Dear Baby Z,
When did you learn how to fly? Cause it sure looks like you have taken off. Today marks 8 months of me as a mom and you as my little side plum.
Every month feels like the best month but this month was objectively the most exciting month till now.
Two weeks back we said bye bye to you dada/papa/uppa (yet to make up mind) and embarked on a solo trip to Uganda. It was your second flight, first to another continent. I was quite apprehensive about how you would take it but as always, you surprised me. You played with the air hostess, with copassengers, with the cleaners, the security... everyone. Which also meant I got to have interesting conversations with a lot of new people. I didn't realize that babies emit magnetic waves that pull in even the most resistant of people.
You came from dry dusty Riyadh to cool, lush, and vibrantly green Uganda. And to say you love it here is an understatement. You sleep well and wake up to the sweet sounds of dozens of birds (and a couple of annoying storks), we then sit outside for sometime where you converse with the ants and the butterflies and try to sneakily put into your mouth flowers and grass and any insect that's unlucky enough to catch your fancy.
You eat with us and enjoy your fava beans and yogurt. You are not a big fan of sweet stuff and fruits.
This month you learnt to sit up independently and since figuring it out you want to keep practicing it.
You also get up on your fours for a few seconds before tiring and keeping your head down.
Your likes and dislikes are more evident now. For instance, you don't like any bedsheet or spread covering your feet when you are trying to sleep. You will flap about till your legs are free and a feet are nestled on top of the blanket. No matter how cold it is.
This month you also tried biting me a couple of times while feeding and found it very funny when I screamed in pain. Don't worry, I'll remind you of my sacrifices even when you have grandkids.
Speaking of grandkids, your grandpa and Grammy are spoiling you silly and you are soaking it all in. I'm still in awe of how well you have taken to them. It fills me heart with so much joy to see you seek them and love them in your own way. It also makes me sad because I know we have to leave soon and I don't know how you (and I) will adjust to this new normal again. One thing though, having you has made me appreciate them more. So, thank you my lilsamosa!
I feel so blessed to watch you blossom, to see you spread joy among strangers with your sweet smiles and giggles, to have the opportunity to watch you wake up with excitement each day as you set out like a researcher on a field assignment, keenly observing anything and everything you come across, to be the one who gets to see you pull the strands of your hair as sleep slowly pulls your eyelids in, to hold you close to me and breathe in your littleness, for I know how quickly you will grow and go.
Live and love
This time in Uganda is different.
I am seeing things through Z's eyes.
Well, I watch her eyes. How they light up as she spots butterflies fluttering around. I watch her giggle as the wind blows on her face and she tries to catch it with her chubby wubby hands.
I watch how she interacts with the world so completely, how she believes everything is speaking to her, playing with her. The wind, the leaves, the ants, the people... in her world all exist for her alone. And she doesn't take them for granted. She takes in all and gives of herself completely.
It's so wonderful to be able to put down your adult glasses which make you see everything cynically and take in the world with all the awe and innocence a little child does.
Makes you stop and take note what a wonderful and beautiful planet it is that we live and love on.
The ten year challenge reminded me of this from a few years ago
We moved to Jeddah for a year when I was in 11th grade (ten years ago). One of the first things you have to do on arriving is apply for an iqama (resident permit). And apart from medical check ups and lots of forms, you also need to submit some photos. You all know my aversion to any photo taken for official purposes. I have been cursed for life, there is probably not a single normal looking passport sized photo of me. It's a truth that I have reconciled myself with now.
Anyway, coming back to our story. My father came home one day and asked us to dress up immediately to go to the studio nearby and take pictures for the iqama. I didn't think much of it, just grabbed the nearest scarf, wrapped my head, and off I went. Little did I know that this fateful picture would come back to haunt me for the rest of my life.
Look carefully at this picture, look again Take in that teenage awkwardness. Look at that headscarf which is probably a tablecloth. See my spectacle-less blank eyes with which I was blindly trying to locate the lens?
Just take a minute to look at that Resting Bitch Face (RBF). Like kittens could piss me off. I look like I just gave birth to Donald Trump and realised it's a moronic monster I'd just birthed. I look like the photographer just asked me whether I take a shower with my hijab on. This is my look when people ask me if I speak 'Hindu'. Or when some men tell me they are here to rescue me from my " tribal,medieval, oppressive cult " .
It goes without saying that I have been utterly embarrassed of this photo. If it was possible I would have burnt all copies and thrown the ashes into the the Arabian Sea. But turns out my plotting, backstabbing mother had saved a few copies solely to torture me.
In 12th grade I wrote an article for my school magazine. They wanted my picture to print alongside it. They came home to collect it when I was away and my mom thought that this picture was the best one she could give. This RBF picture where I look like I could just nuke an entire city before drinking my coffee is what she felt was appropriate to accompany my article. I didn't find out about it until the magazine came out.
When I saw my article I was so horrified that I cried for a looong time. She consoled me saying I look 'cute' and no one would really notice. The very next day one of my classmates came up to me and said that this was the ugliest photo he had seen. Ever.
I still haven't recovered from that blow. And my mom, she still has a scanned copy of this picture with which she blackmails me from time to time. Today she threatened to put it in our extended family's whatsapp group. I've decided enough is enough, I am taking the power out of her hands. So people, here's my most embarrassing picture ever. Enjoy.
Dear Papa and Mamma,
Tell me, which day was it that you assigned my future for me? What about me made you feel that I can be a good doctor? Was it written on my forehead when I came out of your womb, ma?
Papa, when I came to you in tears and told you that I cannot for the life of me understand what my science textbooks say, you didn't even keep your newspaper down as you shouted at me for not studying hard enough. How much harder could I have studied? What could I do when equations run away from my brain? When the dissections in biology made me want to throw my guts up? When the very sight of blood makes me dizzy?
Mamma, you knew what I wanted. You knew that I dreamt of weaving magic with words. You saw me lose myself in books. You read my words and told me they are worth being read. But you didn't back me when I needed you the most. One word, just one word of support in front of papa would have meant the world for me, ma.
You both have done a lot for me. You fed, clothed, and sheltered me. But I didn't know that my dreams are the price I would have to pay for being brought up by you. I didn't know that it's a child's duty to live her life trying to fulfil her parents' unfulfilled wishes. I didn't know that your desire to tell the world that your daughter is a doctor trumps my aversion to the profession and inaptitude in the subject.
I can't keep up appearances anymore. I can't pursue something that doesn't evoke an iota of passion in me. I can't live your dreams for you at the expense of mine. I can't be a trophy for you to show off in front of the society anymore. I can't be a doctor when I'm broken myself.
The anxiety crushes me a little more each day. Before it takes all of me, I will put an end to this charade.
Sorry for failing you twice.
From the other side,
Seeing My Mother Through Different Eyes
Growing up I used to dread the PTA meetings. Not because I was a poor student-I was stellar, even if I say so myself :D- but because my mother would come to the meetings. My mom was and continues to be a dedicated parent. She was always there, through all the meetings and sports coaching and tournaments and fancy dress competitions. She picked out poems for my recitation competitions and taught me science and maths when I found it tough. She was committed to the growth of her children. But I didn't like her coming to my school. Because everyone would look and her and then exclaim to me 'You are a photocopy of your mother!' And I hated that. The tween-age me didn't want to look anything like her. Why? Because I didn't find my mother beautiful. And if I looked like her it meant I was also not beautiful, I reasoned.
One day the veil lifted and I saw my mother for what she truly is- a beautiful woman. I was going through her wedding pictures and it struck me, 'My god, this woman is gorgeous! Why did I ever think she was not beautiful?' I carried that guilt around for a long time, of being such a bad daughter, thinking that my mother is not pretty. Then, over conversations with my friends and relatives, I found that this is the case with a lot of girls, who grow up thinking that their mothers are not pretty. I think I know why that is. Because a lot of our mothers don't find themselves beautiful. They were never made to feel beautiful. No one has told them they are. And we, the daughters, have not heard our fathers or anyone else call them beautiful. So we internalise, falsely, the idea that since no one is complimenting them, they probably are not beautiful. What I heard growing up was that being dark means you are unattractive. And my mother is dark and I was dark. So we both were unattractive, in my naive mind.
It took me more than a decade and a lot of unlearning of toxic ideas to see the truth. Being dark or fair doesn't have anything to do with beauty. My mother, with her doe like eyes, arched brows, long luscious locks, and beautiful dusky skin, was so so beautiful. And I never saw it. And I never told her. Instead, I made her feel ugly by being offended when people told me I look like her. I should have been ecstatic, because that is the best compliment they could give me. I wish I'd said, 'Really?! Thank you! My mother is gorgeous.' I wish I'd told my mother that she is beautiful. Like she used to tell me when I was growing up. When she used to tell me that I have pretty eyes, I used to shrug it off, thinking she's just saying it to make me feel better. But she meant it, and her words did help me out of a very insecure phase eventually. And I, I never returned the favour. I wish my mother would look at herself with my eyes now. I wish she had found herself beautiful. I wish I can go back and make things right. I can wish a lot of things, but it's in what *I* do that I can make a change. Starting with seeing myself as beautiful. By appreciating and lifting up the women around me. By not falling to the temptation of comparing my body with those in billboards and pin up posters. And if I have daughters, helping them see themselves and other women as beautiful, in whatever sizes, shapes, hues they come.
And never, ever, berating myself in front of them. As for my mother, she continues to be my biggest cheerleader, unflinchingly by my side. She has invested every ounce of her energy in the wellbeing of her family, a debt we can not repay in a thousand lifetimes. Today her hands are calloused from decades of hard work and has crows feet when she smiles, but she is the most beautiful woman in my life. She is my anchor, the one I return to after touching faraway shores. She is my string, allowing me to float freely in the sky. She is the candle, burning herself to give me light. My mother is beautiful, inside out.
Road tripping with parents
My family is a family of seasoned road trippers. We’ve lived out of boxes all our lives so a few days on the road doesn’t faze us. The earliest road trips I remember are from when I was around 7 or 8 when my parents would bundle the three of us in our hideously green omni van and go to the India’s famous northeastern vacation spot- Darjeeling. The rickety metallic contraption on four wheels has seen the three of us attempt to be gymnasts on its crumb speckled seats, its boot has been filled with my umma’s tasty road trip snacks and meals, and its derriere has been the recipient of many a push from friends and strangers alike when we were stranded in random places.
Fast forward 10 yrs, we are broody teens and older but still energetic parents, in a relatively better car, whizzing by scenic Italian towns, searching for Indian restaurant in Rome, and losing my brother in Florence for a few hours (a long story that has its own blog post)
Fast forward another ten years (almost) and it’s my husband and me taking my parents (and baby Z of course) to Makkah and Madina in OUR CAR (What a spectacularly grown up thing it is to be able to own a car).
I can’t help but resort to the best time related cliché out there- time flies. In our case it also meanders at places, stopping for pazham pori and chaya occasionally.
Let’s come back to our most recent road trip- from Riyadh to Madina to Makkah and back- a 2000+ km long journey. I had no doubt that it would be memorable like all other road trips we have been on. The Fazals have a knack of making any long trip enjoyable. It’s mostly with the aid of a generous amount of food (of the junk and restaurant variety), a lot of lame jokes, and the inadvertent dangerous situation we manage to put ourselves in and are eventually saved from by the mercy of God. My husband is chronically afflicted with the dire disorder that is overplanning a trip. We are talking hotel bookings month in advance, googling the heck out of the destination so that he’s more aware of all the nooks and crannies of it than the town planners themselves, and keeping a daily log of what’s been done. And while I am organized and like research in a lot of things, when it comes to family travel I am more of the throw caution to the wind and let’s-just-take-this-turn-and-see-where-it-takes-us type of gal. Looks like a little bit of it rubbed off on my husband too because mid way through our drive to Madina (800+ kms in all) I see him slightly sweating and shifting in his seat. A little prodding reveals what the cause for concern is - the fuel tank was near empty, there was no gas station in sight, and we had about 80 kms more before we were stranded in the middle of highway in the scorching (despite winter) Saudi Arabian Desert.
The dam inside my mind
The dam inside my mind, which has been holding in all the ideas and inspiration for some time now, has begun leaking, threatening to burst. I wake up thinking about something to write about and go to bed with another interesting idea. Sometimes I get an idea as I am stirring the curry, at other times as I am nursing my daughter to sleep.
Maybe it’s the effect of my parents visiting and my mother being here now. Her presence has lifted an invisible mental load off me. I find myself feeling more rested and at ease. She has taken over the house, letting me relax and catch up with myself. I didn’t realize how much catching up with myself I had left. With Umma here I find myself reflecting more and these reflections are yearning to be put to words and sent to the world.
I know I have neglected this space for some time. I haven’t been writing even a quarter of what I used to. Honestly it’s because of how so many parts of my life have been so overwhelmingly consumed by motherhood, leaving me with little to no mental energy to expend. Even when I have free time, it has been difficult to get into that groove. You folks have been very kind though, still sticking around and reading what little I do write. (And reading all my cheese momhood posts!) Thank you!
These days I feel myself getting back to that creative space again, alhamdulillah. I have a couple of article ideas listed in my mind and hope to work out some kind of posting schedule again. I have in mind a series on 'Things I wish I knew before (college/higher ed/marriage/pregnancy)', a few articles on our road trip to Makkah and Madina with my parents, a piece on our recent visit to the Saudi culture and heritage festival. What do you guys think?
I am really psyched about getting back on track again, missed this!
One of the hardest things about growing up is leaving your parents to live somewhere else. It wasn't easy when i was 18 and in college and not easy 8 yrs later with a fresh baby in my arms. Nothing compares to the warmth and security one is enveloped in when in the presence of their parents. So two months back when they planned to visit us here in Saudi, i was over the moon. I just couldn't wait. By the time December rolled in i felt like i would burst, counting down each day. Le husband was equally excited and joined me as we began sprucing up our home to welcome our parents for the first time. There's something special about hosting your parents in your home. Makes you feel particularly grown up. I was a bit worried because my parents are amazing hosts and i wanted to offer them the best. i began meal planning in frenzy and stocked up on foods they liked. All went for a toss when the night before their arrival z caught on to our excitement and decided to stay up. Z awake means a hyper Z rolling around the bed laughing and blowing air. Which means no sleep for us. We went to pick them up from the airport at 3 am and was still awake. I don't think i will ever tire of the heart brimming happiness that takes over when you greet your loved ones after a long separation. Despite my best efforts I teared up as i saw them walking out of the gate. My parents felt double the excitement as they got to meet their little Z too along with me. Dad that's my dad always has to get something to drink or eat at the airport he lands in too. So got some coffee (at 4 am) and were on our way home. We got some shut eye for a few hours in which time my plans to wow them with a appam egg roast breakfast went out the window. I settled for a humble upma which my dad praised profusely because that's what dads do when their daughter cooks for them. Seriously guys, everyone needs a dad who praises even a simple tea that you make for them. (Or it could just mean i am so lazy they are grateful for even the smallest thing I do for them) We had lunch with a friend of dad (he has friends everywhere!) and dinner was at my in laws place who threw a party for my parents. Early next morning we hit the road to Madina. To be continued.
Dear Baby Z,
You are 7 months old today. You are now a full fledged baby, congratulations!
Two weeks back your grandparents came and on that day it's as though a switch went on and now we have a squealing, blabbering, super responsive baby at hand. You were immediately enamoured by your grandparents and are completely at ease with them. Maybe the video calls every day were effective!
This month you learned to sit unassisted (albeit like a wobbly peg bobbing in the sea). We got you a highchair which you love sitting in. You love joining us at mealtime and playing with your food. So far you have had banana, carrots, potatoes, cucumber,rice, and lentil soup. You devoured the lentil soup like we hadn't fed you in days. It's pretty clear you enjoy food as much as your mamma.
This month you went on your second long road trip. It was your first visit to Makkah and Madina. I was very apprehensive before taking you because I didn't know how you would react to such a big crowd. But you were an absolute delight! You loved seeing all the people around you. You smiled at strangers, drew children towards you with your signature happy head nod dance, and enjoyed trying the food we were eating (I maybe guilty of giving you a french fry or two, after licking off all the salt. In my defense, you LOVED it. I'm hoping to give you some baked ones from home).
This was one of my best pilgrimage trips. I wore you constantly, despite an aching back, and truly felt connected to you. At the saee, as people walked back and forth between Safa and Marwah, it hit me with such force what hajara (as) would have endured as she desperately sought water for her thirsty child. We walked on cool marble in an air conditioned path, yet our thoughts were with this incredible mother who didn't stop till her child's thirst was quenched, her calloused feet hitting the scorching rugged hill till a source of water was gifted from God. A mother's love for her child made possible a well of water that hasn't dried to this date and quenches the thirst of millions of pilgrims.
Having you with me made my trip so much more spiritually charged. My supplications were more profound, my tears more profuse, my prayers more prolonged. Thanks to you.
May the One who gifted you to us envelope you in His mercy and protection.
A bit late
A bit late in putting up my 2018 reflections post but better late than never eh?
2018 has been the most significant, role shifting, exhausting, exhilarating, exuberant year so far. I spent the first half of it pregnant and the next half finding my footing as the mother of a tiny being so completely dependent on me.
2018 was a year of learning and unlearning. Getting to know what my body was capable of. Breaking myself up and offering all the pieces to someone else who just entered my life. Practicing the art of selfless, unconditional love towards someone who literally tore me to get out of me. 2018 was about finally understanding and really appreciating what parents everywhere do for their children, day in and day out.
2018 was about understanding how women's voice can be so powerful that it can shake the thrones of the most powerful of men. That our collective roar is capable of bringing dynasties crumbling down. That our rage is a weapon we can wield against those who trample on us.
2018 was the year when I truly began to appreciate myself and respect my body. When I stopped caring about how people see me and started focusing on how I see me.
In 2018 I focused on listening to the stories of those around me and amplifying their voices. I shared stories of heart breaks but also stories of resilience and hope. I connected with people through pixels. Connections based on empathy and trust.
In 2018 I found my tribe on line and in real life. I finally found home. I enter 2019 with no clear vision but a strong belief that things will fall into place no matter what. That I will be okay. We will be okay. It's all going to be okay.
When I was younger
When I was younger, people in their 20s awed me. They seemed young but not immature like teens my age. And they were not old fashioned like our parents generation. 20s was like the sweet spot where you are youthful AND mature AND hep. I could not wait to foray into it myself and taste a little bit of the fun.
However, 20s turned out to be a rude awakening. Like being jolted awake from the nicest of sleep on the most comfortable pillows. I think the more appropriate metaphor is slowly inching to the top of the roller coaster ride and then, in a fraction of second, just throttling down at high speed, a million thoughts whizzing through your mind, the loudest of them all being-I AM GOING TO DIE!
20s is an anxiety inducing period. You are expected to adult without any glitches but you feel ridiculously ill equipped to deal with the sudden avalanche of responsibilities that come crashing down on you.
You live through crushing anxiety and crippling self doubt. You face your first real heartbreak. You get a glimpse of the looming stresses of managing finances which your parents did so well that you didn't even notice periods your family was tight. You wonder whether it's only you facing such issues. But you still hold on to life with the skin of your teeth. Because you are a survivor, humans are survivors. Over time we learn the ropes and we become expert jugglers, juggling our personal, professional, social lives. We still slip sometimes and drop the ball but we are quick to pick up where we left.
So you, in your 20s, going through anxiety and self doubt. You are not alone. We are all swimming the same waters. Don't give up hope though, In time you will see the glimmer of sand on a far away Island, your own personal island midst all this chaos, which will shield you from most of the storms of life. What do you do till then? You keep faith and just keep swimming, just keep swimming. Just keep swimming swimming.
The transition into motherhood
The transition into motherhood is exciting and nerve wracking all at once. It changes you in many ways. It makes you uber emotional- laughing one moment and trying not to tear up the next because le husband bought the wrong flavor of ice cream (true story).
What hasn’t changed though is my intolerance for unsolicited, out dated, crappy advice. Especially those given to new moms by people who think they have been appointed by God to (mis)guide other parents with superstitions, myths, and a huge unhealthy dose of misogyny.
Well, I am not having any of it. I would love to have visitors come see my baby and me inshaAllah. But along with their shoes I want them to leave all unsolicited advice at the door. To make it easier, I made a list and asked my friends who are in the same boat to contribute too. So here’s a list of things you DON’T want to say/do to a new mom and baby:
1. Let’s start from the beginning because it’s always a good place to start. I know it’s exciting that a new baby has arrived, but it isn’t necessary to go see the said baby immediately after the baby comes out of the mother. The parents have just had a life changing moment. Give them some time to take it all in, don’t visit them on day 1 at the hospital.
2. Don’t put down mothers for their mode of delivery- natural or c-section. With intervention or without, a healthy baby and mother is what we want. She doesn’t become less of a mother in either case so don’t try to make her feel that way with any implied words/expresssions/tone.
3. Let the mom breastfeed/formula feed in peace. Don’t judge her. Don’t shame her. Don’t tell her that her milk isn’t enough for her child. She knows what’s good for her child. (It's astounding the number of people who think it's okay to just assume you don't have enough milk and tell you that. That's a last thing you want to hear in a vulnerable state.)
4. Unless you are her gynecologist or pediatrician stay away from giving any “health advices” for her or her baby.
5. Don’t comment on the gender of the child and offer consolations if it’s a girl. I literally give 0 s#!ts about whether it’s a boy or girl as long as my baby is healthy and happy.
6. Don’t comment on the skin tone of the child. My baby is not a painting that needs critical comments on tone and texture. And I am definitely not pleased if you say she's fairer than before, like it's a compliment.
7. Don’t compare babies and say oh this one is fatter/skinnier/darker/fairer. It’s not a baby beauty pageant. And you aren’t the judge.
8. Zip it if you are planning to give unsolicited advice on how to make my child fairer/fatter/skinnier/more muscular/run like usain bolt/walk on water. I don’t want that advice.
9. DO NOT OFFER MY CHILD ANYTHING TO EAT OR APPLY ANYTHING ON MY CHILD WITHOUT ASKING ME OR MY HUSBAND.
10. Don’t ask me to polka dot my child’s face with kaajal. If you are so keen, invest in a Barbie doll and spot her face away when you feel the urge.
11. Don’t force moms to arch their baby's brows with kaajal and give them eyebrows that look like they can launch anything into space. Babies are cute as they are, don’t line, dot or arch their faces just because it’s tradition.
12. I know it’s tempting to cuddle and kiss babies, but new born babies are fragile, their immune system is not developed. Don’t kiss them on their mouths. Don’t kiss them at all if you are sick or have been sick recently.
13. Don’t comment on the mother’s weight. She has literally pushed new life out of her body. You should be giving her an award, NOT body shaming her.
14. Don’t think that there’s only one way of parenting and that’s the “old school style”. Everything evolves, including parenting styles, according to the time and place we live in. Don’t scoff at something just because you don’t understand it.
15. Fathers aren’t just meant to contribute in the conception of the child and step back. They are supposed to take over half the parenting responsibilities too. So don’t tch tch at fathers who are stepping upto their role and parenting instead of just coming into the picture when it is time to pay the school fees.
16. We literally couldn’t care less about how children were raised in your “Zamaana“ (which by the way was just a few decades ago, not during the Roman Empire). Society changes and with it ideas do too, get on with the times.
17. Unless you are asked for it, don’t try to get people to name their child according to your wishes. Did you push the child out of your womb? No. Then stay in your lane.
18. DO NOT ASK HER WHEN SHE IS HAVING HER NEXT CHILD. Her stitches have probably not even healed fully as you are asking her this. Also, you have ZERO business discussing family planning with her. If you are so concerned about her child not having any siblings immediately after being born, feel free to get pregnant, give birth, and then gift your child to her so that her baby has company. (Edited to add: A nurse asked me as I was being wheeled out of the delivery room whether I will come back here for the second delivery. Like, let me at least get out of blood stained patient gown!)
19. Massages are great but don't ask me to vigorously massage my new born with oil like he/she is about to go wrestle. They are babies! Don’t massage them and go “ab jaake hoga dangal.” 20. Just because your grandmother’s neighbor’s nephew’s barber’s mother in law used a certain concoction of spices and herbs to heal a baby of reflux/gas/dark skin (as you consider it to be an affliction) it doesn’t mean you should suggest that recipe to each and every new mother you encounter. (Also, babies should be given only breast or formula milk till they turn 6 months, it's dangerous to give them anything else before that, unless prescribed by the doctor)
21. Don’t comment on whether a mother is staying home or returning to work after having a child. It doesn't concern you.
22. Whether she wants to stay 40 days in doors after birth or she wants to go out for a walk every once in a while is up to her. Don’t chastise her because LITERALLY NO ONE ASKED YOUR OPINION.
23. Understand more about post partum depression. It’s not a made up thing. DO NOT tell new mothers “everyone has gone through this, stop making a fuss” and belittle her struggle. If you can’t support her at least don’t mock her pain.
24. A new mother is in a highly vulnerable state- physically, emotionally, hormonally. This is a life changing phase for her. Support her, uplift her, encourage her. Don’t make her feel insecure. Don’t convince her that she doesn’t know what is best for her child. Don’t burden her with dated customs and traditions that make life difficult for her. Don’t guilt trip her. Just let her enjoy motherhood. It’s as simple as that.
Reposting this article from before I gave birth
6 months of motherhood: Taking Stock
I have always loved babies. What's not to love about these cuddly little cuties (except during their projectile poop phases) who are nature's live stress busters. My love for them was only marred briefly post marriage when random aunties, uncles, and strangers would ask me when I plan to pop one out. It put me off babies and I'd hold myself from cooing too much at a baby for fear of an aunty appearing out of thin air like a genie and telling me to 'give good news' then and there.
Alhamdulillah when I reached a stage in my life where it seemed okay to add another member to our little family, Allah blessed me with my little Z. Maybe because I felt ready for it, motherhood has been mostly joyous for me. I found giving birth an empowering (albeit frikkin painful) experience. Breastfeeding has been mostly smooth because of good research, great support system, and lots of prayers. After three months Earth side spent mostly crying, pooping, and nursing like there's no tomorrow, Z became more responsive. So the past three months have been great fun as I watch her grow into her fabulous personality.
It's a great privilege and blessing to be able to watch life grow and evolve within you first and then in front of you. It's addictive, watching them blossom. From their first social smiles to their first laugh to when they figure out you can actually walk away from them. This has also added another dimension to my relationship with le husband as we figure this parenting thing out together.
But it would be unfair if I just go on about the positives without shedding light on the other, not so pleasant changes. Especially because so many other new parents are sailing on the same boat.
One of the first changes I noticed was this overwhelming fear and anxiety that took over me from the moment I was given a crying, slimy pink bundle in my hands. How do I keep her alive? What if I drop her as I am climbing up the stairs? How am I going to raise her? How will I make sure she won't end up in therapy for the rest of her life? It was crippling and would have paralysed me were it not for faith that God is the ultimate protector and there's only so much I can do before I entrust her in His care.
The other major change was how I lost complete control over my time and my mental and physical space. Gone are the days when I could spontaneously go for an outing or when an idea for an article would strike and I could write it immediately. I have (maybe temporarily) lost the ability to choose what I get to do with my time. Now it's always Z. I have to think twice, thrice, multiple times before making plans; charting all permutations and combinations of how things can go wrong so I can prepare accordingly. And guys, it's exhausting! All this thinking leads to next to no mental space for my creative cells to function in peace. Just in the course of writing this article I had to stop twice to put her back to sleep. So I have sent the writer in me on a forced sabbatical because I can't write like before. Constant interruptions affect not just the creative process but also your ability to focus on any task you have at hand. A simple meal being prepped takes me twice the time because I would have stop mid chopping, wash my hands, entertain her, and then get back. Repeat n number of times until I am exhausted just from this broken routine. It's deeply upsetting and frustrating (especially the writing part since it is one of the things that brings me so much joy). More so when I also have to do other mind numbingly repetitive tasks to make sure my baby stays safe, healthy and happy. I feel like I am being pulled from all directions and my sanity is stretched thin. Some days I am afraid this is when I will finally snap.
But here's the thing I am realising, I can't change this set up as of now, so there's no point dwelling on how things were. What I can do is work around this to ensure I get to at least one thing daily that brings me joy. Be it reading, writing, spending time on social media, meeting a friend for catch up, or just being by myself for 10 mins with no task or chores hanging over my head. (After having a baby, just 10 mins of being uninterrupted seems gloriously refreshing)
Like I wrote the other day, parenthood is a riddle. No matter how prepared you come, it still puzzles you. One moment you are at the verge of pulling out your hair from frustration and the next you are a melted puddle next to your child's feet because they gave you a drooly, gummy smile out of nowhere. What I am learning to do now, one day at a time, is ride the wave and enjoy the view that I am given at the moment. You reading this, feeling as unsettled as I do- Breathe in, unclench jaws, relax shoulders- we are going to be okay.
Dear Baby Z
You are half a year old today! I can't believe you are six months already. It's as though you were a fragile lil new born just yesterday. Now you are a babbling baby brimming with energy and giggles.
Each month another layer wears off and we are revealed a new facet of your personality. Your likes and dislikes become more and more prominent. .
This month you mastered rolling. You go 360 degrees, back and forth, horizontal and vertical...and in the process make me lose my mind because I have to keep an eye on you always! I've now resorted to building a pillow fortress around you. .
You imitate us these days and make us laugh so much with your antics! I can tell you are going to be a funny lil girl with jokes and tricks up your sleeve all the time. .
You are daddy's girl through and through and looks like "uppa" is going to be your first word. I won't lie, I am mad jealous. Humph. But also so so grateful, because a strong and loving father daughter bond is one of the purest things out there. I am so grateful you get to experience it. .
I am excited to start #babyledweaning with you. I gave you a taste of lil solids a few days back. Just a touch of mashed potatoes, you loved it! I gave a lil banana today and you made a face. Let's see how this goes! .
A few days back you rolled over in your sleep and continued sleeping on your stomach. It was so incredibly cute! And it made me all kinds of emotional. Surely the next step is you packing your bags and leaving for college? Can I come with you so I can build a pillow fortress around you whenever you need one? .
As you meet milestone after milestone, I also grow in my own motherhood journey. I am not who I was 6 months back, or even a month ago. Some days seem to drag so long that I feel I've aged a decade, on other days I wish to slow down time so I get more of it with you. I'm more frazzled and sleep deprived. But I am also happier and more fulfilled. Parenthood is a riddle. But it's the best kind.
All my love, now and always,
Why do we do it our kids?
Imagine you go to a new city with your family. You are having a great time with them. All of a sudden a stranger comes and picks you up. You are bewildered because you don't know this person. You try to tell them to leave you alone but they don't understand your language. Instead they laugh at you as your protests grow louder. You aren't comfortable because they are holding you too tight. You don't know what to do so you desperately look for your family so they would help you out. But the person holding you just won't let go.
How does this situation sound? Creepy? Scary? Weird?
Then why do we do it our kids?
I'm not saying we should bubblewrap them and keep them at home on the highest shelf. But we must be considerate about how everything is new and strange for them. Including extended family/friends. Just because you are comfortable with a person doesn't mean your baby has to be. For your baby it's a new person and he/she will obviously be apprehensive about being picked up by someone they don't know. Give them time to get comfortable with that new person. If they are okay being picked up by them, great! If not, don't force it. You guest won't turn into a sausage or grow horns if they don't get to hold the baby for long.
On that note I also want to bring up a thing that really bothers me- People getting offended when the baby cries in their arms and wants to come back to the parents. My husband and I took care of my baby through sleepless nights, I fed her (sometimes for hours at a stretch), rocked her to sleep countless times, took care of her every need. OF COURSE she's going to come to us for comfort. It's not her being spoilt, it's her knowing where her needs are met. If you haven't put in the hours, how do you expect her to just be as comfortable with you as she is with us (the parents)?
Desi people are especially ridiculous about it. They think kids are toys without any emotions. That babies must be like dolls you can just carry around and play with on your whim. These lil humans have their own feelings and moods. Sometimes they are playful and won't mind being carried around and other times they just want to be held by their parents and watch from far. THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. Don't annoy the parents by telling them they are spoiling their child by comforting them. Letting them "cry it out" all the time is not teaching them not to cry, it's teaching them that they can't trust you to be there for them.
Holding, playing and just being around babies have to be some of the most therapeutic things ever but let's not make it hard on them just so we can feel good.
7 things to teach your kids to raise independent and confident boys and girls
7 things to teach your kids to raise independent and confident boys and girls
These are based on observations of different parents and what they do in their parenting journeys, that sets their children apart from the rest. When I look back at my own childhood, I see a lot of the things my parents did that have contributed to making me who I am. As Z grows up I hope I can do the same with her.
I'd break it down broadly to the following:
1. Communication Skills
Our family is big on articulation. When we were younger my dad used to sometimes conduct speech contests for us kids. Sometimes our cousins would also participate. It was so much fun, without the pressure of winning. My mom used to encourage us to participate in school debates and elocutions. She'd help prepare the speech, sometimes my aunt would chip in too, This taught us the format and soon I was preparing my own speeches with inputs from my parents.
My parents also a put a huge emphasis on our social skills. Having a defence background also helped because you are expected to talk politely and articulate yourself well. These skills help later on in our life, be it at uni group discussions or at work.
[This also includes being a good listener]
[I also wanted to add here the importance of communicating with each other in the family. To this day I can talk to my family about anything under the sun without fear. Alhamdulillah. It helps when there's that space and freedom to approach each other with vulnerability]
2. Financial Skills
I can't put enough emphasis on this. Your children need to know how to budget and live within their means. At 18 when I left for college, I had an initial monthly budget of 5000 INR in which I'd manage my rent,food, and travel expenses. My father asked me to keep an account of where and what I was spending on. And over the 4 years of UG and PG I maintained excel sheets where I tracked my expenses.
My husband has a detailed sheet in which he tracks daily expenses and categorizes them into personal/household etc. We have our own sheets and we have a common sheet where we track our combined expenses. Although it's a bit of a hassle updating, boy does it help in the long run. We know exactly what we are spending and where. It also helps you save for the future.
3. Plan B/Escape Plan/Conflict Resolution
This is quite broad and is a combination of a lot of skills. Children should know the exit/escape strategy. They must know what to do if they are lost in a crowd. Who to contact first? What do they do if someone touches them inappropriately? What do they do if they are being bullied or see someone being bullied?
I'd also include basic survival skills in this- being able to look after yourself, feed yourself etc. [Cooking is one skill I picked up really late, despite my mom's lectures].
4. Compassion and Empathy
Yes. These are skills. And in these times, the most essential ones. Please raise compassionate children. Teach them to identify with others struggles. Encourage them to walk in someone else's shoes. Help them help others. Not only will they be helping others, they will be increasing their Emotional Intelligence. We need more emphasis on high EQ than high IQ. [An aside: I believe reading helps a lot in developing empathy and the ability to approach things from multiple perspectives]
5. Respect their Individuality
No one will ever think they are destined for greatness if their own family encourages them to leave all their unique qualities and just follow the crowd. My siblings and I are starkly different from each other, with our own strengths and weaknesses. My parents have encouraged us to pursue our individual strengths and work on our weaknesses. They did not flatten out the differences. The result is that we are all (mostly) confident in our own skin.
6. The ability to laugh at yourself.
We don't take ourselves too seriously. We laugh at each other and ourselves. We make fun relentlessly of childhood gaffes and embarrassing stories. This makes sure that none of us let our successes get to our head. I am sure even if I win a Nobel Prize, my family will remind me of the time I cried in Pisa.
7. Reliance on God
This is the most important of all. At my lowest point and on my highest wave, I try to remember there is God watching over. Nothing can delay or deny what he has destined for me. And He listens. This thought has liberated me from being crushed by defeats and has taken me through a lot. And I credit a huge part of that relationship to deep conversations with my parents
Dear Baby Z...
Congratulations on your 5th month on planet Earth. Hope you are enjoying your stay with mamma and uppa.
It's getting quite obvious now that you are a photocopy of your dad. And it's also quite clear that you are a daddy's girl and have him wrapped around your cute Lil pinky. ????
You love looking at your dad when he talks. When your mamma and uppa are conversing you go very quiet, stop playing and observe your father. I guess it's pretty safe to guess whose body language you will imitate. This month you rolled over for the first time! And now that you have mastered this skill you are on a roll (pun intended) baby! It's like you have no control over it and just roll automatically wherever we put you. And since you can't roll back to your back, you flail about till we set you right again.
Around two weeks back it's like a switch was turned on and suddenly you are super responsive to those around you. You laugh and giggle a lot. And your baby talk is just the cutest. mashaAllah you are generally a happy baby unless you are hungry or sleepy and we are slowly learning how to not let that happen.
May Allah protect you from all harm and give you the best of both worlds my darling.
My father is a "connector".
I want to share with you one of the most important things I learned from my father (after decades of him trying to teach it to me). It's something I actively resisted for years only to now find myself doing exactly that.
My father is a "connector". He collects friends like a geeky kid collects pebbles at the beach. He goes one step further and lovingly takes care of these pebbles, sorry friends, for years. I've grown up seeing him maintain friendships that span decades. As I write this my parents are out gallivanting in Kenya with dozens of friends from over 3 decades ago.
I've grown up being pushed by him to meet new people, to network, to learn to converse. As an awkward child this was something I detested. I mean, I can make friends over time with neighbours, classmates, and people I'm sharing a space with. But going up to someone I know nothing about (and who knows nothing about me) and striking a conversation? That's terrifying. What if they laugh at me or worse, ignore me? But the things my dad made me do...he made me go talk to people who seemed interesting, he made me interview the owner of a resort we were staying at (she thought I was a journalist and took it so seriously that she got dressed and got a chef wearing a poofy hat to sit next to her for added effect). It was so cringe inducing back then but over time something happened. I got better at it. I still felt vulnerable each time I initiated a conversation but there was also a new voice in my head-courage - that told me I am going to be okay despite the worst outcome.
Almost every single one of my closest friends I have befriended this way. We knew nothing of each other, we spoke - awkwardly- and a few years down the line we are attending each others weddings, sharing kid pics, and spilling our hearts through whatsapp.
When I came to Riyadh, I felt my old life was a goner, that I would have no friends because of the limitations on travel here. I spent one year moping at home all depressed. Then something changed. I decided to be proactive and do what my dad would have done - put myself out there, reach out to the connectors here. So I connected with people who know lots of people. Over the last two years I met so many wonderful people I am now proud to call my friends. This year I went one step further, I began meeting these ladies in groups or one on one over lunches and coffee meet ups. I met so many like minded people I would never have come across otherwise just through Facebook. Each time we meet I am little bit more happier, my frayed mind a little bit calmer, my mom brain goes into a happy high.
Making new friends requires a lot of vulnerability. You are putting yourself out there for evaluation by someone who hasn't known you for long and you hope they find you interesting enough to want to be in your life. It's really not the best feeling in the world to momentarily lower your guard so people can get a glimpse of the real you. But you know what's one of the best feelings in the world? That 'click' in the midst of a conversation when two people really connect. When they realize they are on the same wavelength. When you look at each other and know it's the beginning of a lifelong friendship. Worth being vulnerable for, I think
We are with you
When I was in 10th grade our class got a new class teacher. Priyanka mam. Ours was an Islamic school in Bangalore and she was one of the few non Muslim teachers. She was newly married and had just moved from Lucknow to be with her husband who she adored.
We loved her, we were fascinated by her stylish clothes and matching accessories. We'd wait to see what she wore each day. I still remember her sweet smiles and the way she'd look at us with mock anger if we were being cheeky (which we were often).
One day she came quite upset to the class. She couldn't focus on teaching and was tearing up. We could gather it was something at home bothering her. So we did what teenage girls do to cheer each other up. We gave her a handmade sappy card with designs and doodles and childish message of love and support from us. I still remember how happy that made her and how it moved her to tears. She was proud to call us her class and we were happy to have her as our class teacher.
One of our schoolmates got married and she was there with her husband. We met the man she always gushed about and secretly gauged him as they ate at the table next to us.
In a few months it was time to graduate and the 30 odd bunch of girls were excited and thrilled to see the world beyond this small school. But we were also sad to let go of the teachers who treated us like their own children. Priyanka mam cried, we cried. It was a sobby mess.
We moved on, got into different streams, different schools.
Three years later I am in my first year of uni. My friend rings me up. 'Did you hear about Priyanka mam? She's no more.' I couldn't believe it of course and before I could make sense of it my friend continued 'She was murdered' It was like a blow to my gut. The air left my lungs.
We spent the next few days scouring the news for anything at all regarding this. There were articles saying the husband is suspected to be behind this. We didnt believe it, we knew how much mam loved her husband and how she spoke about him. 'No way' we told each other.
A few more days pass and we find out the husband had been taken into custody. He was actually the one who murdered her. His own wife. He had planned it all. He told her he's going to surprise her and blindfolded her. Then he slit her throat. Then he made calls from her phone to his. He went out for a 'walk' and staged a robbery and called the cops.
He killed our sweet Priyanka mam. I still can't digest it. In my mind she's still somewhere teaching a lucky bunch of kids. Scolding them with love if they don't study. Being proud when they do well. I can't erase the picture of her and her husband together at that wedding. They seemed like such a normal newly wed couple.
Today I finished reading Meena Kandasamy's new book- When I hit you: Or a portrait of the writer as a young wife. I read as the narrator talks about how she, an educated, fierce, free woman,got into marriage not knowing that in 4 months she's going to be raped every night by her husband. Slapped around. Threatened with death. Have her freedoms taken away. Have her manuscripts and 25000 emails deleted. All by a 'revolutionary' communist, an educated English professor. A man who's respected by the society. Who people would never doubt of being abusive.
I didn't realize it but I was holding my breath for pages at length. My stomach clenched, my palms cold and sweaty as I hurriedly turned the pages to make sure she's okay. That she got out ok.
I turned the last page, after reading her resistance, her grit, her courage, and the beginning of her healing, and I let out a huge sigh.
I was wondering what about this shook me so much and I remembered Priyanka mam. I remembered our hesitation to believe that her husband, a soft spoken techie, could be one of 'those guys'. The ones who'd rather murder their wives than divorce them. It shattered the illusion we had that only a certain type or class or section of people are capable of unthinkable abuse and violence.
Domestic violence is very real and very close. Closer than you think. It could be your close relatives or your friend who just got married or your grandparents who have been married for more than half a century. It is real, it is wide spread and it is terrifying.
I get the impulse by some men to jump in at this point and interject 'Actually, not all men'. Here's what I have to say to them. Take a seat. This is not about your feelings and we will not let you make it about them. Instead of jumping up and down and asking 'but why didn't she just leave?' I'd like you to, just once, ask 'why did he abuse her? How could he be such a monster? What can we do to make sure more men don't turn out like this?' If that's not what you are going to say, don't leave a comment. This post is not for you.
This post is for those who have been abused and are finding their way out, those who fear they are being abused and want to find a way out, those who are alone and have no one to turn to. The ones who are told be more silent, more pleasing, more passive in the face of abuse. The ones who are coereced into bringing children into an abusive marriage because apparently 'a child is all a broken relationship needs'. The ones who are looked down upon when they finally find the courage to leave. The ones who brave the judging glares and continue to pave the way for more women like them to get out of stifling marriages. We see you. We hear you. We are with you.
Meanwhile, here's my grandma saying peace out.
She is a peculiar character, my velliamma. From the time I remember she was fond of keeping a jar of candy or toffee next to her bed. One of the many habits she shed with age. I remember her asking me to buy packets of mangobite, Coffee bite, or melody, if she was in a mood for it. She made it a point to call us all to her room after each meal to give us one toffee each. Except my dad, her beloved eldest son, he got two toffees because he is older than the rest of us (duh).
She is like that, openly partial. I, as her first grandchild, am subject to a huge portion of her affection. Once she called me, Bilal and Shereef to her room and said she is going to give us some pocket money. 100 rupees. Less than 2 dollars. For the three of us. She said "Shereef and Bilal take 33 rs. Nazreen can take 33 and the extra 1 rupee, since she is the eldest." She is the eldest among her siblings, and clearly being born first gets one into a soft corner in her heart. Why shereef and Bilal resented me a lot back then. Ha!
She has a sweet tooth. Her idea of a good cup of tea is one with four teaspoons of sugar. That was one of the ways I got into her good books, By making her sickly sweet tea.
Velliamma was probably the one who invented the concept of everything has its own place and only in that place the thing shall go. It gets her worked up if things aren't in their places. When she stopped entering the kitchen, about 20 years back, she started folding the entire household's laundry from her bed. Many an embarrassing moment have I had when she would wave bras high in the air above her head, very intimate flags these, asking the owner to step forward and identify themselves so she can add it to their pile. This while the whole clan was seated around her. As a a very awkward teen, this was my idea of hell.
Once my grandpa, a die hard cricket fan , was watching a critical match between India and Pakistan. Or Australia.I don't remember. Anyway, It was the last ball. and India needed six runs to win. He was tensed and leaning forward, focusing hard on the screen. My grandma, who by then was walking slower than before, slowly shuffled across the room, stopped infront of the TV, blocking his view, and unfurled a torn underwear. "is this yours?" She asked, wanting to sort the laundry pile as soon as possible. My grandad was stumped, then screamed at her to move. Too late. The last ball was over. The crowd had erupted in cheers and he didn't know which team won. My grandma still wanted to know whose underwear it was as my granddad was on the verge of self-combusting.
6-9pm used to be her TV soap viewing time. She did not allow us to even touch the remote during this time. Malayalam soaps had her literally on the edge of her seat. She used to bite her nails in anxiety at the prospect of the heroine falling into the trap of the vamp, whom she used to curse without reservations. Once we found her sitting by herself and crying. When we asked her what happened, she said she was feeling sad for the mother in law in one of shows. "Paavam. She has to suffer so much because of that evil daughter in law of hers" she said through tears.
Bilal and Shereef used to hate these Malayalam serials because they clashed with their WWE viewing time and they couldn't watch sweaty men fake break chairs on each others backs.
One day they decided enough was enough and at 5.50 pulled out the cable from the back of the TV while grandma wasn't looking. They said if we can't watch, then she can't either. At 6 pm my grandma was greeted by static on the screen. For three hours. Then miraculously it became alright at 9. This carried on for a couple of days till she finally caught on what's happening. The boys got an earful that day.
Velliamma doesn't remember much these days but is still very concerned about her "mealsafe" (meat-safe) and its contents (which range from the 1960s to 90s, an assortment of old plastic ice cream cups, dinner sets she got as wedding presents, metallic contortions of things that were supposed to be spoons, corpses of cutlery, all covered in a generous coating of dust)
I have watched her shrink in front of my eyes. I have seen age strip her of her memory, take away many aspects of her personality, make her insecure. I see her hallucinate sometimes. Sometimes she tells me she talked to her parents. She becomes a child and wants her mother to come take care of her. Now we need two people to help her go to the bathroom. She screams a lot. She forgets a lot. She talks a lot. And she wants us around all the time, scared that we will abandon her otherwise.
Over the decades, the roles have been reversed. As we move from being under her care to becoming her caregivers, she has returned to childhood. She cries, we console. She becomes stubborn and fussy so we chastise and try to reason with her.
Sometimes it gets too much. But she could be any of us in 50 odd years. That terrifies me.
Old age can be a terribly isolating, lonely place. I don't think we can fully understand how much it weakens ones spirit till you are bang in the middle of it. I can only hope that I carry on till the end of my time without being abandoned by my strength and senses. InshaAllah.
Meanwhile, here's my grandma saying peace out.
Dear Baby Z,
You have been earth side for four months now. Four months of making our days better. You have made your parents tired but better people ????
This month you started grasping onto toys and exploring how touch feels. Your favorite toy right now is your cylindrical star pillow. You are always smiling at it like the pillow is sharing some inside joke with you.
You now recognize the people you meet daily. Alhamdulillah you love your baby sitter, which is a big relief for your mamma. You try to turn over a lot which means mamma is always dreading the eventual phase of not leaving your unsupervised for a second. You are noisy feeder and are quite happy humming loudly to yourself while feeding. You have the cutest laugh that makes my tiredness fade away, even if for a few minutes only. You enjoy being held up in the air, it brings out the most adorable toothless, open mouthed smile. You are quite fiesty and we are now used to you scolding us when we annoy you with one too many kisses and cuddles. You used to fuss about having your medicines but now we found the perfect way to make you have it- distract you with a book. “Roar went the lion” is your absolute favorite right now. I have your 100% attention when I am reading it to you. You forget everything around when that book is in front of you. Which means medicines without gagging. Thank god!
What I love right now is how many virtual aunts and uncles and baby cousins you have. They are all watching you grow and cheering you on. You don’t realize how much love surrounds you Z. From people who haven’t even met you! You are blessed, be grateful for it always my love.
I can’t wait to grow with you over the months and years to come ...
Dear Baby Z,
You are three months old today! Where did the time fly? You are no longer the wee little thing I was scared to hold because of how fragile you were. By God's grace you are a strong healthy girl I can more confidently carry around, especially since your neck is no longer like a spring. I can finally use the ring sling to wear you around!
We are getting more and more peeks of your personality. You are a calm and confident baby. You are chill unless you are hungry or sleepy (just like your mamma) But unlike mamma ,you are really patient, and put off crying if we are outside.
You coo and gurgle and chatter so much these days! Both your dad and I can't wait to get back from work so we can play with you. Our favourite thing is to say "I love you" to you because you try so hard to say it, moving your lips and contorting your tongue. We could just gobble you up! Our phone is now just a storage for your videos and we shamelessly spam all family WhatsApp groups with you, you cute button.
We also sing to you and you sing back to us. Well, either that or you are asking us to shut up and give you some peace of mind.
You had your first road trip before you were even 3 months! We went from Riyadh to Yanbu, travelling over a 1000 kms. You were a real sport Masha Allah.
You curiously looked around everywhere and seemed to enjoy the change of scene. Especially the beach!
You've already celebrated two eids with us, both of which mamma took as an opportunity to dress you up. If mamma had her way you'd even sleep with those cute bow headbands.
Each day with you is a blessing Z. Some nights I stay awake looking at how perfect God has made you and how merciful He is for gifting us you. I love every inch of you and sometimes i feel my heart would just burst out of love. You are our soulmate. Continue being the joy you are my Zaddoo.
Circles Of Love
I don't remember a time before my younger brother was born. All my childhood memories have him firmly attached to it. That's not the case with my youngest brother though. I have memories in which he is not there. I was six when he was born and I still clearly remember when I was told that I have another baby brother.
My already complete family became 'more complete'. This tiny crying human filled a void none of us knew existed. How do I explain that? That a single person can change the 'character' and dynamics of a family. That each member brings with them their own set of quirks and flaws and endearing traits that the rest of the family adapts to.
My siblings and I have completely different personalities. We have some overlapping behaviours, but mostly we are as different as they come. And yet, our family accommodates all of us-- my father with his penchant for weird cowboy hats that pisses off my mother, my mother with her international cutlery smuggling, my extremely social brother, and my incredibly headstrong other brother who has more borders up than the US, and the ultra-sensitive crybaby me-- we all comfortably fit in there,god knows how. We roll our eyes but secretly cherish each other's weirdness, a weirdness without which we would be less....us.
What I want to say is, if you have ever felt like you are insignificant or replaceable- stop. You are not. You are an oddball without which your family and friends would be less them. Your absence will be that itch that cannot be scratched away. You missing in their lives will be akin to getting stuck mid-sneeze and walking around like you have toothpick stuck in your nose.
You, reading this, you are valued. You are cherished. And without you, a family somewhere would be living incomplete lives.
Reasons I think you should / shouldn't be getting married for
Reasons I think you should be getting married for :
You will always have-
1. Someone to ring your phone when you misplace it (in your handbag).
2. Someone to scratch that unreachable itch on your back. I call it the blindspot of itches.
3. Someone to peel you off the bed when you are too lazy to function .
4. Someone you can whine to (and at) and unleash preserved eye rolls that you can't do in front of the inducer of the eye rolls.
5. Someone who will not judge you when you wake up in the middle of the night and head straight to the fridge to eat a slice of cheese.
6. You have one shared armrest at least in cinemas, airplanes etc. At least it's just one hand awkwardly hanging so that it doesn't touch a stranger.
7. More dishes you can order off the menu and try. Which means more leftovers. Which means more food for the next day's lazy breakfast.
8. Someone to click Instagram worthy pictures of you
9. Someone to warm you when you forget your coat
10. Someone to wait with your bags as you use the toilet at the airport. Seriously, who wants to take their cabin bag, laptop bag, and travel pillow inside?
Reasons you shouldn't be getting married for-
1. Because your neighbour's aunt's chaiwallah's dog's sister's owner thinks so.
2. Because someone said your eggs/seeds will shrivel up and die.
3. Because your parents are fed up with you
4. Because the guy's mother needs a live in maid
5. Because the guy's father is banking on dowry to be his retirement fund.
6. Because your parents don't know what to do with you after your college
7. Because someone old in your family is about to die and seeing you tie the knot and multiply into little yous is somehow their last wish ( what a weird wish to have)
8. Because you need a green card.
9. Because your younger sibling wants to get married and you are "blocking" them. As though you cause some kind of sibling-eclipse that prevents people from looking at your sibling.
10. Because you are fed up eating out and washing your own clothes and mom can't move in with you.
Seriously though, marry only and only if you want to, to the person you want to, and whenever you want to. Anyone who says otherwise can go lick a cabbage flavoured kulfi
Just the way you are.
I've had a love hate relationship with my body. With my teenage years riddled with a lot of insecurities and acceptance and self love gradually seeping in in the later years.
From body hair to fat in places where we have been told we should not have fat to cellulite to tea shaded skin - a deadly combo of insecurities has been hammered in from childhood. A stray remark is not stray for the person it's targeted at. It makes them take out the mirror of insecurities which always reflects the worst in each person. It doesn't show the cute dimples or the way your eyes sparkle when you meet your loved ones. It just shows back a portrait of unappreciated features. It distorts your perception of reality as you lose sight of all the goodness in you.
I thought I'd mostly come out of this rabbit hole by embracing myself fully for myself, as I am. Even during pregnancy, I loved how I looked. I loved my big life giving tummy. I didn't mind the stretched skin. Oh and I was definitely in for the lustrous hair and clear face pregnancy gifted me in the last trimester. I felt truly empowered during this time.
Then I gave birth and things happened to the body that nothing prepares you for. The stretched skin left stretch marks. Skin sagged as my bub moved from the safety of my womb to my arms. Why don't we discuss more how the tummy will be adamantly out there chilling for sometime instead of immediately going to its pre baby state? My hair was no longer lush. It immediately turned brittle and I started shedding like it's autumn on my head. The skin is now back to the pimple pool party state. And then, the cherry on the cake- people begin telling you how fat you have become and how you need to lose weight and get back in shape.
Hello, I took nine months to grow a human who violently exited my body. My body had taken a hit nourishing and then bringing life into the world. It continues to nurture by being the source of nourishment for this new life. But all that matters is the extra kgs? I am sick of how women are made to feel like shit. Even in their most vulnerable moments.
I don't want to get into this loop. I don't want my daughter hearing one negative word out of my mouth about my body. She's definitely going to hear from others how women are never enough in their own bodies, how they are too fat or skinny or hairy or dark or pale. Never beautiful until they exactly fill the mold society made for them. One which requires them to go through incredible pain as they get waxed and threaded and augmented and injected till they become Frankenstein's diva.
Z, you are the most beautiful thing in my life. But it's not your skin color or face that makes you beautiful. It's just all of you- your breathtaking smile, your little spontaneous giggles, the curiosity in your eyes as you intently absorb everything around you, the way you turn your little head till I exit your line of vision as I leave the room...you are enough and more my love. Like Bruno Mars says, just the way you are.
And to anyone who comes trying to make you feel less, tell them to come see your mamma.
EVERY DAMN PERSON WOULD FAIL
If there existed a mandatory aptitude and competence test to become a parent, human life would cease to exist. Because EVERY DAMN PERSON WOULD FAIL. No coaching, no book, no podcast can prepare you for parenthood. The only way you can test being a parent is by actually becoming one. With a real kid.
A kid who's dependent on you 24/7 for every single thing. A kid who has so many needs but can't communicate them with you for the first couple of years, so you are left guessing what could be the reason they are crying their lungs out at 1 am. A kid who doesn't need to know how zapped out you are due to sleep deprivation and work when they want to fed and comforted. A kid who will poop, noisily, or projectile vomit at the absolute most inconvenient time and place.
You are essentially bringing into the world a living being that's 1/10th your size but yanks you out and replaces itself as the center of your universe.
Planning years ahead doesn't prepare you. Nine months of pregnancy doesn't prepare you. N number of advices from those around doesn't prepare you. There's nothing you can do except take a deep breath, dive, and hope you survive.
Us parents become our children's care takers, healers, counsellors, chefs, nutritionists, butlers, teachers without any training. We are bound to make a mistake. Or two. Or so many that we wonder whether our child will grow up to write a book about her traumatic childhood.
However, one thing remains undisputed- most of us voluntarily wake up to get wrung out and discarded like a dirty dishcloth by the world - day after day, rain or shine- just so we can give our little humans a life better than we have. I didnt know it was possible to so fervently wish success and goodness for another person or feel so much concern for someone that it keeps you up at night. We want them to scale heights that are too dizzy for us and go further into the horizon than we ever could. If we could, we would string every possible opportunity under the sun to shine their soul and offer to them on a plate.
This is what we want. But what we do is a lot of trial and error, each child a guinea pig as we test out our philosophies on them, praying to God they don't end up as serial killers. Our kids won't be as forgiving about our shortcomings as we hope, but they will eventually come around and realize that you-their parent- did the absolute best you could for them at every point in time. When? Yes, it's what our parents always told us - When they finally have their own kids. And so, as they say, life comes to a full circle. We can only hope it's the best life we could have modelled for our little humans.
Dear Baby Z,
You are two months today!
In this month you have doubled in size mashaAllah. You seem to be on the taller side and have outgrown clothes that fit you just two weeks ago. Well, I guess need to remember that's just 1/4th of your life till now.
You now smile a lot and smile freely. On most days you wake up with a big smile that just makes my day. You coo and make sounds when we talk to you. You love your massage and bath time with your uppa, you smile and gurgle and talk in your cute lil baby language as he slathers coconut oil on you (There's no escaping the mallu, Z).
We went out with you a couple of times and it was a sight to see you react to the outside world. You were like a llil excited puppy turning your head left and right and taking in all the lights.
We found a hack to manage doing chores with you around. We just pop you into the carry cot which you somehow seem to believe is prison because you become absolutely still in it. Dont know how long till you figure out that you can move around in it. ????
Today is also the day I rejoined work. It breaks my heart to leave you behind but I also need to do it. For me. And for you .And I pray Allah makes it the best decision for us as a family.
The other day I was sorting through your clothes (you have more clothes than us lil lady) and realized your new born onesies dont fit you now. They are literally half rhe size you are currently wearing! I know I should be esctatic that you are growing well, mashaAllah, but a little bit of kt heart breaks to as month by month you grown out of your littleness. Soon you won't want to be held as much as you do now. So I can't throw away these cute onesies that don't fit you anymore. I'll keep them with me, to remind me of the time you fit so perfectly, so snug, in the crook of my arm. How you insitinctively fold around my shoulder. How you bend and turn and dig your head and elbows into me till you are comfortable.
You are just perfect, Z. You have made my life infinitely better and more colorful.
Three years of marriage
Of getting on each other's nerves
Of fighting over the silliest of things
Of going to bed angry and waking up to say sorry
Of fights, oh so many fights
Of make up hugs
Of badly made food which gradually improved
Of finishing each other's left overs
Of tagging each other on silly memes.
Of the lamest bets
Of inside jokes that won't make sense to anyone else
Of take out food from the same ol' place
Of just knowing what the other person is thinking
Of sticking with each other through tough times
Of pushing each other to our best
Three years of love.
Three years of laughter.
Three years of warm companionship that, even after the worst of fights, makes you keenly look forward to the next day, next year, next decade.
Now joined by a tiny Z who's made the ride even more fun. Oh what a ride it's gonna be!
Alhamdulillah ya rabb
Motherhood is guilt!
Motherhood is guilt. After overwhelming, overpowering love, guilt is what defines motherhood. I did not expect it to hit me with such force. I mean I'd read about it from other women and witnessed my own mom torment herself with it for things she had no control over, like our health issues. But I still didnt expect it to hit me with such force from day 1. Small bump on her arm? My fault. Isn't napping much in the daytime? Oh no she is going to have developmental issues. Crying a bit longer?Omg i broke her! I. Just. Can't. Stop. Feeling. Guilty.
Motherhood is guilt.
Going back to work makes me feel guilty but I know not going would also make me feel shit.
Motherhood is guilt and there's no way of making it better. But there are ways to make it worse and society is already doing a good job of ensuring all mothers are constantly feeling guilt.
Stay at home mom? You are a bad role model.
Work outside mom? You aren't an involved mother.
Breastfeeding mom? We will shoot you dirty looks if you nurse in public but if your child cries out of hunger we will judge you.
Formula feeding mom? You are less of a mom and lazy even though you probably sacrifice sleep every night to sterlize bottle and feed your child.
Mom who follows her dreams? You are selfish
Mom who sacrificed her dreams? You are a bad example.
There's just no way we can win because we are constantly being compared against an ideal that doesn't exist. The bar for being a good mom is so so ridiculously high that we have given up. While a dad just needs to "babysit" his own child once in a while to be awarded "Dad of the year". (Shout out though to tge fully involved, amazing dads out there)
Motherhood is guilt and I can't get over this guilt that now seems to come way too naturally. But what I can hope for is a more considerate society that doesn't make a sport out of guilt tripping mothers. Let there be less of mom shaming and more of gifting chocolates and flowers to moms every day. Ok, I got carried away, but you get the point.
Dear Baby Z,
After 42 days in your home country you have come to another land. To a home where you won't really be ever fully "at home". You are too young to notice, but these temporary reunions and farewells with loved ones are probably going to be a part of your life for some time. I don't know how I can prepare you for something that's going to be fulfilling and heart breaking at the same time. Here's how it's going to be -You are overjoyed to be back together with your loved ones yet at the back of your mind you are reluctantly crossing off dates to when you will have to leave them behind again. The thought of leaving doesn't let you enjoy that moment with them because fully immersing yourself means having a more difficult time extracting yourself from the nurturing warmth that is your family.
Z, you are one of the lucky ones. To have a family. One that cares for you so much. Your uncle B (who doesn't want you to call him uncle) loves holding you and somehow has a knack of putting you to sleep. Uncle S gave you your most unique gift- a way to record your tiny footprints. Your grandpa is not much of babies person and yet he loves the daily pictures of you I spam the family WhatsApp group with. You spent most of your time with your Mamma's Umma, who's the reason mamma has been sane this whole time. Your grandma has held you as I caught up sleep, cleaned you up during nights I was too exhausted to get out of bed, played with you endlessly. All while also entertaining the numerous guests who have come to see you over the last months. Oh so many guests, Z! I have lost track of the aunts and uncles and cousins who came from across Kerala just to hold, kiss you and gift you the cutest outfits. The love you got is nourishing and you are flourishing into a happy baby because of it.
Z, you are going to find out anyway, so I might as well be the first one to break it to you: goodbyes are going to get more and more painful. At one point even heartbreaking. It will be tough to say goodbye to your parents, to your annoying siblings, to your aging grandparents. Goodbyes will get even more painful when you realize you will miss so much of each other's life or that there's a chance the one you are bidding farewell to might not be there to see you next time . You will feel a deep pit in your stomach and a lump in your throat. But this is life, baby. Goodbyes are there to make us grateful for what we have and cherish it while we have it.
Now begins a new chapter in a new place. We promise to try and make this home for you baby. Inshallah.
Dear Baby Z,
You are a month old today. Not a new born anymore!It is fascinating watching you. I can spend my whole day looking at you, your tiny fingers and toes, your puckered lips and small chin. Your chubbier by the
day cheeks call out to be bitten!
You are a funny lil girl who makes the funniest faces. We have a ball discussing what you are thinking with each of those expressions. You love looking around with your big curious eyes. You want to learn the whole world in one go. You love lying next to the window and looking out at whatever's happening. Rain or shine, you enjoy your window gazing time.
You have decreased sleep time and increased wake time. You smile spontaneously these days and gurgle while awake. You hum while feeding which is the cutest thing ever. You also keep clearing you throat afterwards as though you are going to launch into a speech. ????
On the 14th day of your life you got your first official document- Your passport! You slept through the entire thing, even when they took your teeny weeny thumb impression. Also, you look like a baby politician in your passport photo. But that's because the studio guy photoshopped a nehru coat on you for some reason. A cute baby politician nonetheless.
Z, a few days back I was seated in the terrace and feeding you. you slept as I nursed you and stroked your head. It was pouring outside and the rain pattered away on the tin roof. There was a cool breeze coming in from the open windows. And I thought to myself soon this moment is going to be a distant memory that I will take out every once in a while, dust, and fondly remember. You will be a woman who has her own life and dreams and hopes but I would still remember that moment when you were so tiny that you snuggled comfortably in my arms, arms that will hold you for as long as they can. For as long as you allow me to.
What's changed since having a little human come into my life?
My schedule. It's not until you are bang in the middle of it that you realize how much physical, emotional, and mental space these tiny little things occupy. Reminders that she is now in our lives are scattered across the house, from cloth diapers and swaddles hung up to dry indoors (since the Sun is playing hide and seek with Kerala) to gifts from friends and family to her purple rattle which we take chances entertaining her with. Ever since she's come earthside I have mostly lost track of time. It doesn't matter to her whether it's a 3 pm on a Wednesday or a 12 am on a Saturday, if she need to be fed and comforted, she needs to be fed and comforted. Babies and their needs transcend time and space.
My body. Pregnancy, delivery, and feeding changes you so much that even the most body positive person can go through moments of intense shame and negativity with regards to their body. Pregnancy gave me luscious hair and great skin and the delivery left me a cute as a button baby, but also hairfall, tiger stripes, and a body I don't recognize in the mirror. It's hard to grapple with this change, especially when you have people telling you how much weight you have put on. Well as they say, if it takes 9 months to bake, it takes 9 months to unmake (or something along those lines)
Also, now that your body is a dairy manufacturing unit, you smell like milk all the time. But hey, your baby loves the smell, so who cares!
My emotions. My Z has completely rewired my brain. All my emotions have lined up and decided to play dodgeball with my mind. One moment I am euphoric, the other I am so blue I don't know what to do.
I don't sleep the same anymore because I startle and wake up to check if she's breathing. I guess guilt and paranoia the constant companions in this journey. Every sigh, every lump, every hiccup, every spit up convinces me I am the worst mother to the best child. I can't stop obsessing because I feel like something sacred that I should protect inside me is now out unprotected in a world that has dangers lurking in every corner.
No matter what my emotional state, mostly my heart is a puddle around my feet because I can't handle how much love I feel for some one that just came into my life.
My photo gallery. I have become that parent. The one who photographs even the shadow of a smile. I have videos of her hiccupping and maybe a hundred odd photos of her sleeping. Talking about babies sleeping, why do they look so darn cute?! I might have spent an hour and a half putting her to sleep but when she does sleep I want to kiss her chubby wubby cheeks which will definitely wake her.
My sensitivity to sound. A sleeping baby is a landmine you don't want to set off. I get pissed at even door creaks now. Which is not really productive in India where there's a constant symphony of mixer-grinders vigorously grating coconuts, pressure cookers whistling the different stages of lunch, clothes being violently cleaned on washing stones in the backyard, sputtering rickshaws and motorcycles that seem to like giving their all to the horn when they pass houses that have sleeping babies in them. What's the point of even putting the baby to sleep really...
My search history. Who knew I'd spend hours googling and reading up on the color and consistency of baby poop and vomit. My Google searches now begin with "do newborns.. " or "Is it normal for newborns.."
There's a lot more but I don't want Z to take complete control over my writing too. As it is, she's taken over most other things. Not that I am complaining...I kinda like this little one
Dear Baby Z,
Today you turn one week old.
In this time you have fed probably a bazillion times, familiarizing mamma with sleep deprivation, one day at a time. But mamma is alright with it as long as you grow up to be the strong warrior girl you are meant to be.
You have been poked and prodded so many times for blood tests and this test and that test. Each time you cry mamma realizes it's possible to love someone so much that you are willing to take their pain or do anything to make them stop hurting.
In this one week you have been held and kissed by your grandparents and uncles and aunts and granduncles and grandaunts.
Yesterday (Friday) we sacrificed a goat for you. The meat was distributed among neighbours, family, and those who can't afford to eat well.
Yesterday your umblical cord stump fell off finally and you had your first bath after a coconut oil massage (you are a mallu girl after all). You slept soooo well after it, not waking up to feed even after we tickled your tummy and toes.
In the last 7 days you have been photographed in every possible angle and pose. You so much as twitch and our hands reach for the phone to preserve the beautiful moment right then. You have gifted us so many smiles and make the cutest expressions in your sleep. Your yawns, your stretches, your squeaky toy hiccups... every thing you do manages to make us fall even more head over heels in love again.
What a blessing you are in our lives!
You aren’t alone in these choppy waters.
Some days can be more overwhelming than others. Especially when you are bang in the middle of adulting. There’s bills to pay and chores to do and deadlines to meet. As if that’s not enough there’s also the intricate web of relationships that you need to carefully maintain.
It. Gets. Tiring.
But so many of us don’t know what the person on the other side of the screen is going through.
What I put on social media is often the best part of myself. The most beautiful selfie of all the ones I took. The best pictures from the once in a year trip home. The highlights of the relationship with my husband...
What you don’t see are the days filled with drudge, the pigmented face that acne likes playing hide and seek with, the mornings when your bones feel like they could break just by getting out of bed, the ugly fights with le husband (unspoken truth: the best of marriages also have ugly fights). But just because I don’t put it up doesn’t mean these moments don’t exist. They are as real as all the good times in my life.
We all have them. You aren’t alone in these choppy waters.
I just want to share with you one small but significant thing that makes the sailing easier for me: a short dua. It’s part of the morning adkhar: Hasbiallahu la ilaaha illa huwa alaihi tawakkalthu wa huwa rabbul arsh il adheem. (Allah is sufficient for me. There is none worthy of worship but Him. I have placed my trust in Him and He is the Lord of the majestic throne)
This dua has been a guiding light for me. It’s done miracles for me. It’s made the most stressful days of my life manageable. It’s helped me get through many many tough days.
I am not lying, each day I have made this dua, that day has been a good day for me. Not that nothing bad happens, but I can feel how much heartbreak and evil I have been protected from by virtue of it.
Embrace this dua with completely faith and sincerity and watch it do wonders in your life! Internalize the message: God is in absolute control, trust that and let go of every negative chain pulling you back.
PS: here’s a completely oddly dressed, sleepy picture of me. Just because.
Sanskari Guide to Sanskari Cooking
Sanskari Guide to Sanskari Cooking
I have noticed that education and exposure to other ways of thinking has corrupted the girls of today, making them demand ridiculous things like basic rights and respect. This is against our culture and values. As a #SanskariNari ???? I want to bring back our ways and #MakeLifeRegressiveAgain
As a service to our Sanskari society, I'd like to offer my humble but deficient (I am a woman after all) guide to returning to our sanskari roots. It all begins in the kitchen. ????????
First things first, pull your girls out of schools and colleges. They risk cross contamination since education is worse than food poisoning due to salmonella. Worry not, just brainwash them thoroughly under a steady stream of cultural expectations and then wipe them clean with Ekta Kapoor's Hindi serials. The next part of this guide is addressing the girls directly. Please read it out to them.
Now girls, let's start with the first step. Cleanliness. Shower and wash away all the dirt that is dreams and ambitions. Clothe yourself in the finest sanskari robes weaved with a million 'log kay kahenge' and step into the kitchen. Let's start with onions. The trick to cutting an onion quickly is to remember all the times you have been catcalled and groped in public. Channel that rage onto the knife and watch the onion become paste in minutes. Onion tears are inevitable, so you might as well remember that you have a degree but aren't allowed to work because you might come in contact with 'strange men'. All Indian dishes require tomatoes as much as our top politicians need misogyny. So be generous with them tomatoes. Garlic adds that extra twist, that suspense, the feeling you have while riding cabs alone or walking down deserted streets at night. You don't know what's gonna hit you when.
Take out the iron pan.???? Careful! It's heavy. But not as heavy as the burden of protecting yourself from rape. So you got it covered, girl! (Literally. Or you are asking for it.) Add some pure desi ghee. Remember, your character has to be purer than that. Now add the onions and saute them till they turn a nice brown, the kind of brown that needs fair and lovely to get a job and marriage proposals. Add the garlic. Now tomatoes ???????????? and watch them ooze the juice till they become as mushy as desi uncles and aunties when they find out you are an engineer who stays at home to serve the in laws. Add half a teaspoon each of chilli powder, turmeric, garam masala and a generous tablespoon of your broken dreams. Let them stew well till you can smell your half lived life in the air. At this point you can add frozen carrots and peas to make it a hearty meal. (Please note, if you don't have good news soon we'll have to freeze your eggs along with the vegetables too.) And voila your sanskari curry is ready to be devoured! By the men first, of course.
We are all drowning in this ocean
Sometimes life, instead of giving us lemons like it is supposed to, becomes sadistic and hands us acid in pretty bottles. It then stands back and watches while we burn ourselves and those around us. With lemons we could have at least made lemon pickles, but what do we do with acid other than gulp it down like vodka shots?
It could be a strained marriage, financial insecurity, family crises and fussy children, debilitating pain, depression or other such woes. These problems keep you up at night, tossing and turning in bed, yet the next day you plaster your face with the brightest of smiles and face the world anyway. But on some days you don't have the energy for that. You just want to create a blanket fortress in your bed and curl up inside its protective warmth with a steaming cup of tea and a box of chocolates. You don't want to see another soul or hear another voice. And then, when your soul has gained back a little of its shine, you slip the mask back on and dive head first into the world again.
Our heavily curated and filtered virtual lives would have us believe that every single person we know is better off than us. Some are getting married, some having babies, some jet setting around the globe, some breaking glass ceilings and conquering the corporate world...midst all this you feel like you are the only one left out. The only one life did not shower with blessings. Was I asleep while the lotteries were being handed out, you wonder. Crippling doubt becomes the constant companion of your inner voice and makes you unable to keep one step forward without moving three steps back. So you live life like you do a chore on your to do list, mindlessly.
What we fail to realize is that everyone in our friend list, every one on Facebook, every single person on this planet is being tried in some or the other way.
Your friend who just got married might have just sacrificed a promotion she really wanted. Your neighbour's new baby is adorable but a fussy child who doesn't let his parents sleep a wink. Your cousin with the great job is spending every waking hour tracking deadlines and lives between her meetings. That person whose instagram looks like a travel magazine feels horribly lonely no matter where he goes, he has been escaping himself all this time.
The pictures, the statuses, the videos are just glimpses of people when they are at their absolute best, when they have climbed the peak after a long time uphill. That is NOT regular life for anyone. Everyone around you is drowning in work, family commitments, financial obligations, illnesses. We are all drowning in this ocean- at different points in our life- and are desperately holding breath. You look up and see others from underwater in the few brief moments they go up to gasp for air. You envy the oxygen they are breathing and think you will never get there and inhale sweet air. But you will. Oh you will and you already have before! And in those few seconds, remember that there are others around you wishing they were you.
So the next time you emerge from the murky water that is life, to get a few seconds of rest and inhale some sweet air, be present. Be grateful. Know that while this pleasure is temporary and this moment fleeting, it is yours to seize. By embracing mindfulness it is for you and only you to decide how to live and love and lose. Others' successes or failures don't have any impact on your life and its trajectory. And by God what freedom and power there is in that realization! For then, when you are eventually pulled back into the water, your lungs are steadier, your breaths are measured, and your mind is at peace, knowing that when the time comes, you will be back up again. Till then, like Dory, just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming swimming swimming...
Oh what fun times.
I have this thing for diaries. And journals. And fancy notepads. Anything with pages. I’ve had it since my childhood. In my tweens I wanted that time’s rage- the diary with a lock. Because my tweenage secrets obviously require maximum safety and protected from brother called beings. I never got that diary, but I did invent a secret language so I can write without fear. It was just a chart of symbols I made to correspond to each letter of the alphabet. For the first few entries I made sure I wrote it in my secret language. What a kick it was knowing that my brothers couldn’t access my deepest darkest secrets.
Then one day I was very tired. So I wrote that day’s entry in English. And of course I wrote about my crush on that day. And of course my brothers decided to go through my diary the moment I fell asleep. The next day they announced to the whole world and their mother about my crush. All the kids in our school van, in the neighborhood, and also my cousins were gleefully informed about it.
Oh what fun times. Not.
Anyway, coming back to my love for diaries. I adore them. I like the classy leather-bound ones and the funky colorful ones. I like to do list diaries and bullet journals. I like branded office journals and generic annual journals. I just have an irrational love for them.
The chief sufferer right now because of this is my husband. I confiscate any kind of stationery he gets from office. When he tries to take notes, he finds I have already marked the book with my name.
I have diaries for personal reflections, for my poems, for work stuff, for Ramadan stuff, for my future...I look up things I can have journals for. I can’t explain the thrill of getting a new journal, feeling the cover, and smelling the pages. And the best of all- writing my name of it and claiming it as mine. It’s just something I enjoy so much.
So why am I writing this? Just to share that you need something you are irrationally taken by. Something which makes you as happy as a child in a candy store (or me in a stationery shop). Find that one hobby or passion or skill and pursue it. Be it knitting or kick boxing or tie dying or stamp-collecting. This is what makes you, you. When life gets too hectic and new hurdles seem to come out of nowhere, you need something to remind you of you are and what you love. Do this for yourself.
The world is drained of its color
There’s a kind of tiredness that reaches the very core of your bones. It coils around your veins and settles comfortably in every free crevice it finds. If you don’t pay attention it can creep into your mind and make you emotionally and mentally tired. Once that happens it’s like the world is drained of its color and there’s nothing in it that can cheer you up.
We all feel it at some point in our life.
A physical and mental drain. A deep exhaustion that is hard to explain.
I’ve felt that for some time now. The kind of all consuming fatigue that makes you not want to participate in life. But I still (try) power on and get through from one moment to the next, one task to another, today to tomorrow. It’s also why I haven’t written much in a while. Writing takes some energy and I had none to spare.
Then today I had lunch by myself(I eat alone whenever at work) and decided to tune out of the world for that short time. Switched my phone off and set it to the side. Ordered a good meal and paid all my attention to it. I enjoyed the flavors and textures in my mouth as I gazed outside the restaurant window at the people passing by. I let my mind wander and then come back to the present.
It was a gift of uninterrupted time to myself. And I loved it.
I feel more energized and refocused. The tiredness is there in the background but I know that’s part of adulthood. You just fight it out and plod on till the next bit of shade you find.
To everyone who’s in the same boat, take some time out from rowing vigorously. Let the water around you come to a calm still. Enjoy the reflections on it. Take a long sip from the stream. Then continue. Where you want to reach isn’t going anywhere.
Much love xx
Growing up I don't remember having too many clothes or shoes or accessories. But it wasn't a point of sorrow for us kids because we had other things- books, road trips, train trips, good food, and... Sports. My father was and continues to be a sports enthusiast. He hates seeing us sit idle (it's another thing that I still turned out to be a sloth, instead of a human). When we were in school he'd send us to sports camps just to keep us out of the house and moving. My mom would take my brothers and me to a far off coaching centre on the weekends just so we got better training. She'd sit and wait for hours as we played badminton. And she did it willingly!
I remember innumerable road trips across India. We had a green omni van in which we'd all pile in and set off for weekend trips. Mom would make hot rotis and spicy curries and loads of snacks to keep us sated throughout. Now the car deserved to be in a museum, it was a unique specimen. My dad's friends used to say that it's the only car that runs on three things- 1.Petrol. 2. Gas. 3. Human Push from the back. That's how frequently it broke down. Yet, we had fun in that rickety car. We never felt deprived. Even now, when we are financially far better off, I've noticed our quality of life hasn't really changed much, in fact we might have been happier back then. It's because we never really took pleasure in buying things just for the sake of it. (Although I admit sometimes buying things does make me feel good).
Years later I wanted a video camera, I begged and cried and grovelled and dad agreed to buy me one. On one condition- I had to use it to interview people. So at 17 I did my first interview. We had gone to an eco-resort in Wayanad and he asked me to interview the owner. What I didn't expect was the owner to take it seriously. She went and changed into a silk sari. Asked the head chef to come wearing his poofy chef hat. They chose the best location and I awkwardly interviewed them as my brother recorded. When we were leaving she asked me to send them a copy of the interview and the chef asked which tv channel it would come on...it never made it out of my hard drive. I used that camera to record some of our trips and share it with our relatives back home. It was my first tryst with journalism and story telling.
In 2010 I joined a journalism and literature degree. My father got posted to Italy the same year. On our first visit there, he asked me to set up a blog. We did a 1000 km road trip across Italy, going from Brindisi to Rome to Florence to Pisa to Venice and back. I wrote a travelogue on it. It was my first serious piece and it got great feedback. I got hooked to writing.
Later on I used this blog in my personal statements to get into better colleges and courses. It was and is my baby. Just like this page. And it happened all because my father pushed me to do something with my skills. He invested in me too, heavily. Sending me outside India to study was a heavy heavy financial strain and a cultural taboo, but he never saw it as that. He let me see the world and grow into my own person, ready all the while to catch me if I fall.
My parents gave me and my siblings incredible opportunities at every stage, but they also made sure that we earned them. Things came with conditions. And we only benefited from it. It didn't spoil us. It didn't make us entitled. It made us experience-rich. As a writer now, I benefit from this huge pool of stories and experiences: They took us to see places, my mom accompanied me to libraries till I could go myself, they bought dictionaries and guides for us, encouraged us to stay physically fit, made fun of us constantly so we don't take ourselves too seriously.
While they've stumbled a lot in raising us and have subjected me, their first born, to some weird parenting experiments, I think we turned out fine. My mom and dad didn't read any parenting books or watch how-to vlogs, but they got this parenting thing right. They taught us to care, to share, to be empathetic and compassionate. They let us fly, but reminded us that the air should be under our wings, not inside our head. And if we did get full of ourselves, they never hesitated to knock some sense into us. They did it right because when you parent like that, you become a root no one wants to go too far from. Because no matter how high we reach, it's still them holding us together and high.
'I WILL ADJUST IT?!'
Y'all asked for my awful but funny in hindsight eyebrow story, so here you have it.
So, I have been a caterpillar eyebrow kinda girl since birth. My eyebrows have no personality. You can say my eyebrows are the Imran khan (the bollywood one) of eyebrows. So lacking in life are they that they need eyebrow CPR. Having straight eyebrows mean you always look kinda bored or pissed. I am sure those with bushy eyebrows can relate.
Anyway, there was a time in uni that I used to get it threaded. Not shaped. I'd get the middle monstrosity removed. Basically eyebrow divorce to separate my left from the right. I'd go to parlours in India where you can get this thing done for 10 bucks. Then in Malaysia it became more expensive but I still needed two eyebrows instead of one, so I decided to part with my money.
One day my friend and I were out in central KL shopping and we see an Indian parlour. Both of us needed to get threading done on various parts of our face (#browngirlproblems) so we decided to make a pit stop to harvest our facial hair. We enter this dingy parlour (should have taken that as a red flag) and see a nervous north Indian lady sitting in the corridor. She had the air of someone about to be interviewed. We ignore her and get in.
It's my turn. The beautician asks me to lie down on the massage table. (Second red flag, why should I lay flat to get eyebrows threaded? This is against the core principles of threading) She doesn't start threading. Instead, she calls the nervous north indian lady (N cube L) and asks her to thread my Imran Khans. So this is the interview. And my brows are the test. And I am the participant who hasn't given consent. Before I can say anything N cube L starts threading. As she is threading the beautician is tsk tsking and shaking her head disapprovingly. I don't even feel the pain of hair being ripped out of their comfortable homes because I don't know wth is going on. Then, after what seemed like eternity, she stops N cube L and says 'What is this? This is so thin. You don't even know how to do it. Leave it. I will adjust it.'
'I WILL ADJUST IT?!'
THESE ARE MY BROWS THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT. You can 'adjust' the spice in a curry, or the cheeni in the chai, or the gaumutra in a bhakt, but YOU DON'T ADJUST A GIRL'S FRIKKIN EYEBROWS.
So long story short, the beautician took over and ravaged my eyebrows. I walked around with super malnourished eyebrows that looked like stick figure limbs for a couple of weeks. The thing with eyebrows too thin is that you look constantly surprised or like a Hindi Serial vamp. I looked like a surprised vamp. Lesson learnt- don't volunteer your face to any aspiring beautician. Or you will have to put up with 'adjusted' eyebrows
I was always an awkward skinny kid
I was always an awkward skinny kid. Couple that with my height (I'm tall by Indian standards) and there were more than enough jokes by well meaning uncles and aunts on how they can use me as a stick (thotti- a long think stick/bamboo pole) to pluck fruits from high branches.
I was (still am) a fairly hairy child. I had thick hair not just on my head, but on my face too. My classmates would call me 'mucchad' (mustachioed man?) to tease me and I'd pretend it didn't hurt me. Then I'd come home and put besan (gram flour) paste on my face and wait for it to dry and then rub it off vigorously because I'd heard besan can pull of facial hair from the root. It didn't really work. But I did have soft skin for some time.
In 6th grade, when my hairiness was becoming more prominent, my mom made me get a boy cut because she thought it's a good idea to make the awkward me look ever more awkward (kidding, but I did look horrible). My height ensured that I was always the last person in school assembly line. Once as a random teacher was standing in front of our line I tried to stretch and peak at her. From the front she could see only my head. And she goes 'hey why are you standing in the girls line?'. Everyone giggled as I wished I could melt into the soil under my feet.
Then came the glorious college years. So much fun, so much freedom, so much food. In 4 years I gained more than a couple of kilos. Now I was fat. Like even my fingers were fat, fat. And all everyone would say to me at weddings and funerals was how I'd gained so much weight. There was this one annoying beauty parlour waali aunty that was hell bent on making me buy a shady 'slimming suit' from her. I just had to step into her parlour and she'd go 'you should try this suit it will make you look really slim.' Guess what this suit was called. Blue whale. I am not kidding. They thought the best name for a slimming suit was the name of the largest mammal on earth. I salute whoever came up with the name.
I eventually lost most of that weight naturally through exercise and diet. Now marriage and the comfort that comes with it has made me gain a kilo or two, but guess what, I am happy. On most days. I have stretch marks from the years of weight gain and loss, I have a chin which needs plucking every now and then, I have smile lines around my eyes that I gathered through the years as I laughed and smiled, and I have caterpillars instead of eyebrows (there's a funny eyebrow story I have that I don't know if I should share). I am a collage of scars and blemishes and warts. But most days when I look into the mirror I smile at the person I am. At this woman looking at me. This me I see in the mirror has seen so much, has experienced so much, has turned into a unique person. And I love this me with all her flaws and scars and pesky chin hair. It's hard to explain, but loving yourself and accepting yourself is one of the most exhilarating and liberating thing you can do. It's not easy always, but the more you do it, the more mental space and energy you have to do what you are really meant to do- make a mark on the world.
It was towards the end of fall, when copper corpses of leaves lined most roads, that I bought the first packet of tea for myself. I was in London, doing my Masters, and for the first time beginning to understand what ‘biting cold’ really meant. I needed something to warm me up and remind me of home. Since cooking was out of question back then, I turned to the next best thing- Chai. Tea.
If I remember right, the first packet I bought was a Twinning’s Earl Grey. Every morning after my prayers, eyes still heavy with unfinished sleep, I would switch on the kettle and make myself a cup of tea. I didn’t like the taste of black tea initially; it was nothing like the milky tea I was used to drinking back home. But with time, I found myself enjoying the drink. Not just the taste, but the feel of the hot cup on my cold hands as I tried to warm myself up, and the very distinct, soothing smell. For a few minutes, before I dove headfirst into the days work, I was happy. And then the day would begin and I would trudge through it, trying to make it till the end without losing a bit of myself.
It’s hard to explain to others, because it seems glamorous, the life in London. It was, after all, a city bursting with life, bustling with people from all corners of the world. But as much as I tried to settle in I found the place unsettled me more. It wasn’t just the external coldness; it was an internal one that slowly crept its way into my mind, chilling me to the bone. There were so many people, filling cafes and public squares and park benches, but I had never felt so alone before. I wanted to be ‘Out There’ enjoying all that the city had to offer. But on most days I couldn’t. Instead I would sit in my room sipping tea and pining to go back home. I lived 100 mts from the Thames and the Trafalgar Square, but I wished instead that I were at home having dinner with my family in my uneventful city.
So tea was what got me through that year when getting out of bed was a chore. I found myself drinking more and more of it. By the end of the first semester at uni. my shelf was lined with more than half a dozen flavors of tea, from Masala tea (my favourite) to peppermint to lemon to green tea. Looking back it’s funny, it’s like I was trying to drink away my troubles. (Well, the Muslim version of it, with a hot beverage instead of alcohol ;)) I was quite proud of my collection and the fact that if anyone visited me, I could ‘properly’ entertain them with my glorious tea collection.
I eventually moved back but what I took from London is my addiction to tea. It became a crutch on days I couldn't carry myself. These days I find myself drinking a lot of cardamom tea. I find it relaxing, the whole process. I don’t think of anything when I crush the cardamom in my small green mortar. I focus just on making the tea, waiting for the first bubbles to line the stainless steel pot, measuring in the aromatic tea leaves and crushed cardamom, watching the foam reach for the air and switching it off just before the foam escapes. Those ten minutes, from pouring the milk in to taking the last sip, that’s the time I just know everything is okay, and even if it isn’t, it will be. Some day.
Here's to swallowing our pride and learning to accept criticism that helps us grow.
There's a lot of talk these days of cutting off negative people from your life because they kill your vibe. I am all for the 'You don't need this kind of negativity in your life' line of thought if what we are talking about is toxic relationships and people who are out to pull you down. But that's the extent to which I will support it. I don't think you should cut off people who out of genuine goodwill call you out when you are doing something questionable or about to make a bad decision.
Here's a secret. My biggest critic is my dad. Then my husband. They will tell me outright if something I wrote sucks or lacks substance. They will mince no words. And If I am honest, it hurts. I mean, no one wants to hear they did something poorly. Especially from someone they care about. However, I need to hear it, this is the most honest feedback I get and I need it to improve as a writer. So even though I get upset most of the time I do (even though reluctantly) take what they have to say.
Sometimes you need to hear no. You need to hear that your ideas suck. You need to hear that you can do better. You will not get anywhere if all you have are friends and family who don't stop you when you are doing something wrong. You will not improve any skill if you don't get real feedback. So choose people who aren't just yes(wo)men who will not say anything to your face for fear of hurting you but won't mind discussing your flaws with others behind your back. Choose people who have the strength to call you out when you are wrong and to guide you in the correct direction. Choose people who are invested in your well being.
How do you tell apart the ones who care for you from the ones who don't? The genuine well wishers advice you in private and have your back when you need them. The fake ones will humiliate you in public and don't give a shit about you when you are in need. This automatically eliminates all uncles and aunties who will criticize you not to make you better but for a personal power trip.
Here's to swallowing our pride and learning to accept criticism that helps us grow.
Part of growing up is realising you were scared of the silliest things.
I still remember my primary school 'aayah'. She used to sit at the same spot everyday and monitor the kids during the lunch break. We had this tree in our school courtyard with tasty berries on them, I don't know what they are called. My friends and I used to pluck the low hanging ripe ones and gorge on them. Apparently they weren't supposed to be plucked by students (just meant to wilt and go waste I guess). One day the aayah caught me and held both my hands and gave me a death stare. She then said, 'if I catch you again...' and left it hanging there. It was a wonder I didn't pee out of fright right there. For the longest time I avoided even looking at her. She was the scariest lady I knew.
Now when I look back, she was a frail woman who probably wouldn't have done anything had I dared to pluck those berries again. But the little me found her as terrifying as pressure cooker whistles (they are the worst!)
One childhood fear I haven't grown out of is watching people blow balloons. I am terrified of it bursting, the sound makes my heart stop each time. And when kids throw balloons up in a room where the ceiling fan is on? (Just writing that made my chest constrict) I'm willing to murder them to prevent the balloon from bursting. Yes, I'm weird.
What are some of the fears you outgrew?
the desi community!
'But I am only trying to help,' she says after a particularly mean comment that she knows will hurt you.
'But I am only saying it for your good,' he says post his extremely useless, unsolicited advice that has turned your parents against you.
We all have such people in our lives. They aren't there when you are in need of genuine help, a shoulder to cry on, or just a willing ear.
But they will swoop in when things are particularly shitty just to give you hollow 'advice' or comments that are intended to cause pain.
I see this especially in our desi community. Got an unmarried daughter who's past 25? Tough luck for you and your daughter. You will have a barrage of queries from concerned 'well wishers' who ask you to be less picky, lower your standards, and basically marry the first thing that has an xy chromosome and is above 18. If you are the unmarried person, weddings will be ruined for you because either the guests will look at you like you are a malnourished orphan who just lost the one last good thing in her life, or they will come and try to set you up every bachelor in the vicinity.
I think a lot of us have developed mechanisms and comebacks to deal with such people, but we flounder when these 'I am only trying to help' types approach our parents and elders with 'concerns' about us. The last thing we want to see is our parents get hurt because of us. And these people are making it quite damn tough by blabbering stuff that alarms our fathers and mothers.
In my inbox I have messages from girls whose parents are stopping them from studying because someone said they can't get married if they are too educated. I have messages from girls who are not married yet and have to see their mothers shed tears because close relatives say unkind comments masquerading as 'I just want the best for them's and 'Don't tell me I didn't warn you's. I have heart broken men and women who aren't able to marry the person they like because some stupid aunt or uncle raised some non-issue and convinced their families not to proceed.
Here's a simple ADVICE for people who do this work of the devil by creating divisions between parents and children. Your nose doesn't belong in anyone's business except your own. Here's a Venn diagram in case it isn't clear. I am only saying it for your own good. ??
A man with dreams needs a woman with vision
When I first met le husband and wanted to know more about him I turned to the best investigation tool for desis- Facebook. I stealthily stalked him to find out more about him. In the process, one of the post he shared resonated with me and made it easier to say yes to him later. It went- "A man with dreams needs a woman with vision. Her perspective, faith, and support will change his reality. If she doesn't challenge you, then she's no good for you. Men who want to stay ordinary will tell you not to have expectations of them. Men who want to be great will want you to push them, pray with them, and invest in them." I like this quote so much because this goes both ways. It shows you what a great marriage can be like. While no one can and is responsible to change you for the better, having a person with vision by your side will make such a difference when you embark on your journey to unlock your true potential.
If you know you want to get married one day and are serious about reaching your dreams, you absolutely have to think long and hard about who you choose as a spouse. This person will either push you to do your best or hold you back. They won't necessarily hold you back by asking you not work or follow your dreams. What happens in most cases is that they will do that by being indifferent to your wishes and hopes for yourself. They will wear your spirit down by not believing you are capable of anything of signficance.
If you choose someone who really believes in you, s/he will not let you accept mediocrity for yourself. They will school you if required and convince you that you can do better. And that's the kind of partner you need if you want to reach somewhere without marriage sucking the dreams out of you.
So to all those ladies who message me asking whether they should proceed with a certain alliance while also mentioning how passionate they are about their studies/work etc. Be clear about where you want to be in life. Share these dreams (or a seed of it) with your suitor and see how he reacts. If it's indifference or worry or fear (girls with dreams are like kryptonite for many men) walk away from him. You deserve someone who's ready to invest in your dreams (and you should be ready to do that for him too). Trust me, this will be one of the best decisions you will make for yourself.
My father has been a tea addict since way before I existed. He used to drink 4-5 cups a day. It's probably a family thing. My grandma would prepare a full flask of black tea (kattan) the night before my uncle's exams to help him pull an all nighter. My uncle would dutifully finish the last drop of tea and then go to sleep.
Coming back to my dad. When other people look at their spouses they think of love or affection or something romantic. Every time my dad looked at my mom, he'd remember tea. And he'd ask her to make a cup. No matter what time of the day. My mom, clever person that she is, taught me to make tea as soon as I was able to learn (and convinced me that I am an expert in it) so that some of the tea making load was off her. But then I left for college and the chai duty was back on her again.
This time there her options were limited. So she resorted to literally hiding from my dad. If he was in bedroom, she'd stay away from there. She'd stealthily walk around without making a noise, evading my dad's ever active chai-dar (chai radar geddit geddit?) Out of sight out of mind, she thought. Maybe he'll not ask for tea if he didn't see her, she thought. Wrong, my dad never gives up. Come his completely arbitrary tea time he'd send her a message on WhatsApp or messenger 'Make me tea'. And my poor mom would trudge to the kitchen and sigh as she made some tea.
Now I am a tea lover myself. But I can't stand going to kitchen right after I come from work. In Saudi kitchens are mini-Hells. Boiling tap water and burning floor. Hell no. So these days I am doing the slinking away before le husband asks for tea. I told him my parents' story and looks like he's also planning to start messaging me...??
"Where's your colour?"
My grandma has a lot of hobbies. Like collecting old plastic ice cream cups, talking about the old times, giving us 100 Rupees as pocket money... Here I talk about a very amusing one. She likes to browse through old albums, pause at my baby pictures and say "Molku enthu nirram endayirinnu, ippo adokke pozhi". Literal translation: You had so much colour, everything's gone now. What She really means: You are not fair any more. You are...*cue dramatic music*...dark!
This obsession with fairness is not exclusive to my grandma, though I am sure a lot of it lies with her. I can't count the number of times I have heard people comment about the 'colour' of the babies and brides. "Did you see [insert baby/bride's name]? Theere nirram illa. Paavam. (She has no colour. Poor thing). Westerners might be amused with the Indian metonym of 'colour' for 'fairness', 'cause there it's the non-whites who are referred to as 'coloured'.
To cater to these Colour Crazies (As they shall be called from now on), there is a HUGE market, providing 50 shades of whiteness. Soaps, scrubs, facepacks, creams, lotions- all compete on the shelf to land on the under confident, desperately-looking-for-a-husband/job/her lost keys- brown girl's vanity bag. All promising her better jobs, more suitors, and general well being. Because, obviously, it's the shade of your skin that will win over an interviewer, not your education, your skills, or your confidence.
We have actors who have dusky complexion promoting such creams and it is SO obvious that it's photoshop and not the cream working its magic and yet we have millions throwing away their money at these products. For many it has become a ritual of sort. I remember a house help who used to live with us, along with her husband and son. Come rain or shine, every morning the entire family would religiously apply 'Fair and lovely'. And can you blame them? Casteism and colorism constantly intertwine and make people's life miserable in India.
A recent Vaseline advert of an Instant Fairness lotion began - "There is a reason why 4 out of 5 Indian women are getting fairer skins". It guarantees the user '4 times fairer skin. Instantly'. Leave alone the fact that 4 out 5 Indian women have much graver problems than the shade of their skin, like- I don't know: hunger, poverty, domestic abuse-can't those who rush to buy this just stop to think HOW this cream will give them instantly fairer skin? I would run the other way if something can change my appearance that drastically.
This ongoing Indian romance with fair skin is also shared by other Asian countries. I was surprised by the number of fairness products in the Malaysian market. All this screams- Strive to be like the white (wo)man (while s/he sits under the sun, desperately trying to get a tan)! We had been made to feel inferior about our skin for so long that it disgusts us and we'd go to any lengths to get rid of it. It's such a tragedy. Indian/Asian people- we are meant to be brown- maybe of different shades, but that's who we are. We don't need companies telling us that we NEED to put this cream on to impress mothers-in-law, make our spouses 'lucky', ace at interviews, or go to space. All you need to do is just chill and Be Brown
Embarrassment and fear of falling!
Embarrassment and fear of falling is what keeps the majority of us from trying something new and rising to new heights. And this embarrassment, which hinders our success, is something we develop later on in life. Okay, don't roll your eyes. Hear me out.
All of us have seen babies trying to walk. They first start trying to crawl. It looks like they are just dancing with their butt in the beginning. Then they crawl a few steps and stop to recover because that's like the toughest thing the baby has ever done. But within a few days you see them crawl like they are professional crawlers.
And these babies, as they begin to walk, they fall SO. DAMN. MUCH. Like every 3 steps they land on their bum, their knees, and sometimes even their heads. But here's the thing, they get up and try again. We all tried again as babies and now, as adults, the able bodied among us walk like we breathe. It comes naturally to us.
If a baby fell down while walking one day and started thinking "OMG everyone saw me fall. Even my baby crush and her mother. What will they think of me now. I better hide and sit quietly and give up on walking." Here's a true story: My brother, when he was less than a year old, crawled out of our open door on our first floor and fell tumbling down the stairs. My mother says it's a miracle he survived that without any major issues (All brothers have minor issues). Now if he'd stopped crawling after that incredible fall. He'd still be sitting in one spot, unable to walk.
Just like that anything else in life that you want to win/achieve, needs a lot of practise and a really thick skin. Like babies. You will stumble, you will embarrass yourself, you will witness the equivalent of falling on your butt in public. And yes, some people will laugh. But they are not losing or gaining anything with your success/failure, and vice versa, so why even bother about what they think? You keep doing what you want to master- study, write, sing, speak, paint, make are-and one day it will come as naturally to you as the air in your lungs. And that's worth all the pain.
I was 13 yrs old and just about to start 7th grade when I got my first pair of spectacles. I remember being super thrilled because I thought it made me look cool. (it didn't)
Within no time I had moved from liking it to despising it. The hormones had taken over and I wanted to look cute and it definitely didn't help that along with desi girlstache™ I now had nerdy glasses. I was awkwardness personified.
But you get used to it eventually. My specs are the last thing I touch before I sleep and the first thing I reach out for once I wake up. I carry an extra pair in my handbag just in case I break the ones I am using. Even my sunshades are powered!
I do wear contacts occasionally, but nothing is as comfortable as a good ol' pair of glasses. Over the last decade I have tried almost all types of specs. From frameless to half rim to grandma style to hipster glasses. A good chunk of my life has gone into deciding which frame to choose (and eventually choosing the wrong one).
I'd pay to have someone choose a frame that frames (hehe) my face well. Really, this little thing can dramatically alter how you appear. You can look suave or like you just stepped right out the 80s. There's no middle ground. So someone start a spectaconsultancy already!
At the end of the day though your specs become an extension of your body. I am sure other specs wearers understand. Who else can empathize with the few seconds of pure panic as you try to blindly locate your specs by groping around?
Someone I know told me that when her mother got her first period, she thought she had blood cancer and was dying. So instead of informing her parents, her mother thought why worry them when she's dying anyway, and walked around for a week bleeding on things till her mother spotted some stains and explained what was happening to her.
At first when I heard this story I laughed so hard imagining a poor terrified girl thinking she's dying when she's just got her period. But then as the years went by, this story has remained in my subconscious and now when I think of it I feel a lot of sadness and some anger too.
This happens because as girls so many of us aren't taught about our bodies. Not only are we not taught about it we are conditioned to feel shameful about it. We must be apologetic about our breasts and walk in a way that doesn't make 'it' prominent. When we get our period we must hide it from the men in our family and not let it show on our faces how much pain we are in.
Then I read some guys say 'why make such a fuss, even our mothers went through it and they never complained. It's a natural process yaar.' I don't what keeps me from smacking such people upside down. The only reason your mother didn't complain was because your father, your uncle, and your grandfather, the society that time - none of them gave a shit about women's health. They didn't want to know what was happening to her. She's just supposed to suck it up and work like a donkey. So when she became a mother to a daughter, she didn't teach her about her body and the natural things that happen to it. And thus the cycle perpetuates.
I had girl friends who didn't know which orifice babies were born from. Someone else was freaked out about normal discharge for a long time. We just don't talk about these things and therefore don't know what's normal and what isn't for our own bodies.
Ladies, you need to know your bodies as well as you know your mind. The physical is a part of you and only you can know every contour of yourself. Know what's happening at physiological and hormonal level. Know what's happening at different points of your menstrual cycle. Inspect yourself regularly to make sure there are no alarming bumps and lumps. Talk to your gynecologist. Openly. Ask them questions, even the ones which make you squirm.
Talk about your period. Don't be embarrassed by what your body does naturally. Be proud of the graceful rise and fall of your curves. Celebrate the feminine and let no girl feel ashamed of her own body. Let's start with our daughters and little sisters and make sure no one feels miserable about being themselves.
I haven't lived long enough anywhere for my roots to go deep in and intertwine around the little things that make a place home. Home for me has been a concept that constitutes people rather than houses or places. With my mom, dad, and brothers, I've called places from the east to the west my home.
My Husband, on the other hand, has spent two decades of his life in Saudi Arabia. Riyadh raised him. When out for drives and shopping trips he likes taking me by playgrounds him and his brother played football in. One day we passed by a wall and he told me of the time he, with a bunch of friends, scratched their names into the wall. The names of these Indian kids who are all grown up now still stand, etched into the landscape of a city where much else has changed. He shows me his previous houses as we go through the streets he smuggled his dad's car to learn driving in.
I am fascinated when he points to random people in stores and tells me he has grown up seeing them there for more than a decade. Like the old Bangladeshi man at the nearby Gas station or a malayali attendant in a Bakala (convenience store). I am jealous when he tells me some of the people in our weekly Qur'an class have seen him since a toddler, and he, in turn, has seen others evolve from babies to teenagers. My mother-in-law has taught little girls who then became her co-workers after 15 years.
Is this what home feels like? When you live so long in a place that you have parts of you scattered across the city. Sometimes even literally etched into old walls. Is home when you have seen the changing anatomy of a place as it builds on its skeletal remains to make a swanky capital with malls and metros on every street?
I don't know what that feels like, because I've never lived in one place for more than three years. Most of these places I haven't visited again. Three years is long enough to feel comfortable somewhere, but not long enough to claim it for yourself. I remember outlines of these places. I remember the spot I fell from my cycle and broke my tooth. I remember weekend bus trips with my mother and brother to a badminton coaching camp at the other end of the city. But as much as I try, I can't remember street names or people in stores or kids I played with in parks.
Apart from family and cousins, I haven't spent time with anyone long enough to see them grow out of their baby faces into angsty teens and then mature into adults. In my memory that predates Facebook, my friends remain frozen instead in different degrees of growth, for I haven't seen most of them outside these three year brackets.
Nostalgia is kind though,when I remember these places what stands out are the little things about them that gave me joy in the time I was there. The little bubbles that carried you as you waded precariously through new territories.
I have come to terms with not having emotional ties with any geographical place. As cliched as it sounds, I'm happy to be any corner of the world as long as I am with people I love and who love me back. In fact, when I think of the predicament of the expatriate community who spend a major chunk of their lives in the Gulf, I think I am better off than them.
As a gulf expat you spend years doing back breaking work while yearning for home. You wistfully dream of the smell of your soil after rain and greenery that cool the eyes as you labour on in this barren land. You make homes out of these inhospitable places, start families, watch your children grow up in a landscape different from your own childhood, make little corners for yourself where friends fill the void of the family you left behind. And before you know half your life has passed and all you have are savings to show. There is no citizenship, no retirement residence here. You are just as good as your ability to work. So it doesn't matter that the prime of your life passed here. You pack your bags when you are asked to and go back. You leave everything you were forced to make familiar to return to an unfamiliar motherland. But 'back home' is now no longer the home you yearned for. Yes, it's still green and it still rains and the people are the same. However, they have moved on with time and you are left wondering why this place no longer feels like the home nostalgia had framed for you.
And if you are one of the many 'economic migrants' who left their country in search of better lives for families left behind, your return is more devastating. You come back to find the dream bungalow built with your blood, tears and sweat, but inside are tenants you don't recognise. Your family you saw only once in a couple of years treat you like a distant relative. You realise that along with the first steps of your little one, you had missed an entire childhood. You missed decades of togetherness with your wife who guarded your children and property while you were away. You missed all the inside jokes, the birthdays, the fights, the laughter, and the tears. It hits you that your family was closer to your voice on the weekend phone calls from across the seas than they are to your physical self now that you are here. You are left instead with a namesake family living in a big house that is the talk of the town. It is then, as a last strike, that you realise that your entire life you have been, and will continue to be, homeless.
What is home then?
There's a part of you that never grows up. One which yearns affection and care and protection always. In your childhood you had your parents cater to that part. And then one day the rug is pulled from under your feet and in an instant you are thrust into adulthood. Suddenly there's no one to look out for you, no one to tell you what to do and what not to do, no one to guide you to safety. So we falter and flounder through life blindly, trying hard to grope our way through it.
I am not even the kind of person who spends every waking hour clinging to family. I sometimes delay making calls, I forget birthdays and anniversaries, and on some days dread large family functions. Yet, I need my parents. And although I have been living away from them since I turned 18, I have never quite gotten over that separation.
This time when I was returning from Uganda my heart was incredibly heavy. Something in my chest hurt. And my throat had a lump which only freed itself when I reached home in Saudi, laid on my bed, and burst into tears. I wept like a child separated from her parents. For I was. I realize that nothing really fills the void in your existence that is separation from your parents. Even though we have all this technology that can connect us in seconds, there's nothing that can replace the comfort and security you feel in your very bones when your parents are right there with you.
Having an incredible spouse helps. Having a great job and fun pastimes help. Having a good social circle helps. But all this will never quite cover up the hurt of not having your parents close by.
Such is life though. You constantly have dear parts of you broken and taken away from you. But you also get other things that make sure that you - at your core- never really shatter. At the end of the day, life itself becomes the glue that holds you together. You just learn to walk with the shadow of your broken parts. And that's enough for now.
I am not going to lie. I was freaking out. Who was she? Part of some Indian mafia? Was her family going to track her down and kill me? Or what if she herself is a mobster and is just trapping me.... Aaaah. Escape Escape Escape.
She caught the panic on my face and laughed. The first time I heard her laugh. Not a giggle, not a fake laugh it was a throw back your head and laugh from your belly laugh. The kind of laughter women were not supposed to partake in, in order to honour their stone-age sanskriti and parampara. Especially at night, with another woman and no man to protect!
She wiped her eyes, still laughing, and said "I am sorry, i didn't mean to laugh at you. It's just you look so terrified of me. But you don't know that I am the last person that will ever hurt you. How can I hurt you Nazreen?
This is not happening. She did not just say my name.
"Uh...Bharati...how do you know my name?"
"Why won't I know my own, beta?" she said, confusing me further.
Beta?! Her own? This is definitely the first time I am meeting her. I am not aware of any young aunty that I might have in my family. Did mother miss one out when she was explaining our family tree now?
I looked sideways at her and she was looking at me, a very gentle smile lighting up her face. Something about that smile calmed me down right then and made me trust her. This beautiful stranger, with her kohl rimmed eyes and her white kurta and jeans, was not going to hurt me. I was sure of that.
We resume walking when we hear the growing sound of bikes coming this way. As with every other Indian girl who was out at this time, my chest clenched in fear and my immediate reaction was to look down and draw my duppatta around me a little tighter, making sure everything was covered. Nothing should tempt these men to make me their object of lust and rage. I whispered to Bharati, asking her if she has a dupatta to cover herself.
"Why? I am not cold."
"No, Bharati, there are men coming this way."
"Are you new here? You should know that this area isn't safe for women. Especially at night."
"Nazreen, these roads and alleys are as much your as any one else here. You don't have to rely on a mere cloth to offer you protection from men. "
"But Bharati..." the rest of my reasoning was drowned out by the bikers now circling around us, whistling and letting us know very descriptively what they would like to do to us.
They would have gone their way had Bharati not spoken up. "Kaise mard ho tum jo aurthon ko ched kar apni mardaangi dikhathe ho." Great. She questioned their masculinity and insulted the male ego.
They stopped circling us and got out of their bikes.
I was sure that this was the night I was going to get raped.
I walked into marriage
I walked into marriage ready to become (or at least act like) a grown up. I own a human now! I mustered all the grace and femininity I could and told myself BE A LADY!
It was going really well. For about 48 hours.
Then I went for my first walk with my new husband. It was a cool full moon night, there was a light breeze and we were strolling hand in hand. I know, so romantic! I was just thinking to myself how perfect my life is and then, I fell into a gutter. Literally. Like one minute I was holding his hand and walking with no care in the world, and the next I was laying fully flat in a 3 ft deep open drain. You see, the streets near my house are really narrow and because everyone here, except me, has amazing night vision, there are no street lights either. And since it had been raining earlier that day, I could experience the joy of being covered in slush too. Yay.
Le husband pulls me out and after ensuring I am alive, alternates between stifled laughter and ‘are you okay’s. I decide I probably shouldn’t murder him on the second day of our marriage. Then I hobbled all the way back and because shaadi house= 1 million guests, I had to sneak into my own house. To top it all off, I have a scar to remind me of the fall for the rest of my life. THANK YOU UNIVERSE.
What you have in this moment is a MASSIVE blessing
If there's one thing you must remember about life it's that its unstable. It doesn't give two hoots about what you are, what colour your skin is, how much money there's in your account, or how many degrees there are with your name on it.
You might be residing in a prosperous neighborhood in a 1st world country but there's nothing to protect you from the fury of a hurricane or the upheaval of the earth under your feet during an earthquake.
You might be in a stable land with food in your fridge and a roof over your head but a changed law can plunge you into hunger and despair overnight.
Your wealth and assets can come to nothing in one second through a wrong investment or a government deciding they can seize it at their whim.
Your own people can turn against you in the land you were born and brought up in. And you can be forced to become a refugee in a climate where instead of helping up someone who's down, people kick them in the stomach. You can be made to flee, leaving everything you called your own behind.
A mere change in financial trends can render your degrees meaningless. Years of your intellectual labor can become redundant with something falling apart or something else coming in its place.
What you have in this moment is a MASSIVE blessing. One which may not always be there. What works for you today may be the cause of your woes tomorrow so never take pride in things transitory. Don't place your worth on currency or passports. They are worth only what value we assign to them. They could very well be worth absolutely nothing tomorrow.
Instead, work on who you are and what you can offer to those around you. This can never be taken away from you no matter where you are and under what circumstances. Work on your worth. Make yourself matter.
Shall I tell you the secret of everlasting peace that never leaves your side? It took me some time but I've almost arrived at the secret formula.
What is it?
It's knowing that life is going to keep hurling (not giving) lemons at you. Not just you, but every single person who lives on this beautiful blue planet. And these lemons are not all the same size. Some are big. Some are little but sour. Some are yellow and many. One thing remains constant though, every one us has been pelted by these lemons at some point in our lives. Some of us make lemonade, some pickle these lemons to take out after years and savour, some juggle, some wait till they wilt and rot so they can finally throw it away, and yet others look at others and compare the lemons they got.
The secret to everlasting peace? Knowing that 'good times' are not going to be a constant. Accepting that problems can embrace you at any point will liberate you. Life is not sentimental. It will not care whether you just got married or that you really want a child or that you worked very hard for that one thing. It will hand out problems and each one of us is going to receive our share. We just have to suck it up and accept it. Where you can make a difference is how you respond to the lemon pelting. Do you scream and cry and make a ruckus? Do you shield your loved ones from being hit? Do you gracefully stretch out an umbrella (made from the peels of lemons thrown at you in the past)? What do you?
Store these lemons in the deepest corner of your heart. Don't let them turn you sour. Instead let them preserve the goodness that lies inside. Let them not dim your optimism and thirst for life. Let them teach you empathy when you see someone else on the receiving end of life's lemony darts. Let them spur you to take actions that make positive changes in you and your environment.
Weekends have changed so much over the time for me.
When we were younger, and my dad was still in the Air Force, weekends were for family walks. Well, almost the whole family, because the youngest one in our family was the only one brave enough to say no to my dad when he woke us up early in the morning. He'd curl back to sleep under the comfy blanket while Shereef and I grudgingly went with mom and dad for these walks.
We'd walk outside the campus, on the roadside. Skipping potholes and puddles. Running at times to catch up with dad, our little legs not long enough to match his strides. We'd walk more than 5 kms. Some times up to 9. Then we'd go to this 'restaurant' that operated from under a canopy of trees to gulp down soft idlis and blow at the piping hot coffee or badam milk till it reached non-scalding temperatures. Some days we'd treat ourselves to the bright yellow 'kesari baath', one of the most indulgent sweets you can find in India.
The return was by bus, because now we are tired and full. Sometimes we'd walk and then collapse right on the bed.
On other weekends we'd be freer, so we plan a trip outside the city. Sometimes just us, sometimes with other families. We would load our rickety old green van with food and sweaters. And off we'd go exploring. When we were in West Bengal, it was Darjeeling, Kurseong, Shillong, Gangtok, Kalimpong. These were beautiful hill stations, with winding roads and hair pin bends that made the heart race. Once we drove to 'Tsomgo' lake which is frozen for a huge part of the year. I still remember our glee at the prospoect of seeing snow for the first time. As we went up, snow roofed trucks would pass us on their way down and we'd get a little more excited.
Finally, I saw snow, so much of it that I ran out of the car to get my hands on it. And I fainted. Silly me didn't realize the affect of high altitude on the body. That happened the 2nd and 3rd time too, and I never learnt to control my excitement and stand bloody still.
The Air Force wives would sometimes go shopping to Nepal.
This was in 2001, before the Nepalese Royal Massacre, when the crown prince killed members of his own family. Borders were a bit more lax. So we'd go and shop for crystals and beautiful rugs and wall decor. I was thrilled to see that they have 'gold' coins. So much more fancy than the boring coins we had back in India. I asked mom to give me one coin for my 'collection' ( I didn't have any). I clutched on to it in our bus ride back, waiting to show it off to my brothers. But the rickety bus, slowly lumbering its way, lulled me into a sleep, made my palm open for a bit and the coin rolled out. I woke up with a jerk and had one my first childhood heart breaks as I found an empty palm with no golden coin in it. It was time to leave and I couldn't search between my co passengers feet for the run away coin.
This was a mini chronicle of my early childhood weekends.
Ramadan is around the corner again! Naturally, Muslims around the globe are excited about this month and eager to welcome it. Some of my non Muslim friends might be confused as to why we are so excited about a month where we basically keep off food and water for a good chunk of the day. I have been asked this question a few times before so I thought I'd write a post just to explain it for those who might be interested.
Ramadan is one of the holy months for Muslims. Fasting in this month is obligatory for all adult Muslims who are physically able to do so (pregnant women, nursing mothers and the sick are exempt from it). It constitutes the third pillar of Islam.
Fasting was prescribed to us as a spiritual and physical cleanser. I find this month all the more meaningful in the current context where we are increasingly subjecting our minds to the toxic trash propagated by pop culture and our bodies to harmful processed "foods" and chemicals. The physical act of fasting from food is coupled with the mental exercise of fasting from negativity, anger, and self-destructive rhetoric. We are asked to be patient and restrain ourselves from letting our emotions rule our actions. It's a month that acts as a springboard for physical and mental self discipline. Ramadan is the ideal opportunity to break an addiction or at least get started on the journey.
Fasting in Ramadan is a lesson in empathy. When we go through the day knowing there is food right in front of us that we could just grab and eat but can't, we are reminded of millions of our poor brothers and sisters around the world whose everyday reality is hunger and thirst. We are reminded of children born into poverty with hunger as their sole companion and of parents who give away a part of themselves each day in their quest to provide their young ones with a square meal a day. Fasting forces us to empathise and then works as a call to action. It tells us "now you know what hunger feels like. So do something for those who fast involuntarily everyday." It tells us charity is not our benevolence but rather our responsibility to humanity.
Fasting leads to gratitude for what we have, no matter how little it is. That moment when after 16-18 hours of fasting you see the sun set and take that first sip of water-you feel this wave of gratitude and relief wash over you. And nothing can ever replace that feeling of gratefulness as cool liquid cascades down your parched throat and quenches your thirst. Nothing comes close to the feeling of gratitude as you sit around a table with your family sharing a delicious meal lovingly put together by your mother. It sounds really outlandish, but keeping away from food and water throughout the day helps put into perspective all the small blessings in our life that we take for granted- like the privilege of having a loving family, a warm community, a healthy body and a million other things that go unnoticed in the hustle and bustle of everyday. It's hard to encapsulate that feeling in mere words, the feeling of a kind of joyful exhaustion, Of solace in the knowledge that this is not in vain, that this abstinence will lead to growth. Who knew that keeping away from physical nourishment would lead to replenishment of the soul?!
My mamimma and Uppapa have been married for more than 55 years.
I have never seen two people who are so different yet so perfect for each other. She is impulsive, he is calm and collected. She loves attending weddings, whereas he would much rather read newspaper at home. He calls her "Aachibee" but Mammima doesn't call him by his name but says "aiy, are you listening", which I find quite amusing.
I have always believed that both of them were born ahead of their times. Both as individuals and as a couple they have followed the "out with the old, in with the new" mantra. Both of them are strong believers in women educating themselves and getting empowered through work. (One of Mammima's dreams is me buying her a diamond ring with my first salary, of course she'd be happy if I gift her anything)
They were big movie buffs. In a story that I have heard often (which might or might not be true, since the source is my masala loving mother) it is recounted that uppappa and Mammima drove to thalassery-a couple of hours away- to watch a first day- first show movie. That's dedication!
They both love to travel. Together they have traveled across south east Asia. Stories of those trips continue to be fondly narrated to me over quiet evenings, each time I visit them. Just a few years back they renewed their passports and visited Dubai, while we envied their endless energy and drive.
They have a small ritual that I think all couples can benefit from. Every evening they sit outside on the verandah, some times with a steaming cup of tea, and just talk. About days gone, days to come, of Friends who are no more, and family that lives far away. At other times they settle into a comfortable silence that comes with being married that long. I like listening to their stories and watching their silence, witnessing glimpses of a great marriage that survived and thrived despite the many hurdles that came their way. And although I am pretty sure they have never expressed in words their love for each other, this little ritual is enough evidence of that.
What's that made of us?
Our society's priorities are weird. It places more importance on ticking off the predetermined checkboxes (made by itself) at the earliest possible,than enjoy the state/phase of being you are at. It's made these arbitrary timelines that determine birth, education, marriage, kids, and so on. It's like Amazing Race on AXN and we are the participants who are supposed to rush from one stop to another. Got born? Now you run to learn how to read, learnt that? Now get a PhD. Got hit by puberty? Here's your wedding dress. On your honeymoon? Make sure you are impregnated with quadruplets.
There's no time to breathe in this scheme of things as they are. No time to enjoy childhood without worrying about whether your entrance coaching is enough to get you a medicine or engineering college seat. No time to travel when you are single and nurture your friendships, no time to seek that which makes you truly happy, no time to choose the person who will make you a better you, no time to fall in love completely with your other half, no time to breathe.
Our priorities are so distorted that instead of telling our teens to research about courses that work for them we tell them to do engineering/ medicine as a base degree and then decide what they want to do. Instead of helping/leaving space for our youngsters to find the partner they want, we tell them marry someone of our choice and learn to adjust. This word right here- adjust- is our problem. We are so scared of missing out on the next step or reaching the next milestone late that we 'just adjust': with a degree that makes us want to bang our head on the wall, with a partner that makes your ovaries go into depression, with a bad marriage that sucks the joy out of you, with child rearing responsibilities you weren't ready for, with a job that you hate with all heart. We just adjust. We don't wait and watch and choose what's best for us. We accept what someone somewhere a few generations back thought was best for them.
What's that made of us? A creation that despite having the ability to learn and grasp and think and analyze, is just a mass of cells that 'adjusts'. My policy is to make decisions that require the least amount of 'adjustments' and leave the rest to God. Timelines are irrelevant when you have this whole wide world waiting to be explored. Alhamdulillah it's working for me so far...
Aromas From Home
I grew up in a Nomadic family. Well, almost. Having a parent work in the armed forces meant living out of the boxes throughout our childhood. My memories are like a huge geographical collage; a few snaps from West Bengal, some from Maharashtra, tit bits from Karnataka- you get the picture. In all these trips and stays my siblings and I subconsciously internalized a lot of what we saw, and felt. And, as I recently found out, even what we smelt.
This constant association of memories with smells has always fascinated me since then. Until I found out the psychological answer for it- we were wired to have this smell directory within us. Thus a walk down a park in a distant country, surrounded by jasmine flowers will always remind you of days spent in the aunt’s garden with cousin sisters giggling over silly crushes, the salty air at seashores will always make you smile at the memory of a family beach trip 10+ years ago. Smells hold on to you. They enter your clothes, seep into forgotten corners of your being and then cling onto you forever. Embedded memories. Sometimes they surprise us by springing up out of nowhere. Shopping in the supermarket and going through the detergent aisle always reminds of the new terms at school. Armed with news books and stationary, and smartly dressed in starched whites, smelling of Surf detergent (daag acche hain!), we would head off to school. I have realized since that our lives have a smell- timeline of their own where different fragrances chronicle your experiences as you journey through life.
Some of the lasting scents which I still hold on to are- the strong scent of the Old Spice aftershave which my father used to use generously every morning, the sweet-tangy smell in the air when my mother made pickles and squashes out of home-grown mangoes which now belong to summers long gone, of chai on a rainy day,the smell of old yellowed books in our personal library which remind me of watching ‘The Mummy Returns’ for some weird reason…
There are more of these conspiring scents which grab hold of me at the most unexpected of times and take me down the nostalgia lane. For example, the scent of ink takes me back to high school days and sleepless nights spent perfecting my chemistry record book. New clothes bring to mind Eid day in all its celebration and revelry. One memory leads to another and I often end up reminiscing about Eid as a carefree child. Growing up in a Muslim household, aromas originating from the kitchen- were, and are- a central aspect of our daily lives. Hailing from Malabar, my mother is quite the cook. On Eid day she would cook up a storm for the entire defence colony we lived in. Our table would be laden with delicious chicken biriyani, deep fried meat cutlets cooked to perfection and the sweet payasam to finish it all off. I remember waking up on Eid to the smell of caramelized onions courting the spicy masala from the chicken sizzling on the stove and then mingling with the sweet milky fragrance of payasam. My brothers and I would tip-toe to the kitchen to steal a few treats and have the refreshing smell of coriander and mint (being vigorously chopped by our maid to use as garnish in the dishes) wash over us.
Eid afternoons are a medley of sights, sounds and smells to this day, no matter where we go. More so when it is with the family, my grandma’s house for instance. Those few Eids we spent at her place are always accompanied with memories of great smells. Spices, sweets, melting ghee, lemon tea always brewing on the stove, the henna from the day before adorning our hands- smells on Eid day were a heightened sensation especially when accompanied by the festive glee of children about to receive gifts from the elders. Naughty kids that we were, we spent Eid more outside the house than inside. Playing carefully in our new clothes, we made sure no adults caught hold of us. My grandmother’s yard was another symphony of smells- fragrances so calming you could lose yourself to it. As kids we would run from the fig tree to the guava tree in her garden, fighting for the last fruit and when the sun set and we ran back inside- bruised and muddy, our hands always smelt of sweet wood. Then we would be whisked into the bathroom and ordered to scrub ourselves with Dettol. Ah Dettol! Companion to all worried mothers, and enemy no.1 to bruised children- Dettol was a constant presence in all our houses. The strong astringent makes me think of a time when we were reckless being, my siblings and I, jumping from one sofa to the other, scaling cupboards like mountains, swinging from trees to land on our heads and arms and elbows. Each bruise was fervently rubbed with this stinging liquid [and obviously preceded by a smack on the head and lengthy ‘I told you so’ speech by our mother] as we kept a brave face and willed away tears. Whenever I smell Dettol-in hospitals or at a relative’s house- I am taken back to the days of cycling races and bruised knees.
Fragrances form an essential part of my life. I hold them close to me and cherish them. For me each scent signifies change and growth. They take me to times long gone and sometimes propel me to days yet to come. Scents take over when pictures can’t take you any further. Whatever it be, when things get rough or I get low, I just need to smell something-the right thing. A whiff of some hot chocolate, the familiar smell of my room or just the scent of my best friend when she hugs me- and I realize how blessed I am.
So yeah, I am REALLY imperfect. ????
Perfect human beings don't interest me.
Firstly, because they don't exist. So It would be kind of weird to be interested in things non-existent.
Secondly, if they do exist, they'd be boring as hell.
You see, nothing happens in the life of a perfect human being. There is no rise, no fall. If the perfect human was a voice it would be a monotone that drones on and on and on. Their life has been a series of 'good times'. But one wonders how they can classify that as good times when they've never seen bad times to hold up against and compare. Perfect people are like porcelain vases, they are good to look at, but no one is comfortable going too near them for fear of breaking them. Perfection, my dear friends, is vastly overrated.
It's the deeply flawed, floundering yet striving people that interest me. The ones with scars to show and more than a single story to tell. The ones who've had their heart shredded to a million bits and spent years painstakingly stitching it back together. The ones who have seen the peaks and the valleys. The ones who have lived through the darkest of nights to witness a single sunrise. Who are these people? It is us, the regular folks. The ones who cherish happiness because they know what's like to have nothing working for them. The ones who hold on through tough times because they know good things are waiting for them on the other side. The ones who love and lose and love again and never forget to laugh.
It is time we celebrate us, the perfectly imperfect ones.
PS: this pic was taken after I burnt some toast in the worst way possible and filled up a hotel's dining room with smoke. So yeah, I am REALLY imperfect. ????
SO. DAMN. MUCH.
I was in the car the other day when I had this light bulb go off in my head. Not with an idea, but an illuminating realisation. Embarrassment and fear of falling is what keeps the majority of us from trying something new and rising to new heights. And this embarrassment, which hinders our success, is something we develop later on in life. Okay, don't roll your eyes. Hear me out.
All of us have seen babies trying to walk. They first start trying to crawl. It looks like they are just dancing with their butt in the beginning. Then they crawl a few steps and stop to recover because that's like the toughest thing ever the baby has done. But within a few days you see them crawl like they are professional crawlers.
And these babies, as they begin to walk, they fall SO. DAMN. MUCH. Like every 3 steps they land on their bum. But they get up and try again. We all tried again and now, as adults, the able bodied among us walk like we breathe. It comes naturally to us.
If a baby fell down while walking one day and started thinking "OMG everyone saw me fall. Even my baby crush and her mother. What will they think of me now. I better hide and sit quietly and give up on walking." Here's a true story: My brother, when he was less than a year old, crawled out of our open door on our first floor and fell tumbling down the stairs. My mother says it's a miracle he survived that without any major issues (All brothers have minor issues). Now if he'd stopped crawling after that incredible fall. He'd still be sitting in one spot, unable to walk.
Just like that anything else in life that you want to win/achieve, needs a lot of practise and a really thick skin. Like babies. You will stumble, you will embarrass yourself, you will fall on your butt in public. And yes, some people will laugh. But they are not losing or gaining anything with your success/failure, and vice versa, so why even bother about what they think? You keep doing what you want to master- study, write, sing, twerk, speak- and one day it will come as naturally to you as the air in your lungs.
Today is my birthday.
Today is my birthday. I've had one more round on earth, on this never ending merry-go-round around the sun. The last couple of rounds- birthdays- I have found myself in different phases. One as a naive undergrad, the other as a struggling post grad working a job and studying, the next as a new bride learning the ropes of marriage, and now as a professional working to 'have it all'. Each phase was exciting and painful and exhilarating and heartbreaking in equal measures.
Each year was a teacher. Each painful blow, each happy event, each moving moment moulds me further into the person I should be. This year taught me patience and hope in prayer. My relationship with God came at the forefront, blurring everything else. I found liberation in having absolute certainty in God. I've learnt that patience does pay, and 'beautiful patience' pays even more.
We are so fixated on banging on that one closed door that we miss out the windows wide open. I have learned that sometimes you need to stay put inside and just enjoy the view from there. So you wait patiently and eventually God sends someone to open the door from outside. You then find out that He'd waited till spring to invite you out, just so you didn't suffer the harsh winter outside. He was removing all the obstacles while you stayed safe in there. And then, when you finally step out, boy is it worth all that wait!
Alhamdulillah for all doors shut when we wanted them open, only to open when the time was right. Alhamdulillah for the open windows that allow us to stay sane and grateful. Alhamdulillah for the most merciful Lord.
One of my many pet peeves is uber talkative taxi drivers. You know the ones who start talking once you enter the taxi and won’t stop even when you try to get rid of them with the fare. When I was studying in Malaysia I had to put up with so many such rides that I have borderline taxiphobia. One more ‘teksi’ ride with a human radio and I would have given up on this endeavor all together.
The conversations they started would follow, more or less, a predictable pattern.. ‘Miss, where you from?’, ‘You Arab miss?’, ‘Miss you Pakistani?’. None of them guessed it right. And once they got the answer that I am from India they'd start churning out a list of Bollywood actors and movies. ‘ Aaah…Indiaa! Amita bacha!’, ‘Sharoook!’. And then they'd ask me how India is. To avoid much conversation I would try to keep my answers as short as possible, so I'd say 'it’s like Malaysia' . Are there any mountains one of them asked me once. I said yes. Then he started listing out the benefits of living near a mountainous region and I spent the rest of the trip kicking myself for answering with a yes.
One of them was more daring and called me ‘girlfriend’. Of course he didn’t mean it in that sense. He just figured that since I am a girl he might as well call me that. Another one spent the whole trip telling me about his life and his plans for future. He told me about his kids who are studying outside Malaysia and how he is working for them. This guy really moved me because he was working so hard so that they could have a comfortable future. Charlie a 60 something portly man proudly said halfway through the trip, ‘Anyway you vann go, just call me lah !’. Then he went on to assure me that I can trust him blindly and helpfully quoted testaments from parents of other students extoling him for his knight like qualities when it comes to taking naive and innocent university students from A to B.
One thing I found common in all these drivers is their love for Malaysia. Almost all the taxis I got into I heard the question ‘You like Malaysia?’. I'd say yes so that they don’t have to feel obliged to make me like it. (I do like Malaysia ). However, my plan would fail because they'd continue and give me reasons why Malaysia is the super awesomest country in the world. ‘Man man equal here’. ‘No fighting here’. ‘So many culture everyone same’. Looks like the government’s latest ‘1 Malaysia’ propaganda is working after all.
While in practice this might not be true yet (Malays are ‘more equal’ than Chinese and Indians…go figure) it is still a novel idea. Especially when compared to what’s happening in Europe now. Yes, I am referring to the recent niqab-o-phobia that seems to be doing rounds in some European countries. I don’t want to dwell much on the reasons here as it upsets me. As some one said…for decades women fought for their right to bare and now they have to fight for their right to cover…
One of the main arguments that comes up for this ban is that the burkha (I totally hate the way they pronounce it.. Brrrr-ka..sounds like shivering crows) is against the ‘culture and values which the French cherish’. Of course what it means is be like us or get out of this country. Some people seem to be under the impression that if you dress differently your values must also be different. They have decided that the French citizen should look a certain way, believe in certain things and by extension live a certain way. I can understand if you want to ban the burkha because everyone who is wearing it is forcing it upon others (Imagine veiled ladies walking with bags full of ‘niqabs’ jumping on unsuspecting bystanders and forcefully covering their faces with it – COVER YOUR FACE YOU INFIDEL!!!). The world we live in now is really strange. You burn the bra and ban the burkha. Honestly, sometimes I feel like some of these people are not really humans, but aliens who want to take over earth and turn everyone into robots. Robots who study through their youth, work through their prime years and then are ignored the for rest of their lives. If the ‘wiring’ of one of the robots ‘goes wrong’ and it decides to ask questions and decides that it doesn’t want to be like everyone in everything, that it wants to show it's individuality the aliens brand it as ‘traitor’ or ‘eyesore’.
Apparently you can’t be religious and patriotic at the same time…Really? Since when do we have to choose what we can be? ‘So mam, what do you want to be? Indian or Muslim?’ ‘Errmm..both?’ ‘No mam, you cannot be both!’ ‘ Um…why?’ ‘Because I said so.’
I grew up in different parts of India. I began crawling in Delhi and walking in Pune. I started kindergarten in Bangalore, moved to West Bengal in 1st grade, was in Pune again by 4th grade, then back to Bangalore and there till 10th grade, this was followed by an international move to Saudi Arabia where I did my 11th grade and then finally to my home state of Kerala to finish my school education. By 18 I had studied in 10 different schools in 4 states and another country. What this drilled into my mind was an appreciation for other cultures. I grew up speaking a language which was not my own but eventually became a part of me. Till this day, after 7 yrs away from the ‘defense life’, my siblings and I converse in hindi (despite numerous efforts by my parents and relatives to revert us to our ‘default’ language), we’d have roti and daal any day over rice and sambar. At the same time we love our Malayalam movies (We laugh shamelessly at Salim Kumar’s lame jokes :D) and dig grandma’s special pathiri and chicken curry. I am like the Aviyal which keralites make for Onam. Aviyal is a kerala speciality. More than 10 vegetables go into the preparation of this and make it every mom's favourite dish for her child.
It’s one crazy mixture! But each of this contributes to the unique flavor that only aviyal can have. I do not want to be told by anyone that I need to lose any of these bits of India in me and retain only one. Similarly, I do not want to be told that just because I have a piece of cloth on my head or maybe in future if I decide to cover my face that the rest of the bits in me get nullified. I am an Indian by nationality, Muslim by faith. These two DO NOT have to be mutually exclusive. I guess this is why I balk at the idea of flattening out these ‘differences’. I feel we should celebrate our differences along with our similarities as it’s only because of these differences that we learn to appreciate the similarities.
If you still feel that your identity cannot be plural then...don't worry I won't kill you, I will just invite you over to my house. Maybe we can talk over a cup of coffee? Or better still you can stay for lunch and have some aviyal and rice :)
One of my fondest childhood memories is one where I snuggle next to my Mammimma (grandaunt) and listen to her tell me the same story every night during our stays with her in the summer breaks. We slept in a large room where all the ladies and children of the house slept. Four beds lie parallel to each wall and in the middle a large rug was spread out for all the kids.
Every night I listened to the same story. It wasn't because it was the only story she knew, but because it was the only one I wanted to listen to. "Puniyagoti"the story of a brave mommy cow who was willing to lay down her life to save her naughty little one from a hungry lion. It's a happy ending of course, like most non-traumatizing children's stories. I knew what's going to happen next, every single time, but I think a little part of me waited with bated breath to see if the story takes a detour at any point.
Two summer back my cousins came over to stay with us, the story telling duty fell upon on my shoulders. With my little cousin sister on my side, I relived my childhood with Puniyagoti and Cinderella. Cinderella is her favourite story. She never tires of it. Her eyes go wide in amazement as I describe how Cinderella's tattered clothes change into a beautiful gown and her feet are covered in glass sandals. While listening my sister has sooo many questions. Questions adults would never bother asking, like which colour was the gown? And why did she leave her nice slipper there? And why why why...
That's the power of a good story. It sucks you in and makes you inhabit its little universe for the short while that you are with it. A good story stays in your heart, long after its told or read or lived. What I wouldn't do for a good story! If you ask me what my heart really longs for, what I want to do for the rest of my life, the first answer that comes to my mind is- Tell stories. Short stories, long stories, personal stories, moving stories, funny stories. True stories. And there are a million stories, living and breathing, walking around us at each point. From dad's childhood escapades to the neighbor's love story to the friend's tragedy. There's never a shortage of good stories as long as you have the patience to gently tease them out.
And we need these stories. Not to temporarily distract us, but to connect us with those around us. I may know nothing about a person, but if I have lived in his story, even for a few minutes, I will care more deeply about him. And right now the world needs more people to care about each other. We need people to care for our poor, our refugees, our abused, our downtrodden. Listening to their stories is the first step in that direction.
Time and again
I find myself wondering why writers write. What is it that makes us gather words and attempt to weave them into coherence, sometimes even against their will?I can't speak for all writers, but for me three words come to mind- To make sense. Of things/people/events/the world. Not to others, but to myself.
When in confusion, writing for me is a journey I need to undertake to arrive at understanding, to chance upon an emotion that might help, to slowly dust away what's unnecessary and view the skeleton of the answers I seek.
On some days it's a way to reel in my thoughts before they swim away so I can make a meal out of it and share it with those I love. However, on most days it's a struggle to keep the light burning, it's an antidote to the fear of not feeling anything anymore. It forces me to scoop out unspoken memories from the crevices of my mind and then pluck words to weave into a bouquet for them as I send them out. At the end of the day it's making sure that the world doesn't see my real thoughts naked. It is allowing myself to confront and choose the beautiful and the ugly within me which I can then dress in words, groom with metaphors, and present to the world with no shame or remorse.
This journey might be smooth or perilous. On the way I might chance upon emotions within I was unaware of. I might accidentally trip on parts of myself that I realise I don't like very much. Or worse, I could lose myself to the journey and never make it out. But on other days, the better ones, I might arrive, weary and worn, but victorious; having battled my inner demons, knowing something I didn't know before.
The kitchen is her laboratory
The best thing about being born into a Desi household is that you can actually live your life without ever seeing a doctor. No, not because you never fall sick, it's because there is no bacteria, virus, or cell mutation that can escape the healing hands of the Desi mom, aunt, and grandmom.
The kitchen is her laboratory, and the spice box her medicine chest. Various permutations and combinations of turmeric, black seed oil, basil leaves, honey, lemon, ginger, garlic, cloves, gooseberry, and milk are used as a cure for virtually anything, from the common cold to cancer.
Another thing to be noted- you are always responsible for any disease you contract. Cold? Probably because you don't dry your hair properly after showering. Headache? It's obviously excessive time in front of the TV/mobile/laptop. Hairloss? Not enough coconut oil on your scalp. Back pain? Probably because you don't help out at home (true story bro).
Some of the medicinal combos that have kept me alive so far- turmeric and milk before sleep, honey and lemon in the morning, onions in honey for sore throat, and concentrated gooseberry juice that reaches your toes.
One time I woke up from sleep and my mom was hovering over my head with a spoon in her hand. As soon as I opened my eyes she said open your mouth and dumped something in and asked me to gulp it down. Honey and blackseed oil. And then I went back to sleep.
All said, I am grateful for this. It's when I fall sick that I realize how much I need my mom (even now!) and how much she does for me. I think we can say that for most mothers. So thank you maa, moms, mammas and ummas. Please know that although we roll our eyes when you tell us about the latest home remedy to 'boost immunity' , we love the Love which makes you do this for us. <3
10 Life Lessons For My Younger Self
Dear younger me,
I write this with a few years worth of perspective in my purse and some experience to show. I wish to explain some things you might not yet know. Life lessons you won't find in your study guides and course manuals.
1. Silence is not your enemy. It is as awkward as you make it. Do not mistake it for emptiness, don't see it as a void you have to fill. On some days silences are blessings. Between loved ones, an easy silence is the biggest sign of a love that has blossomed well. So do not rush to fill the gaps. Appreciate the pauses, for they make sure that the words that follow are heard well and heard loud.
2. Solitude is not loneliness. Learn to live by yourself. Be comfortable in your own skin irrespective of where you are and with whom. One maybe surrounded by thousands of people and still feel alone. Make yourself so interesting that you can be with yourself no matter what time or place. Use this time to look inward and really get to know yourself.
3. Talk to strangers. This goes against conventional wisdom but it is one of the best ways to grow. Talk to people who are like you. Talk to those who are against everything you stand for. Talk to the old man who sells tea. Talk to the co passenger you spend an hour of your commute with. Talk to anyone who looks like they have a story to tell. You will not realise it, but each story you hear contributes to building a rich inner world within you. It breaks many of the stereotypes you have tucked in your brain and opens your heart to others. It will even open doors to things you didn't know you needed to do/see/experience.
4. Fail more. One of my biggest regrets in life is not failing more. Failing teaches you to not take yourself too seriously. It forces you to take a hard look at yourself and pinpoint where you went wrong. It makes you develop a thick skin that can face anything. It helps you understand what works and what doesn't. And most importantly, it keeps you grounded.
5. Do not rely too much on passion. We all keep hearing about how we must be passionate about the work we do. Passion is made out to be this switch that makes you churn out great work in an instant. It makes it seem like anything you can't do well you may not be passionate about. This is wrong. Anything in life needs effort. It's only through effort that you develop skill. Passion is only the water that keeps your boat afloat. For you to move ahead, you have to paddle the oars yourself. Don't think that passion will blow as a wind that will carry you forward. It won't. Keep working on what you are passionate about- be it writing, painting, singing, people watching (okay maybe not that). Put in the hours and see the result for yourself.
6. Give yourself time and space to grow. Don't set the bar so high that looking at it makes you dizzy. Focus on the goal without losing sight of where you are. Take one tiny step each day towards that goal. Your leg may tremble and they may hurt a lot but a 1000 such steps later, you are a 1000 steps ahead of where you were before. Which is better than being stuck at the start line, wondering how you will ever win the race.
7. Not all advice is golden, some are cheap plastic. Not all people have your best interests at heart. You will learn this the hard way. Be open to advice but realise that some people will not give you advice for you to grow. They will give it to boost themselves and their ego. Take what works for you and don't feel guilty about tuning out the rest. (Even this letter!)
8. Don't attach your worth to something outside of you. Not to a person. Not to someone's opinion of you. Not to a relationship. Not to a job. Not to your wealth. If you do that, your entire wellbeing and self esteem becomes tied to that thing/person. Now if that thing breaks or that person abandons you, what happens? You will be shattered. Don't let that happen. Remember that you are you even if on a rusty bike or a chartered plane. You are the same you in tattered clothes as you are in designer wear. Your core is independent of money, status, and people. Keep it that way.
9. Be your own biggest well wisher. Make choices that contribute to a better you in the long term. Treat yourself with reverence. Meet your physical, emotional, and mental needs. Tend to the wear and tear that life inflicts on you after each cycle of wash in its machine. No one is going to do the maintenance work, roll up your sleeves and do it yourself.
10. Work constantly and consistently on your relationship with God. In this highly consumeristic society, spirituality is painted as misplaced priority. As though it doesn't belong. It does. Tend to your relationship with God. Live for something bigger than yourself. Serve God by serving those around you. Share your skill and time and resources to make the world a slightly brighter place. When the time comes to leave, people should remember more than just your name.
Be your own biggest well-wisher
My uncle recently had a wheelchair run over his foot. It hurt his leg badly and he was in severe pain. He was unable to walk. He finally took some painkillers to ease the pain. The pain was numbed, so he began walking again instead of resting his leg. The wound hadn't healed yet so his foot began to swell and he had to finally stop walking for sometime and give it some rest.
Have you ever burnt yourself on a flame? Touched a vessel when it was too hot? Cut your finger while chopping veggies? Stubbed your little toe on the table (the worst!)? What was your first reaction? To move the hell away! To put yourself out of harms way.
Pain serves very specific purposes. It alerts you that what you are doing is hurting the body. It makes you stop doing that specific action. And the memory of pain makes you careful to not repeat that action in the future.
This isn't limited to physical pain though. We can extrapolate it to the emotional pain we all endure at some point or the other. Emotional pain and trauma appear as a result of something harmful we are inadvertently exposed to (or expose ourselves to). It's a pain often harder to bear than physical hurt. You don't have any scar to show that you are hurting inside. People can't see it so they may not always believe you. Yet the pain persists.
My thought is simple. Consider emotional pain like the physical one. Try to find out what it is that is causing you this. Can you step away from it? If not, can you minimise it? Is it something you are doing? Will stopping that ease the pain? Whatever you do, don't ignore the pain. Don't try to numb it with short term 'painkillers' or distract it with other things. It will only swell like my uncle's foot did and leave you unable to function. Face the pain and go to its root to completely heal yourself.
If it takes therapy to reach that state, go for it. Don't listen to people telling you that therapy is for 'crazy people' only. Don't walk around hurting inside and smiling outside. Your emotional and mental health matters more than the opinion of others.
Be your own biggest well-wisher.
I have a confession.
Sometimes, when someone says something hurtful to me, I freeze. I can't open my mouth and protect myself. Then before I know it tears are streaming down my cheeks. The person who said those things would have moved on and I would still be left going over it in my mind. Thinking of the hundred different ways I could have responded. Maybe I should have said something insulting back? Maybe I should have made fun of them? Maybe...
It eats me out.
By keeping quiet and not letting it get to me I can take the higher road. Or by replying firmly I can make it clear that I do not appreciate those words/tone. BUT, I am stuck in the midst of the both and end up with a grudge in my heart that only poisons and hurts me, no one else.
But, when I think about it, in the instances where I have responded with silence or kept quiet instead of blowing my top off, it has paid off. Marriage is one place I have reaped the reward for patience. All married couples will tell you that arguments are inevitable. Sometimes these arguments evolve to big fights. I have noticed though that whenever one of us keeps quiet, my husband and I resolve the argument much much faster. When I am fire, he is water. And vice versa. When we have stuck to this rule, there have been fewer tears and heartbreaks. But when we flout this, and both of us let our anger carry us away, the result is a messier fight that needs a lot more time and effort to resolve. [It doesn't mean we don't talk about the issue, we just resolve it when we are calmer and extreme emotions are safely tucked away]
I hear it from so many people around, the hurt that a fight with a loved one caused. It's not what was said, it was the way it was said, the anger and viciousness. The after effects leave cracks that never heal. We need to create a space where disagreement doesn't result in broken people. How? This:
"The servants of the Lord of Mercy are those who walk humbly on the earth and who, when aggressive people address them, reply, with words of peace." [25:63]
I find this the one verse a guide on how to conduct myself in the world, especially in the age of trolls and haters. While I don't always succeed, it has helped me in more ways than I can count, especially in my relationships with my husband, immediate family, and friends.
This verse says-- do not take yourself too seriously; be grounded. You are NOT out of the reach of aggression and taunts. You WILL encounter it as you go about your life (hence the 'when' instead of 'if'). The goodness lies in you not letting those words get to you and instead responding with calmness. And to respond with peace when faced with aggression, you yourself need to be at peace.
A major chunk of our problems come out of not knowing the etiquettes of disagreement when discussing opposing points of view with loved ones. There should be a course on how to disagree respectfully, because as things are now, we take people close to us for granted and say hurtful things to them without any filter. There would be fewer divorces, family feuds,and misunderstandings amongst friends if people would learn to live up to their true selves instead of wasting time over minor scuffles that then escalate.
Maybe we, those reading this, can make a change- a ripple effect. Let's try reaching that place where we can respond to aggression with calmness, to hurt with understanding, to difference with acceptance. A world with even a hundred happier people is still a better place.
When I was in 1st grade I used to look at the 3rd grade kids in awe and wonder when I could achieve their coolness. They were reading entire stories! When I reached 3rd grade I realised it wasn't that great and I actually just want to get to 5th grade where we get to write with pens instead of pencils! My friends and I used to dream about being so grown up that we can actually use 'ink pens'. 5th grade came and within a few days we realised that all pens did was make mistakes more obvious on our notebooks and leave ugly marks on our hands. Then the obsession became reaching 10th grade because oooooh now those kids are a big deal with their 'boards' and all. It kept going like that...12th, then college, then Masters.
From singlehood to marriage, marriage to parenthood....It's always about the next step, the next graduation, the next move. As humans we crave for bigger, better, shinier, more exciting things and experiences. We can't get the grass is greener on this other side concept out of our minds. We have made it difficult for ourselves and our peers to be happy in the moment, with what we have. The joy of enjoying the little things has been strangled by the need to make them picture-perfect moments that just gather digital dust in our phones.
When we turned 18 we legally became adults. But the truth is that a lot of us are still floundering in the dark, knocking things down, hurting ourselves on edges of coffee tables we can't see, trying to get to that small light switch that will magically allow us to see everything and finally make sense. Some of us find it at 21, some 25, and some are still searching for it well into their 30s. Some look for it in relationships, some in their work, and yet others in drink and smoke. Although they give us temporary pleasure, these are not the places we find the switch for true, lasting happiness in.
In moments of such emotion turmoil, I always turn to my spiritual guide- the Qur'an. It tells us to be more grateful for what we have and we will be given more. At first I thought being grateful just meant a mere lip service thanks and we are done with it, God will just shower us with money and material wealth. It took me some time to realise what real gratitude meant and what we get in return. Gratitude means being present in each moment and internalising every good thing going on in your life- your family, your health, your security, your friendships, your freedom, your time. It means looking at bad things and knowing it could have been worse. it means looking at an improved situation and reminding yourself that just yesterday this was a matter of concern. You know what happens when you do that? You realise you have pretty much all the ingredients for a happy life, and anything more would just be icing on the cake. And what do you get from being grateful? God makes your life more meaningful. You get incredible peace of mind. You get to control your mind and your emotions. You get to become a productive and positive person that looks for opportunities instead of set backs.
At the end of the day, only a truly grateful person can live life to the fullest and leave the world with no regrets and hang-ups. That place of gratitude, contentment, and peace is something I hope we all find someday.
My siblings and I
I don't remember a time before my younger brother was born. All my childhood memories have him firmly attached to it. That's not the case with my youngest brother though. I have memories in which he is not there. I was six when he was born and I still clearly remember when I was told that I have another baby brother. I still remember rolling his name around my tongue, trying to get familiar with it. I had to ask mom a few times, before i could remember his name.
With him, my already complete family became 'more complete'. This tiny crying human filled a void none of us knew existed. How do I explain that? That a single person can change the 'character' of a family. That each member brings with them their own set of quirks and flaws and endearing traits that the rest of the family adapts to. For instance, if instead of a brother, I had a sister, the complete dynamics of the family would have changed. (I could have sided with my sister against the lone brother)
My siblings and I have completely different personalities. We have some overlapping behaviours, but mostly we are as different as they come. And yet, our family accommodates all of us-- my father with his penchant for weird cowboy hats that pisses off my mother, my mother with her international cutlery smuggling, my extremely social brother, and my incredibly headstrong other brother who has more borders up than the US right now, and the ultra-sensitive crybaby me-- we all comfortably fit in there, god knows how. We roll our eyes but secretly cherish each other's weirdness, a weirdness without which we would be less....us.
What I want to say is, if you have ever felt like you are insignificant or replaceable- stop. You are not. You are an oddball without which your family and friends would be less themselves. Your absence will be that itch that cannot be scratched away. You missing in their lives will be akin to getting stuck mid-sneeze and walking around like you have toothpick stuck up your nose.
You, reading this, you are valued. You are cherished. And a you-less family would be living incomplete lives, without even knowing what they are missing out on.
The World™ and Leaving Our Mark
Today I was feeling unusually down and depressed. You know that vulnerable state you find yourself in every now and then, where you don't know what's happening and can't figure out how to make it hurt less? Yeah that. I remembered this piece I'd written a few months back and turned to it for comfort.
Fellow broken people, I see you. I know your pain. I understand the days where just getting out of bed is painful and pasting on a fake smile takes up all your soul. I hear your sobs when you are alone and no one is watching. I know of the desperate tears and pleas for help that go unanswered, often unheard. I know of that moment when life seems like a noose tightening around your neck ever so slowly, till breathing feels like dying.
I want to tell you something.
You are not alone.
We are all shadows of the people we were or the people we could have been.
We start off with these high hopes and grand dreams of Changing The World™ and Leaving Our Mark and whatever else that caught our fancy before Life dunked us head first into the world and water boarded us with reality, numbing all other senses till surviving became the lasting concern, the only instinct. And Life keeps at it, throwing hurdle after hurdle, tragedy after tragedy, till you abandon the part of you that wants to reach out and hold someone’s hand to ease your/their pain; till you break the belief in the heart of your heart that we are meant for something bigger than what we are made to believe; till you stop seeing humaneness in humanity.
The uncomfortable truth is that we were all broken. Either by the people around us or by the circumstances we found ourselves in. Cracked if not completely broken. Cynical and mistrustful, we expect a pit of snakes waiting for us at the end of the rainbow instead of a pot of gold. We set filters in our head to stop the world from getting to us, from seeing the real us. We see easy smiles as evil intentions, hands reaching out are percieved as attempts to pull us down, and somewhere along the road, we forgot to stop and smell the roses.
We are broken people and it’s time we recognize that. Not to celebrate this brokenness and wallow in self-pity because we are ‘unfixable’, but to realize that we were broken together and we can heal together. We don’t have to shoulder the heavy boulder that is compounded pain and crippling self-doubt on our own. There are others on this bone-jolting, teeth shattering ride with us. And the more we reach out and help each other, the lighter the boulder gets till one day it becomes a tiny pebble that fits in our palm, a pebble that we can fling far away into the horizon of our past.
Let's stop romanticising our pain and dwelling in our brokenness. Let's learn to look beyond the cracks. Let's detox our existence of cynicism and selfishness and make compassionate living and loving our default state. It won't stop hurting immediately, but the world will surely become a slightly more liveable place.
oh I don't know- DRAMA?
More than two decades ago, in an unknown hospital in a dusty town Kerala, I was delivered. With the first scent of the drama that my life if going to be, my little self launched into a long, tortured cry which was mistaken by the doctors to be a normal slap-a-baby's-butt-to-make her-cry cry.
Fast forward to now and here I am, a wearied woman who has seen all the lemons that life has to offer. Well, most of 'em.
"What's wrong with this weirdo", is probably what you are thinking. No, don't hide it, it's too late. Plus, unlike Sheldon Cooper's mother, my mom didn't get me tested. So I can never really be sure if I am not the very house of crazy. The thing is, drama pursues me no matter which corner of the world I go. My life has this very irritating habit of recreating worn out Bollywood clichés just for the heck of it. I can see your raised eyebrow, so here's an example. In my 20+ yrs, I can count on one hand the number of times I've boarded a train without, um, dying. The rest of the time, I've had to run like a crazy woman, with sweat pouring out of me in buckets and my fifty thousand bags clutched to chest finally to get into the train in the nick of time. And just when I am about the flash the victory sign I realize there's a good 15 minutes before departure.
Oh my public transport woes don't end there. There was once when I ran behind a moving bus (like all good Indians do) and jumped into it. It was my first time and I was elated. Till I found out I was on the wrong bus. Imagine my embarrassment when after all this, oh I don't know- DRAMA?, I had to make the driver stop the bus. I could FEEL the eyes of the entire bus on me as I got down. This is not the end either, my life decided that buses and trains weren't enough and I should embarrass myself in international airports too. First things first, my family has this very weird obsession of carting things back and forth between countries. By my family, I mean my mother. So everytime we went to Italy, when my dad was posted there, our bags are filled to the brim with oyster pickles (yes, they exist), MUD POTS ( I am not joking) which my mom apparently HAS to have to make 'authentic kerala fish curry', and an assortment of Indian snacks and sweets. The worst thing is that we are almost always carrying more baggage than we are allowed. This results in a few frantic minutes of rearranging luggage (where we take out the excess baggage and stuff it into our handbags in front of the entire airline staff) praying we are let through.
The worst incident so far happened on a trip to Langkawi island (Malaysia). We reached the check in counter exactly 15 minutes before the gate closing. So we weren't allowed to check in our baggage despite me procuring a few tears and begging them to let our precious bag in. The stone faced lady at the counter just printed our boarding pass and told us we could just take our cabin bags in. This resulted in us basically just sitting on the floor right there and emptying everything in our suitcase. I don't know what people thought as they saw us stuffing undergarments (which seemed to have reproduced in the suitcase) into plastic bags. My beautiful red suitcase was left behind in the cold airport floor and we boarded the flight looking like a family from slumdog millionaire.
I am sure this is just a beginning of a lifetime of last minute luggage betrayal. *Sigh*
And this is just an extract from
of the volumes that make the drama in my life. Another section for another day...
And when I was about to leave that last stretch of beautiful sky behind,
There are some moments in life which are so vivid that they etch themselves into your being. Moments so fleeting that if you’d chosen to blink instead you would have missed them altogether. They dawn on you when you least expect it, at the most insignificant of times, following no particular pattern.
These unannounced visitors stay with you. You guard them fiercely, for losing them would mean losing a part of your self. So you store them in the deepest part of your being. Cushion them and cover it so well that no jolt will stir them from that state of rest. Life around you may fall into absolute madness but even in constant chaos, these moments you preserved stay still. So still that you’d almost forget they are there at all. But they are. Waiting for you to come back. Dust your insides and uncover them. Remove the layers, one by one, and savour the excitement you feel at the prospect of rediscovering something you’d forgotten. Let yourself be whisked away into another reality.
You will remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when it happened. Maybe reading a book, maybe taking a walk outside, or maybe nothing at all. Smile at the memory of not knowing a minute before how, in a while, something in you will change forever. Sometimes for the better, sometimes not. As you twirl around that moment in your palm, feel its contours and marvel at the intricate design. Smile. Sigh.
All of us have had these moments. And they are as different as it can get. For some it may be a smile shared with a stranger on the bus, a spontaneous outing to have ice cream with a loved one, watching your baby sleep after a long day at work or just sitting still and realizing you are happy, right here. Just where you are.
I experienced one such moment a few years ago. I was on the train going somewhere and was engrossed in a book. A little into the journey, when we’d made our way out of the maze of grey buildings and into the open, I happened to look up and what I saw, took my breath away. There it was, the clear sky, blue, dressed in silky strands of white clouds intertwined with the warms rays of the sun. From the right to the left, stretching out into the horizons was this incredible scene. The sky was a canvas for creative clouds, arranging themselves into this piece of art. Surreal art.
My initial impulse was to whip out my camera and click away. Capture it, store it forever. But then I stopped. This was the moment. And I didn't want to live it through a lens. So I just looked and kept looking. Letting it all in. Feeling so unbelievably happy and grateful and blessed to have this moment for myself. For once, I was glad I was alone to witness something beautiful. Because a shared word or even a sigh could have taken away from that magic.
And when I was about to leave that last stretch of beautiful sky behind, I took this because mere words are never enough to describe raw beauty and what it makes you feel.
How many more children's spirits will we sacrifice at the altar of "education"?
What have we done?
What are we doing?
Most people are surprised when I tell them that by 12th grade I'd studied in 10 different schools. Yes, 10 schools. From fancy Air Force schools to Kendriya Vidyalayas that have students from all classes, religions and backgrounds to a state-syllabus school in Karnataka to an Indian embassy school in 'the Gulf', I have seen most of what our system has to offer. And I'm sad to say that it is not enough. Our education system is flawed.
In school, history was firmly contained to rote learning of dates and places. We were forced to learn the dates when wars started and ended instead of why they happened or what could have stopped them. Mathematics was about Sonu having more apples than he could eat, or finding angles of triangles without being told how doing so was useful, or calculating the speed of trains going in the opposite directions. English was about memorizing select poems and writing down the notes the teacher dictated instead of being asked what our interpretation was. Scoring more involved writing the longest, most convoluted answers for simple questions. (As students all over India are taught, answers for five mark questions should have more words than those for other questions.)
Then there were the teachers, usually underpaid people who took the job as a last resort. Men and women who were clearly not interested in what and how they taught their students. While I did have some exceptional teachers who made me fall in love with the subject, I do not remember most other teachers fondly. Why? Because I've had my books thrown at my face for not completing my homework, had subjective answers marked down because they weren't what the teacher taught us, was asked to solve problems with no heed paid to whether I'd understood the concept. And this is the case for millions of students across India.
In 14 years of school, here's what I was NOT taught:
-How to manage my finances/budget
-What are taxes/how to do them
-Sex-education that was not just a token chapter about male and female genitalia and reproductive systems
-How to do self-guided research and review
-Independent thought and how to articulate my own opinion in speech and writing
-Other basic skills that adults require to navigate life.
Yet, by the time I was 18 I was expected to choose a college degree that would establish the course of my life and determine where I end up.
Luckily, I am blessed with parents who did not care as much about the report card as they cared about their children becoming well-rounded individuals. This is a privilege not afforded to many. I had my open-minded family behind me when I went off course and studied something other than engineering/medicine. However, it was when I started studying in a university abroad that I realised the full extent of damage done by my schooling. For instance, in my first year I could not turn in an English literature essay of substance. In the 12th board exams I'd scored 94 out of 100 in English because I had good handwriting and wrote exactly what the teacher taught me. In my first year of university I got a disappointing 58 for my literature essay. I was devastated. I'd expected that the flowery language that my English teachers had encouraged in school could substitute independent research and critical analysis.
My university education became the beginning of my un-schooling. It was where I began to love learning, where I realised that more than one answer can exist to most questions, and that I can actually enjoy studying history instead of falling asleep in the class. But how many of us have this opportunity to undergo this un-schooling? I did three years of BA, followed by a year of postgraduation studies, and I still feel the effects of this schooling on me. So what of others?
For the parents and educators reading this, ask yourselves:
How many of our of kids lose themselves at the production line that is school; expected to excel in things they have no interest or aptitude in and punished when they fall short in an arbitrary competency marking scale? How many of our students hate books because they were thrown at their faces for a spelling mistake or an incomplete answer? How many children fear speaking up because every time they opened their mouths they were told they are wrong since it isn't in the text books? How many children know algebraic equations by heart but cower in front of real life problems? How many children's innate curiosity and imagination is snuffed out everyday under the pressure to score more than the neighbour Sharma's kids? How many potential writers, painters, social workers and entrepreneurs were sacrificed to amass engineering and medical degrees? How many children sacrifice every waking hour to realise their parents' dream of a professional degree? How many children are made to believe that a 9-5 desk job is the ultimate success they can achieve in life?
Answer just this one question, if nothing else:
How many more children's spirits will we sacrifice at the altar of "education"?
What have we done?
What are we doing?
One who knows it all. I am free.
The sea sways impatiently as it waits for the sun to set, sending wave after wave rolling to the shore. It waits for them to meet, even if for a brief moment. And finally the sun descends and comes close, almost kissing, until it slips behind the horizon, leaving the sea with a demanding moon instead.
At times I am the sea and what I want is the bright, burning sun. I want it with my whole being, and it comes so close to happening. Then POOF! It disappears into thin air and I am left staring at my empty outstretched hands.
Our lives are a game of tag where we are constantly 'it'.
Chasing behind money, love, health, time, friendship, happiness, success. We might manage to catch one, but everything else escapes us then. So we're never happy with what we have, in that moment, clasped between our hands. I guess we were never meant to be.
Maybe it's because I am edging closer to quarter century, I find myself calmer when things don't go my way. What God has destined for me will reach me no matter how far it is from me, and what is not meant for me will not touch me even if the whole universe gets behind it to meet me. I am content with the master plan, where I give it my best shot, and leave the rest to the One who knows it all. I am free.
Here are somethings you don't know about me
I'm 5'6 tall (a female giraffe by desi standards). My favourite colour is all shades of blue. I LOVE chocolates, specifically galaxy flutes, so much so that since we've been together my husband HAS to buy me one every weekend (if he didn't keep a check I would have indulged everyday). I am a bit of a day dreamer, have walked into a trash can once while daydreaming. I love cuddling babies and kids but the prospect of having my own little humans freaks me out. I have a morbid sense of humour that weirds out people at times. I'm a romantic fool deep down and love grand gestures of love. At the same time, a hug and a little peck on the cheek can make my day too. I believe in this much demonised thing called feminism.
I also wear the hijab and proudly associate as a brown Muslim woman.
My best friend is a fierce gym rat. She is eating healthy when she is not working out. She lifts like no one else and has biceps to kill for.
She also shares my silly humour and we have literally rolled on the floor laughing oh so many times. She is an amazing cook who can whip up fabulous meals from the most meagre ingredients.
She is Sri Lankan. She is also a niqabi. Which means if you are a man, you'll likely never see anything more than her eyes.
My husband loves boxing, wrestling, and anything else that requires strength. He adores Muhammad Ali. [edit: He also wants to name our future children Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson.] He cracks the funniest jokes that have me chuckling forever. He watches documentaries on literally everything and has more information on aluminium, sugar, and salt than most normal people would have. If he finds a scene in a movie funny he replays it till he has exhausted all his laughs and I have gone mad.
He is as brown as they come and also has an unmistakably Muslim-y beard.
Imagine you met us for the first time without knowing any of these things about us. What would be the first things you would associate with us? What would those assumptions be based on?
How do you feel about us after reading these things? A little more closer? Like someone you know?
This. Acknowledge this. We are all a little bit of each other in some or the other way. But our external appearances and the labels we attach to it separate us.
So don't assume, ask. Get to know that one person you feel is 'weird' or 'different'. Sit down with them over tea, or biriyani, and talk. You will be surprised at how many of your assumptions and presumptions fizzle out when the other person opens up to you. Make that effort. I assure you that it will be worthwhile.
A by-product of a nomadic childhood is that you never have one specific "home". Although we visited kerala every year during vacations and eventually even returned to settle down there, I never really saw it as MY home. It was home in the sense that there was family there, but I do not have any other sentimental attachment to that place. I recently read a piece by Pico Iyer about this strange phenomenon of being equally unfamiliar at all places. And I thought that it really applied to me, this feeling of never letting yourself call one place home, yet feeling comfortable in each place you visit because you know you don't feel the burden to make it your home. You never root yourself fully anywhere, so you can pick up and leave anytime without leaving anything behind. This has been my case wherever I've lived. I mourn the people I left behind, but the place just becomes a fond memory I can revisit once In a while.
The only exception to this strange predilection has been Malaysia. As a naive 18 year old, completely unhinged from reality, I set foot on this land and felt it in my bones that this, this lush land of perfect skies and warm people, is home. Or the closest to a home I will ever have. On the first day of university, as I watched my parents drive away leaving me behind, I felt slightly sad but never alone. This place had already embraced me and coaxed me to root myself there.
As cliched as it sounds, Malaysia was the place I found myself. It offered me a space to grow, to explore, and form friendships so strong, so deep that they have endured time and distance. Most important of all, this is where I reconnected with my faith. And for this alone, I am forever indebted to this place.
Before Malaysia, I would not have thought it possible to feel at home at a place where you have no family, and that too with a people you do not share the same tongue. But it is. So possible that when it was finally time to leave, my heart ached for this home I was leaving behind as much as I mourned the people. I cried then and for days afterwards, for that little piece of me that I'd left behind and probably would never recover. How strange to have your sentiments tied to a geographical place...I don't think I will ever retrieve myself fully from there.
Out of all the souls dispatched, breathed into lifeless clumps inside wombs of women in the different parts of the world- tall and short, dark and fair, rich and poor- you found your way to me. After years of trying and weeping and being seen as incomplete, just when I'd given up, you turned up.
And I rejoiced.
We didn't want to know whether you would be a cute little boy or girl. It didn't matter to us how your chromosomes were arranged. We just wanted a healthy little bundle in our arms. Your presence within was like a switch that turned off all my other priorities. All I cared about was you. I read journal after journal on how to care for you while you stayed inside mama's womb and discusses with your dad how to raise you once you are out. I shopped for your clothes with my girlfriends. I picked names that mean something good without placing undue expectation on its bearer. I fantasised about our cuddles and playtime. So in my head were you that I forced myself to drink one bitter tonic after the other, popped folic acid like candy, and tried all the homemade concoctions that promised me that you would come out healthy.
So I don't know why you decided you wanted nothing to do with me. Where did I go wrong? Didn't you like your tiny home inside me? Didn't I make you comfortable? The doctor handed me reports that were filled to the brim in science jargon that meant nothing to me. It didn't matter that you weren't 'viable' or a 'risk'. All that mattered was that in one instant I was a mother without a child.
How do I explain to others who question my grief that even though I hadn't seen your face, you were a very real part of me- like another limb. How do I explain that not having a face or a 'real life' shared experience with you doesn't make my grief any less? What do I do with all these castles I built in the air, resting on dreams for our future where you and your father and I live happily ever after? What do I do with those premature dreams?
How do I stop being a mother now that you have left, leaving in your wake a severed relationship that was never fully realised. Am I a former or ex-mother? An 'Almost Mother'? Or are we still bound by an invisible, indestructible umbilical cord that stretches across this life and reaches into the beyond? I'd like to believe that we are. I am told not to grieve, that you await me at the doors of paradise as a little angel. That hope dims the darkness that took over when you left, ever so slightly. But this grief is my companion for life, this I know for sure. You were taken from me before I could rest my eyes on you, before I could run my fingers over your matted hair or uncurl your tiny palms to count your tinier fingers, before I could gaze into your little eyes and see a future full of love and joy. I didn't experience any of this, yet my pain was and is real. My pain rests in every pore, it envelops me as whole and leaves me breathless at times. Dear child, mama's heart never stopped breaking for you.
I don't need to wave around a birth certificate or a photo album of your childhood to justify my grief to the world. You are still my child. And I am still your mother, even if 'almost'. Coming into this world was just a technicality you skipped.
Don't worry though, baby, mama is following the cord. I will reach your end packed with all the cuddles and hugs and kisses we missed out on. Don't cry, my love, there will be no more pain. I will be there.
Profile of a Granduncle
My granduncle (uppapa) is one of the most charming and inspiring person I know. Now 85, he’s one of the most energetic people around. At 6ft, my uppapa stands tall in my childhood memories. I remember him as someone who’s always on the move, always occupied. For the brief moments he was not doing something, or helping someone out, or treating his patients, he could be found relaxing in the antique reclining chair in the living room , listening to his transistor radio. When he wasn’t around, us grandkids would gather around that wooden reclining chair and take turns pretending to be him. When he was at the hospital, we used to sneak into his consulting room to look at the scary injections and play doctor with his stethoscope.
I have observed that most of the septuagenarians and octogenarians I know have slowly lost interest in life and living. (Granted many of them are suffering from some of the other ailment that makes life difficult). Uppapa, however, is different. Each time I see him, he seems more and more enthusiastic about life. On a recent visit I wanted to know what drives him to be so upbeat all the time, so I spent most of the days in Kasaragod just talking to him.
One thing that is true of most grandparents is their enthusiasm to share their stories with us. They are in fact waiting to talk to someone about the life they led, reminisce those they loved and lost, of their childhood mischief. Nostalgia does tend to bear down on you when not shared. My grandma never misses an opportunity to show me pictures of relatives I can never keep track of. She says it is so that this precious knowledge of how people are tied together is not lost with her passing away. It makes me sad to hear her say that, but also inspired to see someone put in that much effort to preserve the memory of a loved one.Similarly, Uppapa also loves talking about his heydays (If you ask me though, he is still in his heydays!). I used to spend tea time with him talking about his work. Power-cuts are the norm in the evenings, all other activity ceases for that while. Often we would sit on the verandah in the dark, seeing each others faces only when the occasional vehicle passed by. Talking to uppapa in such a setting is enchanting, as he begins narrating his stories…
Uppapa studied in Madras Medical College, the only Medical college in South India at that time. His parents were landlords and were not keen on him pursuing a profession that did not carry with it the glamour it does now. He, however, was insistent and got through medical college in four years. While his colleagues moved to Europe and the US in search of greener pastures, Uppapa came back to Kasaragod. As the only son, he was still required to look after the family land.
He was one of the few doctors in Kasaragod at that time and slowly people came to recognize him. He soon married my grandaunt (mammima) and was well settled in no time. Family circumstances changed and in the 70s he took up a job in Libya for a few years. He still speaks about the hospitality and warmth of the Libyan people and how accepting and tolerant they were of all faiths. Libya then was a comfortable place to live in, everyone had a house, access to healthcare and education for all children. After a few years there, he wired some of his savings back home and with the rest he decided to travel Europe. It was a spontaneous trip. With all his baggage he went to Athens, left it in a locker and then made his way to England. He visited France, Switzerland, Belgium and couple of other countries he doesn’t remember now. He especially loved England and said he found London cheaper than New Delhi at that time. I was shocked when he said the cheapest place to shop then was Oxford street (What?!). He returned with lots of memories and a few ‘Angrezi’ trinkets that are now resting somewhere in the attic of the ancestral home.
Uppapa is the kind who believes work is worship, so he never actually stopped working. One evening he told me, “I never lost the will to live, and that urge to earn and support my family. I feel that if I stop working now I will just die.” So this 85 year old man has a busier schedule than most other working folks I know. He still drives. In the mornings he performs a few minor surgeries. Afternoons are spent consulting and evenings visiting and treating the residents of a government run Oldage home. I am pretty sure he’s older than most of the residents there.
Uppapa, I think, was born way ahead of his time. He still wants to travel and experience new things. When in discussion with him, I often find myself surprised at how progressive his views are on…basically everything! Be it education or women’s rights or marriage or religion and spirituality, he always manages to stump me with what he has to say.
What I wrote here fails miserably to capture the essence of who Uppapa is. Each time I talk to him, I realize the futility of attempts to convey his dynamism, his thirst for life, his drive to help others, his desire to leave the world with no regrets. How can one actually elucidate a life lived fully for eight decades(and continuing) serving others and manage to do justice to it?
So this is just a faltering attempt to let the world know of this great man that I am proud to call my Uppapa. I am sure that even a glimpse of who he is, is enough to be inspired.
It is time we celebrate us, the perfectly imperfect ones.
erfect human beings don't interest me.
Firstly, because they don't exist. So It would be kind of weird to be interested in things non-existent. Secondly, if they do exist, they'd be boring as hell. You see, nothing happens in the life of a perfect human being. There is no rise, no fall. If the perfect human was a voice it would be a monotone that drones on and on and on. Their life has been a series of 'good times'. But one wonders how they can classify that as good times when they've never seen bad times to hold up against and compare. Perfect people are like porcelain vases, they are good to look at, but no one is comfortable going too near them for fear of breaking them. Perfection, my dear friends, is vastly overrated.
It's the deeply flawed, floundering yet striving people that interest me. The ones with scars to show and more than a single story to tell. The ones who've had their heart shredded to a million bits and spent years painstakingly stitching it back together. The ones who have seen the peaks and the valleys. The ones who have lived through the darkest of nights to witness a single sunrise. Who are these people? It is us, the regular folks. The ones who cherish happiness because they know what's like to have nothing working for them. The ones who hold on through tough times because they know good things are waiting for them on the other side. The ones who love and lose and love again and never forget to laugh.
It is time we celebrate us, the perfectly imperfect ones.
One day I want to see
One day I want to see myself on the screen and in the pages of best selling books. Me or someone like me. Not there as a caricature or a token character. Not there merely to be the head on which rests the hijab added for diversity. Not there to show how certain cultures oppress their women so the rest should gloat. Not there to evoke sympathy and be saved by the white hero.
Some day I'd like to see me with my fiery red hair under my sober hijab. Me with my unbound ambition to live my potential. Me with my addiction to memes. Me when cackling at the stupid 'fail' videos. Me when sipping tea with my best friends and sharing secrets only they can take. I want to read about Me in love. Me heartbroken. Me in tears. Me and my evolving relationship with God.
I want to see us Muslim women as we are- multi faceted. I want to read a character that does justice to the feisty and inspiring Muslim women I know. I am thirsty for a portrayal that is not made out of stereotypes stacked against each other.
I am tired of us being in the background.
I want the world to know the real us, living and loving and laughing and, guess what, saving ourselves.
Maybe I need to write that story.
illustration by my insanely talented cousin- Fathima Nisar
MOVING BEYOND MOTHERHOOD
In her lifetime a woman takes on a range of roles. However, it's her roles which are in relation to others (most of the time men) that she is asked to live up to the most. Countless are the articles which go "A women is a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother so....". My gripe is with the word 'so' here. It makes the respect that a woman deserves contingent on her relationships and not on her own capabilities/values/strengths (or just by virtue of being a fellow human being). I have a problem with conditional respect. And I have an even bigger problem with making these roles a to-do list that all girls are supposed to check to become women. This is where 'motherhood' comes in. Recently the President of Turkey said during a speech on International Women's Day that a woman is above all a mother to him. This makes no sense to me. The only person who is a mother to him is his own mother. Implicit in his statement is the society's general view of women as incomplete till they reproduce. It tells you that her purpose on earth is to be the producer of the country's future citizens, the mother to men who will go one to become leaders, scientists, doctors, and global shapers. That her primary and most coveted quality is that of a nurturer. It undermines everything else women have to offer to the society and the world at large. While it is true that women can nurture when occasion arises, it is not what defines her. In fact, there is no one quality that can define women because women are not a monolithic group. Women who can't or don't want to nurture are not less feminine because of it. What's interesting to note is how the society makes 'attentive and caring' the default for mothers and 'goofy and irresponsible' the standard for fathers. This double standard puts the onus of parenting on the mothers, while taking away all the responsibility from dads. It is also an insult to the many excellent fathers who take pride in their parenting and are committed to the well being of their children.. Women are constantly told that motherhood should 'complete you'. Those women who do not agree with this idea are seen as heartless and cold. If you as a woman feel that motherhood does complete you, then I respect that and stand behind you. But no one else has a right to tell anyone that birthing a child is what will complete you. My personal opinion is that nothing in this world will ever complete you. This world is vast and it has a myriad experiences to offer in our short life time. How can one feel complete then with just one aspect of their life? Motherhood is put on a pedestal and those who don't measure up and 'mother' are seen as lesser women. While we should have nothing but love and respect for our mothers, we should not box them into just motherhood. Let women define themselves. Give them the breathing room to be more than just their wombs. Have higher expectations of them rather than their reproductive systems. Allow them to chase their dreams and passions without having to worry about checking a to-do list of ideal womanhood. Tell yourself and others that a woman is, above all, a human being. Then watch the world become a better place.
I am someone who finds herself constantly wandering, searching for that elusive place which is 'home'. My life is in constant flux and naturally, my thoughts are even more chaotic. This blog is an effort to channelize my ruminations and rants into a coherent space. I hope this proves as a platform for me to mature as writer by exploring different styles and as an individual by delving into myself. It's going to be a long journey, and I would love for you to join me, whenever you want edited