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.