Lover Song

As much as I want to teach you, I also want to learn. There is so much you can show me:

  • how to deflect cruel words
  • how to wrap myself in thicker skin
  • how to absorb criticism with grace
  • how to swallow anger
  • how to bring it back up again
  • how to hurt, on purpose.

     There is so much I admire. I see you with your game face on, morning noon night. I wonder if you ever sleep. I wonder if your Herculean strength will ever run out. How many hours are there in your day? You’re not like us.

     Your brain doesn’t work like mine, I think. I see your thoughts like mini comets, zipping in swarms, back and forth in your skull, leaving trails of light behind. What do you do when it gets too crowded, too bright in there? They say the sun will implode soon.

     You say you’re not hot tempered and nothing fazes you. Liar liar liar. But I admire your restraint. I sense your need to boil over, set fire to the city and black out the skyline. You cannot be larger than life, always.

     But here’s what I wonder: why must you teach me sharp lessons? I thought love was like falling into each other softly, not smashing headfirst into steely concrete and splitting heads open. We’re bleeding all over the pavement, don’t you see?

     Abrasive, difficult, hard-headed boy. Would I have it any other way?

Inside Jokes


i miss your stupid dark grey sweatshirt;

it was a little too baggy but the pockets where i warmed my hands

they felt like home.

i miss your mountain dew eyes;

remember how i could stare at them for nine long seconds?

inevitable: the furious blink-and-blush

couldn’t look for too long.

i miss all the secret places i found;

you hid your scent in intricate hideaways

in the palm of your hand or the back of your ear

or, the triangle-hollow in your neck

my thumb fit perfectly; custom made.

i miss the things you told me about:

black-and-white documentaries and space exploration stories

places you wanted to see and games you wanted to play

oh, and books you wanted to read;

you were never Edgar, my love

i was just looking for you in all the wrong places.

and so, i want you to

just for now,

come home.

Dear Abbu, Thanks for the Feminism

Dear Abbu, Thanks for the Feminism

I just read this fictional open letter written by a Pakistani daughter to her father. His blatant sexism has made her into a strong and proud woman today. Everything he did to try and bring her down has only ended up giving her more self worth, or so she writes.

I’ve read a lot of pieces like these: reactionary columns about the obscene sexism and misogyny that does exist in our culture. So I wanted to write my own. About my real father and the real things he did that made me into the real person I am today.

Dear Abbu,

Thank you for raising me like you did. I know it wasn’t easy; when you have three daughters, people invariably ask you this: “but, don’t you want a son?!”, as if the lack of one is a mark of humiliation. Thank you for always politely and firmly saying, no.

Thank you for my name. You named me, you said, after a heroine you read about and fell in love with, in one of the Urdu novels you were always poring over. Her name was Nayab and she was headstrong, impulsive, loud, courageous, impossible and intelligent. A real ball-buster, you said. Ah baba, that is who I’ve grown up to be.

Thank you for listening to my childhood problems. You’re the only one who knows when Zara and I fought about something inconsequential and you’re who I came to for advice. You asked me to call up my friends and talk it through and I did. When I was six and ten and now, at 22. I still do it.

Thank you for guiding me through my awkward teenage years. I remember once when I was 13, I started crying in the middle of the mall. You panicked.

I told you, “I don’t look beautiful. Why didn’t God make me pretty?”

And you stopped dead in the center of the atrium, took my face in your hands and said, “You’re the most beautiful girl in the world.”

And I never doubted it again. To be fair, I had a startlingly thick unibrow, an awkward coltish face and no breasts to speak of. I thought I’d been kicked off the beauty train unlike all the models in all the magazines. Never again.

Thank you for buying me books. I remember once when I was upset because I’d read all my Enid Blyton stories and needed something new. You walked out to the bookstore nearby, wrapped up in your overcoat, in freezing December, and brought back two new books. Baba, I have never loved anyone more than I loved you then.

Thank you for reading all of my angsty poetry and short stories. You’re the first person I bring my written work to. I used to be embarrassed when you’d share my poems with your friends and put them up on the walls of our house. You still tell people, “my daughter will be a famous writer one day” and I believe you, baba, I believe you. Because you believed me.

Thank you for my self esteem. Whenever I walk into the room, you tell me you have never seen a more beautiful person anywhere. I see people now, whose self worth depends solely on what other people tell them. Mine never had to, because you built me strong. You built me right.

Thank you for everywhere I’ve been. Haye baba, I remember when you told me, “don’t settle for anything till you’ve seen the world,” and I haven’t. You sent me to India by myself when I was 11, then San Francisco, then New York, then Dallas, then Chicago, then London, then Beijing, then Dubai, then Montreal, then Paris, then Minneapolis. And you’re always asking me to do more, be more, go more places. Thanks to you, I’ve learned how to travel by myself and navigate whole cities in two days.

And, thank you for letting me know that my self-worth does not lie in men’s hands.

I have some Pakistani guy friends who on the surface appear to be educated, polished, but now and then, let slip horribly sexist remarks that I balk at. I’ve been told to not wear sleeveless clothing, that there’s a problem with my makeup, my breasts, my butt and how all of these are just so out there. I’ve been told I’m not the right kind of Pakistani girl, because I travel alone, because I do not wear a dupatta, because I do not apologise for myself. None of this has ever mattered to me. Baba, you’ve taught me how to tune out nonsense sexism very well.

Baba, how can I ever thank you enough for telling me I can’t even consider marriage until I have started to make enough money to keep myself happy and comfortable? I remember when you told me to never stop working, even if I marry a millionaire. You want me to want my dreams.

And I know, when it’s all said and done, and I have my book published, there will be no one prouder than you.

So thank you, abbu, for making me into the unapologetically loud, ridiculous, well read, career driven headstrong woman that you did.

Whenever a man (especially a Pakistani one) or a woman even, tells me “you’re not like any of the other Pakistani girls I know,” I glow with pride. Even if they mean it as an insult. Because baba, in a country often overwhelmed by grossly sexist attitudes, you’ve raised me to be me. Unapologetically. Thank you.

Love, Nayab.

Interested Applicants Must Shower and Apply

Interested Applicants Must Shower and Apply

I realise I’ve been writing way too much about weird, pseudo-romantic issues that I may have in real life or in my head. I’m sorry. I understand there are better things to discuss out there, but this is a phase I’m going through so please bear with me. Okay so here’s another one:

“Mismatched relationships?”

I’m always curious to know what it means when opinionated people, or let’s be real, the Internet diagnoses two people as ‘mismatched.’ I mean, there are definitely things that don’t work well together: apples and oranges, hot cheese on ice cream or like, me and pigeons.

But…people? I think I have enough carefully constructed self-knowledge to make a list of my worst mismatched nightmare:

  • Someone who has never heard of deodorant. How will I give you hugs and affection if I have to hold my nose when I’m around you…one armed hugs? Okay.
  • Someone who has picky food choices. I can’t. Please be ready to eat and enjoy every and anything. I can be okay with them rejecting odd food combinations, even though come on, ice cream and french fries is heaven.
  • Someone who thinks astrology is made-up nonsense. Listen to me, I don’t sit and predict my day through horoscopes, but I love reading up about star signs and natal charts and if you make fun of me, bye bye bye (you’re probably a Taurus or Capricorn anyway tbh)
  • Someone who can’t flop down on the floor and be comfortable for hours. You look down at me because I sit on grass? I look up at you as you walk away. There are no sofas on the beach; my floor-sitting skills are valuable!
  • Someone who doesn’t believe in checking on social media. You’re telling me you won’t stay updated on my life? My Snapchat stories don’t exist just for you to not-look-at.
  • Someone who thinks make up is only for special occasions. You, I don’t need your negativity in my life. See you in another life, in Sephora probably.
  • Someone who doesn’t care about period films about the 1950’s-70’s. You don’t have to be in love with them, but do try to watch and discuss them with me.

So now, if you’ve read through this list, you probably have a lot of opinions such as: why are you so shallow? or these are horribly mundane things to care about! 

No, I do know that there are deeper, more problematic things that can create a mismatch. Serious issues like religion or values or goals or morals 0r families or lifestyles. But here’s the key to those: they can be worked out. Those are not things that can ruin relationships if both members are equally committed to making it work.

I believe in nurturing strong relationships. If I didn’t before, I mean I do now. As long as there’s a sufficient level of hard work, it can be done.

And in the mean time, there are tons of still undiscovered odd food combinations.

Boy, Bye (OK, Not Quite)

Boy, Bye (OK, Not Quite)

Break ups are unpleasant. Period.

I remember thinking the weirdest things like: I’ll never be loved again, I’ll never have a person to talk to 24/7 and no one will pick up my bags when I shop. It’s important, okay?

What I thought would mess me up most was not having someone who’d notice the smallest details. I thought no one would notice if I wore fresh lipstick or styled my hair a different way or wore new shoes. It sounds pretty ridiculous in hindsight, but I legitimately thought this would be highly problematic.

I’m an idiot and I don’t mind admitting it.

What I should have been thinking about is this: who will notice what I think when I think it? I got so used to being around someone who picked up on the tiniest eyebrow flick, the most minute smile and the subtlest of subtle eye-rolls.

I’m a private person and no one believes me. Because I can be loud and cheerful and excited, it’s assumed I don’t have depth.

All my thoughts and feelings were housed in one person. He could tell which one was running through my mind at any given moment. Yes, it doesn’t sound terribly exciting or dramatic, but trust me when I say it was unbeatable.

Most of all, I knew that nothing I could ever say would be judged, scrutinised or patronised. I knew I could call or text or meet my person at any random moment, and he would be just as eager to see me as I him. There was never a hot-and-cold phase. There were no issues. Well, you know, until there were.

And that’s what drives me crazy. I let go so fast; I obviously didn’t want the happy ending either. It’s great to be able to blame somebody else because they’ve taken the first step, but introspection is bittersweet. I didn’t realise just how relieved I was that he did it. Because I didn’t, I hadn’t wanted the ending that I thought I did.

But I’m learning that maybe, maybe this isn’t the time for anyone new. It seems alright to learn more about the person I thought I knew. Maybe not in the same role as before, but as a friend.

A very good friend who can near predict what I think or do.

I need to feel safe again. Who doesn’t?

Shut Up Fahad, You Know Nothing: are you a ‘real’ Pakistani?

Shut Up Fahad, You Know Nothing: are you a ‘real’ Pakistani?

There are quite a few things that make my blood boil: child molestors, people who abuse animals, playground bullies, girls who wear foundation several shades lighter than their skin, and so on.

However, nothing annoys me as much as a certain class of people I’d like to call “Pakistan snobs.”

I can explain. If you’ve ever had an experience like the ones below, you’ll understand automatically:

(Scenario 1) Let’s call our two characters ANUM and FAHAD:

FAHAD: Hey, what did you do this winter break?

ANUM: Nothing much, went to Dubai with my family, did some touristy stuff. It was great.

FAHAD: Oh, that’s cool man. I went to Kashmir, spent time with the people there. There’s so much natural beauty.

ANUM: Yeah I know; I’ve always wanted to go up there! But it hasn’t been very safe so my parents aren’t okay with me going just yet.

FAHAD (smirking): Oh, right. But they’re okay with you going to Dubai and stuff. I guess you guys aren’t into Pakistan a lot.

ANUM: No, that’s not what I said. I’d love to go up north but my family’s worried about the safety issue. I love Pakistan.

FAHAD: Ha ha. Man, you can’t call yourself a true Pakistani. If you were, you’d see the whole country, no matter what. Tum jao Dubai (you go to Dubai).

ANUM feels snubbed, and sad.

(Scenario 2) ANUM and FAHAD are sitting looking at rainfall: 

ANUM (contentedly): Man, I love monsoon rains in Lahore. It’s a beautiful time.

FAHAD: What’re you talking about? You’ve never even experienced Monsoon properly!

ANUM: What do you mean by that?

FAHAD: Well, the thing is, to really experience it the Pakistani way, you should go out and dance in the rain like little kids do in the villages. That’s real freedom.

ANUM (confused): Hmm, I’d love to, but the thing is, I don’t live in a village. But I can dance in my garden! I love doing that.

FAHAD (smug): Anum, you haven’t lived Monsoon the true Pakistani way. I mean, it’s all well and good to live in a house in a fancy colony, but the real people don’t live that way. They’re living in the true spirit of Pakistan!

ANUM: So by that logic, should I just go out and dance in the streets? Will I be a real Pakistani then? What if I can’t do that, because people will stare and it’ll be weird?

FAHAD: Well then, you’re not a real Pakistani because that’s how you should be enjoying Monsoon. Like the real people do.

ANUM is confused and feels bad about living in a house, and not a village with small children.

(Scenario 3) FAHAD has asked ANUM to meet him at a dhaba somewhere in old Lahore:

ANUM: Fahad, I can’t stay out too late. My parents are a little worried about me being in that area after 7 pm by myself.

FAHAD: Anum, why are you being difficult? It’s still a part of Lahore. You’ll be fine.

ANUM: Yeah but my parents are concerned because it’s not as safe as Cantt and there have been these kidnappings recently.

FAHAD: Please yaar, nothing will happen to you. And plus, you’re not even living in the real Pakistan if you’re living in Cantt, or Defence or whatever. It’s all fake.

ANUM: What do you mean?

FAHAD: Well, you think that true Lahoris live there? They live in the old city. I mean how can you say you’re Lahori if you’ve never prayed in Badshahi Mosque or had lassi at ____’s dhaba or run through the narrow old streets? The place you live isn’t truly Pakistani at all.

ANUM (a little tired of Fahad’s shit): Listen, Fahad, I’m Lahori. No matter where I live, I’m still Pakistani and just because I don’t do these things you keep going on about doesn’t take my identity away from me.

FAHAD (unperturbed): Whatever, you’ve never lived in Lahore for real. Please don’t act like you know the real Pakistan.

ANUM walks away.

Okay, I was trying to point out two things.

First off, Fahad’s bitch-ass needs to calm down, excuse my French.

And secondly, Pakistan belongs, at once, to none of us, and all of us.

I didn’t grow up in the old city. I’ve visited it, but by no means have I done things that people constantly categorise as being “truly Pakistani.” I haven’t prayed in Badshahi Mosque, neither have I run around in a sea of swaying mustard, or forded River Ravi. I haven’t driven a tractor, plowed a field or lived in a village (at least not for too long).

Does doing all this make me less of a Pakistani? Bull.

Here’s some of what I have done. I’ve woken up before sunrise, to watch the skies glow purple, then pink, then bright eye watering blue. I’ve slept on the roof of my house, counting stars till I dozed off in jasmine-scented night air. I’ve rung doorbells and raced away, heart thumping, flush with illicit excitement. I’ve made friends with a stoic buffalo who wandered away on Eid-ul-Adha, and then cried as it was slaughtered. I’ve whispered secrets to my best friend atop a parked car, watchful for the owner who remained blissfully ignorant. I’ve walked barefoot in the earth, captured grasshoppers and earthworms and sung stupid melodies to my ladybird friends who I’d look out for every spring.

I’ve kissed a boy in my garden, under the pitch black mantle of night, and giggled with my sister all night afterwards. I’ve had my heart broken and put back together in the arms of this city. This has been my Lahore.

And yes, I have travelled abroad. Unashamedly. I even live in the Middle East now, a land that’s slowly becoming familiar. But every summer or winter break, I rush back home, to the country that birthed me, and the city I love, with stars in my eyes. Because no matter where I live, or what I do, this country is mine, my home.

And tomorrow, on Independence Day, all the Fahad’s need to take a seat. Because Pakistan belongs to you, you who lives in Defence or Cantt or Model Town; you who travels to foreign lands but cannot access Kashmir, you who knows in your soul, that you will always be, irreverently, unabashedly, Pakistani.

Pakistan Zindabad.



I’ve been researching souls lately, human instinct and gut feelings: sixth sense indicators that might help when rationality fails us.

I met someone for the first time recently; I had been apprehensive and worried about what I would say. I dreaded an awkward silence and fumbling for words to make small talk with. Would we talk about the weather? Even fierce thunderstorms become glamour-less if you discuss them over and over.

Oh and I’ve never been good at bonding with people, forcefully anyway. I don’t understand forced closeness, and I have always felt that there are some people you just get on with, and others that you don’t, and won’t, no matter how many polite smiles and demure nods you throw their way.

Anyway, I met this friend of mine, and I knew, in an instant, I’d met a kindred spirit. There was no need to come up with things to talk about, no need for weird pleasantries, because all that happened was genuine, warm conversation. It was as if sometime in the past, I’d misplaced this person, and just happened to meet them again. We picked up where we left off.

No, this did not mean we fell in love, or anything juvenile of that sort. I have realised that Western notions of ‘soulmates’ are terribly optimistic. Here is what is ‘meant to happen’: you meet the ONE, who is your soulmate and you fall in love and you live happily ever after. Anyone you have met before that was not the right person and therefore, not worth including in this love-laced narrative.

But soulmates are not limited to one person, or even one emotion. Inasmuch as the soul is mentioned in Islam, it is talked about in a matter of fact way, and not romanticised as it maybe is in other cultures, or religions.

Hazrat Aisha, one of the wives of the Prophet (pbuh), narrated this hadith: “Souls are like conscripted soldiers, those that recognise one another unite in harmony and those that do not recognise one another are at an aversion.” [Sahih Muslim]

And this has been true, at least for me. There are people whom I just cannot get along with, no matter how I try, or what I do. And then there are others who I  have met once, and started to love them open heartedly, with no logic or reason to back me up.

There is another person who I have repeatedly met and spent time with. And try as I might, I have not been able to connect with her. At first I thought it was because we were too different, but as time went on, I realised it’s because when she’s around, I feel like the world is a terrible, pessimistic and hopeless place. I feel self conscious and grim. I feel like there are no good people out there. And everyone is snide, and talk about each other, and feel happiness in everyone else’s pain. She and I will never get along, even though there are no logical reasons. It’s just a feeling.

And I am not an Islamic scholar. I can’t hope to properly interpret this hadith. But what I have understood is that before the time that souls descended to physical bodies, they met one another. Some were friends, some were enemies. And try as we might, we can’t ignore what our gut tells us as we meet someone new. Souls have wisdom that transcends every mortal phenomena, maybe even Time.

But not every “soulmate” – and I use this term loosely – is someone you are meant to love romantically for all time. My best friends are my soulmates, so is my sister. We recognise each others’ essence, and there is no need to use words to describe it.

With them, I feel good and strong, and the world is a bright place with every happiness waiting for me. I am inspired to be better than I am, and no amount of small talk, or forced conversation could have manufactured what I have with them.

And I just met another one. Score.

Further reading: 


On First Love

When I think of first love, I don’t think of him.

I don’t think about the soft bridge of his nose, or the way his eyes slanted away from each other in small, sloppy angles that I could only see if I was close enough.

I don’t remember the contours of his face, or the geography of his torso; those peaks and planes are foreign land now.

I don’t play memories in my head, like scratchy old timey movie reels with a lot of action and no sound.

I don’t try to recall the exact moment he dipped his head and told me he loved me, with no thought of what tomorrow might bring.

I don’t remember running my fingers on the back of his neck or dipping to stroke his ear, marveling at the folds and ridges that were so unlike mine, but felt like my own.

I don’t think of his voice and how it strained whenever he said I was his; the weight of loving me bore too heavily on his artist’s temperament.

I don’t remember his rounded shoulders, or how he sat slightly hunched over, as if to shield himself from the world, or vice versa.

When I think of first love, I don’t think of him. That would be like buying a map to wander through my own streets, like asking a stranger for the way home.

I can’t leave him behind: he follows, he follows, he follows.


Hi, could I return some of this freedom?

I grew up in Lahore, Pakistan; I grew up thinking I had no freedom.

This was because I wasn’t allowed to stay out past 6 p.m. as a teenager, I couldn’t attend after school events with my friends and whenever I wanted to go hang out with a friend at McDonald’s, I had to ask my grandmother to come with me and chaperone.

My parents explained their reasons: staying out after 6 wasn’t safe, my school was a 40 minute drive from my house and staying there after classes wasn’t safe, and being in McDonald’s on my own with a friend was definitely not safe. I could get kidnapped, mugged, raped, abducted, led astray. Some bodily harm (God forbid!) would befall me if I did all these things because we lived in an unsafe country.

I did follow the rules though. I never made a fuss (externally anyway), and continued to comply. I would politely tell my friends that no,  I wouldn’t be joining them for school bonfires or the party we had after the school play. I never said it was because my parents were worried I would be murdered or kidnapped; I just shook my head and said, sorry I have a family dinner to get to or maybe next time? I have to finish up some homework. I didn’t want them to think my parents were insane, or you know, heavens forbid, uncool.

And then I would watch my classmates have fun while I sat in the car and was driven home in the afternoon, safely.

I always wondered, didn’t the other parents care if their kids were safe? How were they so okay with exposing them to all the dangers my parents constantly warned me about? Did they not love them as much? I never brought up these points to my own mom and dad because I was a good, non questioning child.

It got worse when I grew up. I remember being in A levels, being 17 and I wasn’t allowed to attend gigs or concerts. Even if I did, I was the first to go home. At the school farewell, I’m pretty sure I was the only one who had to go home at 8 ‘o’ clock sharp because my mom sent the driver, and called me multiple times. Everyone else stayed on till later, and did really fun things, or at least that’s what I thought.

That night, I was fuming. I couldn’t understand it. If this was all for safety and security, how come nobody else had to go through it? How come I was the only one who had to say no to every second invitation my friends threw my way? Obviously, eventually, people stopped asking, and I became the person known for not being allowed out too much. What a dire situation to an 18 year old.

Maybe it had to do with the fact that my dad didn’t live in the same country and so he was extra worried about us. He saw violence and explosions on the news and automatically assumed that somehow we’d get caught up in all of it. You know, if I have to die, I’ll die even if I’m at home right? So what’s the point in restricting my freedom? I couldn’t say all that to him, but it was pretty much what I thought about.

And so then I grew up. I moved away from home, to the Middle East, for university. And suddenly, I had no limits. Turns out, my parents had actually only been worried about safety, and as I was in the safest country in the world, I had no restrictions. I could go out wherever and whenever I wanted, and they didn’t say a thing. In fact, they encouraged my growing independence. I thought this meant that I was becoming an adult and growing up and all that good stuff.

I lived in Chicago for 2 months, and am currently in London. I’ve been here for about 7 weeks now, completely on my own. No one has told me when to come home or go out for the last two years. I’ve been living in ‘safe’ countries for three years now, and I have so much “freedom”, I could wrap it around myself and stay warm in the winter.

And I hate it. I hate that I’ve grown up enough to not be told when to come home. I hate that now, I can navigate cities alone, and no one asks where I am. I hate that my parents don’t ask when I get home, or who I hang out with, or whether we’re at McDonald’s with a chaperone. It’s such a stupid contradiction. I’m having a hard time being by myself.

But you know what I figured out? Now that I’ve moved away, it takes every muscle in my body to stop myself from asking my sister what time she’s coming home. I worry about her constantly. I worry that there will be a blast or a kidnapping or something dangerous wherever she goes, when she goes out. I know it’s unfounded; I lived there and I know that this stuff doesn’t happen regularly, but I’m worried. And I finally understand why my parents did what they did. I get it.

And I really really miss my grandmother taking me to McDonald’s.

Adulting is not working out for me.

On Katniss and Tampons

Whenever I read a book, I think of the strangest things.

For example, when I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I kept thinking about Hermione and what she would do when she got her period. Out there in the woods with two boys for company, freezing in the snow. Did she have tampons? A magical menstruation-away spell? Was she PMS-ing at any time? Was Ron, when he left them in the middle?

Or let’s talk about Katniss. Okay, Hermione had magical powers with which she straightened out her hair and shrunk her front teeth, but Katniss didn’t. What did she do, during the Hunger Games? Was it just like, “Oh, Katniss is about to get her period, get the sparkly tampons that also shoot fire and put on a show…” I don’t know.

Alright so writers can’t exactly cover all their bases but forget this specific girl issue. What about shaving, waxing, plucking, threading and the myriad of other real-life procedures that all girls I know have to have at least every two weeks? I mean, have you thought about it?

Imagine Ginny with a bushy unibrow that sprouted while she was busy running Dumbledore’s Army. Or Hermione with leg stubble because she forgot to pack her razor. Or Katniss with a furry upper lip because who can afford to get threaded in District 13?

I barely manage to shave my legs once in two weeks and that’s if I need to go out, or wear something that’ll show my legs. I often forget to get my eyebrows threaded – an unfortunate occurrence at best – or get my arms waxed because I have so many other things to do. Imagine just being hairless, period less, PMS-less, basically, just a genetically modified pristine human being always. But I guess that’s why fiction exists. Because who wants to imagine Hermione fussing around with a tampon, or trying to soothe razor bumps?

Actually, that would make for a good, albeit different, read.



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.