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All Those Small Things

Something New, Every Day

Super Brown Girls, You Have No Future

Not too long ago, a well meaning woman came up to me, fervently elbowing her way through a throng of wedding guests. She planted herself in front of me, all 4 feet 9 inches draped in shiny purple chiffon, and said,

Beta, what happened to you? Last time I saw you, you looked so pretty. Have you been sick? Have you started eating a lot? Stressed out, huh?”

I didn’t get it right away. Nodding emphatically, she continued,

“I mean the taaaan na, beta. You used to be so gori (fair), what have you done? Does your mother let you go out into the sun aiween (carelessly)?!”

“Aunty, I live in Qatar. It’s a desert. It gets sunny,” I offered helpfully.

“There is no excuse for a pretty girl like you to get tanned. You need to get married one day, don’t you? Who will fall in love with you if you have this kaali (black/brown) complexion? You need to think about it,” she warned.

I smiled politely as I’d been taught to do in reply to nosy ridiculous questions, and was about to walk away when she said,

“Oh and one more thing. I understand that college studies are stressful, but there’s no reason to gain so much weight around that area na. It’s vulgar.”

This was said with not-so-subtle glances at my chest. Now this was too much. I had splurged on this gorgeous blue and black push up bra the week before and had practically planned my outfit around it.To me, sporting curves was a sign of my femininity, and hey, I liked when my clothes fit in just the right places.

“You need to be skinny beta. Boys will not like all this chest business. They like the patli (skinny) ones, so no need to be vulgar,” she declared.

“Oh and one more thing. I hear about all these modern girls doing silly exercises. Squats I think. You don’t do it okay? You already have a peechay wali (behind) that you need to get rid of. Remember: boys will not like all this sticking out business.”

She walked away, swinging her own huge and very sticking-out rear end from side to side. Like an elephant butt draped in purple.

I had no words. Of course this had happened before. I’d seen girls with birthmarks being verbally flayed alive by these women. Girls with acne. Girls with short legs. Girls with long legs. Girls with teeth that were too white. Girls who wore heels and girls who did not.

In a lot of ways, when a girl gets married in Pakistan, or at least the part where I’m from, she marries the whole society of women who surround the boy. The aunties pick her out, not the boy himself, poor thing. And girls diet, girls get skinny, girls deliberately lose their curves, mess about with whitening creams and expensive facials, to be the ideals for these women.

Aunties don’t like our butts, they don’t like our boobs, and they don’t like our blemishes. A well endowed girl is vulgar, a well made up one is a slut, and tanned girls have no marriageable prospects.

Aunties, check yourselves before you wreck yourselves (and us).

“Let’s Break Up Today!” or you know, How To Not Do That

How many articles/advice columns have you read about relationships? Dating in college/high school etc.? How many of those have told you the most essential thing? How to actually make them work.

Dating tips invariably end with warnings that say: “He/she doesn’t have to be the one!”, “Just have fun while you’re in it!”, “Don’t date someone who lives close by, because when it ends, it’ll be much harder to get over!”, “If they hold you back, leave them immediately!” and more and more. Stupid, stupid.

So we get into relationships just to get out of them? Is that what this has come to? Our grandparents and great grandparents didn’t have social media or a sheaf of online articles that told them How To Have The Best College Experience and Is He The One?!?! Take This Quiz To Find Out!

They just…did stuff you know. Showed up. Wrote letters. Said hello. Looked at each other.

Making any sort of relationship work is hard enough nowadays, what with college, family, social media, money worries, media and more. But if I were to give some advice, it would be this*:

1. When you feel butterflies, flutter with them. This might seem like nonsense, but there is someone who shall make you feel like you’re floating just by looking at you. When you absolutely cannot stop thinking about somebody like that, you know it’s right, for you.

2. Be ‘old fashioned.’ Set aside your phone when you meet your SO. Engage them in conversation, hear about their day and so on. Genuinely enjoy their company; be friends.

3. Don’t get into a relationship with the end in sight. When things last, they can be beautiful. Don’t think about the ending before you’ve reached the middle. There shouldn’t be spoilers in relationships…

4. If you’re not invested, they won’t want to be either. Give as much as you can, and if it ends, you’ll know it just wasn’t meant to be. Show up, be there for them, be a solid person who can be relied upon.

5. There’s no right or wrong time. Whether you meet them in college or high school or the 3rd grade, there’s no right or wrong time. It’s only what you make of it, I promise.

Relationships aren’t easy experiences; a lot of work goes into them. People don’t seem to want to put the work in: there are barriers and boundaries that they erect. And if it doesn’t work out with one, it’s on to the next. Dating isn’t as serious a commitment as marriage, but being committed to another human being simply because they’re another human being is a lovely thing in itself.

Making it work takes time and effort. Don’t give up!

Unlikely friendship...and zebra butt
Unlikely friendship…and zebra butt

*This article was written with only amusement and sunshine on the author’s part and it addresses people in serious, committed relationships. If you’re not the serious relationshippy kind, that works too! These tips work with best friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, and pets, you name it.

Musings: It’s Good To Be A Girl in Qatar

I had an afternoon class today and decided to make an effort, which loosely translated into smoothing out my hair and colouring my lips with a splash of bright pink. Happy with my look, I walked out into the reception area of the student housing main building. Here, I noticed three Filipino men sitting on the seats across reception. They seemed innocuous; they were texting and talking to each other.

As I walked by, I saw the man in the middle nudge his friends, who immediately looked at me. They started smiling, their eyes clearly roving up and down down on my person. While this was clearly ogling, it didn’t bother me as much as what I did next.

Knowing these men were smiling and staring, I slipped on a stern expression, kept my head down, ignored them and walked out the door. For heaven’s sake, WHY did I do that? In my head I heard my mother and grandmother’s words, “Let them look. Why increase it by paying attention to them? Keep your head down and pretend nothing happened.”

While that approach may help women avoid unnecessary trouble, it doesn’t do much to change the rhetoric. If I still lived at home in Pakistan, I would excuse my response because if a girl acknowledges or responds to teasing, things get worse. There is danger of being mugged, physically harassed and raped, among other things and also, the police force doesn’t back you up. In that society, it’s practical to keep your head down and say nothing; I mean why risk being raped over pretending to ignore a few verbal comments?

I live in Qatar now, and it is a world apart from Pakistan. This is a country where the law is properly enforced and there are severe consequences for any sort of lewd behaviour. I should adopt a different rhetoric. Contrary to the typical Middle Eastern impression where Westerners often regard women as being oppressed, this country gives its female citizens significant autonomy. The fact that a woman can speak up against harassment is such a powerful privilege that I’m astounded more people haven’t noticed.

Yes, all of us would love to talk about how these privileges shouldn’t be necessary; women shouldn’t need to tell off men from teasing/staring/ogling, but these are unfortunate realities.

I should have gone up to those men, asked them what their problem was and also threatened to call security just to wipe off their self satisfied smiles (you see, they knew I wouldn’t do anything!). Especially because I live in a country that gives me the resources I need to assert my power as a woman who should be respected. It’s ironic that my own “democratic” country forced me into a boxed approach to dealing with harassment and an Arab country deemed ‘backward’ by some, allows me to break free of it; Qatar has a soft spot for the women in it.

Women have a place of unmatched respect in this country; it would be good if they and the world learn to recognize it.

*Disclaimer: These are views based on my personal experiences. Other women in Qatar might or might not have these opinions!

Like Blood From A Tap: Let 2015 Flow In

I woke to 2015 and read about a baby girl who died because her parents starved her to death. And I thought of the parents of the children in Peshawar who will never sleep again. What do they care of the new year? A new date to write at the top of our school notebooks. Not for their children.

There are police officers who died and planes that crashed; our peoples’ blood washing over ice bergs and dropping into the sea bed, creating red burrows in the sand.

Blood is running thinner than water. And people have lost words. There’s blood on classroom walls, on whiteboards that previously felt only the wet tip of innocent Sharpies. (Our) Blood runs through cracks in the sidewalks and drips drips drips into the sewers below, mixing with the mulch that is later recycled for tap water. Do you know what you’re drinking?

We have continued to underestimate the lengths that mankind will go to. Forget the slaughter out there. When was the last time you ran in the house with scissors? Or didn’t wince when water washed over a paper cut? Do you understand what it must feel like? Serrated knives ripping your flesh apart, striking in the most vulnerable places, where cloth or skin fail to protect. Or the ones who’s lives left them before they could turn around. The piercing siren and then the explosion they couldn’t hear because their ears just gave out.

It’s tragic, really. Because if everyone could feel everybody else’s pain, the world would be a much different place.

I won’t forget how lucky I am to have made it through this year of smoke and screams. And neither should you. So if you need a resolution this year, steer away from petty problems, other people’s hypocrisy and what you did with whom back then that everyone now knows about. Think about them. All the ones who lie dead, starlight pooled in their eyes, because their souls couldn’t stay. Save them.

Humanity might just be at breaking point. End the indifference.

The 8 Kinds Of Lists I Hate

Are you annoyed by all these lists floating around in the Internet’s cosmos? They tell you what to do, what to buy, how to think, even what sort of person you are! As if one person compiling a list can box everyone into neat little squares.

Isn’t that just ridiculous though? These are the kinds of lists that really annoy me.

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Five Reasons To Fall In Love With Christmas (Again)

I love Christmas.

I’m a 20 year old, Pakistani Muslim girl, and I love celebrating Christmas, just like I’ve always done. What I don’t understand is why it has to be about religion. I’ll tell you some ofwhat Christmas means to me:

The Tree… Who doesn’t like Christmas trees? I grew up decorating weathered evergreens with red and green globes, hanging tiny presents strung with rainbow ribbons, stringing fairy lights on the branches, and spraying a blanket of dazzling white, albeit fake, snow all around. I should explain: I went to a Convent for the first 13 years of my academic life, and picked up certain traditions that have stayed with me throughout.

The Gifts… If you’ve never had presents on Christmas, you’re missing out. I’ve never shied away from any excuse to get presents from friends and family. What’s more, at school we used to exchange gifts with class mates during Christmas week. I’ve never been more excited than when I went to do my all important ‘Christmas shopping’; I would buy scented pink and green erasers and think myself the Queen of Christmas Cheer.

The Carols… Sometimes, when I’m sitting studying, I’ll play carols to myself. Silent Night, Joy to the World, and Jingle Bells have threaded their way through the background of all my childhood years. And at Christmas time, they’re all the more promising. The music and lyrics make me feel at peace on long winter nights.

The Books… If you’re a reader, you have to love Christmas. I have a ritual. Every December, I snuggle up in my fleecy purple blanket and spend nights reading. I read Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, A Christmas Carol,  and Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. These three always get me in a rustic winter holiday cheer mood.

and…The People: You don’t have to be Muslim or Christian or Jewish or Hindu or more to appreciate a holiday where people in the world come together and tell tales about Santa Claus to shiny eyed children. Or where families gather around a tree with hot cocoa and excitement for presents. Most importantly, you don’t need religion to look at the goodness around you: when people who celebrate Christmas are eager to give back, do charity, feed other people, and work for the less privileged.

This might be a romantic portrayal of the holiday, but if we can’t get together and look at the romance in our lives once in a while, how will the human race continue to hold their heads high above everyday misery and sorrow?

Get into the Christmas mood and gather up some holiday cheer!

My countdown to Christmas has begun.

I See Dead People Every Night

At night, I lie in terror.

The clock ticks its way to 3 a.m. and all my ghosts stand tall, surrounding the place of my dreams.

I see feathery carcasses on the floor: mangled remains of monstrous black birds, their wings slashed and guts spilling onto the grey marble.

I see what looks like a woman, with a powdered face and rust painted lips. Then she opens her mouth and out comes a deafening voice, not man nor woman, not human. She keeps her vigil every night, right next to me.

I hear the lock of the door snap open and shut throughout the long night. Visitors come and go and leave trails of hellfire behind. I hear them working on the formica counter: do demons need food too?

And often times, one of them stays behind and sits on the sofa next to my bed. He stares. When I lie paralyzed by sleep, my own body betraying me, his blank eyes like windows are all that I see. The darkness in them cuts off my air.

They make sure I can’t breathe.

I feel them on me. A silky haired head next to my feet. A ceramic white skinned child flops and rolls under my yellow quilt. I’ve never seen its jet hair but I feel the inky colour stain my legs. I can never see it come daylight.

I smell them. It’s a sticky grey vapor, like congealed wet cement. Come night time, it starts hardening around me; poured into the fissures of my subconscious.

Do good dreams stand a chance?

I don’t think I’ll make it through another night.

I Won’t Sit In Grass But I’ll Eat It (‘long as it’s organic)

i just read the allegations against Bill Cosby. Three very famous women accused him of drugging and raping them.

What is the world we live in? Rape, trauma, globalization, elections, cheap burgers, expensive salads, two story planes, the ebola virus, acne medication, daddy’s credit cards, abandoned castles, automatic traffic lights, endless highways, and amidst all of these, people who don’t know where they’re going.

There’s something called nature deficit disorderIn case you didn’t know, it’s a disorder that affects children when they don’t get to spend enough down time with Mother Nature. What I don’t understand though, is why everyone is scrambling for reasons. The truth couldn’t be more in your face.

Children are growing up with digital companions. Where are the kids who found comfort in Meg and Jo’s hard working lives? Or the ones who spent every Sunday afternoon diving into the yellowed pages of the Famous Five’s adventures? When I was younger, I would take my little blanket, spread it out on the grass and spend hours just reading. Those were my winter mornings.

I remember I used to eat dirt. And plaster off of the walls. And chalk. Basically any powdery, chewy substances I could find. Laugh all you want, but I’m convinced they built up my immunity. I would throw it all up and go again. And thankfully, I have had no major illnesses. My mashed peas and carrots never came in plastic baggies labelled “STRICTLY ORGANIC PRODUCE!’ Because of course, if I ate anything else, I would have fallen prey to gastroenteritis and cancer and a violent disposition.

My play time included hours of garden time. To this day, I spend time under the lemon tree at the foot of my backyard. There’s nothing that compares to the smell of fresh dirt and sunshine.

If you find your children lying around in a lackluster fashion, drooling and tapping away on their tablets or phones, you know you have a problem. And all the organically expensively particularly grown vegetables won’t help you.

You can’t dance in the rain with a roof over your head. So be kind to the children and take away their gadgets!

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?

 

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