The Cognitive Backyard

Passions of a Romantic

For a man torn apart between duty and desire, life had never been easy for me. But let me just say this I have never cared much for duty and my life has always been made miserable by desire. I am a passionate man; I am a romantic; a man with more energy and wilfulness of the heart than the ability of his mind to reign in. But my pursuit of passion has always been hindered by the call of duty.

I love beauty wherever I find it be it nature’s or the opposite gender’s. I am a free spirit that dreams of vast open wilderness, large water bodies, fresh breezes, riding horses and the company of a beautiful, and spirited, woman. Places and things of historical significance turn me on. Sometimes I feel I belong to the times long past; times of cattle and horses, sword and dagger, and of nomadic life.

My favourite young cousin Ahmed, my portégé, have recently been to France. He sent me the story of his travel and his pictures over the WhatsApp and I couldn’t help but close my eyes and find myself in the Palaces of Versailles and Louvre, and the beautiful churches of St. Denis and Notre Dame. I imagined myself as a Dragoon in Waterloo, and exiled in the sassy island of Elba along with Bonaparte. I was actually forced to watch the recent adaptation of War & Peace by BBC once more.

Even the owner of the movie shop in Model Town, Lahore, where I buy my DVDs clearly knows my preferred genre and works hard to find movies, TV shows and documentaries for me in epic fiction or historical epic genre. I have watched them all from Ben Hur to Vikings, and from Samson and Delilah to Game of Thrones, and it is increasingly difficult now to find something new and worth watching. Hollywood really needs to make more movies like Gladiator, Troy and Braveheart. I don’t even mind watching a Russian movie if they are the likes of Mongol even if I don’t understand a word because its in Russian.

One of my friends tells me that it’s the bloodline; my genetic code that yearns for a nomadic life in the wilderness. But I don’t always buy this argument because if it was true, it would have been the same for all my blood relatives.

Sometimes I wish I was Marty McFly and I had known a half-crazy scientist with a time traveling machine and I could watch all of it live. Sometimes I wish if I ended up in heaven, which seems to me as unlikely, my first request to God would be to play a sort of DVD on a large IMAX type screen so I could watch it all happen from Adam and Eve down to the California Gold Rush.

Sometimes I feel I am just a centuries old spirit caged in a twentieth century body. Although I am also infatuated with antiquity, my most favoured era of history is between the middle ages and the Victorian era. It is this period of history I have feverishly read about may it be the European history, the Islamic history or the history of the Asian steppes. I have a particular fetish for Mongol history.

I do not entirely share the Muslim historians view of Genghis Khan who paint him only in one light – for his brutal conquests. That much is true about the Mongol conquests. He along with his immediate descendants did butcher millions of people from Beijing to Budapest, however it is a very simplistic view of his personality and downplays the great military and political genius Genghis was.

In my opinion, it is a sorry view of history to blame others for one’s own weaknesses just like we Pakistanis love to blame outsiders for our own mistakes. Genghis was able to subdue his opponents not because he was a butcher, but because he was a better leader, general and schemer. It was not his fault that his opponents were weak, divided and spineless. It was his advantage and he made the best use of it for his own people.

He not only unified his warring and divided nomadic people, but also gave birth to the largest contiguous empire the humankind has ever seen in a very short span of time unlike the British or the Roman empires. It was an empire which was not only very open to foreign culture and industry but also extremely tolerant of other religions by their own standards of barbarism. The fact that within three generations his descendants had mostly abandoned shamanism and Tengrism to convert to Islam, Buddhism, Taoism and Christianity bears testimony to their openness.

I recently discovered the traditional folk music of Mongolia as well which is called throat singing or hoomii. I have become quite a fan of Khusugtun, Altan Urag and Altai Khairkhan. I would really like listening to them in a wide empty grassland in the backdrop of scenic mountains with horses running wild. The music is so exhilarating that you cannot help but feel its passion and spirit liberating you from the dull and mundane duties of your life.

One of my life’s many unconsummated passions is to someday visit Mongolia, and the rest of the Asian steppes along the ancient silk road, and live in a Yurt for some time. My same friend tells me that ancient and nomadic lives were very hard with very short life expectancy. I fail to always agree with him, I mean he is a great friend but he is never motivating really.

Life is never easy. I believe it is even harder and dangerous now with its large cities squirming with population and information overload, inorganic and processed food, with people immersed in their virtual and self-deceiving lives on the social media and all the other ugly troubles of the modern urban life.

I often ask him what use is there of such a life which appears more like a bot, with no fresh breeze, empty from the thrill of adventure and devoid of passionate dreams? Unlike me, he agrees with my point.

Author

Bilal Khan

I am a Lahore, Pakistan, based researcher in the fields of Political Science, Public Policy, and Public Administration.
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