Monday, August 22, 2011


Hello, blank page.

You have so much potential.


I want to be a farmer dog whisperer tree planter yogi pilot detective mom cake decorator hot air balloon owner circus performer chimpanzee trainer author illustrator peter pan saint.

What do you really want to be?

A Taoist. Though I don't know very much about it. I just read an abridged guide to it, but it sounds cool.

Build me a library like the one the Beast built for Belle. I'll be my own personal librarian.

Find me an agent, I'll write for a living.

What do you mean, I'm not good enough?

Well. Prestige is overrated anyway. Maybe I'll be a hermit. Maybe I'll write, become famous and then go mad and hate people, like Tennessee Williams. Except that I can't write like him.

Anyone can have their own TV show, lawn exhibition and blog these days. Even me.

I realise that "even me" is incorrect grammar. I love and hate grammar. I love its order and hate its fascism.

I like that Urdu is arranged subject-object-verb. It forces you to hear the whole sentence. I like writing in this room. I in this room writing like.

Hello, blank page, trying to decide what to be.

Just like me.

60. (recycled from last year's writings)

Genius. It always creeps into you at night, with characteristic bad timing that makes you promise yourself that in the morning, when your bed is less warm and your room less cold, you’ll write it all down, create a masterpiece. Of course, in friendly daylight nothing seems remotely as mysterious, interesting or complicated as it does at night, and the long words and lovely sentences curl up and arrange themselves ordinarily, uninterestingly. It makes you wonder what it was about the night before that made you believe in your own promise and talent.

Darkness does that. You can fumble around in it forever, believing yourself to be feeling and touching and experiencing something novel, something special, something profound that needs to be shared with the world. It also makes you miserable. The quest for genius can be melancholy. It makes you marvel at the loop-de-loop of your own thoughts, drives you insane when you try to follow them in a straight line (out of habit), forces you to consider answers to all the world’s questions before sleep takes over and the mundane tasks of your Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday morning begin.

I like friendly daylight better though. Genius is alluring, but kindness is more forgiving. In broad daylight, you can’t be fooled into taking your own mind too seriously, because the rest of the world competes for attention. There are things to see outside of your own head, and they are kinder and happier than the things you conceive of when you are alone and in the dark. They may not create masterpieces, but I’m ready to believe that shrugging off the need to know everything, do everything and be everything is an art in itself.

I argued with someone about Taoism once, about how it’s not wrong to just be. Pooh just was, and he seemed considerably wiser than Rabbit or Owl, but without the Tao of Piglet book series these things are impossible to explain. I realize now that contentedly being is much more difficult than aspiring for genius, and it is considerably more aware of others and their happiness than the deluded nature of knowingness. I’ll go with the sunshine. Beautiful words and mysteries can wait for a darker day. My daytime universe is a friendly place and I fit happily inside it.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


I've learned a lot of things about myself in the fifteen months since I graduated into the real world. For one thing, now I know why they call it "the real world." I knew college was a bubble, but that's not what people seem to mean when they said it's not "real." It's just different because it's full of safe spaces and people giving you multiple opportunities to learn. Post-college, nobody constructs safe spaces for you and nobody gives a shit what you learn. Anyway, I digress. I digress a lot these days. My own mind is like a train station. Things rattle in and rattle out. Shut up. Mind.

I used to think I'm ambitious. defines "ambition" as "an earnest desire for some type of achievement or distinction, as power, honor, fame or wealth." This confuses me. I have an earnest desire, but don't particularly want power, honor fame or wealth. I mean, they'd be nice. But I don't especially care. The desire and earnestness are in other directions.

People don't think I'm ambitious anymore. I say I work at a school and I get the Look, the quick appraisal of everything I am. Everything I am is supposed to be: unaccomplished, unexciting, unqualified, unable to find a better job, in it for the easy hours, waiting to get married. I don't blame anyone, really. That's what education has come to in this country. To care about it is to announce your credentials as a bored (soon-to-be) housewife who's doing it for the pocket money and emotional rewards. Well. Whatever. I can deal with that.

What I Want is to live my life. I don't know why it took so long for this realisation to arrive, but here it is. I want to live my life. I want to inspire and be inspired. I want to try new things and make mistakes and break my heart and learn again. I want to fly to another city on a moment's notice because I feel like seeing my grandparents, without taking leave from anybody. I want to finish reading all the history books in my room. I want to be the happiest, most educated and serenest version of myself. Excuse my language but I don't give a fuck if you think education is beneath me. You probably think being ambitious means wanting things. Well, I want Things too. The difference between me and you is that I will teach and learn on my way to getting them and you'll spend your whole life racing to an imaginary finish line.

In first grade, my teacher asked some question about plants, I don't remember it anymore. Everyone answered one way, I answered another. It was nothing important and I was wrong. My teacher took me aside and said well done, you stuck to what you believed even when everyone else was saying something else and I was as proud as a five year old can be. There's a reason I still remember that. Teachers matter. I might not stick around in a school forever, but I will never look at my highly-paid, professionally qualified friends and I wish I was a little more everything. I'll never save or defend lives, I'll never build anything you can touch and I probably won't ever be able to afford a beautiful house. My job doesn't take years to earn and impresses nobody. I admit this annoys my fat ego. But at the end of the day, no matter where I work or don't work, I'm committed to creating safe spaces and opportunities to learn because I don't believe in the real world after all.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


Karachi I try and write about you but you're too fast for me.

Fast like those girls called me when they learned I had a boyfriend. Fast like the warden accused me of being when I snuck out without a gate pass. Her purple lipstick was smudged in the corners.

Stop killing each other.

I wanted to be a vegetarian once. I quit meat for three months. These days I tell myself I only need meat about once a week and avoid it on other days. I won't quit because I'm anemic and vitamin deficient. That's what I say, anyway. Sometimes I'm not sure.

I think it's probably a sin to eat meat that claims to be lawfully prepared but is a product of mistreated animals. I almost never say something is a sin.

Karachi give me back my sanity. I worry about vegetarianism and cry for beheaded chickens in your rivers of blood. Karachi, screw my sanity. Someone's gotta cry for chickens too.

I hate women who are self righteous about their chastity.

I hate righteous people in general. Like the ones whose only argument for not preparing meat ethically is that religion allows us to eat it.

God, why do I have meat on the brain?

Every time I say the word "hate" I feel guilty because my mother taught me not to think like that when I was young. I wonder if I'm still young. What does that even mean? Young enough for what?

When they interview people on TV whose children have died in ethnic violence, it hurts me physically. I say I'm desensitized, because that's what everyone says in Karachi. I don't think I am. Not yet. But it's easy to switch off the news.

Karachi I'm not angry. I don't know who to blame.

Sometimes I don't feel anything because I haven't thought enough yet. I think too much. Not in a smart way. Just in an overthinking way. My father says I have slow reflexes. I think he's right.

I don't drive because a palmist told me I would have a car accident. I can drive better than I let on. What scares me is that it doesn't scare me. My slow reflexes might cause me to kill somebody. Or myself.

Karachi your traffic is crazy anyway. What would I even do if I was stuck in a riot?

I'm superstitious by nature and rational by force. I go to palmists and tarot card readers. I believe all the good stuff and tell myself they're bullshitting about the bad stuff. It amazes me how I can lie to myself.

Karachi 35,000 people dead.

I wish I was a hippie. I would wear flowers in my hair, eat organic food and talk about love. Who can afford organic food though? Rich people who dress like they're homeless and talk about how money has no value. This is mostly not true for Karachi. Nobody in Karachi dresses like they're homeless unless they are.

Karachi you make endless poverty take the back burner to basic survival.

I'm very prejudiced. I think that's okay. Some people judge others for their race or religion or whatever, though of course nobody admits it. I mostly judge people for being unintelligent. I think that's okay.

I try not to hurt anyone's feelings or use the word "hate," like my mother taught me.

Somewhere inside me is a five year old who wanted to grow up to be "a nature lover."

Karachi you make me want to plant some trees. I can barely breathe for the lack of oxygen.

Who cares about nature when people are dying? Am I too old to care about trees or something? Too old for what? What does that even mean?

Karachi I could write all night but you're too fast for me.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


One year, two jobs and a lot of experience ago, I started a blog. My goal was to write one hundred essays in one hundred days. For days on end, my life revolved around this personal project, which I had invented in an attempt to keep my creative juices flowing and give myself something to do in my lonely free time, since my working hours left no time for socialising back then. I didn't realise what this project would turn into, or what it would come to mean to me, or how many hours I would spend throwing around potential topics in my head the first few weeks.

I didn't meet my goal.

Once I realised I couldn't keep skipping days and thinking I'll make up for it one especially prolific weekend, I changed the name of my blog to simply "one hundred essays" and decided to see how long it took for me to get there. It's been a year and three days now and I am on essay 57. Not so prolific after all. Somehow, I'm not quite as let down by this failure than I may have imagined when I first set my goal. There have been good essays and bad essays, but every essay has a story behind it and I use the 365 days of published blogs, comments, drafts and discarded pieces as introspective tools. I never realised how much I had to teach myself until I started forcing myself to write-something I haven't been doing lately for lack of inspiration. Someone told me today to stop making excuses and "go find it again," so here I am. Finding it.

Last August, I wrote a letter to my country on the eve of independence day, wondering what could have gone so wrong in its history that I was writing it borderline abusive letters rather than celebrating it. Last August, I wrote about the dark humour that seems to belong to my generation alone, because it is easier to laugh at the twisted world than cry about it. Last August, I wrote about rain and the grief it brings my city. Last August, everything was the same and everything was different.

It is independence day again and I spent it looking forward to another new job-exactly what I was doing a year ago today, except perhaps my excitement at this new beginning has waned. I've tried on two potential careers and am embarking on a third and a part of me is ashamed and wondering why I tend to flit from one place to another. Most of me is lost. A few months ago, I would have passionately defended what I want to do in life and shouted down anyone who challenged me. Now, I'm okay with being lost. I trust myself to shrug my shoulders and let my way find itself for a while. As for 14th August, I am no longer in a position to write letters to my grief-ridden country, because I'm part of it and you can't write a letter to yourself. A year ago, I thought I knew Pakistan and was ready to announce how my degree in history qualified me to identify its problems. A few dozen books later, I've realised a true historian is always a little lost, because truth doesn't come in a three year diploma. This independence day, I sang the national anthem at midnight at the top of my lungs, said fuck you to the electricity and water shortage and stared at the flag decorating my house with muddled feelings. I read 500 pages of speeches given by politicians for and against Pakistan and received an email from an accidental Indian friend congratulating my country on its independence. I didn't write anything about it because I had nothing to say. And of course, it rained again this August. I let myself get wet and didn't switch on the news about deaths by electrocution and houses collapsing, because a year in my city has taught me not to watch the news too often. I shared dirty jokes with dark humour about our failing government and didn't pretend I know that this country will last only five or ten or a hundred years, because really, who knows? If I had known anything at all a year ago, this blog would never have happened. In 2011, confusion reigns supreme and for once, that's just fine.

Here's to new beginnings...and knowing nothing at all.