Monday, September 26, 2016


This is a blog about:
a) finding grace
b) serendipity
c) reaching inwards

So in other words, not being such an asshat.

I think a common flaw shared by people who enjoy writing is that we like to furnish ourselves in our imaginations like we would characters in a story. Even when we are outwardly self-deprecating, we think of flattering ways to tell ourselves about how wrong we are, the way an omnipotent narrator might lovingly fashion a protagonist. I think this is the principal reason I have always failed at meditation. Nothing is as disquieting as the quiet mind-unless of course you are a saint, or at least someone who meditates often enough to be thoroughly friendly with your own demons. Ugly feelings are exhausting to contend with when you can't scream them out, or argue with yourself about how you deserve to have them. I should add that Pinterest quotes, inspirational books and dare I say, even poetry can't crack you open like an oyster and infuse wisdom into your unrelenting brain. God knows I have tried, many times.

When I want things, by God I want them NOW. I am basically an animal that way. So doing things slowly-like (to borrow from a children's story) is not my strong suit. Neither is cracking myself open in order to find grace, or eventually become a better version of myself. Oh no, I look like your average yoga pants wearing mom who is inspired by these ideas, but me, I like FAST and I like STRONG and I am the child eternally asking "are we there yet?" Except when I don't know where it is that we are going, well I may as well have peed my pants and skipped my nap, because I am going to be annoyed about it. How does one go somewhere FAST without having a place to go? I know, they say it's about the journey. But what if, sometimes, the journey is dull? What if there are endless weeks of retrieving sippy cups from under car seats and grading the same assignment 27 times and walking into rooms and forgetting why I'm there?

Well, today, I had a conversation with a stranger. And it smelled like marigold. And I was flipping through a book in the library which happened to fall to a page that happened to say that to a person, a mountain fire is a catastrophe, but to a mountain it is just a fire. Another page said, Stay.

I don't believe that things always happen because there is a reason. I struggle with that idea, because what then is the reason for children dying, or cruelty, or torture, or other kinds of irreconcilable loss? But perhaps, some things happen because sometimes, the deep needs of the earth align with our selves, and that is altogether a different thing. And what of the earth being nothing but "a mote of dust suspended on a sunbeam"?

If I open myself to this nothing but dust, perhaps, perhaps, I leave room for a little less of myself and a little more wonder. Myself is just rushing to nowhere, but the earth-it smells like marigold sometimes.

Saturday, July 16, 2016


My son is two years old and people would like to know where we intend to send him to school. I have told people in the past that it doesn't matter, they are all the same-equally bad. It's difficult to be flippant when the subject is my own child, though. Truth be told, I don't want to send him anywhere at all for a few years and it's not because I'm one of those mothers who can't bear to let their children go a minute in anybody else's care. So why not KGS or at the very least a reputable school such as the one I myself attended?

Choosing a school isn't like choosing a brand of diapers or a stroller or cute new outfit. I am expected to want my child to go to the "right" school even though the criteria for admission to that school goes against everything I believe in. Don't worry, people will say, they don't really judge the child on knowing his ABCs or shapes! They just want to see a well-adjusted kid who is comfortable going to another room with a teacher! Surely all parents of toddlers know that all well-adjusted children will prefer the familiar and comforting over the unknown and sometimes unpleasant? Surely everybody understands that separation anxiety is a normal, healthy sign of attachment and intelligence? Surely we can comprehend that a kid's eagerness to perform for a stranger has little to do with "merit" and everything to do with temperament (or good fortune, if you see it that way)? And surely people don't really believe we can judge the worth of a family or the love they have for their child by how good their English is or where they went to primary school or which company they work for? If we are all in agreement that the entrance criteria for schools is flawed and outdated, how can we expect the criteria for teaching to be any different?

I'm not saying that a prestigious school will destroy my child, even if it does subscribe to ideas that are completely opposite to my own. I am saying that one area in which we should not be content to settle for "it might be OK" is the emotional well being of our children. I do not want my child to start his academic career with the idea that exclusivity is the same as worth. I do not want him to believe that performing on cue, even when it goes against his gut, is the right thing to do. I do not want him to turn out alright in spite of school. I want radical, I want different, I want better.

I want him to hold on to and cultivate his openness to life, his belief in abundance and trust in others. I want him to feel joy, not shame, in not knowing answers, because not knowing leads to exploration. I want him to know that the world is enough, that he is enough, that there is enough for everybody if you open your heart, not that it is important to keep up with the neighbors or wear a particular uniform or have a certain accent or perform certain feats to earn love and respect.

We live in a place where everybody is afraid to live, love or learn. A mother's joy at watching her child play will be remedied by instant fear of the evil eye, men will be cruel and dismissive of women to make themselves appear stronger and to admit you do not know something is unthinkable. It doesn't matter how much we speak of love and tolerance and the life of the prophet. Children do not do as we say, they do as we do, and when they see us rein in our most beautiful and human sides in pursuit of status symbols and "networks" and "honor," they will grow up anxious and ungenerous. How can they not? When you have been taught from the age of two that you have to fight for a place at the table, you have to impress those who have power, you have to behave unnaturally and be measured against others, how can you possibly believe in the abstract idea of universal abundance?

What do you want him to grow up to be, someone asked me, a hippie? No, I want him to be a good human being. If he becomes one in spite of a fancy school, more power to him, but as a mother, I will always, always resist.

Saturday, April 9, 2016


I spent last week in Neverland. If you fly over Lahore, you can find it near Sherpao Bridge, and it is populated by some of the people I love the most. My personal happy place is one full of joys and shadows, where I am eight and eighteen and twenty eight all at once, where I can hear the echoes of growingupsounds clearly when I pass the windows or cross the lawn to settle my son into the faithful green swing.

That swing is one where epiphanies frequently occur.

Swinging in it this time, toes grazing the clothes line, I didn't experience any wonderful ideas. Instead, I noted mundane details about the moment and the place: the brown patches in the grass, the fading paint of the building, the plates of half-eaten food my son had abandoned on a lawn chair. I caught myself before it was too late. Here I was, almost a true adult, breaking all the rules of Neverland, noticing things that don't matter, shouldn't matter; not awash in the beauty of swinging outside on a beautiful spring day, but thinking about goddamned dirty dishes. When did I get this new way of seeing and being? I like to pride myself on being someone who is pretty good at enjoying the moment, but this was a travesty.

I distinctly remember the day the magic faded. We were eleven years old, converging for a summer of endless play, blissfully immune to the oppressive heat, making plans to make our game of ghar ghar last for two months at least. We went through the usual motions: assigned ourselves grownup names, careers and different corners of the lawn, collected knick knacks from the kitchen to decorate our houses, decided who would be the person responsible for starting the game by crowing like a rooster to signal it was pretend-morning. And then...nothing. We didn't know where to take the game from there. It usually happened organically, instantly, days stretching into weeks with our game constantly ongoing, except when we joined the adults for meals or trips to the zoo or Lahore Fort. Instead, this time we looked around the lawn and I, at least, saw only plastic bowls and other junk littering the grass, looking decidedly stupid. That was the last game of ghar ghar we ever tried. We ended up passing the summer quite happily with a couple of badminton rackets and bickering with the younger kids, unaware of what had just happened to us, unaware that the ache for our secure pretend-homes would settle into our souls fifteen years later, unaware that we would return to that lawn again and again to try and recreate, just for a moment, that total immersion in the feeling of endless possibility.

Because it is Neverland, the magic isn't dead for good, it is just out of reach, tantalizing us with the hope and promise that some things won't change, that the achey parts of us can be cast away long enough for us to be at home in ourselves. It still smells like champa, frying-sounds from the kitchen still crackle across the grass, the screen doors slam open and shut reassuringly often, the neighbours and their servants wave and their children use the swing set. When Nano dispenses life advice, this time, I listen. I even take notes. I don't call her my grumpy Nano and giggle at her stories; I say please, please won't you write a book so I never forget how wise you are? And she says "agh" and mumbles "you girls" and says she's not the writer in the family, but you can tell she is pleased. My son runs around the place like a small wild animal, stark naked, waving around the water pipe and shrieking, and I take comfort in the fact that he, at least, doesn't notice the abandoned dishes at all.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016


“There was a time in Africa the people could fly. Mauma told me this one night when I was ten years old. She said, “Handful, your granny-mauma saw it for herself. She say they flew over trees and clouds. She say they flew like blackbirds. When we came here, we left that magic behind.” 

So begins "The Invention of Wings," by Sue Monk Kidd, a book I haven't followed with another because I am so reluctant to leave it behind. It chronicles thirty five years of the lives of Sarah Grimke, a nineteenth century abolitionist and suffragist from a plantation-owning family in antebellum South Carolina, and Handful, a slave owned by her family. It resonated with me more than I expected; beginning with it on International Women's Day feels right. Although it is a richly imagined, riveting read about real individuals, based on extensive historical research, its themes are so universal I wanted to pull the characters through the pages to converse with them about my own life. 

The most harrowing scenes in the novel (and there are many) might be a testament to how far we have come as a society, but they are also a testament to how far we have not-or perhaps a commentary on the human condition, which I suppose is not going to change in any substantial way. Sarah Grimke, afflicted with a lifelong stutter since she was traumatized from watching a slave being whipped as a child, imagined she would grow up to be a jurist, with her keen interest in the law and the support of her father and brothers, who were all of the legal profession. The beauty of the ending (which I will not disclose for those who want to read the book) is in the pain of it, the way it led me through "the Graveyard of Failed Hopes, an all-female establishment." The story is narrated alternately by Sarah and Handful and while critics have said that their relationship was too straightforwardly positive, I think it was as straightforward and complicated as any relationship between women of starkly different classes. How many of us have had intimate, deeply meaningful relationships with the women who wait on us, or who work for us, or who will never know the life we do, for any number of reasons? Nearly every woman I know will have at least one such person in her life, but who among us would call this uncomplicated? It's something that often nags at me, the way I am able to share confidences and responsibility with people whom I couldn't-or wouldn't-socialise with at dinner parties or over coffee, because the gulf is too wide. It is "never a simple thing" as Handful put it, to transcend who we are, but this transcendence is exactly what I have reflected on this first week of Women's History Month.

A good friend thinks I have too many small frustrations in life, and perhaps I do, and perhaps they snowball into a larger restlessness that I burn off in impassioned speeches while my husband patiently listens. I feel simultaneously angry about the gilded cages which Pakistani women reside in and ashamed to think it, because we are so conditioned to believe that the plight of Other women, the ones which belong to the unwashed masses of our imaginations, is the only suffering worth noting. What right have I to complain about my freedom to dress as I please or travel freely, or even wander down the street without a dupatta or a car, when there are women dying in childbirth or being sold to rapists in the same land, is how the dissenting voice of patriarchy goes. I remember in college a friend had a sticker in her room with a quote attributed to Buddha and it said "You can be free at any moment you choose." I thought it was a stupid quote; nobody can simply choose to be free-I saw it as just another naive soundbite manufactured for college students' dorm doors. It came back to me the other day. I had walked down the street to the pharmacy, flushed with the realization that I had forgotten my dupatta in my mother's living room (seeing as how I never wear one unless I am walking the few meters from Point A to Point B). A slow-moving car followed me home. The men in it honked and hooted; I ignored them because I am non-confrontational, quietly seething while I impatiently rang the bell so I could slam the gate on their smug faces. The same week, a beggar woman had told me to wear a dupatta "next time," spitting out her words with the righteousness of someone who was carrying a sign about her recent conversion to Islam. I balled up the one lying in my car and didn't touch it. It had suddenly occurred to me that I don't have to and I don't have to be frustrated by the wearing of it, when I am harrassed either way. I was fourteen years old, the picture of feminine modesty in a shalwar kameez and dupatta over my childish body and lack of breasts, when seven or eight teenage boys dragged me to a corner and liberally groped me at a concert. Shortly after that incident, I became an expert at not only dragging a male acquaintance everywhere I went, but also walking with my back to a wall or stack of merchandise while shopping, lest someone decide to grab my behind. It was the natural way of things; everybody did it. Well, I am going to be thirty years old in a couple of years and I will no longer do it. I can be free at any moment I choose, and I choose now. 

I'd been brooding over how to get more plants in my room without attracting ants and allergens, seeing as how my son and I are allergic to everything, ever since I read an article about nature-deficit disorder. I was convinced that if I don't already have it, I will soon. I am miserable on days when I don't get fresh air and trees and anyone who lives in Karachi knows those days are plentiful. On a particularly lovely day, I decided to take my son to Clifton Beach for his most-favorite activity, which is petting and riding the horses by the water. An exhilarating hour later, I had a naked toddler (predictably, he had rolled around in mud and destroyed his clothes and diaper), a soiled diaper bag and no idea where the car was parked, since I had decided to remember it was "by the red truck" which had since moved. Again, the slow-moving cars and honking and again, the feeling of who-gives-a-damn. I would not have my son see me panicking over a bunch of pubescent boys with no manners and ruining my right to enjoy an afternoon that had until then been all mine. I kicked off my shoes, put down the baby and we walked up and down the beach, making a leisurely stroll of the car-hunt. I haven't looked back since and I am incredulous that it took me this long to cast away the anxiety of other people watching, men watching, to the point of buying money plants for my room instead of just Going Outside. Well-meaning friends and family have made this about Safety, saying I will attract the wrong kind of attention. All I can say is, I have attracted that attention all my life while giving a damn, and the only thing that has changed since I quit giving a damn is my own happiness.

“For a moment I felt the quiet hungering thing that comes inside when you return to the place of your origins, and then the ache of mis-belonging.” The words may be about Charleston, but for me they could be about here. I have cycled through loving this city, detesting this city and I am now coming to terms with the hunger for home coexisting with the anger that it will never feel like it is mine. I will likely not transcend the boundaries of who is who, but I will be more likely to have conversations with unlikely strangers and for a moment, we will meet. I will continue moving through the gentle bourgeoisie paranoia of drawing rooms full of aunties who implore me to keep myself and my child away from the evil eye, but I will also tell them (if they think to ask) that I do not believe that we can suffer from too much love or openness to the world. I will probably look in the mirror with self-loathing now and again, but I will also allow myself to cast away the weight of judgement about my breasts or thighs or hips or whichever part of me takes up too much space that day. I will look the school peon in the eye and tell him no, of course I will never get you in trouble for giving me an honest compliment, because I do not need to be protected from a sentiment as human as "You look nice today," not even when it comes from the horrifying Lower Class. Everyday rebellion, feeble as it is, is the only way to invent my wings. Nobody ever said that the growing of them, the pushing through bone and cartilage, would be painless, but I can be free any moment I choose. 

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


Lately I've been nostalgic for a place I'm not sure exists (anymore? or one that never did?).

I see people around me who are fighting so many small battles to make this home a home. To make it their home. To own it. To love it, in spite of...whatever it is that is trapping them. Their efforts exhaust me. I want to applaud them, but they also uncomfortably remind me of me not too long ago and I wonder how my cynicism has hardened into its own being, a tired creature with tired eyes.

And when I close my own eyes, it is the smell and feel of before, not the sight, which makes me long for home in an indescribable way. It smells of rain and grass and water from a rusty tap and there is a whiff of petrol and hot oil in a frying pan-maybe also the scent of frangipani, depending on which side of the grass you are crossing as you run. And it is warm, sticky and prickly-ants crawling up your bare legs; you scratch them away with the same hand you use to carelessly wipe sweat off your upper lip, leaving a streak of dirt there. Summer is endless. It will always be this way.

You're not sure where it is or came from or went. Geographically or otherwise.

So you think of leaving this feeling of loss behind. Hardening and cynicism isn't good for the soul. There is a niggle somewhere in your brain that the place you came from, the place you're going, the place you're looking for, doesn't exist (anymore? or never did?).

Sunday, August 23, 2015


I am knee deep in my own ideas about feminism and modern motherhood these days. The subject overwhelms me, much like my shelving unit which I plan on organizing on some distant day when I can tackle four years of expired batteries, grocery store receipts and leaky pens. Bang in the middle of PhD applications, preparing to go back to work, reading forceful polemic by French feminists and caring for a mama-obsessed, co-sleeping toddler, I realise how many hundreds of times a day I wonder what my own position is on all this.

Starry eyed and pregnant, I was all about the essentialist natural motherhood movement. I will have an epidural free natural birth! I will breastfeed exclusively! I will co-sleep! I will wear my baby day and night! I will take six months maternity leave! I will make my own damn applesauce! Well, I did. Natural birth, applesauce and all. Would I recommend it? Maybe not quite as militantly as before. I wouldn't go as far as those who say motherhood is "all joy and no fun." For me personally, it's a LOT of fun. I like wearing my baby, I like taking him everywhere, I even like the nonstop requests and tantrums of toddlerhood-they make me laugh. But maybe that's because I was lucky enough to read Simone de Beauvoir, Gloria Steinem, Ismat Chughtai and Elisabeth Badinter all in the first six months of my baby's life (remember, this exclusive breastfeeding thing means a LOT of reading. There's only so much time you can spend stroking a baby's head while he goes at you like a baby shark). Feminist literature-whether from the 60s or 2000s-made me simultaneously relaxed about the parenting decisions I made and angry about the pressure to make them.

Two weeks into parenting and I was pissed off at the idea of Total Motherhood. Mind you, I actually enjoyed caring for a newborn and my child was loved and wanted. It wasn't the staying home, breastfeeding or nurturing that was bothersome, it was the assumption of it being superior-the only way to earn my badge of being a Good Mom. All of a sudden, my Facebook newsfeed was exploding with ridiculous memes celebrating how moms stay in sweatpants all day, stepping on Legos and resenting their useless husbands while martyring themselves as chef/nanny/teacher/nurse/driver/insert other everyday task. I couldn't believe how much energy was expended on blogs about playground etiquette (for moms) and sharing sentimental articles about how "all bodies are beautiful" and pictures of celebrities out with their Baby Bjorns. Is this some kind of millennial problem? Are we so used to instant gratification that we constantly crave approval for our most mundane and personal decisions? Or is all of this part of some patriarchal conspiracy to keep women bickering about Bjorn vs Ergo while breastfeeding on their endless maternity leave (because you wouldn't just go back to work and leave your child wailing for more oxytocin, would you)?! Meanwhile, daddy changes diapers on vacation and gets a parade with a marching band. 

This isn't pure speculation, it's fact. Studies show that for every successive child, women become MORE productive at work and simultaneously make LESS money than their male and child-free counterparts. Men on the other hand are REWARDED for having a wife and children, since they are perceived to be more responsible and therefore better potential employees. What exactly did our foremothers fight for if women themselves devote all their time to perpetuating this culture rather than turning it on its head and demanding equal opportunities for financial independence and career fulfillment?

Let me be very clear when I say women DO perpetuate this idea, which benefits nobody but a privileged class of males. I won't use biologically deterministic ideas about what is "natural," but it is normal to want the best for our offspring. We do love our children more than life itself, whether we carried them inside our bodies or not. That's what makes the idea of there being a single successful way (one that not coincidentally relegates mothers to "natural" caregivers) to nurture them so insidious and damaging; it preys on our deepest desires and worst fears of not providing adequate care. 

A point that often isn't noted in the works of earlier feminist theorists is that the natural motherhood movement originally grew out of a a desire for women to reclaim their own bodies from a medicalized male dominated domain. Midwife led birthing, home birthing, exclusive breastfeeding etc. were powerful tools in the fantasy of creating a new, matriarchal world order in which women are allowed to trust their own bodies and take pride in their biological endowments. However, like everything else in the world, this idea has been co opted by a society that remains patriarchal and fundamentally unjust. Male gynaecologists are now making statements at conferences declaring that experiencing the pain of childbirth is necessary for mother infant bonding. A hysterical revulsion accompanies formula feeding or supplementation in mothers' meetup groups, prompting bottle feeding mothers to murmur apologies and explanations to complete strangers. And in the less academic but no less important domain of social media, it is de rigueur for stay at home mothers to constantly complain about how their "full time job" isn't afforded enough respect. On the contrary, nothing in society is given more respect than the work of raising children. But it is a perverse respect, one that rests on the Good Mom prototype (working mothers need not apply) and leaves no room at all for fathers, except as bumbling figures in the background. It is the very reason men who are in fact great dads doubt their own "natural" parenting skills. The cult of total motherhood, of being a mother first and a woman last, of having mom friends who wear mom jeans and do mom things, is damaging to us all. 

I am afraid to publish this blog, which probably says more about the issue than what I've written about it. I'm afraid of being judged, of having to justify that I am in fact a good parent, that I do actually love my child above all else. I just realised somewhere along the way that my incredible kid is better off living in a world where his mother is not expected to forever give up her body, career or self to nurture him. He's better off learning that beauty isn't what defines a woman's worth, so theres no need for platitudes about how pregnancy and childbirth makes you automatically "beautiful." By the time I get around to cleaning that shelving unit, I just hope I have more ideas about how best to raise a feminist myself.   

Monday, June 29, 2015


One Year of Motherhood in Facebook Statuses

July 1st, 2014: Thank you everyone for the warm wishes! Emaad and I are blessed to have welcomed Reza into the world with so many friends and family there for us. All three of us are happy, healthy and very much in love!

July 6th, 2014: Never thought I'd see the day when I define a two hour nap as blessed beauty sleep.

July 15th, 2014: Scientific observation of the day: the sound of mama's head touching a pillow, fork touching a plate or hand touching the shower faucet will stimulate baby's bowels and appetite.

July 21st, 2014: Feels so strange not to be going back to work next week.

July 23rd, 2014: Already folding away littlu's newborn sized clothes! Big boy outfits here we come :)

July 30th, 2014: Thank you for the toughest and best thirty days of our lives littlu! Through every night of endless walking, singing and burping your dad and I still can't believe how blessed we are to have you. I am the luckiest mom in the world to have your poop on my shirt right now. Happy one month baby boy!

August 8th, 2014: I used to care about world affairs, now I am obsessed with my child's bodily functions and nothing else. Thank you Facebook friends for keeping me in the loop about something other than the contents of my baby's diaper.

August 16th, 2014: Made it through vaccines and their painful aftermath! The baby did too :)

August 21st, 2014: First date night without baby!

August 24th, 2014: You know something's changed in you when scenes from Baby's Day Out are suddenly terrifying.

August 28th, 2014: You know the news has been on a lot when your baby can't sleep without Tahir ul Qadri's voice in the background. ‪#‎inquilab‬ ‪#‎sideeffectsofrevolution‬

September 2nd, 2014: I miss school bells, my students' faces, the crazy things I read in test papers, inhaling lunch between fifth and sixth period, misspelled words on the canteen menu, the excitement of designing new term projects, the sense of achievement before 9am, battling over the one working printer and copy machine, the smell of library's September and I miss work!

September 16th, 2014: How is it even possible to sleep through episodes of The Walking Dead but wake up every time I hear the baby's pacifier fall out? Clearly I have superpowers now.

October 4th, 2014: "We have transcended space and time. There is no day. There is no night. There is only cluster feeding."

October 15th, 2014: It's 4pm and I'm still in my PJs singing ninni baba ninni to myself while baby scowls and wriggles. I think we can give up on the daytime nap for today.

October 24th, 2014: Baby may not be allowed screen time but mama can't stop watching BabyTV HD. Right now they are showing men in top hats playing violins in stripey outfits with animated penguins flying across the screen. Amazing.

October 29th, 2014: Maths refresher: the amount of effort I put into putting the baby to sleep is inversely proportionate to the length of his nap. ‪#‎sleepstrike‬ ‪#‎daythree‬

November 1st, 2014: SECOND time in a week someone's told me my "baby brother" is really cute. Time to shop for some grown up clothes, I think. Goodbye, 2007 jeans and pink sneakers.

November 11th, 2014: "You might be the same person deep inside, but what the world sees is a woman lugging around a giant umbilical cord." Society's Mommy Problem

November 14th, 2014: Contract signed, timings confirmed and I'm on my way to being a functioning member of the work force next semester. So panicky that I might have worse separation anxiety than the baby.

November 16th, 2014: My Life Journal, By Baby Reza
8pm: Fight sleep. I'm a busy guy.
11pm: Cry because she gave me the WRONG pacifier. I like the blue one best!
12am: Pretend to sleep and scream as soon as she goes to the bathroom. Just a practical joke to keep her on her toes, lolz
2am: But I'm hungry tonight frown emoticon
3.30am: Really, really hungry!
5am: Hyperventilate because she handed me to the one that doesn't have breasts.
6am: Oh look, it's morning!
7am: Wakeupwakeupwakeup!
8am: Why can't they BOTH tickle my tummy?
9am: Ugh, they've been such a pain! Must stop sleeping through the night to help train them!

November 17th, 2014: They are having Screen Time in the Real Bed while I lie in the little one with railings and floating animals. I have sworn to open my eyes every ten minutes till they realize TV is bad for THEIR cognitive development--Baby Reza.

December 10th, 2014: When will they write a parenting book with an appropriate chapter on how to unwrap a Snickers bar REALLY QUIETLY?

December 12th, 2014: 15th birthday with Emaad and first one with Reza. So much to be thankful for! Can't wait to turn 77 with these two :)

December 20th, 2014: This is way too familiar! "Your typical sleep routine involves bouncing your baby on an exercise ball, in a closet, in the dark, with white noise at full volume, while sweating profusely, standing on your head, while praying 'Please dear God, please let my baby sleep.' After a refreshing 10-20 minute nap, he awakens."

December 30th, 2014: I'll love you forever, I'll like you for always. Happy half-year baby boy! Thank you for making all this a thousand times more fun than anyone said it would be.

January 29th, 2015: And three years makes three of us!

February 13th, 2015: After smearing poop in my hair I had to clap for myself, because She didn't appreciate the performance at all. Sometimes I wonder why God gave me skills nobody appreciates--Baby Reza

February 14th, 2015: I hope everyone's V Day was as great as mine was until my balloons flew away. Now I'm having to reflect on the transience of life--Baby Reza

March 4th, 2015: 8.15pm: OMG my baby's actually asleep for the night, I feel so free!
4.00am: OMG my baby's awake for the day, I feel like a zombie!!Going to have to rethink this early bedtime business.

March 10th, 2015: Baby Reza's To Do List
-Open all drawers and cabinets
-Taste all potential poisons and choking hazards
-Practice long, withering looks for when strapped in carseat/fed bland vegetables
-Drink tea from a Real Cup
-Get hands inside soiled diaper. This is a priority item for when diaper-changer is wearing white
-Draw on at least two items of parents' clothing
-Escape crib-prison

March 23rd, 2015: Managed to finish lunch by 9pm. In other news, the leaves, yoga mat, dirty sneaker and stale cheeto out of the trash that my kid tried to eat today didn't do any harm! ‪#‎winningatparenting‬

April 19th, 2015: Reza's Sunday morning nap with his dad=cup of coffee and remote in my hand. There should be more weekends in a week.

May 2nd, 2015: Just spent two hours at the mall with my kid, so I'm logging 45 minutes of high intensity interval training in my workout diary for that valiant effort. I also learned that my bag can withstand having strawberry smoothie poured into the main pocket.

May 6th, 2015: "Your views on parenting are just as important as your views on politics, education, social issues-but no one would expect you to agree on those all the time...mothers are expected to share one giant megamind and support and love each other constantly. Yeah, that would be great. But it's unrealistic, and frankly, really sexist." You Say Mommy Wars, I Say Healthy Debate

May 12th, 2015: Pretty sure my kid thinks the only reason he learned how to walk is so he can run away during a diaper change and leave a trail of shit across the room. It's cool that he has such clear goals in life, though.

May 24th, 2015: Trying to take a nap without Reza hanging off me feels oddly incomplete. He better miss me half as much on his day with his Nano!

June 18th, 2015: Use last chance to buy a doughnut at 12pm: check! Ramzan Mubarak guys, I'm one Islamic year old now! --Baby Reza

June 30th, 2015: Happy birthday to the light of our lives! May you have many more with endless love, laughter and blessings.

Friday, May 8, 2015


An Open Letter to People Who Are Not My Child But Refer To Me As “Mommy”

There was a time, not very long ago, when we were friends. Our friendship was probably based on a mutual enjoyment of each other’s company, which implies that we used to talk about our lives and interests and what’s in the news and maybe I used to tell you you’re an idiot and make terrible life choices and you’d listen to me because I’m a reasonably intelligent adult. I’ve always had opinions, you know that. And let’s face it, I’ve never been particularly well-dressed and have lived in my yoga pants ever since I realised I don’t need to wash them that often. When I popped out a person ten months ago and made you proud owner of a little nephew, this did not change. I still have opinions, I’m still a slob, I still live in my yoga pants. I’m still not cool with you trivializing my ideas or experiences by attaching the word “mommy” to them.

Yeah, I’m someone’s mommy. I have vague shit colored stains on my T shirt and while I’m talking to you my kid is wiping his snot on my pants. You talk to the side of my head while I shout “Don’t touch that!” and “What’s in your mouth?” I get it. Try and move past that, okay, just the way I’m graciously overlooking how you are wearing the shirt you stole from me in eighth grade and checking Foodpanda menus while I describe my latest night of sleep deprivation. I used to have opinions about politics and we used to have long conversations deep into the night. Nothing I’ve ever done so far is as political as raising my kid. When I’m indignantly discussing Nestle’s history of promoting formula feeding in impoverished communities which don’t have access to sterile utensils, don’t say “Awww that’s such a mommy concern!” When I wear my five year old yoga pants because I know I can squeeze in a workout during naptime don’t tell me I’m wearing “mommy pants.” When we’re talking about how we should move to Finland because the education system there is so enviably fantastic, don’t say “right on mommy!”

By all means, tell me I have a huge butt and need to get that workout in, or share my indignation for greedy food conglomerates and test driven education systems. Tell me to go change my disgusting snot covered pants. Hell, just talk about your own day without worrying that my perfectly functional, albeit exhausted, brain is incapable of processing anything unless it directly concerns my baby. If I’m not following you because I’m so damn tired because I haven’t slept and I ate toddler leftovers for lunch, I will tell you myself, thank you.

I love you all for loving my kid, for swapping late night sushi, smoking in the living room and impromptu beach plans for sitting in our smoke free house eating takeout at 7pm, making plans for the weekend four days in advance. I love that you offer to babysit even though I wouldn’t for a second trust you to look after my kid unless I want him coming home and saying “fuck” as his new word. I love that you listen to my stance on breastfeeding and hypnobirthing and potty training, occasionally feigning interest and looking up from your phone. It’s great that you’ve embraced my mommyhood, but I’m not YOUR mommy. You know what makes a woman feel instantly unsexy, frumpy and deeply aware of the shit stains on her T shirt? Being called “mom” by EVERYONE. When I’m parenting, I am one hundred percent a parent, but when I’m with you, I’m still one hundred percent a person who thinks and reads and even occasionally wears nice underwear and well fitted jeans. Besides, I’m raising a boy. The most important thing I’ll ever teach him is that women are more than whatever unimaginative labels you affix to them-starting with his mommy.

Monday, April 13, 2015


Dear readers,
Some of you know that I used to find it so easy to blog. Someone actually told me "it must be like taking a dump for you!" Well, it still is-because these days going to the bathroom entails having an audience or clutching a baby monitor, so it's NOT easy. My brain is all over the place. I will be forever indebted to you all if you help spark my cerebrum by leaving a suggestion for a blog or even a listicle in the comments. Get me started again! THANK YOU!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013


We were waiting, eagerly, to see how the nine year old performed in this first great ritual of adolescence and belonging. In the shadowy dreamscape of that terrifying world beyond our waking control, there were four or five of us, watching and waiting. The boy leaned forward, concentrating, and trapped the tiny yellow and green parakeet fluttering around him in a quick swipe of his child-sized hands. He was lightning fast at that bit. He then hesitated, met my eye and I wondered whether he had learned his great adult lesson yet. Then, in a sudden decisive moment, he snapped the bird’s neck, putting an end to the pitiful beating of wings against his fingers. It made a noise like a No. 2 exam pencil breaking in half. I closed my eyes and looked away when it first happened before a wave of misery washed over me-and then I wept. Not for the bird, which was doomed to vulnerability and human apathy, but for the boy, who had lived up to our expectations. He saw me weeping and started to cry softly himself, not quite understanding what we wanted. I held him and we wailed together, I for loss of innocence, he for confusion. The other dreamshadows faded away, chastising me-you do not give in to care, it destroys you.

What a memory to snooze my alarm to, to brush my teeth after, to live with.

Friday, August 2, 2013


All the talk about Burka Avenger has given me a fresh dislike for the burka. In spite of a growing number of people adopting the burka on the streets, in the workplace and even in my own family, my distaste for it isn't waning. Now, with the creators of this cartoon superhero talking about reversing stereotypes associated with something that is "not necessarily oppressive," I'm seeing way more rationalization and even celebration of the garment than I'm comfortable with. On one hand, it's awesome to have a modern South Asian female superhero-one that is not a saint, goddess or ancient warrior, but an (extra)ordinary Pakistani woman. Kudos to the creators for empowering children with a positive, girl-power image, but I am curious as to why they chose the burka as her secret identity costume. Is it a playful jab at the anonymity the garment affords? Is it deliberate irony, given that one is hardly equipped to be ninja-kicking anybody in a burka? Or is it what I am afraid of-an attempt to glamourize the burka?

Let me make it clear here that I support a woman's right to choose what she wants to do with her body-whether that means wearing a catsuit or a chaadar. However, I think it is deeply problematic to suggest that either outfit has the potential to make women more appealing or powerful. The only message that comes with male superhero garb is that you have to be physically fit to save lives, fly, etcetera. The message that comes with BOTH hypersexualized, high-heel wearing superheroes and with Burka Avenger is that women's bodies are commodities for male consumers.

This is usually where defenders of the burka stop paying attention to me, but it is something I strongly believe. Encouraging women to wear burkas sends the message that it is their responsibility to prevent the lecherous male gaze; that their piety and virtue are directly linked to how they are viewed by men. To every South Asian who has argued with me that "modest" clothing (however you define that) prevents sexual harassment, all I can say is-no. Just no. That is statistically dishonest, to say the least. Sexual harassment is a huge, underreported problem in South Asia and it happens to women from all walks of life-those who cover and those who reveal, those who are Muslim and those who are not. Suggesting that our culture is superior because it encourages women to prevent their own rapes is a gross oversight of the victim-blaming that our society engages in. It is a morally empty argument. I personally prefer to dress conservatively on some days-because to do otherwise would make me uncomfortable, or out of respect for someone else's values, or simply because I like to blend in. On other days, I don't bother with a dupatta and go out wearing a kameez and tights. You know what happens when I go to certain parts of the city wearing a big, modest chaadar? I get cat-called or made kissy noises at and sometimes groped. You know what happens when I go out in my tight clothes to the same places? I get cat-called or made kissy noises at and sometimes groped. Ugly displays of male entitlement have nothing to do with how I choose to behave or what I wear.

So back to superheroes. I think what we all love about superheroes is our potential to be one. They're ordinary people living ordinary lives-heartbroken teenagers, tired insurance company employees, billionaires with secret gadgets and loyal butlers-ok maybe not always ordinary, but always something little kids can imagine themselves being one day. They fight bad guys and make the world a better place and after they are done fighting crime, their alter egos look like much more attractive versions of you and me. So Kudos to the Burka Avenger's real life persona wearing normal shalwar kameez and kicking ass like you only wish your primary school teacher did in her spare time. But it would be nice to live in a world where little girls didn't have to choose between donning a catsuit or a burka to play superheroes. It would be especially nice if they thought they could be superheroes wearing clothes that are culturally  relevant in Pakistan-which I'm sorry, but the burka is not, seeing as how it's exclusive to a small subset of only the Muslim population. In a world where daring to be a woman with opinions, choices and yes, a face, is increasingly taboo, our only solution is to fight misogyny with a stubborn refusal to give in to it. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Dear 20 year old me,

When someone told me to write a letter to you, I decided I wouldn’t because I hardly know you. I barely recognize you. This, I later realized, is a good thing. If you resembled the current you, you would probably be doing very little learning right now, so get ready for the bumps and bruises that self-help books prescribe for toughening up.

Your college experience is still brand spanking new in many ways. You’re still flushed with gratitude for the financial aid you’re getting, the opportunities to take amazing classes, your meetings with exciting new people. Hold on to that. There will be a day when you sit on a parking lot curb and cry your eyes out because you think you are dropping out of school, you’re exhausted trying to juggle work and classes, you can’t believe the unfairness of a system that would give you hope one year and crush it the next and above all, you feel stupid for not being more prepared and wiser about managing finances. You’re going to realize it’s okay to ask for (and accept) help. Your gratitude will come back when you learn how beautifully people and even institutions can come through for you. You will work even harder next year to make sure you deserve the wonderful things the universe keeps giving you and you will never make the mistake of mixing up your debit and credit cards, or miscalculating your phone bill, or leaving your paycheck in the laundry room, or signing off on unsubsidized loans, or agreeing to work for less than 8 dollars an hour again. You will spend every six months after graduation converting rupees to dollars to figure out how much you can afford to donate to the financial aid fund as a marker of your gratitude. Sometimes, you will have to say no thank you to friends who want to go to bars and restaurants and Mexico and save money to pay back your One Card debt at the bookstore and feel shitty about it. Don’t feel shitty about it. When you buy yourself a winter jacket, a new laundry hamper, groceries for spring break and the books you really just want to own and not rent, you will feel really, really good. By the time you’re done, you’ll have saved up a few hundred dollars; enough to get a ticket to New York to pick up your parents from the airport when they come for graduation, enough to treat your siblings to pizza and ice cream for a few days, even enough to buy a pretty dress and heels and lipstick for commencement. You’ll feel like a millionaire and don’t worry, you won’t realize how delusional you are until you get your first loan repayment notice, which is far away yet.

You will learn that heartbreak happens when people are right about the world being as broken and cruel as it really is. You know who you want to marry and you think you’re over heartache, but you haven’t considered the possibility of being hurt by random things you learn about the world rather than by another person. Consider that possibility. Consider that right now, you are filled with a sense of anythingcanhappen, a sense of wanting to change the world (In a year! In a month! IN A DAY!) and snottily feel sorry for those who claim they are “realists.” In two years time, you will passionately defend your choices in life and angrily explain to people that what you are doing is, in fact, changing the world, a little a time. In three years time, you will be disillusioned by the people who the world applauds for making a difference and start questioning everything about why you chose your field at all. You’ll spend at least a year trying to figure out if it’s worth making a difference, occasionally admitting the realists were right and then making plans to leave (later you’ll call it running away) so you can start over in a shiny new place where you can make a different difference. At some point, you will look around and be inspired by people who don’t set out to win the Nobel Prize, people who transform everything around them by doing what they love and you will want to be one of them. 

You will almost go to graduate school and then struggle when you realize that the things you want to accomplish require Being Here, getting your hands dirty and dealing with many more years of dirty bureaucracy and irritating hurdles. You will decide you’re not brave enough to stick around for a vague plan you haven’t shared with anyone but your partner and then you will decide you are. I don’t know how it goes from there, but it will be hard and you will hope it is worth it.

You will fight with your parents a lot. Don’t. In a couple of years you’ll be embarrassed to admit to yourself that they, especially your mother, are Always Right. You will find yourself calling your parents to ask how to make the perfect salad and whether to renew your employment contract because after four years of independence, suddenly you can’t function without their advice. You will eventually quit being such a baby, but you’ll never get rid of the tiny mom-voice in your head that shouts “Bismillah!” whenever somebody drives too fast and reproachfully tells you that if you had bothered trying on that churidar pyjama when it was first stitched you wouldn’t be sitting here with polythene bags on your feet, grunting to pull it on.  

You will go from being unsure of yourself to bouncing with confidence. You will be commencement speaker. You will be proud of yourself. When you are handed your degree, you will sit back down in your seat and laugh and cry at the same time because you worked so hard to get it. Other people will look at you like so what, we all eventually graduate, but you won’t care. You’ll feel wounded in a couple of years when people ask why you don’t get “more education” and why you’re satisfied with “just a BA” because you’ll never forget how far you came to get the first degree.

You will be obsessed with your thesis. You will take classes which blow your mind. Four years later, you will write to professors about how you are using those classes to plan your own classes and they’ll say you made their day. Don’t skip class.

Your thesis defense will be canceled the day before it is supposed to happen due to a series of unfortunate events that the department will apologize for one month after you graduate. You will curl up on your rug and cry like a baby and feel as if you have lost everything you have thrown your entire self into for two years. You will pick yourself off the rug and go to work because you need the $20 and one of the kids there will give you a flower and a goodbye card and they will all hug you and make you promise to be a teacher again in Pakistan. You’ll cry for the second time, but this time in a good way and tell your friend over dinner that you see the bigger picture. You don’t really see it, but it helps to say it. Later, you’ll see the bigger picture and realize you can’t unlearn your thesis and not defending it doesn’t make it any less important to you.

You will be disgusted by people and disappointed by people and driven mad by people. You will beat yourself up about being a bad person when you decide to distance people who haven’t deliberately hurt you, but who you don’t want to be around for reasons you won’t want to articulate. You will make and lose friends and make friends again and when something terrible happens and you find yourself dialing one number and not another, suddenly realize who it is you can really count on. You’ll waste a lot of tears and a perfectly good Nokia 1100 which you hurl at the wall, but it’ll get better.

In five years, you’ll realize you are at your happiest ever. You will be sitting in Pigeon or Mermaid pose on your yoga mat and it will hit you that you absolutely love where you are and what you are doing and who you are with. You should give credit to your husband and family in that moment, but you won’t. You’ll think it’s a product of your disciplined asana practice and be cocky for a few days, but the happiness won’t fade.

Soon, you will be unrecognizable in many ways. You will be 20 pounds heavier and people will be cruel about it. You’ll briefly consider being anorexic or something and then choose a more sensible option and lose some (but not all) of it. You’ll wish you had joined the positive body image club in college just for practice. You’ll come home from random gatherings with a cryingish feeling in your throat because three people were rude enough to ask if your thyroid condition is to blame for making your heavier and how their friend’s sister’s daughter was also on thyroxine and she dropped her excess weight like a hot potato and when do you plan on doing the same? For a while, you will tie your worth to a number on a scale, the way you promise yourself now you never will. You’ll wonder why you care so much and then you will stop caring. Don’t freak out too much. In five years you will be able to run faster, train harder, lift heavier and stretch further than you ever imagined possible and feel smug in front of skinny minnies struggling at the gym.

You will be bored by regular employment and think all employers are insane until you find the right job (and you will) and then you will actively look forward to Mondays. That day will come. Meanwhile, gear up for some of the world’s most psychotic bosses. They will make some funny stories later on, so deal with them as they come and use them to learn about what you don’t want to become.

Gear up for a lot of things. In five years you’ll go from anxiously awaiting your first flight to college, to supporting yourself, changing your entire belief system about three times, reading hundreds of books, meeting fascinating people, graduating, getting married, making all your important decisions about career and grad school and having kids and working your way through four jobs. And you will feel stupider at the end of it for having been cocky at 20, but don’t worry. Your cockiness is about to be destroyed. Enjoy the ride.


Friday, February 8, 2013


I’m a yogini. Technically, anyway. I have two and a half students and don’t own, or work at, a studio. I have a 200 hour teacher training certification, but not from the prestigious Yoga Alliance, because my teacher believes their membership fees would make his training program unaffordable. I don’t have beautiful photographs of myself doing Wild Thing or Lord Dancer Pose against the setting sun on a beach and nobody ever asks me to perform asanas in meadows while they click their DSLR. I don’t eat meat, but I do eat fish (and no, I don’t “feel bad for them as sentient beings,” before you ask). I don’t remind everybody that sugar is poison because I have a crazy sweet tooth. I have no desire to ever do a wheatgrass shot, because it has the word “grass” and I’m sure it tastes awful. I can do splits, handstands and dropbacks to Wheel pose, but I usually don’t unless I’m in my room, sometimes with the cat watching. I know the Sanskrit words for poses, but never use them in class because English works just as well. I don’t own a single item of clothing from Lululemon; I wear my husband’s t shirts and track pants from my college days. I am not skinny and never will be, no matter how much I focus on healthy eating and vinyasa yoga. When yoga teachers talk about feeling the light of the universe in your hamstrings and gently awakening your heart chakra to absorb the wisdom of Pattanjali, I feel pretentious just hearing it. I love my hamstrings and heart chakra and even Pattanjali, but sometimes I worry my low threshold for hearing about all these things in the same sentence makes me a bit of a fraud.

This is bad marketing. I should tell you about waking every day with a sunbeam on my face and a prayer in my heart. I should talk about the joys of clean living and how energetic I feel because I don’t eat meat. I should do 108 Sun Salutations in a row, in a public park or beside the sea, preferably at dawn. I should not tell you that every time I balance in Scorpion against the wall, or manage a backbend while I’m in a split, I shout to my husband “Woohoo, are you APPRECIATING THIS YET?”

You don’t need to know that I have cotton pants four sizes too big for me in colours which happen to be flattering because I think it makes me look like I’m naturally thin, cool and unconcerned, the way a yogini should be. Nobody wants to know that pranayama was the last thing I chose to focus on when developing my own practice (I do it now, I promise!), or that I won’t use a neti pot to clear my perennially clogged respiratory system just because that episode on House where the guy dies from brain-eating bacteria freaked me out. I love Ayurvedic remedies, herbal tea and eating right for my dosha, but I won’t try any ancient remedies that sound like they taste bad (like chewing on six black peppers to cure an allergy attack). I’m immature. I have no patience, except with children, because I think they are cute. I’m the prototype for a 20 something urban-dweller and you are welcome to disparage me for not being a real yogini.

But as Dr Suess says…UNLESS…

Unless you know how many things yoga can be, don’t knock it till you try it. I am not a jet-setting instructor with a book deal and advertisements for Nike yoga shoes (which are as ridiculous as they sound), but I will never judge you. I won’t judge you for thinking yoga is boring, “nothing but stretching,” not intense enough, but I might challenge you to see otherwise. I won’t live up to your expectations of what a yoga teacher should be like, but I will practice for an hour every day on my mat and if you really want me to, even teach you what “breathing into your psoas” actually means. I promise never to write blogs about finding the goddess within me and I will never lecture you on what yoga is REALLY about-because, you know, that's kind of what yoga's all about.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


My relationship with history is a messy one. Born more than forty years after Partition, surrounded by those who remembered it, the event trickled into the deepest shadows of my imagination, populated by mind-elves in saris and kurta pajamas, squabbling about the Muslim League, Unionists and Congress in muddled, half-understood Urdu and Punjabi. When I was asked to summon my thoughts about it as a college student, archivist or interviewer, the elves clambered out, noisily, to the background sound of yellowing pages rustling against a thumb with paper cuts.

My first awakening, the first time these ghosts with their UP accents and starched cotton saris were asked to organize themselves and explain to my post-everything self what 1947 stood for, was in college. Until then, Partition was a badly understood idea at best, confused by school-sanctioned patriotism and tacky “Love the soil of Pakistan” bumper stickers. Then came Ayesha Jalal, with her dry prose cutting through the nonsense of national idiom and setting my mind on fire. She was followed by historians, political scientists and dozens of interviewees who exhausted my capacity to comprehend Partition. I fantasized about crawling into my grandmother’s closet, scented with mothballs, and not coming out until my thesis wrote itself. I alternated between frenzied bouts of reading and writing and running from all things Partition-related. The process was so all-consuming that my idealistic motivations about educating children fell by the wayside. How, how, how would I transmit my half-baked ideas to anybody? The weight of August 1947, its sticky heat and oppressive ennui, made my mind sag like plants in an Amritsar home that a young woman and her mother had expected to return to, but didn’t.

There was the Jinnah movie in fifth grade, of which I remembered only a pregnant woman’s belly being pierced with a spear while an angry Junoon tune played in the background and the Stanley Wolpert quote about Jinnah which has been reproduced so many times in so many school assemblies and 14th August demonstrations. There were vague ideas about Muslim rights and the image of sadness-tinged, upright forefathers refusing to sing Vande Mataram and something to do with Hindu supremacy. There was the story of my grandmother and the death trains-the image seared into our ten year old brains was the one of her beautiful hair being chopped off after being exposed to filth and fleas on the two-month journey to Pakistan. There were the stories of my other grandmother and her home with its important visits by important people who we studied about in history books and the sense that we must live up to their expectations (don’t decry nationalism or their ghosts will look down on you reproachfully, don’t joke about them or Allah Mian will hear you). There was all this, no doubt, along with a heaviness, a pregnant-but-not-ready encyclopedia of images and ideas, in the minds of my students. They were me. I was twenty-two. Where does one even begin to commit to this moment in history, to this colossal undertaking of simultaneously understanding and explaining Partition? So I organized the things I could not and would not teach and how I could not and would not teach them. I went to class and fiddled with pedestal fans, dusted chalk off my kameez, passed around photocopies about inoffensive things like the geography of Pakistan (the borders already drawn for me by 1947). I talked about refugees and the Muslim League and the Congress and overthrowing colonialism, making all the political characters sound Equally Good and On The Same Side. I expended huge amounts of energy on not noticing that it was forty seven degrees Celsius and there was no electricity and how it just didn’t matter what I taught anybody in that context. In return, they taught me about their colonies and picnics at Benazir Bhutto park and playtime and loss. We became friends and I grew increasingly bitter with the idea of an objective history.

I started hating the questionnaire we used to interview oral history candidates, with its quiet assumptions about class and nationalism. Do you remember seeing the Pakistan flag unfurled for the first time? Were you proud to fly PIA the first time? I’m so sorry to steer you back to our topic, but can you describe Karachi’s nightlife in the 1950s? It made me sick. Meanwhile, Pakistan moved on, never allowing us a moment to catch our collective breath, not caring that I was scanning decaying newspaper articles about Mujib-ur-Rehman’s Six Points and vintage advertisements for Kashmiri Beauty long-lasting matchsticks. I would transcribe interviews, my heart breaking over and over for the man whose wife called him a coward and burned him with her disappointment when he ran for his life during a Dhaka riot in 1971; applauding the lady whose excellent matchmaking services and record of finding Very Suitable Boys saw her through bombing raids in 1965 after she was widowed. In between, I would check Facebook and Twitter for updates on the situation outside our window. Zulfikar Mirza drunkenly poked fun of Muhajirs. Rehman Malik came into power and a joke about calling apples bananas made the rounds. We lost students’ family members at summer camp to communal violence and missed a few days of school. Osama was killed. Drone strikes escalated. Polio vaccine campaigns came under threat. Damned if we do and damned if we don’t, we said. Pakistan was reappropriated as “Af-Pak.” All that history we were digging up that made us part of India, we joked, was becoming obsolete, as if such a thing were possible. We saw ourselves morph into a Taliban state, a Global Threat, citizens of the world’s Most Dangerous City. People told us we were brave and we felt uncomfortable. On most days, Partition and its stories made no sense.

The following year, as a teacher, I quietly struck “South Asia; the partition of the subcontinent and the subsequent history of the Indian and Pakistani states” off the world history syllabus for my O level students. It’s because I didn’t want to confuse them by offering them “real” history the same year they learned the mutilated Partition history of Pakistan Studies, I said to school administration. It’s because I would much rather teach China, a topic that is so relevant today, I told students. It’s because our syllabus is so lengthy, I told colleagues. I couldn’t decide which answer was best. It could be because Mrs. J left her home in Amritsar unlatched because she was going to return soon, but she, like her neighbor Sadat Hasan Manto, never did. It could be because Mr. I was an Urdu-speaking man from Calcutta who migrated to Punjab, didn’t fit in, migrated to Dhaka, didn’t fit in, migrated to Karachi and still doesn’t fit in. It could be because a million silent rapes have been replaced by louder ones. It could be that I am exhausted, and twenty five, and no smarter than three years ago, and there is noise in my head, a rustlerustlerustle of pages of books and interviews which leap out and eat me alive. It could be that the thought of going to graduate school for history lost its charm when the idea of writing papers about Objective History appeared to be a monstrous irrelevancy before the fifteen year olds I have not yet taught. It could be, that in another forty years, a granddaughter may beat her head against the boulders left to her by my generation…and by then, I will have grown to understand, by then I will have something to teach.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012


The “having it all” debate seems to surround me lately by that strange phenomenon when you consider something once and then see it explode all around you. Professors and commencement speakers in college addressed the idea, but at twenty one “having it all” seemed to be a debate inconveniently dragged into our time by those who came and fought before us. Now, it bombards me repeatedly. A well-known journalist and feminist, speaking at our graduation, talked of all the victories our grandmothers had earned us, leaving us to answer the relatively new question of how to have it all.

Women can have it all! Women can’t have it all! Women can’t ignore biology! Women should ignore biology! Women should practice attachment parenting! Women should avoid helicoptering their children! Women, women, women. Where are the men in this debate? Surely, leaving them out of the battle and in the living room watching TV defeats the entire purpose, doesn’t it?

The neat dichotomy between love and success and family and career is a presupposition that these elements are mutually exclusive. I’m not referring to baby-wearing to work or flexible working hours, I mean the very idea that having it “all” means hanging on to many things you hold dear all by yourself. Men may not birth babies, or breastfeed or race against as strict a reproductive clock, but they do, in strictly biological terms, form half the equation in creating babies. If it is assumed that the debate about whether it is possible to juggle job and family doesn’t concern them, the position is inherently sexist. It may not concern all men, but no woman in a committed relationship should be questioning whether she can achieve feminist utopia alone. Whatever your expectations are from life, whether it  is to have twelve children and stay at home with them, earn three advanced degrees, start your own company, simply make ends meet or all the above, you should be able to know that havingitall is not a lonely enterprise. It is not the straightforward one discussed so often in the media, with its images of snappily-dressed career women arriving home at 5pm to feed the children (alone), or the one of Supermom preparing breakfast for ten (alone) before scheduling the day for her kids (alone) and having a June Cleaveresque relationship with her husband, who is a well-intentioned but bumbling, clueless mutt.

And if it is a lonely enterprise, or a single one, or a same-sex one, you will notice there are not many voices decrying the desire to be perfect, traditional wives and mothers while also being perfect and high-powered everythingelse. Perhaps they already realize the individual-ness of major life decisions, perhaps they watch less television, perhaps they expect less of men, perhaps they expect more of men-as we should. Whether men decide to be stay-at-home dads or whether they choose to be the sole breadwinners, the choice cannot be left to be made by women alone and forever.

The world is a mess of choices six years after my first induction into the cheerful belief that havingitall is something the modern woman does and messes are not meant to be swept by women alone. Time to stop asking if women can do it all and pass the broom around for a much tidier state of mind.