Watermelon for breakfast

Today I had watermelon for breakfast.

I had eggs in the morning

- but that was a year ago.

Yellow omelette with green pepper flecks;

the ting of the toaster

the maid’s brown hands on the crusty bread.

Baba at the table:

two silver forks on his plate;

one waiting for me.

*

I flew 2000 miles

to eat watermelon for breakfast;

buried myself in a sea of paper.

I drink coffee as dark as ink

in the yellow mug that travelled with me.

- I chipped the rim last week

and the Badshahi Mosque has almost faded.

I might eat eggs for breakfast

on a Styrofoam plate with a plastic fork;

my mornings don’t have pinstriped shirts

or lingering aftershave-smell.

*

Baba, I miss eating from your plate.

These Are The Things I’ve Learnt

In the last year, I’ve learnt:

That childhood is simply gone. All that remains are jasmine scented memories, soft and blurred around the edges like the yellowed pages of a well read book. I will never be as innocent, as naive, as foolish, as vulnerable, and as big hearted. Sometimes I’ll be walking home, and I’ll catch a whiff of something that’ll remind me of the century old trees I grew up with. I’ll remember the nights when the living room windows were frosted over and my old electric heater did its best to warm my toes. These memories will slam into you and often they will make your heart skip a beat, but that’s all they are. Recollections. Images. Sounds.

That there is not one great love in anyone’s life. There are many times you can fall in love, ride the crests and beat the storms, but it continues. The kind of love is different, every time. There may be a boy who inspires you to be better, and once that happens, you may leave. There may be a girl who you adore from the delicate nape of her neck to her pink painted toes. And those may be the only things you love about her. Love is love. Move with it, and never settle. If it’s meant to be, it will. Like all things in life.

That maroon lipstick can at once be prim and exciting. Firetruck red will attract and repulse simultaneously. A deep crimson can be promising, but more sensual than you prefer. Whatever your shade of lipstick, know that it does not define you. A woman may be called by so many names: sister, mother, wife, girlfriend, daughter, virgin, whore, tomboy, lesbian, drama queen, princess. A person can be many different things at once. But you must always be able to recognize yourself.

That people are people are people. I am at times an introvert, and other times cannot sit still without spouting three conversations all at once. You will want to attach yourself to someone. Don’t. It is safe to depend, I understand. We’re built that way. For the first 18 years of our lives, we depend and receive and rely. But it is time to stop. Be self reliant, but don’t harden. Give of yourself freely, but take only that which will make you stronger.

That we are complex and infinitely changing. I was wondering why people cheat. The story of the wife who one day feels a pain in her stomach as though she has been gutted. She knows. Then the evidence: lipstick on the collar, the inevitable guilt, paranoia and mistrust. Or the other way around. You might cheat one day, and so might I. But we are complex and this cannot define us. At any given time, someone feels a range of emotion that no therapist, tv show or medication can fully recognize or label. Give some leeway, to others and to yourself.

That my books have carried me through the most trying times even now, when I don’t manage to find the time for them. Growing up, you gather resources: money, effort, experience. But you lose time. And that I think, is the very tragedy of human life. If only I had more time. I would spend days locked up in my pillow fortress and read till my mind protested. I would spend time with you Harry, running up and down Hogwarts. And I would shake you Anne, for not choosing John over Robert, just because he was a man in uniform. And I would lie down in the kitchen in Wuthering Heights and have a conversation with Heathcliff when he was young and not as savage. Find the time for these people. They have seen you through all the ugliness that mortals would never have.

That I live in a false world, but there is truth in the mud and dirt and grass. Nature does not lie. It is the one thing that stays constant when human hearts fail. And I’ve learnt to take great comfort in knowing that if all else fails, there are mountains standing tall somewhere. And the sky has become my ceiling. A deep purple silken ceiling that expands and breathes and makes me feel safe. Nature is the truth. Jasmine scented nights are the same in every country.

The wind will carry you.

My Little Love Story

I had the complete teenage experience.

Towards the end of high school, I met a boy who seemed mysterious and wonderfully complex. He looked as if he had a deliciously dramatic life where no one understood him and where his sullen, brooding voice kept getting lost in the crowd.

He played the drums and listened to violent music. And he had lots of goals he wanted to achieve in some glorious far off future.

I was drawn like moth to the proverbial flame.

He wanted to be a rockstar, singer, songwriter, drummer. I wanted to know where he got the confidence from. I mistook ego for maturity.

He was my Three Days Grace phase; I took long nighttime walks in the garden with my music blaring to ‘sort out’ all our problems. And my life was full of drama and complexities and hurt and laughter and pain.

Hey, whoever says teenage love isn’t real love, needs a reality check. Teenage love brings its own suffering – you have to be in it to understand. And once having been there, you should not let yourself forget.

Then my exotic and mysterious relationship took a dramatic plunge. And I don’t mean a jump. I mean a losing-control-of-the-car-and-it-skids-and-crashes-off-a-mountain-and-rolls-to-the-jagged-rocks-below. That is what happened.

His complicated ways and deep emotions became too much to handle and at one point there was too much grief for there to be any love left.

And then one day I woke up to find that the love was gone. The feeling that made me attach myself to him had quietly packed its bags and tiptoed out at some point during the night. I felt free.

I broke his heart once. And never looked back.

Okay maybe that’s not entirely true. I looked back, but my feet stayed planted forward.

And maybe at some point in the future, I’ll write about the love I found later. The kind of love that doesn’t need flash powder and smoke screens. The kind of boy…man, that is sunny days and endless skies and green grass. The kind of love where pain is only a whisper, and even then, is silenced in a millisecond. The kind of man that doesn’t need to be mysterious in order to be interesting. He is my best friend, and he is me, and I him.

No, that is too close to the heart.

Hey teenage me, you pulled through.

Lahori Blues

I moved to the desert last year. I didn’t know the land’s history, or the shades of its people, or the ways in which the dialect twists and curls when spoken.

I never knew sandstorms and I’d never seen so many beige buildings. And then I met them: the Pakistanis who had grown up in this country. I know them, and I cannot relate.

How can I relate when they haven’t seen Lahore with child’s eyes like I have?

They’ve never had a paratha roll from the tiny yet prolific Karachi Barbeque in food street. Steamy garlic chicken filling wrapped in chewy paratha and lathered in mysterious white brown sauce. And an ice cold Coke in an ice cold glass bottle with a straw. 

I have a bucketload of aunts, grandmothers, cousins and uncles in Lahore. Our laughter spills over like rainwater when we’re together. And then there’s always a Pakistani wedding. How many people here have attended a shaadi? The weeks of prep work before a dance can be prepared, clothes can be stitched and tantrums can be thrown. Also, it is very halal for male and females to dance together.

How many people here have had the chance to almost dislocate their shoulders with a bhangra? A good bhangra with family can keep you happy for days. There is nothing like Punjabi music and people who love to dance.

When I was in school, I would take my modest five or ten rupees and ask for greasy rolls (rumoured to be fried in motor oil), naan kabab, and juice. Sometimes, when I could wrangle more money from mom, I’d get a small carton of icy Milo or an ice cream.

Where I live, if we see a Ferrari whoosh by, there is one of two invariable reactions. Either people’s faces pool into reverence, or they start making fun of the car and its driver. We subsist on Toyotas and the occasional motorbike.

People here have not had real falooda. There is no fruit in falooda. Let me reiterate that. No fruit. That is the Indian version. Falooda in Lahore is a clay bowl filled with cold noodles, milk, cream, ice chips, and a kulfi on top. 

Lahore is laughing with family when there’s no electricity for hours on end, going out with cousins and pooling money because we never have enough for a McDonalds meal, seeing junkies sleeping in public parks and entire families loitering at the airport, talking your way out of speeding tickets, collecting Eidi by the handful, having to speak in Punjabi with grandparents, listening to their political ravings, getting days off from school because strike or rainfall or too much heat, seeing trees everywhere imaginable, sharing food, laughter, and affection.

That is my city. What is the Pakistani way in Qatar like?

 

One Of Those Nights

Sometimes there are those nights,

you know,

when the moon wears a watery halo

and the sea seems to be sewn into the sky;

grey and white waves

sailing and ripping through the dark,

lined in silver.

Gliding and leaving no mark.

These are the nights that make me feel

lucky.

You know,

The kind of lucky you feel when

you’ve been given all of what you don’t think you deserve.

 *

I have a boy who loves me.

Another heart to share this night with.

You know,

the kind of heart that beats with my own;

I know he’s awake somewhere,

looking up at the purple sky,

breathing in the universe.

I know,

because I feel his eyes on my patch of sky;

He is in my atmosphere.

 *

And I know this because

I wasn’t always so lucky:

I tried to live in my mother’s shadow.

You know,

we all do it.

But she wasn’t one to think about the stars.

Her shadow broke mine

and left it behind;

a pulsating, live thing.

A child’s heart that never was young.

 *

I have a sister I adore;

she’s beginning to expand and stretch

Mind and body and soul;

you know,

The kind of growing up we all have to do.

She notices the night sky

but says nothing.

Maybe it makes her think of dreams

she thinks she’s too young to have;

stolen kisses and whispers and such.

What do I know of a 16 year olds thoughts?

I know my sky,

dotted through with silver points.

I know the tingling scent of jasmine;

I feel the goose bumps that line my bare arms;

I hear the faint chirps of resilient crickets,

and I see the wings on my back.

I can breathe it all,

in, out, in, out;

He is the universe.

Eternally mine.

*

As A College Student In The Real World…

Being in college is being in the real world. 

A professor offered this nugget in class today. 

And even though I don’t own real estate, a manicured lawn or a squall of mewling offspring, I feel like a real person. Living the real life. Doing real things.

I mean, where else but college would you have to rush to meetings after classes, inhale morsels in that 10 minute window between lectures, and then also be expected to have a passable social life. I don’t think adults in the “real world” understand what it’s like to learn new information, make notes, organize meetings, attend events, scarf down meals, channel appropriate emotions, prioritize people and things and books. And then be answerable: to a parent, a professor, a friend, or an inner conscience. 

Undergrads are savants of the part-time. We have part-time jobs, part-time school, part-time thinking time, part-time part-timing and full time expectations. 

I don’t remember a time when I’ve had a moment to myself. A singular shining bubble of encapsulated time where I could think about where I’m going in life, or what I should be doing. I just know what I have to do, and how much time I have to get it done.

And the questions. Professors will ask why you missed class, parents will ask where you’ve been, friends will ask for time; rinse and repeat. 

This is real life, and these are real problems. Take a deep breath and plod on.

Also, call your mom, just to say hi.

 

Before You Go Tripping In Love

He looks at you.
Smiles,
the gaze with the half lidded eyes;
He sees you,
As you.

When you don’t see him,
his eyes
are plastered open:
He tells his friends
about you;
As a thing to possess.

And in that neon bright room
with burning minds,
the questions begin;
You’re on the table
as an insect,
dissected.

The way your legs curve,
or your hands;
He calls them ugly,
they laugh;
And they think about you,
as an object.

And the next day,
your cheeks are pink tinged;
You confess an attraction,
his friends will hear it
tonight.

He’s shiny and penny bright,
and worth just as much.
You’re a story to
high five over;
I’m telling you child,
trust not him
nor you,
open your eyes.

About The Woman Who Raised Me

The woman who raised me is not my mother.

The woman who raised me is not a mother.

 

This woman has a tiny heart, and a smaller spirit.

I have learned this the hard way.

 

She was always too busy to read me bedtime stories but never too occupied to later point out the adolescent acne that spotted my face.

 

And now whenever we meet, she laughs and tells me I’ve gained quite a bit of weight.

And then she compares her legs to mine and makes me believe I am inferior.

She makes me believe I mean less.

 

To understand her, you must first understand the man who raised me.

He always had time for stories and games and long talks over bittersweet cocoa.

He read my poems and stories and made me believe I meant the world.

 

He also had a wandering eye.

 

But the man who raised me loves me to no end.

And the woman who raised me resents it, and me.

 

And today, the woman who raised me resented the gold pendant the man put around my neck.

She stomped her feet quite a bit.

The man who raised me had a gold chain for my sister. He quietly presented this one to the woman who raised me.

And she took it.

My sister’s bauble around her throat.

 

The woman who raised me has taken and taken, and then taken some more.

I have nothing left to give but resentment.

She is welcome to it.

 

I always say I grew up without a mother.

I will never be anything like the woman who raised me.

Bird In A Doll’s House

When I was younger, there used to be times when misguided little birds would accidentally fly inside the house. The thought of those tiny sparrows straying in from the open skies to the four walls of my home continued to interest me. The bird would hop from the shelf to the television, then on to the chandelier, and then fly in circles trying to find an open window.

All I wanted then was to catch the bird and keep it in the house. I wanted to put it in my pink doll’s house and act like I had a live doll. It seemed like such a good pet to have; this bird that had wandered into the human world.

The bird would peck at tables, alight on the fridge and examine these objects with so much curiosity; it fascinated me. It seemed like a child’s dream.

My mom would always open a window and let it zip out. She’d tell me she wasn’t ready to host a houseguest covered in feathers. Plus, who’d take care of it? 

I would whine, feeling like something had been taken from me.

Until two months ago, when a freckled brown sparrow whirred into my room through a frayed part of the mesh screen. It flew to my dresser, knocked over a jar of beads, pecked at a necklace, and tried to put its tiny head through a bronze hoop. 

My little sister wanted to keep it. She promised to feed, clean, and pet it, if only i’d let her keep it!

But, what would it eat? How would it eat? Where would it perch? What if it would be lonely? What about bird diseases? And what if it died? And most of all, it couldn’t live in the human world, with our gizmos and gadgets and alien possessions.

I looked at my sister’s drooping face, opened the window, and let the bird fly out to the sky.

And now I understand.

Image

Sometimes I wish I could have been a child forever. 

How To Be Proud Of Your Thin Skin

I have a new mantra for you. 

Over-feeling is not a bad thing.

Going through the world with your heart on your sleeve is not a bad thing.

Feeling others’ pain as you would your own is not a bad thing.

Taking things to heart and hurting is not a bad thing.

There are people who will ask you to toughen up, brave the world, grow a thicker skin. These people feel the world’s pain on a daily basis, and have learnt to weave shields.

Being the hugger, the sympathizer, the caregiver, is not a bad thing.

Loving too much, too deeply or too often, is not a bad thing.

Saying thank you with tears in your eyes is not a bad thing.

Being overwhelmed by situations and people is not a bad thing.

Aching is not a bad thing.

Feeling others’ emotions as you would your own is both a blessing and a curse.

You will be loved, and you will be shunned.

You, are not a bad thing.

Know that.

How To Love Your Looking Glass

What do you see when you look in the mirror?

Do you see you?

You have bumpy bits and wobbly bits and parts of you you wish you could photoshop away. It doesn’t work that way.

To throw some ideas out there, for example: What do you need for the perfect bikini body?

Why, a bikini, and a body, of course. What more?

You are not your waistline, or your pores, or your thighs, or your forehead, or all the things you think are wrong with you. You are confused. Between what you see “out there” on the internet, and T.V, and magazines, and what real people are, in real life.

Because you know, if all of us were actually six foot tall models with legs up to our ears, we’d be pretty ordinary.

There’s sunshine in your smile, and your eyes light up when you laugh. There’s kindness in your voice when you meet a stranger on the street. A million good wishes follow you like whispers, wherever you go, from all the people you love. 

For all the things you wish you could be, there are a thousand things you already are.

You’re you. And no one can appreciate you more than you can.

And until you love you, shoulders and neck and thighs and pores and all, nobody else will be able to.

“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance,” – Oscar Wilde

 

The Coward Does It With A Kiss…

Have you ever loved someone so much that it takes over an entire city?

The walls of your home have sponged up bits of the love you had. And now they’ve turned on you.

Every street you walk on, each corner you turn, it’s there. The love, it stares you in the face. The rain coaxes it out of the ground; it crawls up with the writhing earthworms.

The love has taken so much of you, there’s so little left.

A textbook romance, and now it suffocates you.

You know you want stability. But then the love knocks you out. It knows your tricks, when you wrapped your shivering self in it and slept warm.

It’s in the perfume you wear, and the clothes that are second skin and the whole damn city reeks of it.

I changed countries, people and possessions. I started to breathe freely again.

Then I came back. And all the air got sucked out.

I should have listened to Wilde.

It’s so, so much more difficult to kill the love itself.

Leave me alone.