, New York. She worked as a newspaper reporter and teacher before receiving her MFA from Columbia University in 1983.What the Living Do is in many ways an elegy for her brother, John, who died of AIDS in 1989. In 1995, she coedited the anthology In the Company of My Solitude: American Writing from the AIDS Pandemic. (Poets.org)
By Brishti Chakraborty
This is your life. Open your hands.
I know you're in your nightgown. I know it's
A little too warm outside and you wish
You didn't have to hear sirens right now.
In your dreams the future is polite and
Understanding. It comes on time, stays
For dinner. In your dreams you do everything
Right. In your dreams you're so perfect.
And you wake up anyway.
When the future comes early, shiny new scary scared,
With its tie too loose and dirt on its sneakers,
And you stumble over the rug getting to the door —
This is your life.
Open your hands.
Brishti Chakraborty (she/her), our poetry editor and curator of this column, is a disabled teenage lesbian whose work has been published in or is upcoming in Fahmidan Journal, FEED Lit Mag, Sledgehammer Lit, and more. Her favourite poets are Anne Carson, Ocean Vuong and Leela Raj-Sankar. She writes poetry because it leaves her no place to hide.
It’s exam season. I’ve been in a strange state of mind for the past week, and it’s probably going to last for quite a while. What throws me off my game during exam season (aside from the exams themselves) is the way I feel like my life has been put on hold — I stop creating, I stop learning, I stop dancing.
This is not a sensation unique to exam season. I’m halfway through eleventh grade right now. I, like many of my friends, have felt on multiple occasions that I’m just living week to week — that one day I’m going to have a life I enjoy, but that’s going to happen magically some time in my mid twenties, and I don’t have to do anything to get there.
This may be a feeling you’re familiar with. I’m going to let you in on a secret: we’re all alive right now. Every mundane thing happening to us is part of our lives. We decide whether or not we let ourselves enjoy it. Whether or not we make it a life worth enjoying.
Today, we have a poem I wrote that expresses this sentiment better than my prose ever could, and a few poetry recommendations I want you to read while thinking about how to live with intention.
Choosing to Live
The concept of relatability fascinates me.
Taking a nap on a warm and sunny afternoon, reading a book as you fall asleep at night, jumping and dancing while you have upbeat music bursting into your ears through your headphones. Making paper airplanes, dancing in the rain, having a huge smile on your face after solving a difficult math problem. Heck, even running into what seems to be an open door only to have your face smashed directly into freshly cleaned glass (you can tell this has happened to me more than I would like to admit).
Literally, all forms of media try to relate and appeal to you in some shape or form. When I relate to a character in a movie or a TV show, I feel more drawn to the character and start caring about them in the narrative of the story that I’m watching. Relatability can even be a sort of universal language. It can bring together two people from completely different geographical backgrounds. Two people who speak different languages can watch a video of someone spilling the contents of their sandwich or burger from the other side as they bite into it and they will both be able to smile about it because they’ve done the same at some point in their lives.
Characters in media are made to be relatable so as to connect to the audience, and YouTubers and celebrities try their best to be “relatable” to try and win over the love of their audience. Granted, they can fail miserably at doing that by talking about first world problems which literally no one except them deals with. Like of course we would relate to the celebrities who said “OMG!!! I RELATE TO YOU I HATE THIS LOCKDOWN TOO!!! I CAN’T EVEN GO OUT OF MY HOUSE” while they down martinis in their mansions.
Even when the things mentioned in the media are less serious, messing up relatability could make the intended humor run extremely flat. Tell me, when was the last time you watched a Jordindian video and thought to yourself “Oh my god! That was so relatable, I do that all the time”, because of course, we all are THAT type of cook who does an entire dance routine while making food while music plays and we throw in the ingredients in the air aren’t we?
As you can see, I think relatability is an extremely interesting topic that brings people together but I also hate when it is forced and believe it could completely backfire when used incorrectly. Sometimes due to peer pressure, we are mentally forced to think that something is relatable when it really is not, which is extremely bad because it gives us false expectations in real life and paints a false picture of how the world works. No one should believe that not having a birthday party on a private island in the middle of a pandemic is the worst thing ever, or even find excuses for such actions. The “relatable celebrity'' is mostly a myth in our day and age, where they lead completely different lives as compared to their fans and frankly, when they try to be relatable to their audience, it causes much more harm than good.
I have always tried to be relatable in conversations with my friends because I always long for more attention and validation even when I do get a vast amount of it. I try to connect with them about our shared hobbies, but I too have sometimes made the mistake of trying to force it. But on the plus side, when I genuinely try to relate to people and things, it works out quite well, I have meaningful conversations about hobbies and things that I love and even manage to write half decent articles about them (I know, being rather humble aren’t I).
All of us have hobbies that we love immensely. It can range from playing badminton to reading books to listening to music to even wearing shirts (not my hobby I promise). Sometimes our hobbies will be the same as other people’s hobbies and sometimes they won’t, but when it genuinely does and, we have something that we can connect with on a personal scale together. It could be something we spend our time doing with each other, something we talk about for hours on end and something that can bring people closer than ever imagined. I think that is the best form of relatability. This can even be built with time - we can share our hobbies with each other if we are comfortable in doing so, and that can be so beautiful as we grow relationships with people and start “relating” to each other more and more. It just shouldn’t be forced.
Now looking at it, this entire article has been an exhaustive way of trying to relate to your (the reader’s) emotions. So hey, I have tried to be relatable to my audience while talking about relatability with my audience for a good 800 words, now that’s relatable. I just hope I don't run out of this room after writing this article and end up running into a sheet of glass headfirst. In case it wasn’t clear, I don't want my face to hit a glass at high speed again but knowing me, it’ll happen a good few more times in my lifetime. Relatable, am I right. :)
Hobbies and Relatability
THE PARADOX OF INDIVIDUALITY
Be the change you wish to see in the world.
- Mahatma Gandhi
This well-known quote was by one of the most influential figures in India’s history. His raison d’etre was ‘being true to oneself and one’s ideals.’ This mentality, as well as his undying patience, and the lives of millions of other brave hearts, earned the freedom of his country. But does simply 'being yourself' have anything to do with saving the world?
Let's move onto a few other examples.
From Bessie Coleman, the first black person to earn an international pilot's license, to Virginia Woolf - one of the first feminists who incorporated those themes into her world-renowned works, there have been so many icons that preach individualism.
Even celebrities and influencers in today’s world, often give us the same (often clichéd, in my opinion) advice:
But is this always the best advice to follow?
After all, the most vile, infamous figures in history, those who committed genocide and discriminated unfairly against millions, were doing the very same thing.
Take Adolf Hitler as an example. What he did to a community of several million people, he did simply because he was following his ideals: that one race was superior and the other were so inferior that they deserved nothing. Stalin, Mussolini, Sadam Hussein are names that are remembered (though not fondly) today, because their dogmatic and blind faith and belief in their ideals was overpowering. They believed they were doing the right thing, and overlooked any and all casualties along the way.
But knowing yourself is important. Because while the herd mentality can lull you into a false sense of comfort, it creates Kafkaesque societies where nobody truly has a platform to voice their own thoughts, as well as propagate stereotypes.
The notion of being able to live life on one’s own terms, never bending your own rules and principles, though tempting, is an idealistic and rose-tinted view.
In my opinion, there’s a dangerously fine line between being centered (having a good sense of yourself) and being foolish (being so entrenched in your ideals and opinions that you disapprove of opposing ideals).
Self-reflection and the willingness to accept changes must be another integral aspect of 'being yourself'. Stumbles along the path of achieving perfection are only natural, and it's important we acknowledge them for what we are. This is what truly gives us the push we need to change.
There is a Native American story that resonated with me, one I heard a long time ago. It describes the two ‘wolves’ that are incessantly at war with each other in our minds. The white wolf represents the good, the peace and purity, whereas the night wolf represents the darkness, the hatred and violence that fester in our hearts. They are both present in everybody, but only one will win this never-ending fight:
The one you choose to feed.
MISOGYNY IN THE MIDDLE EAST AND THE WESTERN PERSPECTIVE
With its catchy pop beat heavily influenced by traditional Khaliji (a modern approach towards more conventional arabic styles of music)undertones and mischievous wordplay (such as the term “suki” in the chorus which means “car” in Arabic) Bad girls by MIA is popular in western media for shedding light on the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia (which has now been lifted) and shaping the Western perspective towards misogyny present in the said “Arab” mindset. It has been both heralded and criticised for its portrayal of the Middle East and for the propagation of its stereotypes. Inclusively, the reception to the music video was certainly that of a mixed response; however, MIA did achieve to instigate a conversation.
There are several aspects to this music video that could be regarded as problematic. For instance, something that struck me was how MIA appropriated hijabs. She herself isn’t a follower of Islam and that’s vexed me for a number of reasons; beyond the scope of this composition but it got me thinking. Why did she choose to portray hijabs in that fashion specifically? Bedazzled, embellished and with those loud prints? Was she aiming to imply something? Or was it just simply misappropriation? I think not. Bearing in mind that MIA targets western audiences, it makes me think of the popular assumption of perceived oppression in Western culture involving Middle Eastern women.
The general notion surrounding hijabs in the west is that they are a form of oppression. Especially in the States, a consequence and a very harmful one at that is of the 9/11 terror attacks where Islam has been misrepresented in media and has normalized the frame of reference that all Muslims are radicalists, violent, terrorists, and fundamentalists who express regressive world-views. Concerning women, the Hijab which serves as an outward expression of Muslim identity, has often been symbolized as means of oppression, tyranny and exploitation in western nations. Islam, however, views the Hijab as a sign of women’s empowerment, modesty and liberation.
The roots of this negative association began with Lady Mary Wortley Montague was an English aristocrat and a part of the Ottoman Excursion (which is modern day Turkey) in the early 1700s. She wrote of her experiences as a secular woman in an Islamic society. She heavily criticized hijabs and used it to justify her catholic beliefs and philosophy of religion in her book, “Turkish Embassy Letters”. So much for secularism I suppose. I would like to comment on the comparison of Catholic and islamic beliefs, in the same manner Mary Montague has compared them. A Christian Nun's habit signifies her piety, modesty, humility, renunciation of earthly pleasures and that she is married to God. A Muslim woman's head covering (which is just part of her "hijab" which actually refers to not only a head covering but modest dress and modest behavior), signifies her piety, modesty, humility, her rejection of immodest fashions, and her commitment to and submission to God. In theory, they are very similar but they are viewed and received with great significance by the general public and by practitioners of both of these religions. After scrutinizing Mary's commentary, the point she aims to make is simply inexplicable.
As I’ve briefly mentioned before, MIA’s music video confronts the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia. A study was conducted to examine the differing perspectives regarding the oppression of women in the Middle East (which is obviously, highly generalized), comparing an informed Western female’s perspective and a Saudi Arabian’s perspective. The irony is that although many in the US may think of Saudi women as oppressed, the Saudi Arabians themselves revealed that they did not see Saudi women as oppressed at all, except that they were aware of the stereotype. This brought up a question in my mind: If women governed by Islamic law are actually oppressed, how do we know? What would it take for us to recognize true oppression? Are we getting too caught up in cultural indicators? Or is it that this is the standard for them?
These questions urge me to revisit my assumptions and acknowledge how heavily influenced they are by the occidental, which I have inherently been conditioned to think in.
Why is the lack of women driving such a salient indicator of oppression in Saudi Arabia among individuals in the US? A Saudi woman explained that most families have drivers that reside on the premises. It is customary in their culture that the driver will take you where you need to go. Many women would love the idea of having someone to drive them places, freeing them to busy themselves in the car with other tasks. In a country like the US, driving is a means of physical freedom and hired drivers are cost prohibitive; it is almost like a rite of passage, when teenagers acquire their learners permit at the age of sixteen and are gifted cars on their eighteenth birthday. Only among the extremely wealthy or in business interactions will one find a hired driver, and then it is a status symbol. For Americans, the issue of women driving in Saudi Arabia relates to the fact that, because women are not allowed to have driving licenses, driving is therefore illegal. Perhaps it’s the illegality that strikes foreigners as oppressive.
The general notion of most westerners when it comes to misogyny in the middle east is to think of it as an Arab problem; an issue of what Arab societies and its people are doing wrong. But is it really that simple? If that misogyny is so innately Arab, why is there such wide variance between Arab societies? Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian-American journalist writes,"We have no freedoms because they hate us. Yes: They hate us. It must be said.” The usage of the word “they” is especially abhorrent as she refers to the Arabian peninsula. Why did Egypt's hateful "they" elect only 2 percent women to its post-revolutionary legislature, while Tunisia's hateful "they" elected 27 percent, far short of half but still significantly more than America's 17 percent? Why are so many misogynist Arab practices as or more common in the non-Arab societies of sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia? After all, nearly every society in history has struggled with sexism, and still are. Just in the U.S., for example, women could not vote until 1920; even today, their access to basic reproductive health care is backsliding. We don't think about this as an issue of American men, white men, or Christian men innately and irreducibly hating women. Why, then, should we be so ready to believe it about Arab Muslims? A number of Arab Muslim feminists have criticized the article as reinforcing reductive, Western perceptions of Arabs as particularly and innately barbaric.
The question remains, was this music video- with its Grammy nominations (yes, plural)- that discusses an issue such as this really relevant or merely a poor generalisation and misappropriated aesthetics to appeal to the western mass mindset and to a white saviour complex?
Raindrops of guilt falling,
On a cloudy night,
What choice do I have,
But to stand still?
Cannot move or sleep,
air is all there is,
In this cloudy space,
Full of illusions.
No support, no pillar
No ally I have,
Too scared to scream for help,
even to my closest friends.
People oblivious to this state of mine,
Because I do not speak,
Just reply with a misleading smile,
Suffocating from this pain inside.
It was my mistake,
To enter a cave with no light
and expect the rays of the sun.
I know the real truth now.