Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

"Marana Veedu"

February 24, 2019,

On Friday morning I woke up to the news that my father's mother, my velliumma, had breathed her last and returned to her Lord. She was 78 years old when she passed to the next world.

Velliumma was a constant fixture in our life from when i remember. She visited us in each place we were posted at, from West Bengal to Maharashtra to Karnataka. Every summer velliumma and velliuppa would come stay with us. What I know of her is through the numerous stories she happily narrated to me over the years. Velliumma's favourite time was in the past, where she'd happily go to through her beloved photo albums.

Born to Mohsin Bin Ahmed, a District Education Officer, and Fathima Mohsin, a stately lady far ahead of her time, on 11th May 1940, velliumma was the oldest of four children.
She spent her formative years in hilly ooty where her father was about to settle down when she was infected by deadly meningitis and the doctor recommended they move somewhere warmer.
Velliumma was much loved by her parents, uncles and aunts. She'd fondly narrate to us stories of how they pampered her.
She always had people to look after her, from doting parents to a husband who took care of her to children who gracefully reversed roles and became her caregivers. She was comfortable in every other way apart from a host of physical ailments that plagued her from childhood till her last years. From meningitis to brain tumour to a brain surgery that ended in nerve damage paralysing half her face. She, who loved pictures and looking at them, was conscious posing for pictures for the rest of her life since then.
I can still see her slouched over fading black white photos of her parents, almost caressing them with her wrinkled fingers.

She loved things. She was fiercely protective of every single thing she owned, be it a silk sari or a safety pin. She'd repurpose old ice cream tubs to keep her various medicines next to her on the window sill. Neatly kept next to it would be a small cuticura or ponds talcum powder, nail clippers, a plastic comb with which she combed her jet black hair. She was very proud of the fact that she didn't have even a single grey well into her 70s.

On her visits to our different stations she'd set up her own mini station where she'd arrange her beloved possessions. When she was in a particularly lavish mood she'd give us money to buy a packet of toffee which she would keep in a plastic tin near her, her watchful eyes guarding them carefully lest my brothers or I sneak away a couple. The toffees were strictly post meal only. When she was particularly affectionate she'd give us two instead of one post meal.

She was an avid reader, always looking forward to next issue of the Malayalam magazines that would bring to her novels that were broken into episodes always ending in cliff hangers.
When India was gripped by newly released tele dramas that brought to homes scandalous stories of scheming mothers in laws and innocent daughters in laws, velliumma was one of the millioms of women gripped by it. From 6pm-9pm no matter what happened we'd find her at the edge of her bed, nervously biting the ever present scarf around her shoulders.
The summer of 2002, I was 10, my brothers 7 and 4, velliumma was with us in Bagdogra, West Bengal in our modest 2 bedroom apartment. Her 6pm tv ritual carried on for a few days before my brothers got annoyed at her monopolizing the TV. So for the next few days they started sneakily disconnecting the cable a few minutes before 6pm, which left Velliumma flabbergasted trying to figure out why the TV stopped working each day exactly at the time she sat down to watch it.

A few years later we were in Pune, sitting out in the veranda, playing carroms with velliuppa and velliumma. She was quite good at it btw.

A few decades into life Velliumma was limited by her body, which refused to cooperate, confining her to the bed, unable to take care of her basic bodily functions. This naturally made her bitter at times and lash out at those caring for her. Through this all her two daughters in law supported her selflessly. Especially my uncle's wife, who went above and beyond what was required of her. I want to say that that the rest of us were always patient, but we weren't. In the midst of it, it was hard to understand why she was doing that. Empathy comes easier in hindsight, it's clear now that she was very very lonely, the people who she loved so much- her parents, her younger sister- no more there for her. There were days when she would traipse across the edge of memory and believe they are all still alive. And she'd call out to them over and over again, asking us where they are. On some days we'd tell her they are no more and she would get furious. On other days we wouldn't have the energy, neither the heart to break her heart. So we'd tell her they will be here any moment now.

We didn't realize it instantly but over the last few years she had begun to withdraw into a shell. Deteriorating eyesight meant an end to tv viewing and magazine reading, which she'd relied on as her sole entertainment when her legs refused to take her anywhere. When she stopped we wished she never did, she was now turning into a shadow of her former self. She'd sit or lie down for hours staring into space. Sometimes we'd try to draw her into conversation, inviting her into it with her favorite topic- the past. Some days she'd accept our invitation and talk fondly about my father's and uncle's antics when they were kids. On other days she'd just smile and continue staring into space.

My youngest brother was usually able to draw her out. He would take her in her wheelchair and do wheelies across the hall. She would chastise him in mock anger but it was clear she enjoyed his company and attention.

Last June when Z was born she was there with us. She was in a grumpy state those days, listless at times. One thing that never failed to cheer her up was seeing Z. She'd exclaim how small she is and coo to her and laugh.

On Friday morning when I read uppa's message that velliumma is no more it hit me with all the force. This is probably the closest relation of mine who's passed away in recent times.
My husband booked a ticket for me and I flew down to Kerala the same night. I joined my parents at Dubai airport and from there we were together as we made the journey to Tirur where Velliumma was to be buried.

It's difficult walking into a house where someone just died. "Marana Veedu" as we say in Malayalam. Especially when it's someone you loved. Walking in and seeing her laid on a stretcher like that is one of the most heartbreaking things ever. It hits you with a force that this person, who's been so central to your life, who's spent decades on this planet and brought into it generations of people, who's the very reason for your existence, is no more. Veliumma was short. In life she was slouched down, her body frail and her back bent over as she walked. In death she was tall, laid straight.

I joined other ladies in praying the Janaza prayers for her. A final farewell. My uncle then kissed her forehead and covered her face with the white cloth, her only possession that she took with her from this life to the next. And just like that they took her, her sons and nephews her pall bearers.
I was touched to hear that at the cemetery my grandfather insisted that they open the cloth so he can see her one last time. He did and then he led the final prayer for his partner of six decades before she was laid to rest. And that's how a generation slowly fades away.

When the last of the visitors had trickled out, we- her children, grandchildren, and in laws (my grandfather's sisters) sat around and remembered her. Her many stories, her eccentricities, her love for mysore pak and vanilla drop biscuits. We laughed and we sighed.
Velliuppa was staring at his phone for a long time, he eventually called me and showed me an SMS from our family association- "Arifa Mohamed (w/o PK Mohamed and D/O Mohsin Bin Ahmed) expired at Tirur".

Today morning we'd stepped outside when we got back into the car there was her red ice cream medicine box. Over the years I am sure we'll come across these lil things in some hidden corner of the house or stashed away on top of the cupboard. We'll smile wistfully and miss the velliumma shaped hole in our lives.
.....
In loving memory of Arifa Mohammed, lover of all things sweet except Jackfruit which she detested with all her heart. She who was a repository of all birthdays, anniversaries, and death days, our Google calendar of yore. She who loved the color red and a jasmine scent on any good day. The one who showed affection with hugs, kisses, extra toffees, and a spray of her favourite perfume if you were particularly good.
May you finally be at peace with your beloved parents and sister, enjoying the eternal delights of the hereafter.

11th May 1940 - 22 February 2019
Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajioon
(We belong to God and to Him we shall return)

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

Romantic love is overrated.

February 13, 2019,

Romantic love is overrated. There I said it.
No I am not a bitter person who's suffering from a severe case of sour grapes-itis. Infact I like people talking about love, being in love, and celebrating love. But I still find romantic love being put on a pedestal annoying. Especially this time of the year when social media risks imploding from over the top love-poisoning and florists and jewellers and chocolate companies become trillionares overnight.

Don't mistake me, the love of a significant other is definitely a plus and a pleasant thing to have in your life. But it is not the only kind of love out there, is it? I think there exist purer forms of love that need to be celebrated with more fervour. A parent's love for their child. Siblings' grudging, but ever present, ever growing love for each other. A teacher's love for his students. An aunt's love for her niece. Self love on days you don't feel like being kind to yourself. The strong, indescribable love we hold for our soul-people (Because you can have more than one soul mate) the ones who hold you together, who are by your side through thick and thin, who knew you before you became the person you are and who will be there cheering for you as you become the person you are meant to be. Some call them BFFs, others call them their 'tribe', no matter what you call them, you must know that kind of love is blessed and pure. So pure that sometimes romantic love pales in comparison. And this love- which is not derived from blood or a legal contract or any other benefit- is something we need more than one single day to celebrate. And no rose,no chocolate, no fancy dinner will ever be enough to repay the debt you owe these non romantic lovers.

And guess what, you don't need a commercialised day to remind yourself that for someone you are all this and more. On 14th Feb and other days, you are a big part of someone's world. Make it brighter, love them louder.

Nazreen Fazal Post

TRAVEL

On the last day before flying back to Riyadh!

February 7, 2019,

On the last day before flying back to Riyadh from Uganda my mother and I went to Protea for lunch. Located at a beautiful spot on the shores of lake Victoria (Africa’s largest fresh water lake) it’s a picturesque hotel and restaurant with a never ending cool breeze and great food to fuel you. Green lawns punctuated by palm trees swaying in the wind, a lovely pool (which my baby Z loved splashing about in) this place is heaven on earth except for the scores of chameleons scuttling over the rocks near the sand We were just sitting about enjoying the view and relaxing there when two American ladies sat down on the table across us.

I highly recommend getting yourself a baby if you are looking for an icebreaker with strangers when you are travelling. It’s a fool proof conversation starter because in 5 minutes Z was smiling at them and they were wooed. And a lovely conversation followed.

Meet Leah and Vivienne. These two vivacious ladies flew in here all the way from Miami, USA for a ‘girl-friends only’ vacation; from Entebbe, Uganda to Victoria Falls in Zambia to Cape Town, South Africa.

Leah and Vivienne have been friends from when they were 5 years old! Their friendship has weathered decades, colleges, children, different careers, and the death of both their husbands. That’s a once in a lifetime kind of friendship right there; one where you hold on to each other through the darkest of storms and the sunniest of days. The kind of friendship we all hope to share with our girlfriends.

Leah and Vivienne have both lived full lives. Leah lived in Mexico with her husband for a good two decades and now visits to take care of her late husband’s 101 year old mother. Vivienne has two children and from what I know from the brief conversation we had, plays tennis regularly and loves sipping on her wine outside her home in Miami. They are retired now and travel the world together.

After I got home, I wrote to them asking if they would like to share any advice. Vivienne wrote back with this;

“We are both widows who have learned to make the best of the lives we have, rather than wait for the lives we want. Patience, compromise, tolerance, trust, and humor help. Leah’s 101 year old Mexican mother-in-law says ‘If you want acquaintances, sometimes you have to close one eye; if you want friends, sometimes have to close both...’

I have been mulling over the profound wisdom in this quote for some time. If you want a lasting friendship that weathers all storms that life will inevitably unleash on you, you do need a good dose of patience, compromise, tolerance, trust, and humor. And here’s the thing, most close female friendships do have these qualities. I think they come quite naturally to us. As I write this I remember another chance encounter with three equally lovely ladies, this time in the Queen’s land. I met those three ladies on a sunny yet chilly British morning at the Trafalgar square. Ann, Maisie, and Helen trotted arms interlocked in a row and sat down next to my bench. Helen was suffering from dementia and Ann and Maisie were trying to help her recollect their shared memories from the past. I can still feel the easy going warmth of that friendship now as I sit here writing this on a humid Ugandan evening. They were so patient, so kind, so gentle with each other.

As I was telling Vivienne and Leah how inspiring it is for me to see two women travelling like this, I just impulsively quipped that there’s something so nice about a girlfriends’ only trip ‘It’s so relaxing’, I exclaimed. As soon as I said that Vivienne knowingly nodded her head because she new exactly what I meant, as I am sure most women reading this do. The company of your girl friends, whether it is in the comfort of your drawing room sipping on chai, or on the shores of an exotic beach, is one of the most nurturing and uplifting things you can experience in this lifetime. If you are lucky enough to chance upon friends who get you, you will find in them not just love, but also strength to face life and solace in times of grief. With them there are no masks, there is no performance, there are no expectations. You can be the real you.

My heart is filled with joy and gratitude today. Joy to see such friendships that span decades. Gratitude to know that I am blessed with such friendships myself. From my best friends in high school to my Malay, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, and Sudani housemates, to my other companion (with whom I had my own girls only trip to Spain) to my current lively little circle in Riyadh, at each phase in life God has sent to me ‘my people’, my tribe. I will fiercely hold them and cherish them and lift them to the best of my capacity. I will cry when they get hurt and hug them when they succeed and love their children like my own. And I will rest knowing that just as I look out for them, they are here for me too.

You know the best part in all this? Talking to me reminded Vivienne of her Indian college roommate from 40 years ago who currently lives in London. As Vivienne and Leah are returning to the US via London, she will get to meet her on the way back! So that’s a 4 decade old friendship rekindled just by meeting another woman. Who says women aren’t awesome?

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Dear Baby Z,

February 2, 2019,

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.

Love,
Mamma

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

I love stationery. I love paper. I love pretty journals. I love beautiful pens

January 31, 2019,

One thing people close to me know about me is that I love stationery. I love paper. I love pretty journals. I love beautiful pens I can write with on the said pretty journals. And on top of all that I love a little time each day I can spend reflecting.

In comes an activity that combines all of the above- the one line/question a day journal. I spent hours at end on Amazon and ordered these three beautiful journals for myself. These were my gift to myself.

On Jan 1 I started the journaling journey with my one line a day 5 yr journal, q&a a day for moms, and couples one question a day.

One month since I've started doing it, I can safely say It's one of the best things I have done for myself. Each day I look forward to noting down the highlight of my day. It thrills me to think about looking back at these 5 years down the line. How great it'd be to know exactly what I thought was noteworthy about Jan 14, 2019 or May 7, 2022!

I like the mom journal too because it lets me chart how I am feeling about different aspects of motherhood, #raisingZ and being raised by Z. Some questions are silly, but some are poignant and make me go into silent reflection.

The final journal, the couples one, is another fun one. I'd be lying if I say the husband is fully on board with it. Unlike me, he thinks of writing journals are imposition lol. But like all good partners in good marriages, he sucks it up and does it for me. Which means sometimes writing down answers like "what Nazreen said" ???? But I still love him for putting up with my wackiness and going along with it.

These journals are mainly for me, honouring who I am today, who I will be in 5 years, and the journey that takes me there. It's a text of me. For myself. And also for my Z (and any others kids who decide to come into our lives). If you enjoy writing and reflecting and thinking deep thoughts and cherishing life's little moments, this activity is for you!

Within a few days you'll find yourself looking forward to this "me time" with just you, the journals, and your thoughts. And maybe a cup of chai ????

Nazreen Fazal Post

POETRY

The Blooming Rose

January 28, 2019,

If only we'd stop each time and smell the rose. If not that at least slow down to watch it sway and smile at its graceful dance with the wind and bees and the butterflies; blooming, welcoming them in, selflessly gifting its scent to everyone who merely passes by and cares to breathe in.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

Do you dream of all the lives you could have lived?

January 27, 2019,

Do you ever wonder what would have happened had you not made that particular choice at that particular moment? On some nights do you toss about in bed thinking of all the things you did or didn’t do that brought you to this moment, right now in the present? Does it fill you with relief or regret? Is the sigh you let out content or wistful or loaded with remorse?
Do you dream of all the lives you could have lived?
Do you imagine the parallel universes in which you followed through with that dream, or took up that opportunity, or rose up to that challenge?
What if I tell you that this moment is another crossroad? That right now is a time you will look back on wistfully or with pride and gratitude. Your decision, your intention, your habits today are the foundation for the you one year from now Be possessive about your time and live fiercely through each moment, with intention. You have it in you to make this your best universe, better than all parallel probabilities out there.

Nazreen Fazal Post

TRAVEL

UGANDA DIARIES

January 26, 2019,

One thing I look forward to during each visit to a new place is the local cuisine. It can be a bit tricky sometimes because halal options aren't always available and I don't eat most fish. Ugandan food so far hasn't been a problem. Their food is simple, both to make and on the stomach too. There's a lot of beans and plaintain and starch. Minimal spices involved (which the hard core Desi me is willing to overlook because over all it's a wholesome meal)

I'll share here two of the main dishes made by Ugandans. The first is matoke, which is a dish made out of Matoke bananas. These thick green bananas are found commonly in Uganda. A visit to the local market will show you entire sections of these bright green bananas.

Matoke is made by steaming its unripe namesake till they are mushy. It's traditionally eaten with groundnut sauce. Chef Lawrence explains more of the dish in the video.

The second dish is called Posho. Posho is like north india's "daal chawal" or a malayalees simple "kanjiyum chammandiyum". Posho is made by adding hot water to coarse corn flour and cooking till it reaches a dough like consistency. It's eaten with beans in Uganda. I'm told in Kenya it's called Ugali and is eaten with sauteed kale.

Our cook Esther made Posho and beans for us, slightly spiced up because duh indians. I loved it!

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Live and love

January 22, 2019,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

The ten year challenge reminded me of this from a few years ago

January 17, 2019,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Dear Papa and Mamma,

January 8, 2019,

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,

Your daughter

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Seeing My Mother Through Different Eyes

January 8, 2019,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Road tripping with parents

January 8, 2019,

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.

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LIFE

The dam inside my mind

January 6, 2019,

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!

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LIFE

To Madina.

January 4, 2019,

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.

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LIFE

Dear Baby Z,

January 2, 2019,

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.

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LIFE

A bit late

January 1, 2019,

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.

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LIFE

When I was younger

December 20, 2018,

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.

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LIFE

The transition into motherhood

December 10, 2018,

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

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LIFE

6 months of motherhood: Taking Stock

December 5, 2018,

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.

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LIFE

Dear Baby Z

December 2, 2018,

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,
Mamma

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LIFE

Why do we do it our kids?

November 28, 2018,

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.

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LIFE

7 things to teach your kids to raise independent and confident boys and girls

November 22, 2018,

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

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LIFE

Dear Baby Z...

November 2, 2018,

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.
Love,
Mamma.

Nazreen Fazal Post

POETRY

Dear Daughter...

October 26, 2018,

When down,
With your shoulders straight, chin up,
Go out and jump into puddles and
come back to me with muddy hands,
scraped knees and a big smile on your face
so I can kiss you and
send you right back to
Explore The World
with your tiny palms
And make you scrunch up your nose to
breathe in new wonders everyday
In everyway.
And remember, it's okay
To cry once in a while,
or snort when you laugh
Or burp in front of boys.
Go play in sun
Tan without worry,
throw like a girl,
run like a girl,
do whatever you want
Like A Girl,
because you are a girl
and there's nothing to be ashamed of.


And when you grow up,
Don't let them tell you that
'You're not a real woman'
'Cause baby you are,
As real as it gets.
And remember to stand up and tell them,
that real women come in all sizes and shapes and hues
More colourful than the rainbow in a clear sky.
Teach them that
All women are real,
Black and White,
Yellow and Brown
All shades you can name.
At home or in town
Fat and skinny
small and tall
With men or without
With kids or without.
Ring or no ring
All women are real.
Just like you and
your mother, her sisters and
their fierce foremothers.
And remember, my love,
Be
fiercely
unapolgetically
unconditionally
You.
Always.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

My father is a "connector".

October 25, 2018,

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

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

#LettersToSelf

October 20, 2018,

On unkind days, be kind to yourself. It sounds easy, but it isn't.
Do not attach your worth to others' perception of you. Do not rest it on things outside of you. You are bigger than a single failure or victory. You are the sum of experiences and people and places that came together just for you. Do not ever doubt what you have to offer the world. There is no other person on this planet who has your unique perspective. Do not be quiet. Do not stay still.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

We are with you

October 18, 2018,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

You see me here?

October 15, 2018,

You see me here? Eyes glazed from lack of sleep, punctuated by dark circles. Skin and lips dry because I forget to drink water, let alone moisturize. Motherhood is as unglamorous as it gets. But guess what, when I took this pic I was happy and content. I'd put in Z into the Aseema carrier and she snuggled closed to me and just fell asleep like that. 30 mins of that journey I spent hugging her close and with each second my heart grew bigger with love until I felt like I couldn't contain it in my body.
I may not look ???? outside but man, right now I feel ???? inside. I feel content to my bone. Alhamdulillah Alhamdulillah Alhamdulillah. Thank you Allah for my personal bundle of joy.

Nazreen Fazal Post

POETRY

Me Too

October 11, 2018,

Me Too

That evening
This morning
Decades ago
Just now
-Still fresh-
At home
At School
At Work
In Sick
Stuck in traffic
Out partying
Out for a walk
On my own
In an empty parking lot
In a mall
In broad daylight
At the holiest of places
Leered by least expected of faces
In the cradle
On my death bed
On the first night
And the following nights
After fights
In my favourite pair of jeans
Covered-
Draped head to toe
Uncovered-
By friends
By foes
By every single one given an opportunity
To stalk
To stroke
To grope
To gape
If given time, rape
and break and
Make me feel unsafe
In every space I inhabit so
Every moment I tread
I dread
It’s going to be
Me Too.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

Latent Rage

October 7, 2018,

I believe that most women, irrespective of race, religion, caste or creed, go about their lives with latent rage building up inside. No, we aren't born with it. It's a direct result of enduring and witnessing injustice over generations. Encountering sex-based discrimination, harassment, and even violence on a regular basis results in this slow build of rage that gradually begins to settle under our skin, around our thoughts, and on our bones. Like dust that settles all over after a storm. This rage becomes a part of us that very rarely finds a healthy outlet. This rage is like an autoimmune disorder, it attacks our own bodies and minds viciously. Never letting anyone on the outside know how the insides are crumbling.

Most women know what I am talking about. Even those who take the patriarchy pill every morning with their tea. In late night conversations once the kids have slept, or standing in the kitchen as the tea boils over, or huddled in the corner away from men, women spill the damage endured so far. They show each other their battle scars. They tell their tales. They confess. They console. They cry. They wrap these shared secrets and keep them close by.

They wonder, sometimes out loud, if it would have been better to be born a male. Entitled. Privileged. Without the burden of being reduced at each stage to what's between their legs.

I have never wanted to be born a man. I love being a woman-- all of it. I celebrate my femininity and its immense power. But, I have wondered what it would mean to be a woman in a world where my intellect, my feelings, my actions aren't tagged to one single aspect of my identity.

And I wonder about it a lot. I wonder if women's opinions will still be considered emotional rambling and if men's opinions will still construed as facts. I wonder if we can stop apologising for having minds of our own. I wonder if I can shed the burden of being likeable 24/7. I wonder if our actual physical pain will still be overlooked by healthcare workers who think we are being dramatic. I wonder if I'll have to think twice before smiling at some one walking down the street. I wonder if I can stop looking over my shoulder when I am alone. I wonder if I can stop fearing dark corners and empty roads. I wonder if people will stop confusing my quest to ensure my safety as paranoia.

I wonder if I can fully inhabit a world without disclaimers- will it open up to me its dark alleys and corners, its beaches and its mountains, its woods and its deserts?

But what I wonder is so far removed from reality that all I have left is this simmering, burning, latent rage. Different women wield this rage in different ways. Some deny society the pleasure of dictating the rules by creating their own rules, some carry hammers in their purses and break glass ceilings, some direct their rage at themselves and fling the hammer at other women, some mould the rage into a force that drives them to create a more equitable world.

Our rage will one day rise and crush all the injustice we have had to face silently so far. Our collective voice will be deafening. And I can't wait for it.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Meanwhile, here's my grandma saying peace out.

October 5, 2018,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Dear Baby Z,

October 2, 2018,

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 ...
Love,
Mamma

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Dear Baby Z,

September 2, 2018,

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.

Love,
Mamma

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Circles Of Love

September 1, 2018,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

Manbabyism

August 31, 2018,

I am the doctor that detects bullshit and I am here to diagnose you.

If you say you want round rotis (like your mom makes) rolled out with your wife's post graduate degree
If you want a spick and span home even though the thought of putting a wet towel out to dry makes you lazy
If you want someone who puts up with your temper tantrums over misplaced keys
If you want to be served even as you retreat into the man cave every other day
If you think you are entitled to your wife's attention and devotion 24/7
If you want your wife to be at your beck and call and fulfill every single need of yours
If you don't give a shit about your wife's needs
If you think your wife is your maid who you can get frisky with
If you think your wife isn't entitled to her time and space and dreams and hopes and ambitions

You are a classic case of Manbabyism. If you do every single point above, I am sorry to say you are in the terminal stage of Manbabyism. The only treatment is if your wife and mom leave you and you get your head out of your rear orifice to finally see that the world doesn't revolve around you.

Fortunately , there's prevention against this disease. Don't raise your sons to be entitled little shits. Simple. Don't teach them they are entitled to love/sex/services from others just by virtue of being born male. This is tough considering how our society trains girls to become women much before they need to be and tells boys that they will always be boys. But we definitely don't need more man babies, so if you have a son, please do everyone a favor and raise them into upright men instead of man babies who we all just want to smack upside the head.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

I can go on but I don't think it will ever end

August 29, 2018,

When you remove the patriarchy tinted glasses forced on you since childhood, a lot of things begin to clear up. You see things for what they are. You notice the 'little things' that have a lasting impact and how they end up forming attitudes of entire societies.

You see it when-- girls are asked to keep still and quiet while their brothers bounce off the walls; when a little girl is told "let your brother have it no"; when violence in boys is just 'boys being boys' but in girls is unseemly and unladylike; when girls are scolded for 'provoking' boys' aggression; when new brides are told "You must adjust the maximum you can"; when a woman with an opinion is considered 'oversmart' and people want her to be 'put in her place'; when parents fear 'overeducating' their daughter because she might develop higher expectations for her life and demand higher standards of her future spouse; when women are expected to minimise their personality to be likeable; when being likeable is more important that being ambitious or passionate or hardworking;

when society would rather have an unhappy and bruised married woman than a happy and fulfilled single woman/divorcee; when a whimpering boy is mocked for crying like a girl; when 'like a girl' is the worst insult for a boy; when men fear appearing feminine so much that they repress their emotions lifelong; when men don't have the emotional support network that women are encouraged to develop through their sister-networks; when women can't dream without being reminded that at the end of the day her family comes first; when women can't make choices for themselves without being guilt tripped; when biology is used to straitjacket women into singular choices; when mothers are expected to sacrifice everything for their family with a smile; when a woman slaving over a kitchen for 3 decades is 'just doing her job''; when girls are born with timelines and checklists that remain with them till their death.

I can go on but I don't think it will ever end.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Reasons I think you should / shouldn't be getting married for

August 27, 2018,

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

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

Thoughts on India's Independence Day

August 15, 2018,

Thoughts on India's Independence Day
--------
From 2016. Not much has changed.

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I have fond memories of Independence Day Celebrations at school. It begins when the class teacher threatens everyone to come saying she will definitely take the attendance to make sure everyone is present. You see, it's supposed to be a holiday but then we had students participating in march pasts, 'patriotic' plays, songs, and dances which squeezed in a 'hum sab ek hai', 'meri mitti, mera chaman' and 'bhai-behen' wherever possible.The participating students would obviously come that day, but the rest of the students didn't really want to spend a holiday under the scorching sun watching their classmates dance and sing. In the end the authorities feared there being no audience at all to their revelry, and thus the mandatory attendance.

I've attended some of them- as a performer and as a grudging, attendance short student. Sometimes it would be made worthwhile when everyone was given sweets and savouries in small white packets. It would hold a laddoo, a peda, a samosa, and one mango or coffee bite. Those small packets would make the day of us students; making waking up early to watch class mates act badly in plays worth it.

In the end then there was the national anthem. It always moved me. I would stand completely upright, for 52 seconds, my heart full of love and honour for the country, my chest expanding with pride, thinking 'I truly belong to the greatest nation in the world'. It was a high. An overdose of nationalism that all citizens are subjected to from their primary years onwards.

It's a big blow though, when you realise what happened. When your illusion shatters. It hurts when for years you are told that everyone is the same and that your country--your motherland-- accepts you as you are and then you step into the real world and every action screams the opposite. It is hard to accept that a country which proudly proclaims that there is 'Unity in Diversity' actually meant a Diversity predefined by it, not a diversity of beliefs, views, and practises.

Independence Day becomes a conflicting one then. On one hand you are grateful for the struggle of our freedom fighters in freeing our land from the colonial oppressors. And on the other hand, you know that we have exchanged one type of oppression for another. It's hard to digest, but we are still slaves, not to the British, but to another form of oppression that pits people, communities, and even ideas against each other. Slaves to the poisonous ideas that base the worth of a person on the lack of melanin in their skin, to their surname, to what's between their legs.

But worst of all, today we are slaves to a system that thrives in an environment where individuals and communities are othered and ostracised on the basis of their beliefs. You ask yourself then, how did we reach a place where love for the country is contingent on turning a blind eye to the state's excesses and atrocities against a section of its own people. How are we here, in this moment which history will hold us accountable for, allowing those who are meant to protect us to blind our children, rape our women, kill our young men, and jail our students? How did we become a nation that stands mute when its own are forced to add a loyalty disclaimer at the end of each contentious opinion, if the name is a Khan and not a Khanna?

70 years have gone by and we continue to oppress and be oppressed in the name of caste, creed, religion, money. In the name of 'Development'.

I am sorry, but we are not completely free yet. This is not independence. We are not free when just airing this view will most possibly bring to my page a swarm of the most rabid trolls. My people, we will only be free when merely stating that we believe on the contrary doesn't get us viciously attacked, when a surname is needed only to fill forms, when 50% of population doesn't fear the dark, when what's on the plate is less important than what's in the hearts and minds, when development is not at the cost of the indigenous people of the land, when love for the nation is not dependant on hate for its neighbours, when the state remembers that it exists FOR the people- ALL the people, not just the Ambanis and Adanis. When we realize that Justice is far, far greater than any arbitrary boundaries, beliefs, and notions of patriotism, we will finally be free.

Till then, Happy Semi-Independence Day

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Just the way you are.

August 10, 2018,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

EVERY DAMN PERSON WOULD FAIL

August 8, 2018,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Dear Baby Z,

August 2, 2018,

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.
Love,
Mamma

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Three years of marriage

August 1, 2018,

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 tears.
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

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Motherhood is guilt!

July 20, 2018,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Dear Baby Z,

July 14, 2018,

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.

Love,
Mamma

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Dear Baby Z,

July 2, 2018,

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.

Love,
Mama

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

What's changed since having a little human come into my life?

June 30, 2018,

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

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Dear Baby Z,

June 9, 2018,

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!

Love,
Mamma

Nazreen Fazal Post

POETRY

To the mothers,

May 13, 2018,

To the mothers,
And daughters who became mothers
To the girls who
Grow up and
Go on to say to their own minions
"I said so" a million times in a million tones
becoming shadows of their mothers,
(who they SWORE they won't be like)
Whispering sincere apologies into the past
for the eyes rolled and the doors banged
And the ugly teenage angst
That now stares right back at them
From fresh faces
that look much like their own and
Finally realizing what mother meant
When she said
"Wait Till You Have Your Own Lil' Ones"

To all the Ummas, ammis, ammas,
Maas, moms, and mammas,
For the mothers by blood, and for the mothers by bond,
Thank you.
There are not enough days and not enough nights
to let you know how great you are
and repay you for the endless sacrifice.

We love you!

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

You aren’t alone in these choppy waters.

March 25, 2018,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

Day 11: What If?

March 13, 2018,

When asked what they regret the most when on their death bed, most reply: not following their dreams, not listening to their hearts... it is always about not doing something. And thus they are left to face death with a heavy “What if?” hanging over their heads.
What if I had pursued what I was passionate about?
What if I had married the person of my dreams instead of the one picked out for me?
What if I had seen the world more and truly breathed it in instead of saving for something I won’t carry with me?
What if.... and the list goes on.

It’s one of my fears too... regretting at the end of my life the paths not taken. While it’s impossible for any human to make all the right choices all the time, we can do our best to minimize the what ifs that can come hounding later on.

As cliched as it sounds, seize the opportunities that come to you or you chance upon. Don’t settle for the wrong person/job/career just because you have pressure from outside. Have kids if you want to. Be childfree if that’s what you desire. Be brave enough to love more openly, more deeply, and more intensely. To hell with fear of cheesiness! Let people cringe (and ignore the little part of you that cringes too) but don’t keep away from that bear hug. (Unless the person cringing is the one you are hugging, in which case pls stop hugging immediately)

Make it one of your missions to pluck out and throw away every ‘What if’ that comes your way. And how do you do that? Consult with wise people who have experience, seek counsel in prayer, research, and listen to your heart. Living a what if free life doesn’t have to mean reckless living. It’s about making more informed choices that benefit you. It’s about not letting outside voices drown out the voice inside you.

At the end of the day, as we draw in the last breath, let us not regret the things we didn’t do, the love we didn’t give more freely, the friendships we didn’t celebrate more fiercely. Let’s not what if our way out of life.

#30DaysWritingChallenge

Nazreen Fazal Post

TRAVEL

The personalized mug

February 16, 2018,

I have been awfully quiet for the last few weeks. Mainly because I am travelling. Back in India after more than a year and I know I am having a good time because I don't have the time to record it on social media ????

One of the main highlights of this trip has been a two day family gathering at Wayanad with over 60 people from my mom's family. My mother belongs to a large, boisterous and vibrant family, which has people from all possible backgrounds. Just in this gathering we had doctors, engineers, scientists, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and of course yours truly.

Wayanad, a popular hill station on Kerala was the perfect venue for this event. The weather was mostly pleasant with the afternoons a little sweaty. Well that's Kerala for you. The event organizers- my aunts (who btw are my grandaunts too) and their families- had to coordinate with these 60+ people, accommodating them in 5 venues , arranging all the meals, and planning the games and sports for the two days.

The first event was an enlightening introduction where the grandchildren, great grandchildren, and in laws of Asiyamma- the family's matriarch-introduced themselves. Her progeny is now spread from North to South Kerala and a good portion of them reside outside India too.

Post introduction were more games and quizzes followed by delicious food. If you know me, you know how much of a foodie I am. And if you get to know my family you will know why I am that way. Something in our gene propels us to make a beeline for food wherever we see it.

Our events were punctuated by congregational prayers, taking time out to remember the One who blessed us with family in the first place. In the evening we moved to a beautiful resort where we had more games for adults and kids. The most fun was one where we had to speak continuously for a minute about our spouse/parents without any pauses or umms and aahs. Have you tried it? It's damn hard!

A generous family sponsored matching T-shirts for us which we were to wear for an early morning hike the next day. I wasn't expecting many people to turn up at 6.30 am but come morning every single participant, from my 7 year old cousin to my 76 year old mammimma were there rocking the red t shirts. An unknowing person might have thought some political rally was happening had they seen the procession of red through the lush green tea gardens of Wayanad.

I was truly moved by the spirit of the family then. The vigor with which the old kept up with the young, laughing and teasing each other as they huffed up the hills.

Post trek we made way to the resort again where more games awaited us. Have you heard of tambola? Look it up! We played a version of it where instead of numbers we had the names of our family members. It was absolute fun to see the faces of our family members from the south of Kerala as they tried to figure out names that sound like grunts and war cries. Beenjua, ummanjua, aachibee, aisibee, kutticha...these are actual names! Autocorrect goes to town with them.

At the end of the event the participants were gifted a personalized 'kudumbam' mug designed by our doodler-in- house, my cousin Red Riding Hijabi
Check out the quirky cup in the photos!

Those two days in the hills, Surrounded by loved ones, sharing with them what's been going on with my life, keeping up with what's going on in theirs, catching up with the years lost and mapping the changing faces as our babies morph into stubbled youngsters at the threshold of adulthood, feeling the heart sink a little as we see the handwork of age on the minds and bodies of some of our most agile family members, cracking up at the childhood pranks our parents, uncles, and aunts played on each other, listening to the same stories the hundreth time and still finding it as funny as the first time...I couldn't help but reflect on the huge blessings that are family and bonds of love. They are a mercy from God, a shield from the harshness of the world outside, and constant reminder of what's truly important in life.

Hold your family close, they might annoy the hell out of you, but they are your family and you need them as much as they need you.

My Kerala trip is coming to an end and I will be trading, yet again, the lush green for the dreary sand dunes, the familiar for the strange. My heart feels super heavy at yet another parting from my loved ones. And as always, I leave behind a little of me with them, because I know I will come back eventually.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Sanskari Guide to Sanskari Cooking

January 31, 2018,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

I am an Indian Muslim woman

January 26, 2018,

This Republic Day I want to share something I wrote last year and is very close to my heart:

I am an Indian Muslim woman.

No matter where I go, in my blood runs its ancient soul, on my tongue dances its lilt, on my brown skin clings its heady fragrance, in my heart lies a vacant space that always yearns for home.
Home which doesn't want me anymore.

I am an Indian Muslim Woman.

Questioned for something that is a part of me. Demonized and rendered voiceless. Bullied and threatened by newly minted patriots and nationalists who now decide who deserves to live and who doesn't.

I am an Indian Muslim Woman.

These days I fear my men looking too Muslim. I fear their beards might invoke the wrath of someone who believes we are alien to this land we were born in.
I fear the skull caps will make someone want to bash their heads in and someone I know will encounter the fate of Junaid and Akhlaq and Pehlu and the other men whose lives were worth less than cattle- real and imaginary.

I am an Indian Muslim Woman.

I mourn the friends that never were. I mourn their silence as my people get lynched and burnt. I mourn the love lost which now looks like was never really there in the first place.

I am an Indian. I am a Muslim. I am a woman. I am all this and more. My identities intersect. They twist and turn around my thin fingers and knobby knees. They are as tightly weaved into my DNA as the threads in my scarf.
This is who I am. And I find no contradiction in it.

Let me tell you one last thing, if I haven't said it enough.

I am an Indian Muslim Woman. And I am here to stay.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

Some Words of Wisdom That Speak to You

January 21, 2018,

The Prophet (saw) said:
“Amazing is the affair of the believer, verily all of his affair is good and this is not for no one except the believer. If something of good/happiness befalls him he is grateful and that is good for him. If something of harm befalls him he is patient and that is good for him”
I am far from the ideal Muslim. Like really really far. I try to practice but I am very intensely aware of how much better I could do. However, one thought that I try to hold close is this saying of the Prophet (saw) I shared above. It’s always there in the back of my mind. When good things come, I try to be grateful for I know it’s not my doing and could easily be taken away from me. And when something bad happens I try to be patient because patience during difficult times expiates ones sins. These difficult times also remind one of The One who’s really in control. In this time and age the material world consumes so much of your mind, maybe some sorrows that life throws your way are blessings in disguise because they force you to take stock of what’s really important and compel you to rectify your affairs.
Also, personally I feel such a relief knowing that God has my back. I would be so lost otherwise!
#30dayswritingchallenge

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

We are all drowning in this ocean

December 4, 2017,

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...

Nazreen Fazal Post

TRAVEL

This is a reflection from exactly one year ago...

November 29, 2017,

This is a reflection from exactly one year ago...

Last weekend my husband and I took an almost 1000 km road trip by bus to Makkah. We were travelling with the intention of performing the Umrah, a non-obligaotry pilgrimage that Muslims are recommended to undertake if they are physically and financially able to do so.

I've performed Umrah multiple times and each time it feels like my soul has emerged, refreshed, from the purest of springs. Being in Makkah, specifically in the Masjid Haram is a humbling experience. It is a microcosm of our world. Here you see people of different nationalities, ethnicities, tongues all worshipping together, calling out to one God.

This time, as there wasn't much rush, we got to touch the Kaaba for a few minutes and make some prayers. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life. Beside me an old Pakistani lady clung to the black cloth on the Kaaba and wept, begging God to forgive her and make life easy for her children. On my left was a Malaysian lady and her husband, both in tears and silently mouthing prayers. Another Pakistan man was on his knees and praying desperately. Almost every prayer that my ear could understand was one for their children. Every tongue there whispered the problems weighing them down. Every eye shed at least one tear- a repentant one, a hopeful one, a happy one.

As we resumed our stride, circumambulating the Kaaba, my eye caught a tall man walking with a Harry Potter backpack slung on his shoulder. I smiled as I realised 'the boy who lived' just performed Umrah too. Why not? The rich and the poor, the unhappy and the content, the brave and the fearful, the young and the aged, the healthy and the disabled, men and woman, black and white-- all were here under the shade of one sky, for one purpose alone- worship.
Once the 'Tawaf' around the Kaaba was completed, we moved to do the 'Saee' across Safa and Marwa. This is an essential pillar of the pilgrimage, just to commemorate the sacrifice one woman made thousands of years ago. Our mother Hajar, the wife of Abraham, was stranded alone in the desert with her infant son. She ran across the peaks of two hills seeking water for him till God provided them water and sustenance. Today billions of people have walked across the valley remembering and saluting this mother's incredible sacrifice. And billions of male pilgrims have run and continue to run part way to immortalize one single woman's resilience.

Once the Umrah was done our feet were sore, the leg muscles contracted rapidly- shocked by the sudden vigorous exercise. My back was killing me but my heart was full and my mind was at peace. The call to the prayer reverberated across the huge mosque and the seated pilgrims- the guests of God- immediately sprang up and assembled in rows curving around the Kaaba, eager to worship, unable to withhold any more pain, seeking reassurance and respite. For some time the only sound that was heard was the melodious recitation of the Qur'an and the sniffles of those moved by it. Somewhere a bird chirped and a welcome breeze occasionally caressed our faces.

Outside the masjid was another world altogether. Under the dark night sky stands the looming clock tower and swanky five star hotels that privileges some with nearer access to the mosque just by virtue of wealth. In front of these buildings reaching out to the sky, an old man sat on the cool white marble floor, his legs stretched out. He broke his bread in half and handed it to his wife. Both of them ate in silence and sipped their tea from little plastic cups as they gazed at the mosque. Around them the world swirled on, fast and relentless. They sat silently, peace etched on their faces.

(picture courtesy- Native Pakistan)

Nazreen Fazal Post

POETRY

The U n i v e r s e

November 24, 2017,

They say life is chaos
but I see patterns
in moments
when lips curve
in synchrony with babies
gurgling unknown wisdom
when tears compete
as farewell knocks
at doorsteps too soon
when hearts sigh at
fairytale endings far away
from reality so cruel
Zoom out
and I see a system
so set that no rules
can define how
The U n i v e r s e
works like clockwork
Night and day
so punctual
the sun and moon
so honest
to their courses
Stars supporting constellations
when they could shine solo
A celestial symphony
so beautiful
that words remain speechless
and songs go unsung
at the lips
leaving just wonder
twirling up from
corners undiscovered.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

Be you

October 20, 2017,

One of the most grating things for me is to hear someone say my opinion/argument/insight is ‘illogical’ or ‘irrational’ because I am a woman. When I am made to feel that anything I say is just the result of ‘emotions’ because I am female.

Parts of me suffocate each day when my inputs are discarded because I said them but the same input from a man is accepted because anything that comes out of a man’s mouth is “intelligent” and “rational”, when I am told impatiently, “don’t behave like a woman” as though being a woman is the worst thing one can do.

This thought that women are innately foolish creatures is so universally ingrained in everyone’s psyche that anything which women enjoy is seen as less than. Fiction which women enjoy becomes ‘chick-lit’. Movies which women watch become ‘chick-flicks’. Hobbies which we pursue are seen as pointless. A woman who is feminine is seen as vapid. Us women have internalized these thoughts too. We want to be perceived as more intellectual and be taken seriously by the men around us. So we think and sometimes say ‘I am not like other girls/women’ to be accepted by the men we want to be respected by. We consider it a compliment when men tell that to us, not realizing that we are betraying our sisters just for the approval of some man.

Writing this hurts. It hurts when I think about what my children will be exposed to. If I have a daughter, will she learn to see herself as lesser? Will she believe that masculine characteristics are the ‘default’ for all human beings and feminine traits are something that need to be corrected? If I have a son will he grow up thinking he’s better just because he’s male? Will he not take me seriously when he grows up? When I try to raise him to be a good person will he see it as ‘nagging’?

To the women reading this I have one request- don’t minimize yourself or let others minimize who you are. Hold your ground. When a male colleague tries to pass of your idea as his own, say ‘I just said that’. Be okay with making people uncomfortable when they try to dull your shine. Please stand up for other women. Don’t forward or share sexist jokes. Don’t laugh at jokes that make an entire gender seem vacuous. Call out loved ones who do the same. This is emotional labor you shouldn’t have to undertake, and I understand if at times it is the last thing you want to do, but this is something we have to do to make sure our daughters and sons have a less toxic environment to grow up in.

To men reading this, please watch your words, actions, and thoughts. Please observe how you react to women and how you behave in conversations/debates with them. Stop believing that masculine traits are the be all end all. Stop being ashamed of femininity. Don’t hide parts of you that you think are feminine. Being emotional is not a feminine trait. Empathy is not a feminine trait. Kindness and gentleness are not feminine traits. These are what makes us human. Please step up and do more to make sure the women in your life and women in general are not alienated in their own homes/relationships/ work spaces. Take some ownership and educate other men about these issues. Learn and teach them about ‘gaslighting’ and how they do it to their partners and other women in their lives. Make them relearn what they were taught about men and women.

I am exasperated and tired at this point. It’s 2017. Hundreds and thousands of women and I shouldn’t have to write and voice this. Millions of women shouldn’t have to feel this way. So please, listen and understand and back us. That’s all I have to say. That’s all I can say without going hoarse.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Oh what fun times.

October 13, 2017,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

The world is drained of its color

October 10, 2017,

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

Nazreen Fazal Post

POETRY

The Snagged Doll

October 5, 2017,

The Doll was like every other woollen doll in the world. She got out of bed every morning and did what she had to do. She watched closely what the Real Dolls did and mirrored what she saw. She laughed when jokes were cracked and held her head down when a sad news reared its head. She minded her Ps and Qs, she didn't bother anyone and no one bothered her. So life went on, slowly, but without incident.

One day, while combing her hair, The Doll looked in the mirror and saw a loose thread sticking out of her bare shoulder. Her first instinct was to ignore it, after all, what's the big deal about a small thread standing out. But then she remembered that she will be meeting a lot of Real Dolls and it's not nice to face them with a thread sticking out of the shoulder. So she took a pair of scissors and cut the thread right off.

The Doll checked her make up and left her apartment pleased that she looked nothing less than perfect. Then in the bus a kindly old doll sitting behind her tapped her on the shoulder and said 'Honey, there's a loose thread sticking out of your shoulder.' She thanked the old doll and quickly covered the unrelenting thread with her scarf.

She was at work and could do nothing about the thread now. So The Doll decided to spend the day close to the walls so no one sees the her and the stubborn thread. 'I can do this' she thought to herself as she walked to the photocopier. 'Hey Doll, how are you today' The Doll jumped back, startled, and bumped into the boss doll. 'Oh me..I'm good. Thanks for asking mam.' she said. The boss doll nodded and left. When she was out of sight The Doll let out a big sigh and leaned back on the wall. 5 seconds like this, that's all she needs. She was walking away when something tugged her shoulder sharply. It was the stupid thread, it had managed to get stuck on a nail on the wall. Now it was unraveling and 1 meter long. She looked around and since no one was there she cut the thread off with her teeth, curled it up and threw it in the bin.

And that became life. The thread kept unraveling, not concerned about day or night, work or home. One moment she was laughing with her friends over drinks and the next they were looking weirdly at her shoulder. She kept cutting it, with scissors, knives, and any sharp objects she had at hand. But it just wouldn't stop. Sometimes it would get stuck in her boyfriend's cufflinks when he hugged her before leaving for work. She would scream out 'OW' and he would groan and say "Can't you do something about it already?!". "I'm trying everything I can!" She would scream back, on the verge of tears, "Can't you see?!"
Soon her friends stopped dropping by because she just wasn't the same anymore. The thread stuck out like a sore thumb and it was unsightly to see her constantly picking at it.

One evening she decided she'd had enough. "Let's see where this ends" she said to herself. She sat in her favourite corner and began pulling at the thread. She kept pulling and pulling, till the rug below her feet was covered by a heap of thread. One long single thread. And then on the third day, when she was done, she was nowhere to be seen. All that was left, was a messy spool of wool.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

I remember the girl who forgot...

September 30, 2017,

They spoke often of her, of how she travelled lands seeking moments to collect. She walked backwards extracting footprints from the past. She stored memories in jars, filled pages with scribbles, and labelled pictures in ornate albums. At times, like beads, she strung these memories into beautiful necklaces; bright pink, calming blues, and fiery red made their way as the gloomy grays were left behind. And then, gently, she locked them away in velvet vaults.
They spoke often of the girl who pressed memories like flowers, to take out some day and mull over the past. She dove into obscure corners of her mind, emerging with smiles. In embellished treasure chests she stored them, these memories. She hoped to take them out on gloomy days and feel them in her palms, Run trembling fingers over the smooth surfaces, and will time to take her back.
But as she inspected moments worthy of remembrance, a thousand others slipped by.
So they spoke often of the girl who, in remembering, forgot what it was to live.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

'Not all men'

September 26, 2017,

'Not all men'
they say
till the guilty consciences get
glossed over by repeated refusals
to see the truth laying there,
trembling under the weight of
questions that don't matter;
"What was she wearing?"
"But where did her dress end and skin begin"
She was Inches short of appropriateness,
they declare.
She was smack in the center of the Venn diagram of rape,
Straddling the circles of rapeable attire and time
It's obvious she asked for it, they explain.
And I can't scream anymore without coming apart at the seams,
And I can't ask
"But what about the week old infant girl?
What about the 70 year old cancer patient who you snatched from death's mouth, only to violate and send back in haste?
What about the fully clothed girl sleeping in her own bedroom, inside a locked house?
What about the little boys and girls in school?
Where do they fall in your neat diagrams of acceptable rape?
How do you justify the young and the old and the sick and the new born
taken against their will each day somewhere someplace?
Which new theories will you pass to undermine our rage and explain away
the constant, unrelenting male gaze that
scorches the skins of women trying to
get through the day?
When will you stop and listen to the sighs of girls coming to terms with the crippling fear that will be their sole companion till death?
Would you care more then?

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

My story

September 16, 2017,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

'I WILL ADJUST IT?!'

September 12, 2017,

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?!'

ADJUST?!

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

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

I was always an awkward skinny kid

September 11, 2017,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Chai. Tea

September 10, 2017,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Here's to swallowing our pride and learning to accept criticism that helps us grow.

September 6, 2017,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

POETRY

A love note for my brown girls

August 29, 2017,

I'm here, right by you,
as you turn glossy pages and sigh
as you flip channels and see your skin demonised
as you glance into mirrors everyday and cry
I'm here, standing by

I'm here, holding you, swaying side to side
telling you to open your eyes and
close your ears to all the lies
of not being enough of a
an elusive body type

I'm here, my queens-
heirs to bequeathed shame,
carriers of generational pain-
to tell you that you are
warriors in my dreams,
you are what the world needs

Dear ones,
Leave your brown bodies alone,
let your beautiful skin bloom on its own,
take pride in the rise and fall of your curves and
know that there's no shame in being the
same shade as the earth.

My beloveds,
run free,
run wild and
see your skin defy fire because
you are what makes this world and
in you lies the very universe.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

brought them into the world

August 28, 2017,

I want to talk to the parents. The new ones and the old ones. The ones of toddlers and teens and grown adults. I hope you will listen.

You don't have a right to blind obedience by your children. You aren't entitled to it just because you 'brought them into the world'. Yes, you did a great sacrifice by raising your children. You spent your blood and sweat and tears. But that doesn't translate into you owning your children and deciding only you know what's best for them. They didn't come to you before their birth and ask you to bring them to life. YOU chose to do the deed and bring a human into this world. So guess what, it's YOUR responsibility to look after your children and family. It's not charity.

I don't know what about this is so difficult to understand. I have heard so many instances of spiritual abuse by parents who conveniently quote this ayah from the Qur'an-

'And your Lord has decreed that you not worship except Him, and to parents, good treatment. Whether one or both of them reach old age [while] with you, say not to them [so much as], "uff," and do not repel them but speak to them a noble word.' -

to convince their children that they can never say no to their parents. That they have to be mute as their parents decide what they should study, who they should marry, and even when they should have kids.

There are parents who do nothing for their children's well being or future but have great expectations of unquestioning obedience from their children. They basically want a slave.

What these cherry picked ayah quoting parents forget is this verse which comes right after-

Be humble and merciful towards them and say, "Lord, have mercy upon them as they cherished me in my childhood."

In this verse there lies a key expectation that the parents raised their children with mercy and cherished them. This relationship of parents and children is shown as one of mercy and love and humility. Now if the parent didn't show the child mercy as he/she was growing up, how can they just expect mercy and unflinching obedience from their child when they grow up?

What I have observed is that truly merciful parents who raised their children right, don't hold them and their future ransom over this verse. They don't emotionally blackmail children with filmy dialogues and accounts of how much they have spent on them. It's the parents who do nothing for their child that are petty later on in life and demand unreasonable things from their child and sometimes even the child's' spouse. Some being as crass as accounting for education expenses, food, and lodging. As though the child made a reservation in their life through booking. com. These parents are also the ones usually complaining to others about how ungrateful and disobedient their kids are.

Listen, parents, you are not doing your children a favor by raising them, clothing them, and feeding them. This is your RESPONSIBILITY. This living breathing mass of cells that is your child didn't come into earth of their own will. Parenthood is not an opportunity to blackmail your children into being your slave till the end of your life.

The following beautiful verses by Kahlil Gibran encapsulate what I wanted to convey in this (rant) write up.

On Children

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Part of growing up is realising you were scared of the silliest things.

August 23, 2017,

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?

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

the desi community!

August 19, 2017,

'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. ??

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

A man with dreams needs a woman with vision

August 18, 2017,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

POETRY

India

August 15, 2017,

Listen,
India
is not a woman
let alone a benevolent mother
draped in the tricolour,
head crowned,
Palm stretched to bless
those who shun her femininity
in all other forms.

India is dark and dusty,
It exists, at once,
In squalor and poverty and
glass towers and gated communities.
India subsists on a meagre meal
eaten out in the field or
thrives in the vicinity of air-conditioned malls
with gourmet deals.

India floats around
occupying empty stomachs and
lynched bodies with drooping hands,
hanging from peepul trees
over parched lands, or
in bodies running on treadmill belts
shedding stubborn fat
a desperate mother dreams to see
on her child's sunken face one day.

India could be covered from head to toe
or in a T-shirt and jeans for all you know.
India could sport a beard or
wrap a lungi like a pro.
But no,
India is just a land
of a billion people with
more ideas than can be enforced.

So don't you go
claiming India
as just your own
Don't just say you stand
for the 'idea of India'
and watch as unadulterated hate
intimidates and
paints all other thoughts black.

India is not one person
not my mother, my sister
or even the next door neighbour.
India refuses to be a woman
you revere as you rape
her daughters and sisters.
India does not rest at the
tips of your trishul or the
hem of your khaki shorts.
India will not be contained
in the notes of a single song
that only some can hum.

India is so much more than
the single thread you hold.
India is an experiment
in weaving a thousand threads
till you create the most dazzling fabric
that ever existed.
India is a painting in process,
A canvas with one billion strokes
of red, blue, green, and
every other shade you can imagine.
India is not saffron and
saffron is not India.

So please,
cease shoving your
idea of India
down our collective throats;
Let India be and
just be
India.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

Thoughts on India's Independence Day

August 15, 2017,

I have fond memories of Independence Day Celebrations at school. It begins when the class teacher threatens everyone to come saying she will definitely take the attendance to make sure everyone is present. You see, it's supposed to be a holiday but then we had students participating in march pasts, 'patriotic' plays, songs, and dances which squeezed in a 'hum sab ek hai', 'meri mitti, mera chaman' and 'bhai-behen' wherever possible.The participating students would obviously come that day, but the rest of the students didn't really want to spend a holiday under the scorching sun watching their classmates dance and sing. In the end the authorities feared there being no audience at all to their revelry, and thus the mandatory attendance.

I've attended some of them- as a performer and as a grudging, attendance short student. Sometimes it would be made worthwhile when everyone was given sweets and savouries in small white packets. It would hold a laddoo, a peda, a samosa, and one mango/coffee bite. Those small packets would make the day of us students; making waking up early to watch class mates act badly in plays worth it.

In the end then there was the national anthem. It always moved me. I would stand completely upright, for 52 seconds, my heart full of love and honour for the country, my chest expanding with pride, thinking 'I truly belong to the greatest nation in the world'. It was a high.

But even then, the love that I had (and continue to) for my country was genuine. You see love for your country is something that happens naturally, like loving your family. You can't help it, you still love your annoying brother and bossy sister, even when they eat the last piece of chocolate you saved in the fridge or steal your favorite toy. When you are not with them you still think of them fondly. Same is the case with me. I have travelled the length and breadth of India and loved her from close. I have loved the people and our many Indian quirks and saying 'we are like this only'.

So it's a big blow when the illusion shatters. It hurts when for years you are told that everyone is the same (all Indians are my brothers and sisters we pledged for years) and that your country--your motherland-- accepts you as you are and then you step into the real world and every action screams the opposite. It is hard to accept that a country which proudly proclaims that there is 'Unity in Diversity' actually meant a Diversity predefined by it, not a diversity of beliefs, views, and practises.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

'The Handmaid's tale'. I am now in a dark dark hole.

August 12, 2017,

Over the last few days I binge watched 'The Handmaid's tale'. I am now in a dark dark hole. To think that Margaret Atwood wrote this with a challenge to herself that she'd only include events that have already happened somewhere at some point in time...

To know that even now a lot of people think the primary role of women is just to fulfill her 'biological destiny' and bear children, future sons who will go on to uphold the patriarchy on the shoulders and bruised backs of his sisters and daughters...

I am privileged to not have suffered from any trauma, but even then this show was triggering. At points I had to physically turn away because I could not stand it. Because this dystopian novel is a dark compilation of horrific events that have actually happened to women and continue to happen in different parts of world. Considered property, not being allowed to read or write or vote or work, being forced to bear children for others and have them snatched away from them, reduced to renting their wombs just so they can survive, being at the mercy of the 'benevolence' of the man who owns her, being blamed for some men's inability to control themselves, women picked out by men to become Aunt Lydias and Serena Joys of the world (who become happy when someone tells them 'you are not like most women') who make sure the patriarchy functions like a well oiled machine by keeping their fellow women 'in check' and supporting laws that hurt themselves as well, governments and states controlling and regulating our bodies and deciding what can be done with it... this has happened for centuries and continues to happen.

My thoughts are muddled and I think I will have nightmares about this for some time. If you are a woman watching the series or reading the book, I have to say this will be triggering and will take a mental toll. If you are a man, you may think that this is hyperbole. But it isn't. The Republic of Gildead exists and has always existed, it was built on the blood, bones, and hopes of women. It continues to thrive by sucking out our ambitions and demanding of us sacrifices that leave us hollow and spent.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

Navigating the New India

August 10, 2017,

For someone who has a Masters degree in Political Science, I don't write or comment as much on politics. I used to. I used to read voraciously about it, consume numerous opinion pieces, and sometimes even engage in comment wars with random people.
But I can't anymore. For my own sanity.

I can't read more about everyday violence and oppression and still function as though that has not messed with me. It's impossible to be neutral and unaffected while people hurl slurs like "pissfuls" "peacefuls" "libtards" "sickular" "presstitutes" at each other. I can't stay normal when I see the vicious hatred people have for their fellow country men. I can't function while knowing there's a huge group of people who want to rid India of minorities.

The level of toxic hate inhabiting widening pockets of the internet now make it okay to completely slander entire communities, peoples, and even states and call for their exile/torture/death.

Our national history is one of invasions back and forth. Our history is of Kings conquering and plundering and surrendering left right and center. That was how it was everywhere back then. However, the narrative is being spun such that Muslims kings invade and Hindu kings conquer. This is to project that Muslims are alien to this land despite being here for centuries, despite sharing a tongue, despite sharing the same values and culture.

The process has begun, to erase us from history. To uproot us from the past. To make it seem like we don't belong to India/Bharat/Hindustan, whatever you want to call it. It's as though we didn't make any contributions to the art, culture, cuisine, the very spirit of this land. As though we didn't fight for the freedom of this land and sacrifice our blood, tears, and sweat in building it up.

Suddenly Azaans are too loud while temple songs are not. Monuments which were once the pride of the nation are now some kind of stain that needs to be wiped away. Urdu, the soulful language of poetry and ghazals and odes to lovers is now viewed with distrust. Our people, as much sons and daughters of the land as anyone else, are seen as disloyal terror sympathizer. Treated as if given a chance we would force all Indians into burqas and surrender to Pakistan.

I feel insecure all the time. I feel horrified when I see people trying to justify lynch mobs, as though our lives are worth much less than that of cattle. I don't know what to do when I see leaders openly call for violence against minorities, when they actively promote xenophobia and bigotry through their words and actions. However, what speaks volumes is their silence and inaction when a section of the people they are supposed to serve and protect are in harms away. What hurts more is seeing family friends and acquaintances slowly buy into this and turn against decades old neighbors, colleagues, and friends.

One consolation I had was that I was born in Kerala. Which is really the safest and most stable of all states. Here we share a tongue, a healthy sense of humor, and an unhealthy love for beef fry and parota. What we also share is a disdain for anyone who tries to shove their beliefs/values/dress codes/diets down our throats. I feel blessed to be born in a state where people help regardless of your religion or background. While political rivalries do exist, we have rarely sparred on religious lines.

Now to see leaders and journalists try to drag this state through the mud and try to paint it like some intolerant, god forsaken land, I am furious. And this anger soon turns to helplessness because while I don't know what else they are planning to do to destroy the peace here, i know what lengths they will go to, to divide our state.

So for the sake of my mental health, I don't and won't read much news anymore. I will try not to read comments either. I can't read about more violence, more rapes, more mobs, more justifications, more whataboutery. For now I will just bank on those who have our backs and hope against hope that they don't abandon us too.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Chai!

August 8, 2017,

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...??

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

#ThinkingOutLoud

August 4, 2017,

Contrary to popular belief, millennials are one of the most overworked demographic. Especially in Asia. Here overworking is seen as a sign of good work ethic, it's supposed to show how dedicated one is. The later you stay after work hours the better worker you are seen as. And with such a high population and such low resources, a lot of us can't even afford to not work overtime because we can be easily replaced in this highly competitive market. Here there's never a shortage of candidates who are ready to sacrifice everything for a stable job.

So the overworked millennials continue to overwork themselves. Then they get stuck in traffic for an hour and reach home so tired that they have energy only to zone out in front of their tv (or Now, Netflix) or scroll mindlessly through their social media feeds. Worse is the case of couples who decide to have a family. It takes a heavy toll on them, financially, mentally, and physically. Especially the women as they are on work mode 24/7. Many might say well women in the past used to manage kids, what's the issue now? Well, women in the past had literally a village or a neighborhood or at least an extended family to help them. They lived in joint families where a lot of child rearing chores were distributed. That's not the case now in highly nuclear families where women work both outside and at home.

Our cities are islands of families now and parents are paranoid to let their children wander beyond their small island. And you can't blame them, the world has become so unsafe that you can't just trust everyone.

So here we are at a time where people toil and toil and toil more and then to soothe their aching limbs and joints and their overworked minds they splurge. They buy a lot, they eat a lot, they spend a lot. And they want the world to see and share in these little moments of store bought happiness. As if the external validation from others will convince them that their life is not all that bad. I am guilty of doing this myself.

I am not trying to be cynical and dampen your spirits right in the beginning of the weekend. ??I am just thinking out loud here...we need to carve out some time for ourselves in this madness. For ourself and our loved ones.
Mothers and fathers, sometimes it's okay to not do all the items on your checklist after you come back home. No one will die. Take some time to sit down and breathe. Free your mind. Zone out if required. Watch your kids play. In fact get down on your knees and play with them! This time you have is so so precious. After a couple of years you won't regret the things left undone in the list. But you will regret the time not spent with your little monsters.

Those without kids. Take time to be with yourself. Don't go jumping from work/study to entertainment to social media. Give your senses a break. Your brain is overworked. Give it some rest. Take some time, even if 5 mins to do something you are passionate about, something which relaxes you. Be it doodling, journaling, gardening, baking, running...anything at all. I sometimes try to find my zen in the minutes of prayer scattered across the day. It forces me to break away from whatever that is keeping me distracted/occupied and dedicate some time to quiet prayer in front of the Lord. Five times a day no matter what. It really helps in reorienting yourself when there's too much going on.

I have no profound wisdom to offer when it comes to finding the elusive 'work-life balance'. Like everyone else I grapple with not doing everything, being tired to do anything else, or trying to make myself happy through retail therapy. But one thing I know for sure is that finding happiness and peace don't require much of you. Sometimes it's just unplugging from all things that scream 'look at this! Look at her! Look at him! Look how happy this person is and how unhappy you are!'. Practice being mindful of all the good things going on for you and be truly grateful for them. You'll find you are one step closer to a content life.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

"Where's your colour?"

August 2, 2017,

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

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Embarrassment and fear of falling!

July 28, 2017,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

specs !

July 24, 2017,

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?

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

Hold on, you will get there.

July 22, 2017,

Earlier today I posted a comic about the 'imposter syndrome'. It's when you feel like you had nothing to do with all your achievements, like they were a fluke or just pure luck, and that you are just the sum of all your failures. So even when you are doing really well, you feel like you don't deserve all of your achievements and accolades. And when one negative comment comes your way (negative comments will find the best of us) you feel like you have been caught red handed. You feel like an imposter who's been finally exposed.

I want to tell you, the one reading this who feels this way, that this feeling is completely normal.The best of us, the most successful of us, the high flying amongst us, almost everyone of us feels this way. Except of course the Donald Trumps of the world who are good for nothing but think the sun shines out of their backsides

Three years back I was pursuing a master's degree in one of the most prestigious universities in the world. My family and friends were uber proud of me. I had made it. Yet I felt like I had reached there by mistake. I felt the admissions people had accidentally chosen me. It also didn't help that i was studying with some really bright and articulate folks who left me tongue tied with their brilliance. This feeling messed me so much that I felt depressed most of the time. I was working part time and studying yet I looked down on myself

Then I graduated. I didn't rush to look for a job, I was taking it slow. Then I couldn't find a suitable job. For a few months I didn't take it seriously, then I started getting worried. I was applying to a lot of places but was being met with rejection after rejection. Sometimes not even a response. Two years passed like this. I did a lot of things in this time. I got married, moved to a new place, travelled to different countries, started writing seriously, got published in different places. But I just couldn't see these things. All I could think of was that I didn't have a job. Period.

I spent a lot of my time in self pity and tears. I have sobbed for literally hours, curled up on the bed. I have wept in my husband's arms countless times and asked him why this is happening. He'd console me but would not allow me to wallow in self pity. He'd push me to search more vigorously.

The only outlet I had in this period was my writing. I started this page as a way to keep my mind off things. Writing is the one thing that makes me truly happy. And here I put all my energy. It's kind of sad but the likes and shares and comments gave some kind of validation. That I am not all crap. It pushed me to write more, produce more. It became such a drug that I'd be always thinking about what to write next.

Over the next one year of starting the page I slowly came to terms with the fact that me having a job or not is not the end of the world. Yes it sucks that I can't be financially independent, but I had so many great things going for me that I really didn't have the right to complain. Over the months I became more relaxed, more content. Occasionally the snake that is self doubt would try to sneak in, but I'd hold it by its head and chuck it out.

The funny thing? When I'd reached that place where I was comfortable in my situation and accepted the way things are without overthinking every second, a job fell into my lap.

Alhamdulillah. That word encompasses the feeling in my heart for everything that happened and what it led me to.

I will not stretch this further. I just want to let you, the one who needs to hear this, know that this dark moment you find yourself in, is just that-a moment. But time being relative and all that, the moment will seem painfully infinite. Trust me, it gets over. Then you will look back in awe and marvel at how you needed to go through that pain and tears and heartbreaks to get where you are now. Hold on, you will get there.

Nazreen Fazal Post

TRAVEL

The Journey

July 17, 2017,

When my father was still in the Air force and we were posted in different states, trips to Kerala happened in the summer breaks. The chosen mode of transport- the great Indian Railways.

As young kids with infinite energy, we looked forward to the long train rides as much as we awaited the stay at grandma's place, the snacks and the extended playtime with cousins. I am pretty sure my mother did not share the excitement with us. Probably because the thought of looking after three young kids with boundless energy, bouncing off the walls of a train for more than 24 hours is not very appealing. I don't know how she did it, I can't even look after myself properly on the train.

My fondest memories of train rides are from Pune to Kerala. With a scenic route offering amazing views of waterfalls, snaking through lush forests, whooshing through more than a dozen long tunnels, we were sure to fight for the "window seat" each time.

We used to be thrilled if there were kids among our co-passengers. The parents, not so much. Oh what fun to watch your bunch of angels run barefoot, screaming, through the narrow aisles of the train, chasing another bunch of barefoot angels, stepping on peoples toes and knocking off delicately balanced plastic tea cups! More so when the kids loudly demand each snack that passes their way. Then the parents shoot dagger glances at the vendor tempting their already hyper kids with more candy until he reluctantly moves ahead with his tray of goodies.

But we didn't really care. In those hours/days spent confined in the small compartment, we befriended each other without hesitation. Eventually the parents get to know each other, exchange details and sometimes even discover mutual links!

Meanwhile, as the train chugs South, the landscape gradually changes. And the kind of snacks coming our way also change depending on which state/city we're in.
As soon as the sight coconut trees couple with the calls of "pazham pori chaaya" we know we are in Kerala.
Then begins the chorus of "are we there yet?" Till we reach my mother's hometown. The goodbyes are said and hands reach for the strategically placed luggage under different seats and overhead, the logistics discussed and we disembark. And there's grandma waiting for us with a big smile as she walks towards us. Assalamualaikums and how-are-you?-was-the-journey-alright? done we are bundled into the small car for another summer of family and fun
.
As we grew older and dad changed jobs, the long train rides with the whole family ceased. Some time back I boarded an early morning "Bangalore-kanyakumari express" to visit my relatives in another city. As I sat down ( at the window seat, WITHOUT fighting anyone for it), sipping on the trademark watery, super sweet coffee (yes, not tea! ??) that Indian Railways proudly offer, listening to kids next to me play "antaakshari", I was hit by a sudden bout of nostalgia. The kind which makes you smile and feel sad at the same time. The kind that makes you yearn for simpler times. Yet the grateful kind, for having those memories in the first place.

Alhamdulillah, for The Journey and the journeys within ??

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

period

July 15, 2017,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

POETRY

Victor-less war

July 11, 2017,

You may win a battle
or two,
but no one wins a war because
victory doesn’t rest in losing less
on this side of the enemy lines.

For the widows and the orphans,
when ghosts of unhinged collective pasts
haunt their todays and tomorrows,
there are no Victors in war.

For the farmers and the traders handcuffed to poverty
and dangling from tree tops desperately,
there are no Victors in war.
And There are no Victors in war,
for the fallen soldiers,
six feet deep in the grave
or ashes spread far away.
There are no victors in war
when brave men die to save face and conceal lies of lesser men.
In a Victor-less war,
you sit here and rejoice.
whom do you celebrate why do you clap and exclaim, when you have nothing to give and
nothing to lose
anyway

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

What's Home?

July 10, 2017,

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?

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Family

July 8, 2017,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Bharati!

July 7, 2017,

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."
"So?"
"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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

Bleeding is not a 'luxury'

July 6, 2017,

So here's the thing. Periods suck. Menstruation. Aunt Flo. The Red Wedding. Inevitable pain and discomfort, whatever name you call it by, is still inevitable pain and discomfort. Guys, you need to read this. Carefully.

Periods are painful. Uncomfortable. And very messy. It's a wonder that 50% of the population is able to do stuff while having blood gushing out of their privates. Did that make you squeamish? Guess what, it's worse when it's happening to you.

To add to that when you have cramps, bloated stomach, back pain, headache, and sometimes even nausea and dizziness, you'd think that nothing worse can happen to you. Well, if there's one thing life has taught me, it's that there's always room for something worse. And in this case it is having the government kick you in the stomach while you are down writhing in pain during your 'time of the month'. What am I talking about? A 12% tax on an item that all menstruating women absolutely need and depend on to function semi-normally. Sanitary napkins and cloths are what keep us from marking everything we sit on with our monthly uterus carcass.

Bleeding is not a 'luxury'. It's a regular bodily function for women who, like I keep saying again and again, are HALF OF YOUR DAMN POPULATION YOU IMBECILES (talking to the government here). So it boggles my mind that some places put a 'luxury tax' on something that is so vital for our well being and functioning.

In India we already have a huge percentage of women who don't have access to feminine hygiene products. Instead of making it more accessible, educating the populace on different ways in which they can tackle the pesky time of the month, and dispelling myths of what women can and can't do during The Red Tsunami, the government is punishing us for bleeding. They must really hate us.

The worst part in all this is that sindoor and bangles are not taxed. What message does that send to women? We don't care about you as an individual citizen but we will not let you get away from your role in the society, with respect to men.

Women, we need to start making a noise (if you aren't already). Even if it makes people (men) extremely uncomfortable, we need talk about our bodies. These are OUR bodies, which are beautiful and nurturing and kick ass in general, and we need to take care of it. We need to tend to it with love. And we need to build a space where our physical and mental needs are not brushed under the rug in the name of culture or 'sanskaar'. We have to demand that our needs be catered to with empathy and understanding, instead of disgust and apathy. Let us start now. Let the red flow.

#BleedingIsNotALuxury #iDidntChooseTheRedLife #TheRedLifeChoseMe

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

Bharati!

July 5, 2017,

It was a dark night- the dramatic kind- with the wind swooshing through the leaves and the thunder punctuating the silence. I was walking back home from work when I saw a woman trying to hail a taxi. Dressed in a simple kurta and jeans, she would have gone unnoticed, had it not been for the distress etched all over her face.

I stopped and asked, “Excuse me, mam, are you alright?” She turned and looked at me with fear in her eyes. “What do you want?” she asked with a trembling voice.

“Mam, you look disturbed. Do you need help?”
“No. Just leave me alone. All of you! Just. Leave. Me. Alone.”
Puzzling. I was the only one there.
Before I could react the woman broke down crying, hysterically. I looked around hoping no one would watch this scene unfolding and misunderstand.

Through tears she mumbled “I am sorry, I didn’t mean to be so rude…I am just going through a lot right now.”
“Oh...I am sorry..."
She continued to sniffle.
"You won't get a taxi here. Do you want to walk with me to the taxi stand? I’ll keep you company till there. My house is nearby”
She hesitated for a moment before nodding her head.
“What’s your name?” I asked as we fell into step.
“Bharati.” She said in an accent I realized I couldn’t place.
“Bharati…nice name.”
She gave me a half-smile.
“So…are you okay, Bharati?”

Tears welling up again in her eyes, she replied “It’s just…my family, they are turning against each other. And I am stuck in the middle. They harass me and then try to claim me, trying to keep me from each other . I can’t understand how they can hate each other so much.”
I didn't know what to say to that. We walked silently for some time.
“Where are they now?”
“They are... everywhere.” She said, without further explanation.
“And where are you headed?”
“I don’t know. Away from this mess, this bloodshed, this suppression of our young ones...”

Uhhhh…bloodshed? Who the hell is this woman? And what have I got myself into?

[To Be Continued..]

#BharatiSeries

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

Women can't do it all.

July 3, 2017,

No, women can do EVERYTHING they want to. But they can't and shouldn't be doing everything at once. We have been trained to aspire to become the corporate superwoman who is also a domestic goddess. The one who has power meetings in the mornings and makes power rotis at dinner. We are told that we are falling behind when we aren't earning 6 figure salaries, maintaining a spotless house, raising angelic children, pleasing the in laws, and making exactly 5 cm radius rotis all at once. All while also being super sexy for the husband at night.

This is not only not sustainable, it's also very unfair. We don't expect men to do half these things and we definitely don't invent categories like 'Superman' (in a domestic context) for men to aspire to. The bar for men is so low that just looking after their own damn kids is called 'baby sitting'. And women who have partners who help out in doing house hold chores are asked to feel grateful for that. (I have to admit though that in our society it is a blessing to have a partner who can adult. So many men grow up thinking the kitchen has a deadly shield which allows only women to enter and kills men who cross the threshold)

I work a minimum 8 hours in the office, sometimes 10, when I come back I have energy to either cook or clean. Not both. I can do both but that would mean I have no time for myself that day. No time to unwind. So I order food from outside or I don't clean. Or I cook and le husband cleans. These days it's my husband doing most of the work at home because I am near dead when I reach home and hit the bed straight. (In our case he does far more work than me)

If things are unmanageable I will hire someone to help clean or cook. But I will not do it all.
For women who do it all, something's gotta give. And I am making sure it's not my mental or physical health for the sake of becoming a poster girl for the patriarchy.

Nazreen Fazal Post

TRAVEL

UGANDA DIARIES

July 1, 2017,

In Saudi everything looks bleak and dusty. The skies are usually covered in dust or grey-brown clouds. The eye and the body tire pretty quickly of the monotony. So when I landed in Uganda, my eyes were probably literally cooled by the lush green all around. It was like I was suddenly seeing everything in HD quality. A curtain I wasn't aware of had been lifted and I could now see colors in all their vividness. Not just colors, even tastes become more pronounced.

My tongue feasted on fresh tomatoes that were sweet and juicy and not fake tasting soggy pulp like in other places. I relished tangy passion fruit juice and ripe mangoes, in salads, juices, and smoothies. And let's not even talk about the just-plucked-from-the-tree avocados, devoured with a squirt of lemon and a dash of salt.

When I wake up here I hear all kinds of birds around. From baby birds with the sweetest of chirps to annoying ones with squawks that sound like an old goat being burgeoned to death. At night it is crickets and the geckos and frogs making their presence known. From the 'beach' nearby the sounds of beats come in as people dance to music to mark the weekend.

This trip has been a feast to all my senses. My eyes are relaxed, my tongue is pleased, my skin is softer and my ears are thrilled to hear more birds and less traffic.

Nazreen Fazal Post

TRAVEL

UGANDA DIARIES

July 1, 2017,

Two days back we set off from Entebbe, early in the morning, to the Queen Elizabeth National Park, which is about 400 kms away.
Armed with some really spicy 'Indian Pasta' and snacks we made the 7 hour journey to the Southern Hemisphere. Yup, we crossed the equator! We checked into Kingfisher Safari Lodge, which is a beautiful beautiful resort with a great view of the park
.
The next day we went on a safari where we spotted some lazing lions, grazing Ugandan Kobs and pissed off wild buffaloes. Not many for this place. The savannah was dry and most of the animals had moved to the banks of The nearby lakes.

So we decided to take a boat tour to see these vacationing animals. Two big lakes-lake George and lake Edward are connected by the Kazinga Channel. Along this channel we had a two hour boat ride. We spotted a herd of African Elephants having a gala time, splashing water on themselves. Hippos hung out with their gangs underwater. Occasionally popping up with a splash, making the children on board scream gleefully.

A bunch of tiny kingfisher birds fluttered behind our boat and made a ruckus as they swooped into the lake and grabbed fish. They added a nice background music to our trip.

At some places we witnessed coexistence as Elephants, buffaloes, hippos, and warthogs all chilled together. As the summer is heating up the land, many of them are just letting off steam in the cool water.

There was also a bachelor pad of many of the adult male elephants that had been kicked out of the herd by the matriarch. According to the guide, this is to avoid inbreeding. Poor guys, but have to admit, what a badass matriarch.! We entered the Lake Edward which is the smallest of the African Great Lakes. The lake is shared by Uganda and DR Congo, with the major part of the lake lying with Congo.

Near the end of the channel there rests a fishing village which lives just on fishing. There's no agriculture here as the soil is not fertile due to volcanic activity. These people sometimes spend upto 12 hours at a time out fishing.

In this album you'll see some of the pictures from the safari and boat ride. And many pictures of the fresh juices I am enjoying at every stop. You guys know where my priorities lie.

PS: Currently sipping on some African masala tea. Enjoying a great view. I must say I am right about in my happy place right now.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

''To My Dead Husband"

June 30, 2017,

Darling,

A year has gone by without you by my side. After 35 years of being one with you, I spent the last one year collecting the stray pieces of my soul you left in your wake. I haven't finished yet.

Losing you was getting my skin peeled, breathing smoke, and falling into a dark, endless pit. All at once.

People come and try to console. They tell me 'time will heal everything', 'he is in a better place', and 'you should move on...'
So easy to say. Move on. Like 35 years of my life never happened. Like a life time of memories can be erased with a few tears. Like your death was just limited to a body turning to dust. How do I tell them it wasn't only you that died? That there are some kinds of pain that time cannot heal. That some deaths lodge themselves like blunt knives in your ribs, right below your heart. That moving causes pain but staying still hurts more. Waking, walking, laughing, eating, looking out the window, watching tv, sitting still and breathing....the pain is ever present. You just to learn to contort your mind and body till you find the spot that hurts the least.

But it's still there. It's there when I wake up and open my eyes to an empty pillow where your head should have been resting, your mouth slightly open till I gently close it. It's there when I see a single coffee mug in the sink. Or in the supermarket when I push my trolley alone. It's there when I come across an inside joke and remember there is no 'inside' anymore. When there is no one to lean on or into. When I am curled up in bed, crying into your shirts, thinking what I wouldn't do for one more hug and another kiss....but letting myself dwell on that is to push the knife further in, till I risk losing myself to the never-ending, soul-crushing cycle of what ifs and if onlys.

Dearest, my grief is without recourse or relief.

Your scent was mixed with mine, my habits were yours, our quirks had become one. And then you were gone. In that instant I regretted each fight, forgot each difference, yearned for a little more time so I could disentangle myself from you before it was too late. So it would hurt a little less when the time finally came. But, too late.

Beloved, I am learning to live again as our grandson takes his first step. We walk together. We fall, we cry, we rise.
Hopefully, I will arrive. Soon.

All my love, now and always.

Nazreen Fazal Post

TRAVEL

UGANDA DIARIES

June 27, 2017,

This is the story of a family of samosas that made its way from the sleepy Ugandan town of Entebbe, 115 kms north east to Jinja, the source of the mighty river Nile.
'What's wrong with this woman?'you might be wondering at this point. To that I say, you can take Indians out of India but you can't take India out of Indians. Read on to know more.

Yesterday, Day 2 of the #UgandanDiaries, we booked two SUVs for a trip to Jinja. We were a group of 9, my parents, le husband, me, my aunt, my mom's cousin and her family. Desi travel guide point 1- Travel with as many people as possible- check.

We were supposed to start at 7 am but since we are all still running on IST-Indian Slow Time- we were an hour late. (My father claims I am the reason everything was delayed, but I beg to differ). The drive to Jinja was bumpy, dusty, and slow. We made our first pit stop at Cafe Javas in Kampala. Kampala is the capital of Uganda and its largest city. Here I fell in love. No offense to my husband, but I realise I met my soul mate only now. My soul mate is a fruit bowl. Yes, a bowl of the freshest fruits, swimming in creamy yogurt, drizzled with sweet golden honey, and topped with crunchy toasted nuts. My tongue sighed in submission as it tasted this bowl of pure, unadulterated, goodness. I can't go an as I might cry. Let me just say that I have found my purpose in life.

We started driving again and at one point my dad stopped the car to buy caps from a roadside vendor. If you have been reading me for some time, you would know that my dad is fascinated with caps and hats and head gears of all type. He loves them, he collects them, he cherishes them. And my mom absolutely resents them and tries to get rid of them when he is not looking. I have a feeling he buys caps to irritate my mom. So he went ahead and bought a velvety black beret and a camouflage cap.This time though my mom bit her tongue and accepted my dad's questionable fashion choices.

After the cap detour we were in Jinja in two hours. The source of Nile requires entry tickets. Funnily, you can apparently bargain the rates with the guard. We asked for the entry rates and he was like 'How much you wanna pay?' Interesting...wish we could do that everywhere. We finally paid 95,000 Ugandan Shillings for our group. I am still not able to wrap my head around the currency here. 1 INR is 55 shilling and 1 USD is 3590 shilling. Which means we are carrying millions of this currency in our wallets and I am paranoid all the time.

Once inside we had to bargain again with the tour operators for a guided boat tour up to the exact source of the Nile. It cost us 120,000 shillings for a hour trip. The river Nile's source is in the Lake Victoria, which is the largest lake in Africa and is the world's second largest fresh water lake. The Nile is the only outlet of this lake and drains it from its northern bank in Jinja.

The boat gently sailed over the lake and our guide, Ismail, showed us the various sites. The lake is dotted with various small islands. Some of them have enough space for only a couple of trees and rocks. Others are lush and green. We spotted trees full of black Egrets and some Kingfisher birds too. At one point my mom called out to me from the other side of the boat and said 'Look at that Egret or later you will Regret.' Clearly in my family we have 'Mom Jokes' instead of the usual 'Dad Jokes.'

On one of the Islands we noticed that the biggest tree on it had white leaves and the surrounding area was fully white. It looked eery. We looked up and the mystery was solved. On the branches rested dozens of birds and the white leaves were the result of exposure to constant bird shit. Even the monitor lizard lazily crawling over the rocks below seemed to be covered in that.

Mid way through our ride Ismail took us to a long, narrow 'Island' on the lake. On it was a small craft shop made of mud and straw, with a bridge that led to the source of Nile. On the other side was a long stretch of grass and pebbles. As we neared the land we noticed a bunch of bearded men, some in white vests and others in traditional pakistani salwar-kameez, huddled over some pans. We got off the boat and greeted them and they informed us that they had come all the way from Pakistan as part of a 'tabligh jaamaat.' They were washing meat for a barbecue and we left them to do their thing.

We made our way to the source of Nile, gingerly treading on the creaky wooden boards below which was gushing water that was being pumped up from 65 ft below. Yes, the source of the Nile is a gushing spring that is 65 ft deep. Imagine the force of the water to come up like that.

In 1862 a British explorer, John H. Speke, had apparently traced the Nile from North all the way to this point and thus 'Discovered' the source of this river that travels all the way to Egypt, in North of Africa. The water from this source travels over 6400 km. It takes 3 months for the water from the source to complete its journey and reach the mediterranean sea. Now all this is fascinating information, but you know what is more fascinating? What the source of Nile got to witness when we went to visit it.

Over thousands of centuries, this place has witnessed the rise and fall of dynasties, kingdoms, and empires, It has seen explorers come seeking it, it has endured noisy travellers from around the world. What it hasn't seen though- a family that came armed with a tiffin full of samosas and cutlets to see the source of a river on which flourished so many mighty civilisations. It was then only natural that we honoured the formidable African river by posing with the mighty Asian snack- samosa.

We goofed around near the source of river sign for some time and the made our way back to the boat. This time the Pakistani men invited us to join their barbecue party but we were in a hurry and had to turn down the offer. Instead we requested they lend us their space to offer our afternoon prayers. Now this is easily my favourite part of the day. We made our ablution with the cool water of the Nile. The water was fresh and refreshing and seemed to wash away all the tiredness from the long drive earlier in the day. Then we all prayed in a congregation. There's something to be said about praying out in the open, in the midst of nature. Nothing connects you to the Lord more than worshipping him as you are surrounded by His creation. There was a gentle breeze that caressed our wet faces (one of the most calming sensation) and the sound of birds calling out to each other punctuated the soothing music that is playful waves gently lapping the shores and rocks and retreating again. This experience was a much needed gift for my soul.

After the prayers we shared some more pleasantries with the men, gave them some of our rotis we packed from home (of course we had rotis), and headed back to the boat. One of the older men in the group came running towards us and handed us a plate full of dates and candied sesame with the biggest of smiles. We waved him goodbye and headed back to the mainland.

By now we were getting hungry ( I am beginning to think that Indians exist in only two states- hungry. And very hungry) So my mom brought out the tupperware full of rotis, and handed out paper plates. Then she whipped out from her desi Mary Poppins' bag some yogurt and a jar of Mother's Mango Pickle. Thus we traversed the source of Nile, eating roti with yogurt and pickle. We even fed the boat guy some, probably making it a unique experience for him too. After the mini-meal my mom said she only wished there was a mat she could spread on the floor of the boat and take a nap on...You guys now know why I am like this.

Our ride ended after one hour and we made our way back to the car. All that food wasn't enough so we headed to the nearest cafe and ordered some more. I of course had the fruit bowl, among other things.

The journey back was quite long and tiring. At signals we'd see hawkers on roller skates selling ripe yellow bananas,grilled chicken thighs on wooden skewers (which I like to call 'meat lollipops') and small packets of peanuts. Some of them would hold on to the back of our car so they can gain speed.

We finally reached home late in the night and of course ended it with food by going to Javas the fourth time in two days. I think we have a food problem. But I am not gonna ask for help any time soon!

Nazreen Fazal Post

TRAVEL

UGANDA DIARIES

June 25, 2017,

I have celebrated Eid in 6 countries till now. Today was the 7th one-Uganda. Each place has been a different experience, but this one was something really special.

We woke up early morning and offered our prayers together. Post prayers we all sat outside in the porch and leisurely sipped on cups of tea and munched on the fried dates and plantain. I don't know if I am the only one but it feels almost wrong to eat after sunrise after a month of no breakfast.

My father's house has a beautiful, lush garden surrounding it. There are banana plantains, neem, jackfruit and mango trees. The wall is covered in creepers, making this a small piece of heaven tucked away from the dusty streets outside.

The weather here is a pleasant 21 degree Celsius, a welcome change from the sweltering heat in Riyadh. We remained out in the garden for sometime, listening to the various birds chirping in and around the garden.

Then began the morning dash for the bathrooms. Everyone had to be showered and out by 8am (in India it's much earlier). The Eid Gah, where the Eid prayers are held, is vey near. We drove in to see a sea of colors seated under white tents. Women in bright green, yellow, and red dresses. Men rocked fabulous purple and teal thoubs. The most adorable thing in sight though were the little babies decked in their finest. Boys in little thoubs and girls in bedazzled hijabs. One great thing about Eid is that it is so so positive. Everything about the day makes you feel good. Especially the fact that you wear your finest clothes. It really makes you feel good about yourself. You can see it in the faces of the little girls and boys who are so excited to flaunt their new clothes.

The Eid sermon was in English, which we were really grateful about. It was about the importance of being morally upright in our day to day lives.
Post sermon we headed to a nearby cafe and had a grand breakfast of eggs, steak, croissant, pancakes, waffles, and fresh fruit juice. What's Eid without food, eh?

At home we relaxed, enjoying the amazing post food buzz. My mom and aunts ( who are over for a visit as well) sat outside the kitchen and barbecued chicken and fish. Lunch was traditional Kerala biriyani (which I am not really fond of, Hyderabadi biriyani ftw!)

To give it a really Eid feel, we had some sweet lime tea to wash it all down.

The food coma has worn off somewhat now. We are now on the way to Victoria lake, which is the second largest fresh water lake in the world.

More updates tomorrow!

#UgandanDiaries #UgandaDay1

Nazreen Fazal Post

TRAVEL

WORST TRAVEL EXPERIENCE IN MY LIFE with Ethiopian Airlines

June 23, 2017,

Ethiopian airlines is the worst, most inept airline I have ever had the misfortune of flying with. My husband and I had booked the 6:45pm Ethiopian Airlines flight from Riyadh to Addis Ababa and further to Entebbe on 22nd June. We arrived at 3pm, did check in, obtained the boarding pass and reached the designated boarding gate by 5pm yesterday. The flight was indefinitely delayed and we waited 20+hrs at the boarding gate without any clear information from the Airlines staff. No communication from the staff here, no apologies, no alternative arrangements, no food coupons issued (some of the passenger had been stranded here for the last two days and hadn't eaten anything in that time), no accommodation was made available for most of the waiting passengers. People had to sleep on any space on the floor. Even cattle are treated better than this.

We were not being given refunds because apparently the flight's not been cancelled, only 'delayed'. They kept telling us that the flight will come after three hours and it never came till one day later. The worst part is that three Saudi nationals were refunded their tickets immediately, while we watched in despair.

Shame on you Ethiopian airlines for looting people by overbooking your flights / abrupt cancellations and not giving us the service we paid for. Your tall claim about customer services turned out be a big lie. And this lie resulted in stranded mothers with hungry crying babies and toddlers, tired travelers who haven't slept a wink in the last two days, and people who missed out important family functions just because of this utter mismanagement.

I can't even explain how upsetting and humiliating this whole ordeal has been. To make it worse, when people started asking for alternatives and demanded to be answered your staff called armed security guards to scare us.

I understand that the real reason you are doing this kind of harassment is because most of the passengers on this flight belong to lower income groups, so you don't care a bit about what happens to them, whether they starve or lose sleep. You just care about the money they spent on your tickets.

If you do care about your customers, do something to make it right. Till now we haven't received an official apology or even remark about what happened. I want an apology and acknowledgement of what happened. Till you address this I am not going to let it rest.
------

Readers, I'd appreciate it if you can share this post as widely as possible. For too long such airlines have been harassing and humiliating passengers like us. They are willing to take our money but when it comes to delivering their services it's as though they are doing some charity for us. We can't let them get away with this.

#EthiopianAirlinesScam #EthiopianAirlinesApologize

Arab News Saudi Gazette RiyadhConnect

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

I walked into marriage

June 21, 2017,

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.

#FromTheShaadiArchives

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

There's a leaky faucet in my kitchen

June 14, 2017,

There's a leaky faucet in my kitchen. If I don't close it the right way, with the right amount of pressure, it goes drip drip drip drip drip all day till I get frustrated and am forced to get away from my work to stop it. It's weird how such an insignificant sound- a drop of water hitting the sink- can get on your nerves. I can't stand it for more than 10 minutes. It makes me go nuts.

The same is the case with negativity and hate. It doesn't have to be a deluge of hate. Just constant "drip drip drip" of microaggressions and "just for fun" remarks is enough to push someone over the edge. When comments that may seem innocent, arrive in a slow but steady stream, it becomes annoying and damaging. It chips at your mental peace. It makes you want to pull your hair out in frustration. And yet, someone who isn't there and hasn't experienced this 'drip', will not get what the fuss is about. "It's just a leaky faucet" they'll say. It isn't.

Don't be a leaky faucet, don't let hate drip on others. And when you see a leaky faucet, close it immediately. For your own sake.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

Women!

June 10, 2017,

We have some messed up ideas of what it means to be a young woman, a newly married woman, a married woman without children, a married woman with children. There are some expectations of how women in each category should behave. Like a silent tree she must bloom and shed aspects of her personality according to the seasons. In Spring she must shade those around her with her full bloom of leaves and in autumn she must shed her interests in accordance with that of those around her. She must live for others and what she does purely for herself is seen as selfish. After all, does a tree ever shade itself?

The uterus enquirers have calmed down, in my case. Their attempts to know whether I have any 'good news' have been repeatedly thwarted by me. I still get the occasional query and my food baby is sometimes mistaken for an early pregnancy bump (sign that I need to start working out again). What I notice though is that when I say no to their queries I am expected to say it with great sadness. They immediately try to console me and say 'InshaAllah soon! Allah has a time for everything...' It's like they can't comprehend someone, especially a woman, not having a child as the first thing on her mind post marriage. It's like not having a child is the worst thing that can happen to a woman. As though we are machines that aren't living up to the purpose we were built for. Say a faulty washing machine that makes the clothes dirtier.

The same with young women who put off marriage for various reasons. They are viewed with great pity, even though these ladies might have everything working for them. Great qualifications? Check. Awesome Job? Check. Amazing friends and family? Check. Exhilarating life experiences? Check. No husband? It's worse than being stricken with cancer! There MUST be something wrong with her that she hasn't vowed herself to a MAN! And she doesn't even feel bad about it? How can she even smile? She must just step out into a shed in some abandoned farm and shrivel up and die a spinster death out of sight.

Although the thought of it makes me anxious, I would love to have kids someday. But this expectation that I have a deadline in which it's acceptable to have kids makes my uterus want to shrink and scream 'back off'. Especially when people go to my in laws and try to 'sympathise'. Like I am failing them in the one thing I was supposed to do as a daughter in law- continue their lineage. Alhamdulillah my in laws are super chill and never bring it up but I still find out about this and it just makes me mad. Not just for having random noses try to gain entry into my business and uterus, but also for this overall regressive mentality our society has and the stupid expectations it places on its women.

And what happens when you finally do have a kid? It's endless lectures on how to parent. How you must leave all sense of self and enslave yourself to your kid.After one year start the advices on having the next child. And if you have three plus children these same people will go 'How many kids are you guys having? Stop!'As though we are borrowing their reproductive organs to give birth to our kids. Uncles and aunties and folks who do this- You need to calm down and stuff your face with biriyani before people start naming and shaming you. Now that won't be good news.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

'Noodlepuff'.

June 8, 2017,

Imagine an independent country 'Noodlepuff'. It has its own culture, economy, and trade. It's supposed to be independent. However, Noodlepuff outsources its governance to another country, say neighbouring country 'Momopuff'. SO Momopuff dictates what the people of Noodlepuff eat, drink, wear, do, study etc. Can you imagine being a citizen of Noodle puff? How inconvenient and embarrassing it is to not be autonomous in your own land?

Inadvertently, a lot of us end up becoming like Noodlepuff. Handing over the reins of our lives completely to others, be it spouses, parents, in-laws, neighbours or the society at large. So THEY dictate what WE study (engineering or medicine), who we marry (Wealthy and tall NRI guy/educated but homely and fairer than milk 'girl' who makes the roundest rotis), when we have children (within a year of getting married), and overall how we live. Isn't this humiliating?

The other day I got a message from a woman who was living a nightmarish life, having compromised her dreams for marriage and kids. She wrote that reading about women being able to do anything they dream about gave her the courage to get out of living under the thumb of her in laws. She enrolled herself into a post graduate course and now hopes she can fly high.

Another absolutely courageous woman stood up against family pressure and completed her medical degree. She's now a doctor and supports her family. We are all capable of this, we just need that one push to unveil our magic.

It's liberating to take charge of your life. You have one life after all, there's not enough time to bend and contort yourself into uncomfortable positions just to please those who don't do shit for you. Don't let random uncles and aunties try to add more masala into your life when your chai has enough for the day.

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RANDOM

Attention: This is a kindness thread.

June 7, 2017,

The week has ended, some shoulders are slumped under stress at work or school, some have aching backs after too much toil, and others have heavy minds burdened by everything that needs to be done.
Let's take a moment to step out of our temporary stresses and worries and make someone else's day.
It works in two ways. Tag someone you know who's been having a rough week and tell them something awesome about them that you admire.
Or comment below if you have been having a rough week and need some e-love your way.
We will reply with some positive vibes, prayer, and love.

Only nice things in this thread ????

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

What you have in this moment is a MASSIVE blessing

June 7, 2017,

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.

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RANDOM

Ramadan

May 30, 2017,

The most difficult part of Ramadan is not fasting from food. That's actually the easy bit, anyone can do it.

The most difficult part is fasting from everything that displeases Allah. Fasting from everything that holds you back.

It's fasting from anger when an argument is easier than keeping quiet. It is fasting from backbiting, when picking apart someone is more 'fun' than leaving the conversation. It is fasting from mind numbing entertainment, when it's easier to plop down in front of the TV than doing something that nourishes the soul.

So every Ramadan I make some resolutions. Either to change a bad habit or start a good one. Sometimes I succeed, other times I dial miserably, and yet other times I am partially successful.
This time around I roped my husband into it and we decided to work on one major bad habit that we have been trying to get rid of-Talking about people. Specifically, discussing things they wouldn't like behind their back. Back biting. It's a grave sin in Islam, equated to eating the raw flesh of your brother. However, it's something most people, including me, don't take seriously enough.

Even if we personally want to improve, the world is designed in a way that makes discussing people rewarding. There's an entire entertainment industry built on speculating over the lives of celebrities. 'Are they dating?' 'Is superstar xyz cheating on his hot girlfriend with another hot girl?' It's endless and we read this mind numbing stuff day after day.

The news industry is no better, with screeching hosts that compete for screen space by cooking up stories and labeling innocent people guilty. The media is now the judge, jury, and executioner.

As a society we have become preoccupied with knowing details that we don't need to know. We are so engaged with discussing others lives that at moments we forget we have our own lives to live.

Coming back to my resolution. It's difficult. This habit is so ingrained that we do it without knowing. When we remember we call each other out. We repent. We repeat. We repent. It's a cycle. Hopefully there will be fewer repeats and more control on our tongues. I don't want to contribute to mindless conversations anymore.

The real challenge is disciplining the soul and learning to say NO to yourself. One day at a time.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

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?

May 30, 2017,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Weekends have changed so much over the time for me.

May 30, 2017,

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.

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RANDOM

Marriage / Ramadan

May 27, 2017,

Marriage is not always this rosy rom com where you wake up to your husband holding flowers for you and you feed each other chocolate till you die. You don't spend your entire day sighing and composing love ballads for each other. And breakfast in bed is really not that common. No. Marriage is messy. And it's understandable because it's a relationship that is not bound by blood. It's not like a parent-child or sibling relationship where you just instinctively love them, warts and all. The only thing that binds you to your partner in a marriage is that you chose them and they chose you. And what will ensure you continue to live with them through joy and sadness is whether you have love and respect for each other.

It is not easy. Sometimes you want to be left alone, sometimes you want to scream at them, sometimes you are exasperated at the annoying things they do. But at other times they make you smile, they fill your heart with a joy you wouldn't have known otherwise, they offer you a kind of companionship you didn't know existed, just the thought of them makes you happy to your toes.

So it's kind of sad that despite all this, the person who's the closest to us is also the one who see the worst of us. They see our real ugly side that the rest of the world isn't aware of. Ask any married couple and they will agree that their partner has seen them at their most horrible and unattractive point. It's inevitable when you have two people sharing physical, mental, and emotional space for so long.

However, It's not right and it needs to change. So to address this, and in preparation for Ramadan, for the past few days I have been more conscious (most of the time) of what I say. Sometimes I feel a snappy or sarcastic comment rising at the back of my throat and I swallow it. I remind myself that It is just not worth it. That momentary satisfaction of saying something "witty" is not worth the pain you cause your partner. In my case I've noticed that often what I say sarcastically is me projecting my insecurities and hurt on my husband. I am not being funny, I am trying to deflect from issues that I am not ready to tackle.

And what's a better time to confront the deepest,murkiest part of yourself than now? You are fasting from not just food but also all other mindless activities. This month literally forces you to reflect and ask the difficult questions you'd been putting off.

For this reason, Ramadan never fails to give me the warm fuzzies. No matter what my spiritual or emotional state, the beginning of Ramadan is like a small but growing glimmer of light through the darkness, through the emotional thunderstorm.

Ramadan is hope. This hope that it doesn't matter if I have hit rock bottom, I can still get up, dust myself, and begin climbing again. This month is for myself. The devils are tied away, so who I am this month is who I really am. What I am this month, I am responsible for it.

Ramadan is accountability. My relationships are an amanah (trust) entrusted to me by God. Am I honouring them in the right way or am I being selfish and hurting the people who love me the most? It's difficult to call yourself out, but you need to do that.

Take that first step. Reconcile. Treat that open wound before it festers into something worse. Take this month as an opportunity to address issues you had been brushing under the rug till now. Isn't it time to heal?

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RANDOM

Just a Date?

May 26, 2017,

I have been fasting the whole month of Ramadan since the age of 11 or 12. Before that, my Ramadan was mostly of half fasts-breaking my fast 5-6 hours before the adults. I remember one episode in particular where sunset was around 6 pm and I decided that fasting until 5 was the maximum I can do. So I broke my fast literally one hour before iftaar. Talk about patience.

Other fond memories include Iftaar parties with the extended family. The kids restless, exerting all their energies into praying the sun would just drop down from the sky, so they could polish off the yummy samosas beckoning them from the over laden table. Ramadan at Grandma's meant delicious Pathiri (rice flour bread) topped with coconut milk and her Spicy Chicken Curry™. When I look back now, Ramadan has always been of abundance. Alhamdulillah. Every Iftar we were fulfilled and maybe even overfilled (some to the extent that it was difficult for them to get up for prayers from where they were seated!).

In all these memories, however, my fondest memory of Ramadan is quite different. I was 17 years old, and awestruck. I was at the Masjidul Haram in Mecca in the last few days of Ramadan. Everything around me at that time inspired me. I was just blown away by the people- Oh God The People!- and their dedication. Malaysian women in their bright baju kurungs, Pakistani uncles in their kurtas and topis, Iranian ladies in their Chadors... Men and women of all shades and shapes and sizes worshiping with me, circumambulating around the Kaaba. All there for one reason alone- God. It was inspiring and humbling all at once

The atmosphere in Ramadan is quite different in this area. Usually, we hear of 'Ramadan Road Rage' and 'Hangry Hisses' , but what I saw was a competition to do more and more good among the believers. We were staying in a hotel not far away from the Masjid, our walk was about 10-15 minutes, taking us past hawkers selling 'Islamic Goods' like prayer clothes, rugs, Qur'an copies etc, tiny juice shops, kebab shops with heavenly aromas wafting out, almost pulling us in by hand (or nose?). What we also saw was people on the street corners handing out free laban (yogurt drink), dates, and other Iftar snacks to all passersby. There were so many of them! Some of them came in cars filled with cartons of juice boxes, waiting to help out anyone in need.

However, the most humbling experience of all was another episode. We were seated on one of the plush rugs in the Masjid, having just finished some of the more strenuous activities of the 'Umra. Naturally, we were tired, thirsty and just waiting for the adhan (call to prayer) to let us know its time to break the fast. So we're sitting there, just counting the seconds when an old lady next to me nudges me. I don't remember her name or her face, neither do I recall where she came from. What she did next blew me away. She had three dates and a glass of water with her to break her fast. Of this she gave one date to me and the other to the lady sitting on her other side. We didn't know each others' languages, she spoke in smiles. She didn't know me, and we will probably never meet her again, but that day she was so kind as to split what little she had with a complete stranger. Just because we shared belief in a God who asks us to be generous with each other.

More than 5 Ramadans have passed since then, but I still remember that lady. Not a face or a name. What comes to mind is the beauty of her soul. Today, the third day of Ramadan, has been a little difficult for me. By midday I was extremely tired and now I have a severely parched throat and a mild headache. And I haven't even stepped out of my room all day! So all I can think about today is that lady who probably herself was tired after a long day, and yet, was kind enough to think about the needs of the person next to her. And that humbles me.
Fasting is not for myself. This hunger is not for me. This parched throat doesn't say anything about me. This discomfort is a nudge to think beyond myself. A call to share, whatever I have- even if it is a couple of dates.

Most of us live lives of abundance. Of plenitude in all aspects. However, how rich is our heart? What have we given in order to grow? And by given, I don't mean emptying out our spare change and walking away. I mean really giving, stepping over our needs and greed and looking out for the person who probably needs it more.
Isn't now the time? Aren't you the person?

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RANDOM

Dear students about to receive your grades,

May 21, 2017,

I know that each day, as you get closer to the the results, you are a little more afraid. I can feel your heart in your mouth. You've worked so hard for this. You bought all the books and religiously did all the question papers. You skipped hanging out with friends for 2 hours of Physics. You missed a cousin's wedding because you had to get maths into your head. In fact, you don't remember a time when you didn't have exams on your mind.

Today I want to tell you something. Our society is lying to you. Whatever marks you score is not a reflection of you as a person. Marks mean nothing, especially board marks. It is an arbitrary and often unreliable way of checking someone's competency. So whether you get a 75 or a 93 in Chemistry, it doesn't make you a worse or a better person. You could have distinction in all the subjects and still be a mean person. You can score less than 70 and still have the kindest heart. Don't let anyone compare you with Sharma ji's son. You will still be you, today, tomorrow, once the marks have come, and when eventually everyone has forgotten about it.

You have given it your all and that's what matters. This was a test of discipline and you have passed with flying colours. Five years down the line, you will realise how meaningless these scores are. They are simply one of the things you need to jump from one level to the other.

Know that these days will pass by soon. And no one is going to give a rat's ass about how much you scored in your X of XII. So it really is not worth your tears or anything more drastic.

Instead, take a deep breath. Tell yourself that you are more than your report card. Then enjoy this time that you have. Work on improving yourself. Be kind to someone everyday. Laugh with your family. Go for a walk. Smell a flower. Draw something.

Explore the options for your future. Choose that which you love and are good at and leave the rest. You deserve to be happy with what you are going to do for the rest of your life.

Love,

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

Dear Papa and Mamma,

May 20, 2017,

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,

Your daughter

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Ramadan

May 19, 2017,

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?!

Nazreen Fazal Post

POETRY

I will not

May 15, 2017,

Today I will not hold back
Today I will not brush away sexism as just another thing women have to live with
Today I will call out my family and friends when they say misogynistic things and tell me to just 'take a joke'
Today I will let them know they aren't funny if the only joke they can tell involves stereotypes and worn out cliches from days of yore
Today I will not stand objectification and Stories that make diamonds and pearls out of women (first because I am not a grain of sand or parasite that disturbed an oyster's peace and second because I am a frikkin human being not a possession to be locked away in your prehistoric jewel box)
Today I will scream, ladylike, because ladies have vocal boxes and can run out of the infinite patience we are expected to keep
Today I will laugh at the faces of those who think we are less because of what's between our legs
Today I will mourn the lives lost to the silly jokes and Whatsapp forwards that's built brick by brick, the endurance of this culture of rape
Today I will rage against this growing tide of hate
that sees women as a collage of sexualized body parts and crevices that need to be filled
with force if required
Today I will not bite my tongue and hold my quiet
Today I raise my shaking hands and say:
Enough
It's time to strike back

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

Wordlessness.

May 9, 2017,

For someone who aspires to be a writer, the worst thing that can happen is to run out of words. To have unruly thoughts bounce off the walls of your mind, unable to find a single word that can articulate it and let it out. It's even more distressing when you want to articulate oppression, be it your own or someone else's, and you find yourself short of words. What is the word for when your rage doesn't yield any words, when it doesn't translate into meaning, when you are exhausted of saying the same thing over and over and over, in different words, dressed in different phrases, compressed into different sentences?

What's the word for when you have reached the end of the tightrope but realise you have to walk back and forth a million times more before you can step down?
I find it happening more and more these days. Not just with me, but with the world in general.

I see an unshakeable exhaustion creep in, brought forth by the increasing violence of everyday life. Hopelessness that settles like dust into your pores. Another attack, another rape, more bloodshed. We crack, we break, we think we can move on.

But we can't.

Racism, sexism, misogyny, bigotry wear us thin in more ways than we can comprehend. It dilutes our empathy. It chips away at the edge of our sanity.

We lose more words. We lose more meaning. We lose a little more of ourselves each day.

And one fine day, when a dead child is washed ashore, or an entire tribe is burnt alive, or a woman's body is turned inside out, we pause. We mourn. But there is no meaning to our mourning anymore.

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RANDOM

'OLIO PICCANTO'

May 8, 2017,

My father worked in Italy for five years. He loved the quiet little town of Brindisi. He would go on long walks along the Adriatic coastline in the evenings, my mother reluctantly walking beside him since he's donned a ridiculous cow boy hat that she absolutely detests. On weekends they'd go on road trips to different parts of Southern Italy, a cowboy hat wearing brown man and his hijabi wife, making the Italian landscape a little more interesting. It was a leisurely life. Except for one thing-- food. My father, being the true blooded Indian that he is, couldn't stand Italian cuisine. The relatively bland Italian palate offended his Indian sensibilities.

After some time there, though, he discovered that Italians have something called 'Olio piccante', which is a spicy oil that is steeped in peppers. It was a miracle from the heavens above and soon he fell in love. In restaurants, before we are even seated, he would beckon the server and say 'OLIO PICCANTO' with the confidence that comes of knowing your food can be salvaged finally. I would try to hide as he, much to the annoyance of the Italian waiters, slathered all his meals with this oil. Pizza, Pasta, spaghetti, it did not matter, my father was just smitten with olio piccante. This made me fully comprehend the universally acknowledged truth that Indians are in a league of our own when it comes to food. I realise now that we are the desi Power Puff girls, craving sugar, spice, and everything nice, all at once.

I think this is something unique to our culture. We want our tastebuds to always have the best of everything in one go. The prime example of this quirk is Pani Puri. This magic snack that explodes in your mouth in a symphony of a million flavours and textures. It's savoury and sweet and sour and crunchy and mushy at the same damn time! Pani Puri is market research implemented way before anyone even knew what market research is.

Another one is masala tea. Imagine! Someone probably was sipping on tea and going 'Hmmm...what other thing can we add spices to?'
*Sluurrrrp*
"Why this tea, it lacks a je ne sais quoi. I guess It can be only one thing."
*Rubs hand gleefully and proceeds to powder cardamom, clove, cinnamon, peacock feathers, elephant tusk, and snake skin and adds to tea*
"Let no one complain that our tea is not spicy enough!"

We are truly terrified about missing out on other flavours with each morsel in our mouth. This explains our fascinating array of condiments. Is the food not hot enough? No worries, you can choose from a wide array of pickes- mango, garlic, ginger, tomato, beef(!), lime, lotus stem.

Is the curry too spicy? Worry not, Dahi, Indian yoghurt, will come to your rescue and neutralise the spices.

Is your pizza or pasta too bland? Chup ho jao and slather it with ketchup.

I'm not complaining though. When I see my husband down my culinary experiments with a generous helping of fish pickle and dahi on the side, I can only thank our power puffy foremothers for inventing something that can transform any food into a gastronomic roller coaster ride.

What are some of your cultural culinary quirks?

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

7 way to raise independent and confident boys and girls

May 6, 2017,

I don't have kids so these are not tried and tested by me. 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. 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]

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/capex etc. We have our own sheets and we have a common sheet where we track our combined expenses. We have monthly and annual targets for our savings. Although it's a bit of a hassle updating every day, boy does it help in the long run. We know exactly what we are spending and where.

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

mamimma

April 27, 2017,

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.
#fromthearchives

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

What's that made of us?

April 20, 2017,

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...

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Aromas From Home

April 17, 2017,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

Me with!

April 14, 2017,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

Dear You,

April 14, 2017,

Yes you. This letter is for everyone who was made to feel small. For everyone one who was bullied for who they are, what they look like, or where they come from. This is a love letter from me to you.

Dear person who is mocked for the colour of their skin and told they will never find love because they are too dark. Those people who said these hurtful things are wrong. You are beautiful. Your skin: smooth caramel, dark chocolate, burning wood, the very earth...it's incomparable to anything else.Anyone who doesn't see that is blind as a bat. Ignore those who ridicule you and then turn around to get fake tans. Ignore those who tell you to quit going out under the sun and stay indoors. They are wrong. Be as sun kissed as you want. You will always be loved.

Dear person who grew up hearing jokes about their weight. Who was judged based on their waist size. Who never found anyone similar on the ramp or on tv or magazines. You are beautiful. Your curves and plains don't define you. Your dress size doesn't define you. A size zero is not the pinnacle of achievement. And neither is having curves that big a deal. People have not seen the immense talent and skill you possess. They have not looked beyond how thin/fat you are. It's their loss. Dear you, unleash what you hold within and wow the world. And guess what, you will always be loved.

Dear person who was alienated because they don't 'fit in', I applaud you. You are one of a kind and you have strength in you to withstand the world's efforts to mould your soul into something it is not. At each stage you encountered immense pressure to become like the rest just to be liked. But you carried on being you. And thank god! Because there's no one who can take your place. You are needed. You are and will always be loved.

Dear you, today might seem like a struggle. It might seem like it's all futile and no one cares. I just want to say there are those who care. Those who love you no matter what. Who cherish the essence of your soul. Live for them. Burn bright for yourself. Let the rays show you the way forward and blind those who don't care to look beyond the surface. You will stay strong, won't you?

All my love,
You

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

'beta give us good news'

April 7, 2017,

I am open in my disdain of self appointed uterus status inquirers. So much so that most of them have backed off now. I show it in a frown or by outright saying NO or sometimes changing the topic in a jiffy. But there still remain a few who are persistent in trying to find out whether a couple is going to have little humans or not.

One lady has been confronting everyone remotely related to me and asking whether I have some 'good news'. A mere 'No' is not enough, she has to know why we are not having kids as it's been 'two years over'. This lady is a small symptom of a large rot in our society. She is not really asking to know the apparent answer, No. The real interest is in finding out if we have a problem conceiving. Then it's perfect fodder for gossip. 'Hey did you know that so and so has fertility issues?' Since we are giving her no indication of if there's a problem or not, it's frustrating and she just HAS to know.
And there are many like her, deeply invested in learning the problems families are facing within, not with the intention of helping them out, but just to take pleasure in someone's misfortune.

And then there are the advicers, who will come and impart their gems of wisdom of why we must start popping babies from the moment we get married. They present complex calculations of the ideal, scientifically verified, age gap that must exist between the baby and mother. (If it is more than 25 the baby will be born with two horns, a third eye, a butt tattoo, and will be the cause of the extinction of the human race.) These advisors are very very concerned about your future, they call themselves your well wishers. But god forbid you encounter a financial or health issue, they are no where in sight to help you. So they never really wanted to 'help' in the first place.

What we must do is stop discussing our lives with such people. Don't give them the tiniest atom of information about what is going on in your life. They are parasites that feed on the misfortune of others. Cut off the information supply and they will shrivel up and die. Okay not literally, but at least their nosy noses won't get any air and will grow back in.

So the next time someone says 'beta give us good news', there's just one answer: No.

#YourNoseDoesNotBelongInMyUterus
#TakeItOutBeforeIbecomeBadNewsForYou

Nazreen Fazal Post

POETRY

Ramlah.

April 4, 2017,

'Ramlah.' She was told it meant 'Sand', some kind of valuable sand. Why would her parents name her dirt? Well, it did explain why they treated her the way they did. Her father had died in a drunken brawl and her mother decided to run away with the first man who came knocking on her door. Leaving her, like dirt washed ashore, with her grand mother.

Beyya , she was the only one who truly cared for Ramlah. The two years spent with her grandmother were the happiest ones in her life. She still remembers how she would rush back to their small, tin-roofed hut and into the arms of her warm beyya. Beyya would feed her with her own hands. Rice and meen molagu. Fish Curry. Every single day. But it didn't matter, because when beyya fed her, while telling her stories of their long gone ancestors, it was the most delicious meal on earth. Oh beyya would scold her too, and sometimes a spanking with a thin stick plucked off the gooseberry tree on their courtyard. But the moment the tears started, beyya would place the stick down and gently wipe away the tears. Then together they would walk to Khader icha's shop and beyya would give her a rupee to buy anything she liked. And she would always buy orange soda and panji muttayi. The sickly sweet sweet which she convinced was what old witches' hair looked like. They would come back hand in hand, over the creaking wooden bridge, past Adlancha's mansion, through Kareem's banana plantation farm (where one of the workers would always pluck off a ripe yellow banana and hand it to her) and back to the tin roofed hut.

Just when she thought nothing could possibly go wrong now, Beyya also decided to abandon this dirt.

At beyya's funeral everyone was there. The village had lost an elder, and even a poor elder deserved some respect. Their hut was full and people were sitting on straw mats out in the courtyard too. Khader icha and his wife were serving black tea to everyone who came. Safiya ammayi, her uncle's wife, came and collected some of the good vessels lying around, handed her a rupee and left in the same rickshaw she came in. As midday approached the men there decided it was time for the funeral. They lifted her beyya, wrapped in white cloth, and carried her away. Through tears she watched people tae away the only person who had every cared for her.

Her tears eventually lulled her into a troubled sleep and when she finally woke up only a few people remained, cleaning up the mess that the mourners had left behind. Empty glasses, some toppled over leaving a trail of black tea which was now drying into sticky splotches. She was watching the flies buzz around the splotches when the cook from Adlancha's house approached her. She was an old friend of Beyya. She told her that she could come and stay at Adlancha's place. She would ask Jameela mua , Adlancha's wife, to give her some work there. Of course, she could no longer attend school. She understood that much, right? Right.

What about the hut, she asked. Oh don't you worry about it. It's taken care of.

Ramlah's job at the mansion was to take care of Adlancha's children. Three of them, just a few years younger than her. Asiya, Jaffer and Ahmed. They became great friends within the first few days. Itha, big sister, they would call her. She would wake them up in the morning and push the older two towards the bathroom. She had to bathe the youngest one herself. Once all of them were ready she would serve them their breakfast. Everyday something different. Idli, Dosha, iddiyappam. if they were served the same thing two days in a row, they would refuse to eat. And the youngest one, Ahmed, would kick up a storm. After the breakfast and a glass of milk off they would go to the school. Madonna's Primary School. It was nothing like Ramlah's school. This one had real walls, not dried palm stalks, to separate different classes. And they had a park, with shiny swing sets and a big slide. After dropping them she would return and then go back a few hours later with triple layered steel lunch boxes filled to the limit with hot rice, curry and pickle. In a separate packet she would carry the crispy pappadoms. She had to be careful not to crush them or Asiya, the eldest, would refuse to touch them. She would sit outside the big black gates of the school and wait for the lunch bell to ring. As she waited with a dozen other girls, waiting for their respective little masters and mistresses, she would strain her ears to catch maybe a snippet of a rhyme and sometimes a slice of the alphabet. Whatever she heard she would repeat to herself till she knew it by heart. Once the lunch bell rang they all would rush inside and wait at the edge of the playground, under the canopy of the huge banyan trees, for the children to come out. Asiya, Jaffer and Ahmed would come running towards her and sit on the mat that she would spread out for them. If they were in a good mood they would tell her, in between the rolling of rice into balls and the cracking of pappadoms, about what they'd done in class. Half the time Ramla couldn't follow what they said, but when Asiya would talk about her history class she would sit there quietly, taking in each word, as she was told about kings and queens living in huge palaces (bigger than Adlancha's mansion!), warriors who saved their land from the white Sahipmaar, about men and women who died trying to do so. Every night as rolled her straw mat out in the kitchen she would pray that these kings and warriors find their way to her dreams that night as well.

Years went like this and before she knew it, her Asiya was getting married. The same Asiya who couldn't tie her own braids was now going to be the mistress of another house! The wedding was beyond anything the entire village had seen. Jameela mua had some people from the city come and decorate the house. Everything was repainted, the old sofas were taken out, the teak wood beds were stuffed into the attic. Everything was new. And everything was cold.
But would Asiya care about these changes when she was busy talking to her fiancé on the new phone that he had gifted her? A few times she caught her looking at a photo of him and when Asiya saw her looking she would turn red like the fresh henna patterns on her hand.

The day of the wedding Asiya looked like a princess, dressed in a red sari, with gold necklaces and bangles covering every bit of her. Some of her friends from college had come to help her with the make up too. When she sat on the stage with her now husband Iqbal, Ramla couldn't help saying a prayer to protect both of them from the evil eye.

Once everything had quieted down, all the flowers and lights taken down and the gifts unpacked, Jameela mua called Ramlah to her room. She told her that the wedding couldn't have gone this smoothly without her help. She thanked her for taking care of Asiya all these years. Then she told her that they thought it was time she got married too. Jameela mua beamed as she told her about the man that was going to share her life from now. He was a driver and worked for Iqbal's brother who was a wealthy businessman in Dubai. He was coming back home for two months and the wedding would take place as soon as he came.

"Not everyone can get a husband who works in the gulf, Ramlah, so thank Allah for your luck!" said mua while Ramla rolled the betel leaves for her.

She met her husband, Rafeek, after the nikkah. He was a kind looking man in his thirties. As her wedding gift Adlancha and Jameela mua gave her a small house with a backyard facing the river ( You can grow your own vegetables, Ramlah!). She moved into this house with Rafeek. Within the first week Rafeek found out all her fears of men she had amassed over a childhood spent near strange men with roving eyes and groping hands. With his kindness and patience, he easer Ramla's heart and put her fears to rest. She thanked Allah for giving her this ease at last.

Before she knew it two months had passed and it was time for Rafeek to leave. She cried and held on to him as he made his way out, but he had to go. He told her he'll be back soon. "Just a year or two, Rammu, and then it'll be time for my next leave! You can wait that long, no, Rammu?"

At the beginning of every month she would go to Jameela mua's house and wait for Rafeek's call. On his third call she told him that he was going to be a father. He was ecstatic. She didn't know what to feel. Jameela mua told her not to worry, she'll take care of all the expenses. They'll find her a good midwife. But that was the least of Ramla's worries.

She gave birth to a baby boy. With ten little fingers and perfect toes. He was the most beautiful thing she had set eyes on. In an instant Akbar became the centre of his mother's small world. Ramlah didn't know that she was capable of loving anyone so deeply. After her forty days of rest, she dressed him up and herself wore her wedding sari, followed by a burkha on top, and took the bus to the city. There she went to a studio and took pictures of Akbar and one picture of him with her in her sari. This, she would send to Rafeek.

Her heart swelled with love when her Akbar took his first steps. And when he said his first word- umma- she took out some money from under the mattress and bought sweets from Khader icha's store and gave it to everyone she saw that day.

Soon it was nearing the time of Rafeek's leave and she was eagerly waiting with Akbar for his Uppa's arrival. Rafeek came with bag loads of Pampers and Johnson's baby powder and Lux soaps for her. As soon as he saw Akbar he dropped his bags and scooped him out of her hands. His uppa couldn't stop kissing Akbar! For two months Akbar never touched the floor. His uppa was always carrying him around. Wherever he went he would take Akbar with him. The little chap was also growing fonder of this stranger who was suddenly living in their house.

Again, two months flew by and it was time for Rafeek to leave. She accompanied him to the bus stop and waited till his bus to Kozhikode came. He held Akbar close to him throughout and she saw tears rolling down his cheeks as she took Akbar out of his arms. She tried to stifle her own tears so that Akbar wouldn't be alarmed. But the poor kid was already heartbroken as he saw his uppa getting into the bus and going away. Leaving him and his umma at the dusty bus stop.

This was the pattern even with Ayesha and Mariyam. They both saw their father when they were two and then it was a hide and seek game where they saw him every two years. Akbar was growing up faster than she wanted him too. She could see glimpses of a young man on his face now. Much to her dismay he dropped out of school when he was 13 and joined Kareem's plantation as a helper. As the days went by, she began to see lesser and lesser of him.

When her neighbour, Razia, told her that she had spotted him smoking bidi by Raghav Cinema, she was furious. That night she waited for him at her gate with a cane in her hand.
When he came she saw that his eyes were bloodshot. Then she lost it. She hit him till she hurt. Ayesha and Mariyam tried to pull her away with their little hands but right then she couldn't think. And Akbar, he just stood there as the cane left cut after cut on his skin. And when all her frustration had left its mark on her son's skin, she threw away the cane and took him inside. No one spoke about it again, especially Ramlah and Akbar.

When Akbar turned 18 his father asked him to learn driving. Ramlah knew what was coming but she bit back her cries. Adlancha's driver taught Akbar driving in exchange for a cup of tea every evening. The old man would do anything for Ramlah's children. After all he'd seen her grow up with his master's children.

During Rafeek's next visit much of the time was spent getting Akbar a passport and visa. new clothes were bought, pickles packed and among all this hustle no one spotted Ramlah's heart breaking. Rafeek consoled her as she held on to Akbar at the bus stop. And when they finally left she took Ayesha and Mariyam back, served them dinner and put them to bed. Then she cried herself to sleep holding onto to a yellowed picture of her Akbar as a baby and her in her wedding sari.

Her daughters grew up to be beautiful women. They were as efficient as their mother and were eyed by quite a few young men. Soon there were marriage proposals flooding in and more than once she spotted her girls giggling over pictures of potential suitors. After countless cups of tea and plates of laddoo, they finally did find two young men worthy of her daughters. The wedding dates were finalised, two weeks apart, during Rafeek and Akbar's next visit.

Father and son came back laden with perfumes and cosmetics for the brides to be. Two weeks before the wedding Rafeek decided to take the whole family to Kozhikode for the wedding shopping. That was their first trip as a family. Three days they spent entering every single wedding shop they saw. Rafeek didn't seem to be bothered about the expenses and made sure that his daughters got what they wanted. Silk Sarees, Some jewellery, shoes...Ramlah was worried about the money, but Rafeek calmed her. 'What use of me staying in Dubai if I cannot spend for my daughters' weddings? The whole village should remember this wedding!'

The wedding was more than both their daughters had dreamt of. After they left for their husbands' houses, it took some time to sink in that they were now somebody else's. When Rafeek and Akbar went back after their leave, leaving her alone in a house that suddenly seemed too big.

This was how it was going to be now. She filled her time doing every possible chore. She cleaned her house every single day. She made sure that every corner was dust free. Then, if she still had time, she would take her clothes down to the river and wash it there. Her vegetable garden was also flourishing. She had tomatoes, pumpkins and green chillies growing there. She wanted to fill every waking moment with some activity. She wanted to tire herself out so that she didn't have the energy to think about the empty house. Everyday she would look at the calendar( Which Akbar had gifted her) and it would look the same each time. The time refusing to budge.

She wanted an end to this but she existed for the moments when her daughters came to visit her with their children. She doted over her grandchildren and would often get scolded by her daughters for spoiling them. As the children grew their visits also became fewer and fewer until they visited only when Rafeek and Akbar came back.

It wasn't like the others didn't sense her loneliness. Her neighbours would try and spend time with her, but how much of their time could they really give her? And how much of their time could she really take?

A woman living alone also meant that some of the menfolk thought they had a free pass to behave as they want with her, drop in unannounced with vague excuses. It made her so paranoid that at night she couldn't sleep. She would keep checking if the doors and windows were locked. Again and again till she could see the crack of dawn and then it was time for prayer. Lack of sleep and all this stress ensured that high blood pressure caught up with her. Soon visits to the hospital became one of the things that filled her time. But she didn't mind. Atleast there were people at the hospital.

A few months after her forty-seventh birthday, during a call with Rafeek, he told her that he was coming back For good. She asked him again and again to make sure she had heard the right thing. She couldn't believe it. Her husband was coming back! She rushed back home, there was so much to do! She didn't remember feeling this giddy with happiness. She wasn't going to be lonely any more!

The day before Rafeek's arrival she couldn't sit still. Even for a moment. Every few minutes she would go into the kitchen to check on the chicken curry, then she would come back to her verandah where she was rolling dough for Pathiri. Rice bread and spicy chicken curry, that was his favourite dish. She cleaned the house and cleaned it again. And when everything was done she lay down to sleep barely able to contain herself. How could she sleep knowing that the following day will bring her husband with it? And this time he wasn't going to leave her.

Some how her eyelids did get heavy. She drifted into a dreamland and saw her Rafeek's face followed by Akbar, Ayesha and Mariam. Oh, her grandchildren were there too! This was nice, this dream. She didn't want to wake up now. And she didn't. Even after the dream ended and Rafeek had come home she didn't open her eyes. She couldn't.

Nazreen Fazal Post

POETRY

The House.

March 27, 2017,

The House was a spectacular sight. Even in the yellowed photo I carried around, it stood tall and proud, reveling in its own grandeur. No one knew for sure how old it was. At the last count, five generations of family had lived and died there, each leaving a mark only my grandmother could tell.

Each night before my eyes grew heavy with sleep, she would stroke my head on her lap and tell me The House was alive, that it grew when youth was unwillingly handed down before each generation folded into itself. It was true, because as its dwellers multiplied, The House stretched till each person found his place. With babies new rooms were born, the rooms expanded when the elders died, and eventually the kitchen and bathrooms were invited inside.

I still see it, The House. In my dreams the coconut trees dance with the wind, and branches from the twin mango trees settle on the brick roof. I hear the mangoes falling on the roof with a loud thud, rolling down the sloped roof, and the cheers erupting when one of the children deftly catches the juicy prize. I smell the raw mangoes being pickled in the kitchen; I see the red chilies spread out to dry out under the scorching midday sun; I hear my grandma chasing me away when I venture too close to the well in the backyard. And I don’t want the dream to end.

The House was kind to its inhabitants, but each generation was less grateful than the previous one. My grandma was the last of its protectors, so they waited for her to die to dissect The House. But she didn’t die; she chose to fade in front of our eyes. It wasn’t sudden, but I still remember the shock as it hit me that she was now half her size. Old age reached her legs first. They would refuse to cooperate when she wanted to walk. She wasn’t very stubborn and let them have their way. The regret set in only after her legs forgot to walk, but by then it was too late.

She prided herself on her ability to retrieve dates and names and numbers at any given time. Ask her ‘Velliamma when was Rafi mama born?’ and you could see her eyes light up as she prepared to dive deep into the recesses of her mind to grab a date which was now a pearl in a hidden oyster that lay under so many other memories that she’d rather forget. But she would still emerge, memory soaked, a smile on her face and the date in her open palm.

As the years settled into the wrinkles around her now toothless smile, memory became murkier. ‘Grandma what’s Khadeeja ammayi’s first born’s name?’, and she’d ask back ‘Who’s Khadeeja?’. Soon the answers didn’t match the questions and it wasn’t long before blankness engulfed her and she was a shell a step away from crumbling into nothingness.

Before they could tear apart The House, a faraway King’s sprained ankle triggered war and our family bore the battle scars. Rebels and loyalists that came from the same womb now couldn’t share the same roof. Since my father, the youngest one, had returned to his Lord, my mother and I were disposable.

Years later my mother told my children, stroking their heads on her lap, that the house had lived through floods, droughts, and centuries of nature's fury, but it couldn’t survive its own children who tore it down.

When we were told to leave, I ran to the attic while my mother fell on their feet, begging them to let us be. I climbed up the creaky wooden stairs and dug out the photo album buried under the dust carpet that hid stories of the many lives lived in The House. And before my uncle barged in and dragged me out by my hair, I stole a single picture of the only place I called home.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

Bookstores and restaurants

March 25, 2017,

Bookstores and restaurants evoke the same emotions in me. Well, more like feeeeelingsss. It's a bewildering concoction of excitement, dread, anticipation, guilt, joy, and sorrow.
Imagine walking into one of the best restaurants in town. It offers an all you can eat buffet and you have skipped breakfast and lunch in anticipation of the upcoming forgy (food orgy). You walk in and are immediately seduced by the heavenly smell of sweet and spice and everything nice. You see tables bending under the weight of all your favourite cuisines. There's Indian, Italian, Chinese, Mexican, Mediterranean. And now you are confused. There are so many choices that you choke on the drool accumulated in your mouth and your brain fuses, unable to process anything. Once you regain your consciousness you begin sweating. 'What. Do. I. Eat'. While the buffet is 'all you can eat', your stomach is definitely not 'all you can dump'. You wince at the memory of the last time you tried to make it happen and had liquid oozing out of all the orifices (some even unknown) of your body for the next few days.
You strategise.
Round 1: A spoonful of butter chicken (no chicken. Fried chicken is always better than curry chicken),
one butter naan, two pieces of chicken 65.
Round 2: Quarter plate Chowmein,
two chicken dumplings, two spring rolls.
Round 3: A portion of lasagna,
some spaghetti with meatballs.
Round 4: Enchiladas, one taco, a handful of nachos.
By now you can't physically move. But an all you can eat buffet is a test of your endurance. So you unbuckle your pants, call for a wheelchair and ask the waiter to wheel you to the dessert section.
Round 5: A slice of black forest cake.
Half a bowl of trifle pudding. 2 gulab jamuns with ice cream.
When you force the last spoon of ice-cream into your mouth, you realize that there are 3 more tables you did not even have a look at. So you slide down from your wheelchair, try to curl into the fetal position (but can't because of your food baby), and cry until they throw you out.

Same with bookstore. You walk in. The smell of new books charms the pants off you. The thick spines of hardcover books call unto you, asking to be caressed. Yet you remain, rooted to the spot, not knowing which aisle to explore- Mystery? Fantasy? Crime-Fiction? Horror? Romance? Your eyes dart from book to book, from blurb to blurb. You are frantic now. Running across the length of the store, touching as many books as you can, opening them all and reading random passages, frantically seeking that one book you can take home tonight. But it's too late. You have been seduced by way too many books. You want to spend the night with all of them, at once. It makes you feel dirty and leaves you breathless at the same time. So you throw all the books you want in a pile and collapse on it crying. Let them have all your tears if you can't have all their words.

Nazreen Fazal Post

POETRY

And come sit
Next to me.

March 16, 2017,

It doesn't take much
To make me happy
No, not the diamonds
From Tiffany
Nor your precious pearls
Not dinner at some
Fancy restaurant
Neither tickets to the Opera
What I need
Is just a little assurance
That you love me
Enough
To put the phone down
And come sit
Next to me.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

So yeah, I am REALLY imperfect. ????

March 11, 2017,

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. ????

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

SO. DAMN. MUCH.

March 10, 2017,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

#Sheroes.

March 8, 2017,

Women never cease to amaze me. It is just incredible how much women can and continue to endure on a daily basis. From the moms on overdrive 24/7 to the single ladies out to make their name in a world against them to the girls who wake up and quash an assortment of stereotypes each day to grandmas in whose wrinkles rest struggles of entire generations.

Women are amazing. The only thing more awesome is the network of women that sustains us, that keeps us from crashing and burning, that gives us the strength to get up and take the next step. From mothers who've always got our backs to sisters who counsel you after heartbreaks to friends who give you a much needed smack when you wallow in self pity to coworkers who cheer you as you break new glass ceilings to random women who will at times understand your struggles better than even the closest men in your life. And yes, sometimes even the auntiji whose sole purpose in life is to see to it that you settle with a nice boy and birth an entire cricket team.

To the women in my life, I am nothing without you. Your smiles give me life, your soothing words are balm for the heart on the worst of days, and on other days your hugs give me the strength and courage to keep walking with my head held high no matter what the world says.

I am incredibly blessed to be surrounded by inspiring women who raise the bar for excellence every day, in every way. Celebrating our everyday #Sheroes. <3

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Today is my birthday.

March 7, 2017,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

crazy mixture!

March 6, 2017,

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 :)

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

childhood memories

March 4, 2017,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Time and again

March 2, 2017,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

10 Ways Women Hate Themselves

March 1, 2017,

One of the main by-products of the patriarchy--Internalized misogyny and sexism-- rears its ugly head when:

1. When a mother feels a a tinge of sadness colour her joy blue when a daughter is born. Other women folk will only add to the sorrow by berating her for giving birth to a burden. (Even though it's her husband who determined the sex of the child) When women let out sighs of relief when a son is born to them.

2. When women are taught their duties but not their rights. Women who do demand their rights are told they are ungrateful and asked to stay quiet and maintain the status quo by their own ilk.

3. When women feel compelled to hide that they are on their periods. Because this natural, monthly phenomenon disgusts them and those around.

4. When daughters are taught over generations to keep their voices low, eyes wide, ears alert, and smiles bright. Because one needs to be careful not to attract attention but be likeable at the same time. A smiling girl not aware of her surroundings is asking for it but a frowning girl aware and alert probably needs to be taunted to be put in her place.

5. When mothers want docile and obedient wives for their sons. When an adult man can be a man child who needs someone to pick after him constantly AND get away with it. But a woman with no 'feminine skills' like cooking, sewing, cleaning thinks something is wrong with her and feels guilty about it.

6. When mothers-in-law carry on abuse they received from their own MIL. Because nothing says patriarchy like women being made to fight each other over a man.

7. When modesty is made into a gendered term. When mothers scream at daughters for crossing their legs while their sons pee on the road.

8. When respect is taught to be a one way street. When new brides are taught that you must respect your husband no matter what. But no one tells her that she must expect and receive the same respect back.

9. When an opinionated woman becomes a blot on the family. When women beg their daughters to shush and become likeable so they can bag a decent man.

10. When little girls skip spring for autumn; shed their ambitions, one by one, as each year passes by and they see their sisters, mothers, and grandmothers stop resisting and settle instead to become pillars that hold the glass ceiling up.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

The kitchen is her laboratory

February 27, 2017,

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

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

To Those Who Beat Their Children

February 26, 2017,

Spanking ones child is considered a god given right in most Asian cultures. Many parents here don't think twice before slapping, pinching, or taking out the much feared 'daddy's belt' to "discipline" their children. This abuse is so pervasive in our culture that even in schools many teachers resort to corporal punishment if their student is seen as falling behind in the classes. Sometimes it is done in public, absolutely humiliating the child.

However, in a majority of these cases, the physical abuse is not inflicted for disciplining the child. It is done to take out the frustration of the adult. The child is just a punching bag for stressed out adults who are angry at their bosses/spouses/the world. They are using someone under their authority as a venting machine.
What are you teaching a child when you hit them for doing something wrong? You are teaching them that force is a legitimate option to overpower someone under your authority or physically inferior to you. You are teaching them that violence is an effective corrective measure. You are taking away from them the ability to resolve disagreements or scuffles amicably, with reason and compassion. And then you exclaim exasperatedly "Why is this generation so obsessed with violence?" Because you are teaching them that!

I understand the urge to set things right with force. I must admit that there have been occasions when I've seen an extremely unruly child, wreaking havoc everywhere, and wondered why the parents don't just "give him one". But that's the result of my culture conditioning me into thinking that force is necessary for good behaviour, for better results.

We are not okay with an adult hitting another adult when there is a disagreement. But we don't mind when an adult hits a child. Why is that? In the former situation, the other adult atleast has some power to retaliate. But the child is powerless because we are basically telling them that "You are small. You are insignificant. A person more powerful can and will use force to get the powerless one to obey." How isolating it must feel when the person who is supposed to care for you the most is the one who scares you the most.

Don't mistake me, I'm not promoting a world where kids run helter-skelter without any discipline or supervision of adults. I am simply saying do not hit a small child. The physical bruises of your blows may fade away, but the wound it inflicts on the mind and soul of that child is never going to heal completely. It will manifest either as insecurity and low self-esteem as an adult or in another abuse cycle in other relationships. You are creating bullies and wife beaters.
With each child you hit, an adult is born with lesser empathy, the threshold is lowered for impatience and intolerance. With each frustrated slap you mould an adult who believes might is right. And when entire communities do this, we are left with a society that gives too much power to its authorities to suppress its weak and powerless. Don't go looking for compassion then, there won't be any left.
#FromTheArchives

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

Five Ways to Improve Your Language Skills

February 22, 2017,

'How do I improve my speaking/writing skills?' is a question many in my inbox have. I thought I'd write down a list of five simple steps to get started.

1)Read More, Read Diverse
I started reading picture books then moved to comics (Tinkle and Champak FTW!) and Enid Blyton novels in primary school. In my teenage years I read a lot of YA fiction and then eventually graduated to more complex novels.
It's important that you read widely- in as many languages as you know, and from as many sources as you can. It exposes you to new and different cultures/societies/ways of thinking. Read African, Asian, non-white literature. Read writers from different centuries, belonging to different economic and social backgrounds. Read female authors. Pay attention to the way they use language, the turns of phrases, their metaphors, their allusions.
Read newspapers, opinion pieces, infomercials, backs of cereal boxes and shampoo bottles. Just make sure that everyday you are reading something new.

2)Talk to Others
Talk about what you read, what you know, what you'd like to know. Talk to those who have a better command over the language and it'll help you step up the ladder. This is important because the more you practise, the more articulate you will become. Often we have all the thoughts and even all the matching words in our head, but lack of practise makes us stutter and stammer when speaking in public. There's an interesting phenomenon happening in your brain though. Each time you stumble, your brain learns a new way of dealing with that failure. So the more you falter, the more the brain learns, till one day you find that you can speak effortlessly. (This is how we learn all things we know-walking, eating, riding a bike).

3)Write, Write, Write
Make it a habit to write a little bit everyday, be it a journal entry or a Facebook status. Write about your life, your dreams, your hopes for the world. But make sure you have a locked diary if you want to write about your crush. ;) It's a wonderful time to be alive. You have so many avenues to put forward your work. It may not be very good in the beginning, but like with anything else, you will see a marked difference in the quality as time passes by.
Experiment with different forms of writing, try poetry, satire, listicles- whatever excites you! Don't wait till you think you have mastered a language to write in it. The beauty of this process is that writing itself becomes your teacher.
Also, don't be afraid to form your own style. Everyone appreciates a new voice.

4)Use Google
Praise the Lord for Google! The moment you come across a word or phrase that's new to you, look it up. Look at its noun and verb forms. See how it's used in a sentence. And next time, if it's appropriate, use it when you write or say something. Learn words for different emotions. Learn descriptive words that describe places and things and movement and sounds. You will be amazed at how a single word can change the image you see in your head. 'The soft caress of a feather', 'the metallic twang of a spoon on a steel plate', 'the ball swished over his head' 'the coconut tree swayed in the wind'. Could you hear or feel or see these sentences? It's because of the key words in them. So use Google all day, everyday!

5)Daydream
This is the key. Build castles in the air. See stars where others see lampposts. Make your life an animated movie. Just make sure you check in with real life every now and then. :P
Daydreams give the best ideas. Don't hold back from letting yourself loose in your thoughts when need be. You will be surprised by how much your dreams can teach you. Borrow ideas from your dreams and translate them on paper. Voila! You have created something new and unique.

These are the five tips that I have. Feel free to add anything else that has worked for you.
#FromTheArchives

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

Six Ways to Pluck Nosy People Out of Your Life

February 22, 2017,

We've all had to face questions about our career, marriage plans, and little human appearances at least once in our life. If you are a woman, definitely more than once. But the thing is, no aunty or uncle has any business peeking into your life or uterus. So here are some tried and tested tips to stop people from meddling in your binezz.

1. Do not smile when they ask intrusive questions.
Smiling encourages these people. Intrusive folks are kinda like vampires. They feed off on silence and smiles, taking that as a sign to further suck your energy out. Do. Not. Smile. If possible, frown. Gagging, falling to the floor dramatically and spasming also works. Shout 'Et tu, Brute?' before pretending to die.

2. Change the subject.
Pretend you had temporary hearing loss and didn't hear what they said. Ask them about the new sari they are wearing or about the darling son who's in Amreeka now. If an uncle, ask him his opinion on the latest headline and plug your earphones in as he drones on.

3. Be Frank
If the hearing loss trick doesn't work, be straightforward and tell them you are not comfortable discussing personal matters with outsiders. They may get hurt, but that's the price you pay for unnecessarily meddling in others' lives. As the saying goes 'MaH wOmB man RuLeZz' (No there isn't any saying like that). If it's a marriage question, ask them why they want you to be as miserable as they are.

4. Shock and Awe
Some people don't learn with the above step, for them there is only shock and awe. One of my very good friends related this story to me- One random woman walked up to her at a wedding and asked her how many kids she has. Now my friend is not even married, let alone have kids. But this lady didn't bother with knowing anything about my friend before asking her this question. My friend decided to play along and said she has four kids. The lady was impressed and asked 'what does your husband do?' 'I am not married' my friend replied sweetly and walked away. Watch that jaw hit the floor!

5. Embarrass Them
If shock and awe doesn't work. Complete and utter humiliation is probably the last resort. My friends and cousins have given me a lot of tips to do this to persistent Uterus Territory Invigilators (UTIs). My cousin said, ask them to recommend the ideal position to conceive. Another friend says ask 'Aunty what worked for you and uncle?'. Or just ask, why are you so curious about whether my uterus is occupied or not? Are you a real estate dealer? Even if you are, trespassers on my uterus will be prosecuted.

6. Be Sassy!
Work that mouth! Tell them you have made 7 horcruxes out of your ovaries and they needn't worry. Tell them you are allergic to baby powder and diapers and nutty meddlers. Talk about your ambition to conquer the world and be an evil warlord, a spouse or a baby will only get in the way of your plans for total and complete world destruction.

It's irritating and tiring, these persistent questions. It is hard trying not to explode into flames when a self appointed well wisher tells you should marry before your biological clock's battery runs out or that you should put aside your career and focus on popping babies before your eggs dry out. If you are like me, you are probably sick of the phrase 'Good News'. Just remember that you have ultimate power over your timeline when it comes to career, marriage,or babies. Women, your uterus belongs just to you and maybe your baby, if you decide to have one. Give no one room to dictate how you should live your life. Be creative in shutting these people up and share with the rest of us how you did it through the hashtag #BetaGiveUsGoodNews.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

10 Life Lessons For My Younger Self

February 21, 2017,

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.

Love,
Me

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Be your own biggest well-wisher

February 19, 2017,

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.

#MentalHealth #Pain

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

A 9 point letter to parents

February 18, 2017,

Dear Parents,

I write this letter on behalf of your child, who loves you very very much. They appreciate everything that you have done for them- all the sacrifices, all the money spent on them, all the late night trips to the hospital- everything. They will always be grateful for that and respect you for it. Nothing they do will ever repay what you have done for them, please know that. BUT, there are some things which are weighing heavy on your child's mind. Things which make them cry alone at night and walk around with an aching heart. They haven't told you this because they are afraid they will hurt you. Here are the things they wish you knew:

1. Your son/daughter has their own personality. Even though they are your children, they are completely different human beings. They grew up in a different time, with different standards. What worked for you when you were young, will not necessarily work for them. Sometimes what you think is good for them is the very thing that is hurting them.

2. Your son/daughter desperately wants to be your friend. They want to discuss things with you-things that interest them, things that depress them. Don't you want to be their friend too? Have you wondered then why they aren't opening up to you? Could it be how you react when they tell you something personal?

3. Your daughter would appreciate it more if you invested the money set aside for her wedding on her education instead. She wants to grow in her profession and make a name for herself. She wants to be on her own two feet instead of having to depend on someone else for the rest of her life. And she hates that you have to pay an exorbitant amount to her in laws just to get her married. She doesn't want anything to do with a person who thinks of marriage as a business deal. You daughter doesn't want to become a baby making machine that makes perfectly round rotis too.

4. Your son wants to tell you that he doesn't want to marry a woman just because she is good at 'housework'. He doesn't want a maid for the house, he can just hire one. Instead he wants someone he can trust and truly love. Someone who gets him and inspires him to grow and better himself. Someone who will stand by him through the roughest of life's waves. You son wants a partner for himself, not a chef and cleaner for the entire household.

5. Your children value your inputs and suggestions when it comes to the important decisions in life, be it education, career or marriage. But more than anything they want your support and understanding when they make their own choices. Yes, you may have their best interests at heart, but standing by your child when he/she makes a choice they are sure of is the best thing you can do for them. When I look around, so many of the happy and successful people I know are at the place they are because of the support of parents who gave them enough freedom to grow.

6. Your child's happiness is more important than what people will think or say. Did the people or the society help you pay your bills or look after your family when you were sick? No. Then why must you let people's opinions come in the way of what your child truly wants to do? Why is 'society kya kahegi?' heavier than your child's mental and emotional well being? Is an engineering or medicine degree more valuable than your child's talent, passion and ambition?

7. The thing with love is, it's like a tree- the more you leave it free to expand its branches and shoot into the sky, the more firmly it spreads its roots into the earth. Your job is to nurture the sapling, be careful not to uproot the whole plant in the process.

8. Please loosen the grip you have over your child. You may not have noticed but he/she is finding it hard to breathe. And some of your children are hurting so bad because of this that they are contemplating self harm to end their pain.

9. Weren't there things you never did or could do because of fear of what people will say? When you think about those things, do you have anything except regrets? Please be the first one to stop this life-sucking, soul crushing dependence on other's opinions. Don't let regret be the only thing your child inherits from you.

I hope you will reflect on these points and have a heart to heart conversation with your child. It is long overdue and they will thank you for it.

Love

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

I have a confession.

February 17, 2017,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Next!

February 14, 2017,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

My siblings and I

February 11, 2017,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

The World™ and Leaving Our Mark

February 7, 2017,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

oh I don't know- DRAMA?

February 6, 2017,

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...

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

And when I was about to leave that last stretch of beautiful sky behind,

February 3, 2017,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

How many more children's spirits will we sacrifice at the altar of "education"?

What have we done?

What are we doing?

January 31, 2017,

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?

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

Time we told our daughters they are in charge of their own story.

January 30, 2017,

When you remove the patriarchy tinted glasses forced on you since childhood, a lot of things begin to clear up. You see things for what they are. You notice the 'little things' that have a lasting impact and how they end up forming attitudes of entire societies.

You see it when-- girls are asked to keep still and quiet while their brothers bounce off the walls; when a little girl is told "let your brother have it no"; when violence in boys is just 'boys being boys' but in girls is unseemly and unladylike; when girls are scolded for 'provoking' boys' aggression; when new brides are told "You must adjust the maximum you can"; when a woman with an opinion is considered 'oversmart' and people want her to be 'put in her place'; when parents fear 'overeducating' their daughter because she might develop higher expectations for her life and demand higher standards of her future spouse; when women are expected to minimise their personality to be likeable; when being likeable is more important that being ambitious or passionate or hardworking;

When society would rather have an unhappy and bruised married woman than a happy and fulfilled single woman/divorcee; when a whimpering boy is mocked for crying like a girl; when 'like a girl' is the worst insult for a boy; when men fear appearing feminine so much that they repress their emotions lifelong; when men don't have the emotional support network that women are encouraged to develop through their sister-networks; when women can't dream without being reminded that at the end of the day her family comes first; when women can't make choices for themselves without being guilt tripped; when biology is used to straitjacket women into singular choices; when mothers are expected to sacrifice everything for their family with a smile; when a woman slaving over a kitchen for 3 decades is 'just doing her job''; when girls are born with timelines and checklists that remain with them till their death.

Time we told our daughters they are in charge of their own story.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

One who knows it all. I am free.

January 29, 2017,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

ideal womanhood.

January 28, 2017,

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.

Last year 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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

POETRY

The Great Indian Stereotype

January 26, 2017,

They see curry on my plate
And begin their sad monologue
About how ‘Indian’ I am
Wisecracks about my limited career options
And remarks on my ‘pre-destined married life’
Gaffs at ‘The Great Indian Nod’
Reflecting their inability to distinguish our yes from a no
Throw in a few Bollywood songs
And they are done for the day
Signing off with a Namaste

I don’t say a thing
And sometimes laugh along
Yes, my accent is thick
And my Ts sound like machine guns
On a roll
But that’s why it’s called an accent, silly!
I do love me some curry with some red chilli
But on other days I’d rather kick back
With some Chinese
On the go.

No, we don’t dance when we are happy
Nor do we run around trees
When there’s joy, we
Laugh and smile
Amidst hugs and kisses
We sing, badly, in the shower
And dance when getting rid of pesky roaches
You see, it’s very tough
To explain what it’s like
To be Indian
To be an Indian woman
To be an Indian Muslim woman
My experiences are mine
And mine alone
So don’t put me in a box,
Along with your expensive pashmina shawls and ivory figurines,
And label me ‘exotic’
For I will break free and let you know that
I am you.

Maybe a little browner.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

Not a 'catch' but a 'match' ( My response to the matrimonial advert. (This pic is a real ad btw!))

January 26, 2017,

Dear Anant,
Your advertisement seeking a soulmate has left me in a tumble of emotions. With each word you wrote about yourself, and more about yourself, and even more about yourself, I fell in love a little more with your humility. I am not like others, Anant. I see you. I see that behind the youthful happy face, trapped inside a muscular body in a slender frame, lies a poet. How do I know that? With the earth shattering, heart rending rhyme of 'catch' and 'match'. I knew right then that you were the one.

Reading the rest of your autobiography, sorry advert, was mere confirmation of the fact that we are meant for each other. I like everything about you. Your intellectual side that comes out when you watch TED talks on YouTube, your artistic one with singing, and your responsible side when out of concern for your own wellbeing you do extreme sport abroad only. We all know that extreme sports aren't extreme until they are safe.

I also like my man with his head on his shoulders as opposed to anywhere else. Your zen views on the meaning of life and the need for experiences over accumulation of consumables has opened my eyes to a new way of thinking. And your use of 'is it not?' after each philosophical question has convinced me that you are a deeply spiritual being.

Anant, my dear, your advert has taught me more than all my teachers, life lessons, and TED talks combined. How did I not know that culture can't be bought at a store?! What do I do now with all the packets labelled ' Pure Culture' that I bought from Mr. Khanna all these years? My whole family used to mix it with our chai in the morning and drink it to increase our culture. But it has been in vain.

When I read that you are looking for a partner to explore other dimensions that both augment and heighten higher pursuits including meta physics, it was like I was made for you. I like to get high too.

My parents also fulfil your academic criteria. Both of them are post graduates from IIPM and are willing to write any admission test you want as long as you share the question paper in advance with them.

As for me, my mother tells me I look like Aishwarya, the neighbour's daughter. I've also been told that I am as pleasant as Bangalore weather in all months except April. I'm not moody at all. In fact, if you look at the back of my neck, there's a switch with which you can control my emotions. You can select which mood you want me to be in at any given point in time.

My interests are eclectic. They include finding out big fancy words in the dictionary and using them in emails, safe extreme sports, traveling abroad through google images, and thinking about the meaning of life.

I'm glad you don't care about food preferences. Not many are supportive of my strictly cannibalistic lifestyle. Which is a shame, considering it's 2017.

Anant, will you make space for me in your heart, your very spacious oyster, and your homes abroad?

Looking forward to your happy vibrations.
Your soulmate

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Here are somethings you don't know about me

January 25, 2017,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

POETRY

I'm beautiful and so are you.

January 23, 2017,

Shopping with girlfriends or at the hairdressers',
Flipping through magazines as I get my hair done
Page after page of glossy perfection
Sensuous curves and caramel skin so soft,
Image after image
Mocking me, calling me names
One places me in the ‘before’ selling distant dreams of a beautiful ‘after’
Dreams contained in big bottles and labelled lotions,
My skin needs lightening, body some tightening or,
they reveal, I face a future so bleak-
Men’s rejection, collapsing careers and eventual dejection

I can’t look at the mirror no more
That image is not me
It’s an ugly monster I’ve created,
So done with this,
Now time to change
Throw out all Chips and chocolates,
The cheese in my spaghetti, sugar in my tea
Push out carbs too-out you go potatoes
My body is in my hands and I am its sculptor
Carving those curves, perfecting that pout

I feel good - I must be beautiful now!
A glance at the magazines- a broken heart
The images look thinner,
Eyes brighter, lips fuller

Skin flawless with that ever present glow
My shame burns me
Why can’t I be like them?
I sit at the table
Boiled vegetables on my plate
Stuff myself and then run to the toilet
A finger down my throat
Out comes it all

*Flush*

Some calories down the drain!
An evolving competition
Me and those calculating calories till death do us apart

Tiredness treads in now
But that’s a good sign!
I must be on my way
Hopes high I head to my ally

'Mirror Mirror on the wall- who's the thinnest of them all?'

no lies, hidden truths no more
Deep breath, eyes open and I see
A whale
A big ugly whale

Frustration. Anger.

If perfection eludes me,
I must step up my game.
Pit stop and I pick up some pills
Now guaranteed a fine future ahead
I take them- 1,2,3 at a time
Day after day, week after week,

My body now starved, some pills popped,
I feel different. My body's not mine,
Instead a dying corpse
A sculptor’s worst nightmare
Her masterpiece shattering in her own hands.

In my race to perfection, I’d forgotten
That perfection, didn’t exist

Not in this world.

I wasn’t the lie, it was the image
Starved models make up caked,
Living lies,
Photo-shoots then photoshopped
Altered curves and concealed spots
Plastic smiles then painted on
Creating a fantasy; destroying million others

And mine.

So I take a step back and let my body speak for itself
It tells me to stop, this torture unbearable,
And look within
While my body starved, my soul did too
In the pursuit of perfection, I'd lost not one but two

The trials were testing and it took me some time
But I turned to the one who is perfect and He sorted it out
Cracks mended and tears stitched
I've prayed and the answer was lucid
To look beyond the body and go for the soul
This I shall polish and let shine for the world
The Creator created me this way and so it shall remain

I'm beautiful and so are you.
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Note: it was very tempting to put up a flattering photo. But that defeats the purpose of this altogether. This was taken just before I reached my heaviest. I am also quite unfashionable here. (The bag looks horrid) But I want to get over this need to put out only my best, filtered, photos, taken from the angle which makes me look thinnest. I reclaim my body, with all its curves and turns and fur (yes, all mammals have hair on their body!) It's time we stop comparing ourselves with others. There is no one normal. There are just normals

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

Dying with Dignity

January 21, 2017,

On the worst of days, when hate seems to have coloured all things great with strokes of rage, there is still love, lurking somewhere.
There is still beauty, budding in some seed a random person threw carelessly out with his half eaten fruit. There is still kindness and empathy and compassion, no, it hasn't all left us. It is there in the hearts and hands and souls of the givers amongst us, working not for money or for fame, but purely to uplift someone in pain. One such example is the incredible work the people at Institute of Palliative Medicine (IPM) Calicut do.

You have read the stories of those who fought cancer and survived, living to tell this painful tale. But you might not have read as many stories of those who reach the point of no return and quietly slip into death. Most of the times, in incredible pain, without a support system by their side.

This institute exists to fill the gap in healthcare we have today. Where it's all about symptoms, diagnosis, prognosis, cure. There is a denial of death. It is seen as a failure. When a terminal illness presents itself, the patient is given up on. Just when she needs the most support, in the final few days or weeks or months of her life, her case is closed. Untreatable. What should she do? Where should she go? How must she face death? How will her family cope with a missing her shaped space?

If given a choice, most of us would want to die at home surrounded by family. But the new truth is that a majority of us are probably going to die in an ICU, intrusive pipes fitted into every orifice of our body, just to prolong our life for a painful couple of days. Death with dignity has become some kind of idealistic wish.

IPM works tirelessly and constantly to make sure that this isn't the case.This organisation provides free medical and social care for people who have been given up on by the rest of the medical fraternity. Their mission is to be with the dying person till their last breath, making sure they exit this life in the most comfortable way. This could mean providing them morphine to ease their unbearable pain or counselling them to help them come to terms with their imminent end.

I had the opportunity to visit this facility during my recent trip to Kerala. My friend Dr Anwar Husain works there and invited my family to visit. He is one of the most inspiring persons I know. Someone who gave up a successful GP practice despite protests from family and friends to join a place where death is a daily occurrence. It might seem morbid, but he says that helping people die with dignity and peace is one of the most fulfilling work.

So this organization, with its small team of dedicated doctors, depends mainly on the incredible nurses and the huge student volunteer group. They provide home care and discourage people from getting admitted to hospitals. The student volunteers bring in their infectious energy and laughter and cheer up the patients during the visits. They talk to the family and listen to their woes. After the death, the family is given support during the bereavement period, when they are most vulnerable.

I have truly not seen anything like it. I know the world seems dark right now, but places like Institute of Palliative Medicine with its incredible people like Dr Suresh Kumar and Dr Anwar Husain give me hope. If they can be selfless, so can we. And imagine a world where everyone lives for more than themselves, where we make the other person's pain our own and try our best to heal it? No orange cheeto in power, no fascist leader can take away empathy from our hearts. There's beauty midst the worst of hate. We reclaim this narrative and weave our own story, one interspersed with more kindness than apathy, more love than hate, more understanding than cynicism. Now isn't that a world worth living for?

Nazreen Fazal Post

POETRY

To the fathers

January 15, 2017,

To the fathers
born on the day
Their children entered the world.
To the fathers
Spending every waking hour
Toiling and planning, saving and spending
To present their children better futures
Than their own pasts.

To the fathers
Shunning stifling norms,
Teaching boys to be kind
And moulding wings for
Their little girls to fly

To the fathers
Who are there,
At each and every step,
arms outstretched,
So when you fall,
you don't hit the ground.

To the fathers
Worn and torn,
Unable to take another step
But willing to bleed a little more
For a smile on their little one's face.

To the fathers
Guiding and leading
Cheering and lifting
Cracking bad dad jokes and
Showing the ways of the world
In the same breath.

To the super dads
And the ones out of breath,
Dizzy and drenched in sweat.
Thank you.

Your blood, sweat, and tears are not going unnoticed.
Your drive to provide and protect is not going unnoticed.
Your deep love is not going unnoticed.
You are seen.
You are loved.
You are cherished.
And you mean the world to us.
Love,
All the daddy's little girls and boys.
-----------------------------------------------------------------------
While the women in my life played a big role in making me who I am today (not saying I am a big deal!) It's my father who played one of the most central roles in my growth and development. The one who raised me to be strong against all odds. The one who pushed me even when I resisted, because he is the biggest believer in my potential. The one person who will give me honest feedback (that I reluctantly take) to keep me grounded. I can't thank God enough for blessing me with such an amazing father. This poem is for him and the millions of other unsung heroes inside dad suits. They don't get enough appreciation for what they do.

Nazreen Fazal Post

POETRY

#IWillGoOut

January 11, 2017,

Father,
You told me the streets weren't safe
So I stayed inside and watched
your son spread his wings and fly high
across the skies.
Mother,
You told me my chest will tempt men,
and when compelled, their acts won't be their fault,
not at all,
So I crouched and folded into myself and
shrouded what was left in all layers I could get.

Born with a rulebook
chained to both legs
I followed what was said:
"Minimise yourself, erase your presence,
flatten your curves and try self defence."
I destroyed everything feminine in me
so no blame can come my way.
And yet, here I am, victim of another faultless crime.
Another statistic and a fleeting national headline.

Now in my grave, I await,
the verdict from the moral brigade that
will find a loophole and dig till it
frees the man from culpability
and nails me instead
for being too lax about protecting
the only thing worth saving in me:
dignity and the honour of my society.

Tell me, what was my share in this bloody fate?
What looseness in my character justifies hate that
wishes to see my body turned inside out?
Was my house too inviting of strange men?
Was my bedroom door painted the wrong shade?
Was my door latch giving the wrong signals?
Was I showing my skin while unconscious?
Was my breathing too sensual?

Or is it that two simple words: "Don't Rape"
are heavier on the tongue
than a lifetime of rules that don't make sense?
Or, maybe, is it just that nothing will ever be enough
to save me from being the victim
of the wrong chromosome?
Maybe it ends only when I cease existing.
What else explains
this perfect student
failing the final test?

#IWillGoOut

If we aren't safe in our homes either, why must we languish indoors? I will go out. I will reclaim public space. I don't care if femininity outdoors is jarring for you. Your comfort is your problem. This is our right.

Nazreen Fazal Post

POETRY

No.

January 3, 2017,

No.

No is not a word.
Not at all.
No is a period with no
Brackets in sight.
No is a sentence
That begins and ends in itself
No is a novel
With no plot twists at the end
No is a compression of
Histories of strained Yes.
No is enough.
No you can’t touch me
No I won’t kiss you
No I will not bend
To please
You
Or anyone else.

Yes, I am a (wo)man but
No, this is my body and
I will choose when to say yes and
A No is not a Yes
Not even if you beg.
No is enough.

But sometimes No is silence-
a small shriek,
Or tear streams
Sliding down wet cheeks
Wiped off by
Shaking backs of hands
Or threats of slaps so
Sometimes No breaks down
Never to be fixed and
Sometimes No crawls out
In the middle of the night. But
Othertimes No comes back
With a knife in its hands
Because, sometimes,
No takes a while
But arrives
With a bang.

Here,
Now listen,
Make No enough,
Before it isn’t anymore.

#Bengaluru #BangaloreMassMolestation #consent
#YesAllWomen

Art by Fathima Nisar

Nazreen Fazal Post

POETRY

Dear World

January 1, 2017,

Dear World,
If you could stop
Spinning
For a second-
Just a moment-
We need to talk,
Right now.
I see cracks where
Men carved your skin,
Etching borders that
Starved your kids
Midst wars that bleed
Those who don’t even know
What they mean.
The world is in a whirl
And where do you start
Solving what’s tearing us apart
When your sight is met
With imagined borders that elect
Who’s safe, who’s a threat.
Your children are dying,
Your rivers are drying,
And I know you still turn
So sorrow never
Reaches your shore
You spin because
Standing still is
Letting grief stifle
From within.
Dear World,
If you could stop
Spinning
For a second-
Just a moment-
Let’s talk,
Right now, about
The End

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Nomadic childhood

December 29, 2016,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Love,
Your mother

December 28, 2016,

Dear Child,

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.
Love,
Your mother

Nazreen Fazal Post

POETRY

cycle

December 27, 2016,

The girl looks out at
rain, straining to hear
the pitter patter as it hits
the window sill,
anything to quit the
cries of the bitter battle
as father batters mother
for a mere tea spill or
a word deemed ill
She forgets and it doesn't matter,
because mother says
in topsy turvy worlds
this is just background score
you mute, and bruises are
where you blend make-up more
So the girl looks out at
birds, escaping rainy blows,
and wonders whether
baby birds fly lower and
cower in front of daddy birds too,
Till mother walks in and
yanks her out the dream
with a smack across the cheek
and yells
"Make tea before
bhai loses it too."

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

The 10 Phases of an International Student Abroad

December 26, 2016,

I wrote this a couple of years ago while doing my Master's away from home. I was alternatively homesick and jubilant. That's what student life does to you...

The 10 Phases of an International Student Abroad

I have been in a pensive mood today. And my deep, deeeep thought have led to this finding- An international student’s life is similar to a lunar cycle. Our feeling for the place we are in wax and wane according to how far we are into the term. Not convinced? Here’s proof then:

Phase 1: PRE-DEPARTURE-NERVOUS EXCITEMENT: This is when you are so, absolutely excited that you are actually terrified. It’s like a million butterflies- with baby butterflies in their stomachs- doing back-flips in your stomach. You have a million things running through your mind as you pack your bags for one year abroad. You are excited about meeting new people and at the same time horrified at the prospect of not making any friends at all. In my case I atleast had the stand by option of having Chalani as my room mate. Knowing someone for three years classifies them as a friend, right? ( Sorry, Chal, you were just a backup). This phase also involves endless nightmares about embarrassing yourself in your new class.

Phase 2: ON ARRIVAL- THIS IS IT! : This is when you land and realize that your months of preparation, endless editing of personal statements, and follow up emails begging for reference letters has led up to this moment. I remember feeling so incredibly blessed to have this great opportunity at hand. And boy was I hyper (and the fact that I’d demolished a large pack of m&ms in the flight did not help).

Phase 3: SETTLING IN: WHAT NOW?: I don’t know if I am the only one who feels this, but every time I am in a new place and I finish unpacking, I feel unhinged. It’s that moment when you finish making your bed, sit down and just sigh- What now? Suddenly, you are overwhelmed with homesickness which soon leads to a panic attack. All your thought are in CAPITALS. ‘WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING HERE?’ ‘OMG, WHY DID I LEAVE HOME TO COME HERE OF ALL PLACES?’ ‘I AM GOING TO FAIL MY DEGREE’ ‘IAMTAKINGTHENEXTFLIGHTHOMENOW’ (this is when you are so upset that you forget to space your thoughts). This isn’t a pretty phase and it doesn’t help one bit that when you look outside your window all you can see is grey skies and ugly brown backs of buildings (Before coming I had this huge fantasy that I’ll get a room with a huge window with a comfortable ledge where I could just sit for hours and look at the London eye or Big Ben. Fat chance).

Phase 4: NEW BEGINNINGS: The first week here was a flurry of orientations and inductions. I also managed to collect a drawer full of pamphlets, leaflets, maps; enough to have killed a few trees. These meetings are fun because you meet new people (and people, you will later realize, you won’t meet again for the rest of the term). You feel good knowing that there are others in the same boat and you manage to get yourself excited about your course again.

Phase 5: CLASSES BEGIN: LOSING YOURSELF: I remember my first class vividly. It was a 10 am class which I was so nervous about that I was waiting outside well over an hour before it began. I was literally shivering. I went in, with 50 other students, and let panic awash me as I saw a sea of new faces. It’s funny because I’ve faced this situation a dozen times already (I’ve studied in about 10 schools!) and it never fails to overwhelm me. There is that moment when you think you will never find your feet again, but you take a deep breath and dive in anyway.

Phase 6: THAT-MOMENT-WHEN-YOU-REALIZE-YOUR-PREVIOUS-DEGREE-WAS-A-JOKE-AND YOU-ARE-IN-FACT-THE-DUMBEST-PERSON-ON-EARTH: I have a BA in Communication Studies and Literature so, naturally, I was a little under-confident about pursuing a Masters in Political Science. This feeling magnified a thousand fold and shattered my self-esteem to bits after my first seminar. It’s a wonder I didn’t cry in the class because I-WAS-LOST. I felt like a 5 year old sitting in on a conversation among adults. I had NO CLUE whatsoever about what they were talking about and all I wanted to do was wish that I could morph into an Ostrich so I could bury myself and not see any of this. This feeling will subsequently fade only to reappear mid-term when you are left anchor-less in a sea of readings which are Greek to you.

Phase 7: FINDING YOUR FEET: ‘MAYBE I CAN DO IT AFTERALL’: This is around 3 weeks into the term when you realize it’s not so tough after all. You begin to enjoy your course and what you are studying genuinely interests you. This is my favourite bit (duh!) because I feel like all this was worth the struggle. I feel this intense urge to study to know more. My friend Misha’ari recently wrote about this feeling- Philomathy: "to love learning; to seek acquisition of knowledge and facts." It’s really a wonderful thing to experience! I felt so happy and grateful that I really enjoyed what I was doing.

Phase 8: STRESS BUILD- UP AND LETTING OFF STEAM: This is something I am really embarrassed about- I get stressed easily. If I have multiple things to do I sometimes blank out and go crazy. This happened a little after mid-term when I felt so over-burdened with readings (stop rolling your eyes!) that I just broke down. I had a good crying session and an hour long conversation with my dad, telling him I can’t do this anymore. The sob session did end eventually. I think it’s a weird coping mechanism. This is how I let off steam and it does help me get back on track.

Phase 9: EXPLORING NEW PLACES: This is one of my favourites bits. It’s after all the drama and letting-off-steam episodes when I suddenly realize that I am living in the heart of London. My hall is a stone’s throw away from Trafalgar Square and I am about 10 steps away from the Thames. So why the hell am I sweating the small stuff?!

I like taking detours from my way back from uni and just checking out random nooks and corners of London. I am big on aimless wandering, where I just walk, ignoring all maps,with no place in mind. And this is the best way to really ‘feel’ a new place because, for some weird reason, I don't like mapping places geographically and fragmenting them with streets and signs. I like to map them with what I feel when I am there. It’s difficult to explain. It’s like getting a sense of something by running your hands over its bumps, ridges and crevices instead of actually seeing it.

My memories of places are peppered with people and obscure spots instead of landmarks. What I tend to remember is sipping on steaming coffee in a small café and listening in on an old couple’s banter, after a long walk in the cold. What I cherish more than the standard tourist picture is chancing upon cozy second hand bookstores, hidden amongst bright shops selling novelty souvenirs. And what I enjoy most here is the conversations I have with random people in the most unexpected of places. My favourite one was at the supermarket(!) when this old lady taught me how to choose fresh bread by feeling its crust. She then told me that she learnt it from her grandfather and uncle who were both bakers. I never met her again, but I’ll still remember that instance because it is a wonder, when you think about it, that two strangers, from different spheres of life, can meet and touch each others’ lives for the briefest of moments.

Phase 10:GETTING COMFORTABLE: FORMING A ROUTINE: There’s a tendency for things to fall into place when you are not looking. You will not realize that your life has sorted itself into a semi-formed routine that you enact everyday. Wake up- Have a strong cuppa coffee- Facebook-Walk to Uni- Pretend to study- walk back- fall asleep on your readings. This happens without your knowledge. And it’s a nice feeling when you get a drift of what’s going on. You are finally comfortable. In this huge city, with its grey skies, wet roads and polite people, you have finally found a spot for yourself. It’s comfortable in the sense that it grows on you. In the sense that you forget the discomfort before you found it. And you realize that you are happy. For that moment at least.

Nazreen Fazal Post

POETRY

Chase me with a doll…

December 25, 2016,

I was 7 when you came to see us. You, a visiting relative, came stocked with sweets, toys and tales aplenty. My brothers and I loved you, for you added colour to our bleak, dusty existence. You enthralled us with stories from- what was to us, the biggest wonder in the world- the city. Rapt, we would listen when you described the big buses which can carry A Lot of people at a time and how it can drive without stopping (Unlike our lazy bullock). We would watch you with wide eyed wonder as you showed with your arms stretched wide, how wide the roads are and run, clutching the end of your kameez, giggling, as you showed us how the trains run. We laughed when you told us about the People Of The City sitting on a chair to pee and felt sad for the poor Women of the City who have so few clothes to wear that half their bodies are left uncovered.

I was so amazed by you, that when you came that night and asked me to come outside with you, I gladly obliged. I still remember how dark the night was and how tightly I held on to your hand as we walked into the bushes. I couldn’t contain my excitement, anticipating what new things you would show me this time. I was already preparing to wake my brothers up after we went back to tell them that you had chosen only me to give this special gift. And mid-dream you touched me. At first my cheeks, then my tiny chest…then with your groping fingers you undressed me. You did things which my 7 yr old mind couldn't grasp. I lay there, biting down the pain and holding back the screams…maybe I need to prove myself to deserve the gift? Surely there was a gift?

And then, when you were done, you got up and left. I lay there, in the bushes, bleeding, waiting for you to come back with the gift. You never came back.

The next day my father found me, lying naked, next to the bushes. He rushed back into the house and saw that you had left. He came back to me and jolted me out of sleep- A light dream where I was playing with a pretty doll you’d promised you would bring me. He woke me up and slapped me. Again and again and again. Then he sat down and cried as he pulled at his hair. I wanted to go and hug him, ask him what the matter was- but I was scared he would beat me up again. I stayed there till his loud sobs turned into whimpers and eventually died down. Then he picked me up, took me inside and wrapped me in a blanket.

I have stayed in ever since.

You visited me often, in my darkest nightmares. I run and you chase. Chase me with a doll…till I fall off a cliff and wake up in tears.

Yesterday was the last dream I had of you. 9 yrs. For 9 yrs I haven’t slept without seeing you in my dreams. I yearned to sleep without waking up. Without tearing up. Without knowing that I am torn
.
Forever, unmade.

So here I lie, floating in the river, dreaming blissfully of things other than you.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

Profile of a Granduncle

December 24, 2016,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

POETRY

I orbit the universe

December 23, 2016,

My skin is a wheatish brown
my grandmother tried to make pale
with talcum powder-white face.
An in-between shade
that couldn’t escape skin trade
which placed your worth
on a quantified colour scale.
My body is Disrupted
By defiant curves, inappropriate
till appropriated by white girls
in short shorts and tank tops,
becoming hot shots while
we mourn childhoods lost.
The smiles erased by roving hands.
and hunched shoulders
hiding bosoms from leering eyes.

My faith is a Peace
that is personal,
held ransom by a mere piece
of cloth that agitates the viewer
not the wearer.
So they gather in their panels of
chat show channels
minimize my voice and dismiss my choice,
Throw what I know out the window because
‘Freedom is measured by what you show’

I’m a body coerced to
accept the constant viewing and
be spectacle to the relentless gaze and
surrender the rest of my days to
proclaim I am human
in more than one way.
A pursuit in vain because
I’m the disjointed product of
labels that never expire.
Frankenstein's new monster in
an experiment gone haywire.

But before you take your
predetermined talking points and
attempt to micromanage my life,
Stop.
Ask me what I am.

I’m a collage of
super-imposed identities.
Let me show you,
gaze into my soul,
Wait,
not through, Not over-
look into me and
allow yourself to see
that this entity is
A kaleidoscope of realities
straddling parallel histories.

I'm a shooting star in a distant galaxy
of dreams and unrealised fantasies
that just because you don’t perceive
doesn't cease to exist.

Accommodate this truth and
chant it till you understand:
You can't tether me to one world because I,
I orbit the universe.

Nazreen Fazal Post

POETRY

She was born a girl.

December 18, 2016,

I’d like to apologize
For a crime so great
That it demands punishment severe
I am sorry
For being born
With the wrong chromosomes
In my defense, I wasn’t asked to choose
‘Would you like an XY or XX?’
‘My personal recommendation is XY,
It’s hot in the streets I hear!’
I apologize that my chest isn’t flat
And that my hips form curves
I do understand that my body
Invites attention,
In fact demands it!
So sorry if I didn’t take your crude passes
With a demure smile
But I know better now.
I apologize for my presence
In the public space
It must take a lot
Not to pounce on me.
So sorry that I provoke
The caveman in you
Every time I step outside.
I apologize for demanding
That my sister gets rights
‘cause, in the end she asked for it.
After all, it was her fault
That she was born a girl.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

Languages .

December 16, 2016,

Something that all languages have in common is that they all possess reservoirs of lethal words designed to hurt. Often these words might not be dangerous by themselves, but when coupled with a harsh tone and dressed in resentment, they are more hurtful than physical blows.

These words don’t hurt in the same way. They bear down on you differently based on the time, style of delivery, and who unleashes them on you. There are the blunt words which hurt without leaving a mark to show. The sharp words are so swift that you don’t even realize that you are suddenly bleeding inside. The paper cut words come when you least expect it. Then there are the words that choke, they slowly form a noose and curl themselves around you, strangling you a little more each day till taking another breath hurts.

I see words when I watch people talk. As they projectile out of mouths I can see how perfectly coated they are in resentment. I see them slap and strangle, cut and choke. I see them hitting the other person and extracting a reaction of the same or more magnitude. These words never die or disappear. They are just hanging in the air. Often they launch themselves into unknown crevices of your being, only to declare themselves the moment before you crash.
Did I say they never help? They don’t.
These words have their own sounds too as they go about wreaking havoc. There’s crack of the whip word, the slicing knife word, the crushing wood word, the shattering glass word, the slap on the face word. Do you hear them? Strain your ears a little more, you will.

All these words hurt, but at least they are honest about their intent. The one I detest the most is the deceitful word. The one masquerading to be on your side, when all along it was just chipping at the corners of your sanity, eating away whatever peace of mind you had. They are the worst.

Wait, maybe not. The worst words, the most lethal ones, are the words of mass destruction. The ones which destroy everything, cut through all relations, wipe away years of trust, and crush all dreams. They leave no love behind. And, most of important of all, they ensure that every single heart in the vicinity is also scarred for life. Yes, they are the worst.

Where do these words spring from though? Surely they don’t exist in a vacuum. Maybe finding the story of that word will cause it to let its guard down. Maybe these words need to be caught midair, before they hit you. Maybe they need to be examined for what they really are- flying debris of hurt.

But there are other words too, thankfully, to help us cope.
The kind word, the loving word, words of solace, the words that envelop you in a warm embrace even when you are breaking into a million pieces. These are the words that we need more than anything at this point in time. Maybe your word can be the first one in this new story that we weave for ourselves. Or maybe you can look in and change the story of your word. If nothing less, maybe you can hold back your broken word and nurture it till you heal. Whatever you choose, let it be only the good word that escapes your lips today.

#FromTheArchives

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

Ripples of Kindness

December 8, 2016,

How many times have you witnessed a 'Random Act of Kindness'? Maybe someone paid for your coffee when you didn't have change. Maybe they opened a door for you when your hands were full. Maybe they said a kind word when your day was dull.
Isn't it beautiful when you are the receiving end of such good deeds? Doesn't it make you want to do something like that for someone else?

Do it! Let's start an avalanche of kindness. Let's start the ripple now so that we can usher in 2017 with more love and kindness instead of hate and despair.

How do we do it?

First. Like the air hostess keeps telling us- secure your own oxygen mask before helping others. Keep a gratitude journal. This is for your eyes only. It could be online or scrawled on a tissue. Write at least one thing that you are grateful for each day till the year ends. (You can continue if you want to) Comment and let me know if you plan to do this. We'll come back after New Year's and see how it made a change.

Second. Comment below pledging small acts of kindness we can all do. Readers going through the comments, if you feel a certain action is something you can do too, reply to it and write 'Me too!'.

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

It is time we celebrate us, the perfectly imperfect ones.

December 3, 2016,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

5 Ways Men Can Survive Feminazis [Or Women Empowering Themselves] #HowToSurviveAFeminazi

November 20, 2016,

The Times of India believes that "It ain't easy being a man in today's world..with Feminazis turning up the volume." I believe they are right, the greatest threat to HuMANity is not climate change or wide income inequality or alien invasion or nuclear Armageddon at the hands of a stale orange cheeto with small hands. It is women who ask for equal rights. It's simple maths: When men have enjoyed so many rights for centuries and women so little, when the latter claim more rights, the former will lose some of them. Duh!

To help men get through these very trying times, where women can speak up without being disciplined by their menfolk, I have come up with a list of ways they can cope.

1. Grow a moustache
This should be obvious but I am writing it down in case excessive exposure to feminazi radioactive waves have interfered with your mental capacity.
Your masculinity is directly proportional to lushness of your upper lip fuzz. If you have a beard, even better. Use lush products, beard oil, the tears of Dobby, ashes of the old 1000 rupee notes... anything to thicken your mannifier (man signifier...geddit?) If you are of the group that can't grow anything more than a soul patch or goatee, tough luck. The Feminazis will smell out your lack of masculinity and feast on your blood and maul your hairless face.

2. Don't smile
It's a truth universally acknowledged that a man smiling must be a 'mangina' or 'White Knight' waiting to be whipped by a Feminazi. So don't move your lips upwards! Plus, what do you poor guys even have to smile about? Your life is so difficult with all the extra money you earn for the same work women do, and the access to public spaces at all times, and the ability to walk outside without thinking that people are undressing you with their eyes. Even the foetus you has a tough time, getting neglected when it is feticide time.The world really doesn't give you much to smile about.

3. Stay away from Pink
Pink is the colour of your destruction. Pink is the name of the movie that showed you the outrageous concept of consent and 'no means no'. Do Not Go Near It. If you have pink lips or tongue, adopt unhygienic oral practises to change it to brown or black- don't brush, smoke, chew tobacco. Oral cancer is better than telling the world that you support the royal colour of the feminazis.

4. Don't Cry
It's a well known secret among women that the most powerful Feminazis empowered themselves by drinking #MaleTears every full moon night. Drinking male tears is what gave them power to win the right to vote, to drive, to work, to get educated. Guard your tear ducts the way a woman walking down a narrow lane at night guards herself. Feminazis may tell you that you must not let societal norms and expectations of masculinity stop you from expressing yourself, but don't listen to them. They just want your power giving male tears.

5. Stop Being a Decent Human Being
Feminazis just want you to not be a shitty human being and stop trampling on their rights. How dare they ask you to be a decent human being! The sheer arrogance of this demand, asking you to keep aside your god given, millennia old male privilege and look at the real problems facing women! Why should you, a person who was blessed with male genitalia, have to worry about the life threatening, quality reducing issues that feminazis drone on and on about? Why should you care that teenage girls are given rape punishments by village panchayats? What is it to you that the state decides when and how a woman's womb should function? Why should you have to give a crap that parents invest in their son's future more and consider their daughter a liability? Who really gives a shit that your neighbour might be beating his wife black and blue every night? And really, how is it your problem that women can be gangraped in a bus?

So protest against these feminazis and their irritating requirements that you forfeit some of your privileges so they can function easily in their day to day lives. Instead, be a shitty person. As long as you are a MAN all's good, am I right or am I right?

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

But no, they are JUST____

October 1, 2016,

Listen up, cause I am going to share something very personal. Yeah go grab that cuppa tea, I'll wait.
"What do you do?" "What are you?" these are the two most repeated questions when we are midst an introduction. This question is a weird one, over generations it has been distilled to mean something very specific : what role are you performing in the capitalist world to survive/ thrive / make more money than the rest. And thus the replies: I am an engineer, I am a dentist, I am a manager, I am an analyst. These are the expected answers. They make the questioner satisfied, okay this person has some money. But sometimes you don't get the questions you want to answer, or the answers you want for a question. So you have a home maker saying she is a house wife, or maybe someone else referring to her as 'just a housewife'. I hate this word 'just' when attached to a person. It's the most limiting, dreadful word ever. Especially when society has decided that this word will be used only for those who do unpaid Labour. No one says she is Just a CEO or he's just a surgeon. But somehow a home maker is just that- a homemaker. Someone who's not financially independent is “just” that- unemployed.
It stops mattering that these people have lives outside their roles. Maybe lives far more enriching and fulfilling than most CEOs and CFOs. But no, they are JUST____
How many times have our mothers been made to feel terrible about themselves, their Labour ridiculed by their own blood? Because we have deluded ourselves into thinking that a person's worth is equivalent to the money they make.

Maybe that's why no one answers the question 'What are you?' with
'I am a dreamer, I am a carer, I am a giver, I am a sharer' instead we have taken what someone does 8 hours of their day and made it their sole anchor of being. We don't value what that person does in the remaining 16 hours. Maybe that CEO doesn't have any life outside her work and is JUST a CEO and nothing else. Maybe the manager makes a ton of money but has the dullest personality that puts even his parents to sleep.
What you do to put bread on the table and a roof over your head has no bearing on you as a person.( Unless you are a bank robber or a con artist or Taher Shah) Detach your worth from these temporary titles and free yourself from the burden of being JUST one thing. Be everything you want to be and more. And when someone asks you what you do, you know what to say

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

Weighing heavy on my heart and mind are a few things for the last few days

June 13, 2016,

A lynching for alleged beef eating in India; another beating up of an 80 yr old man in Pakistan for eating in public during Ramadan;
a brutal rape of a dalit woman in her own bedroom; an absolute mockery of justice when the rapist of an unconscious, intoxicated woman was given 3 months jail time for fear of the 'impact on his future'; and now, the massacre of 50 of the Gay community in the USA.

It's too much to take. Especially, when on the side reel, playing on loop, is the everyday violence endured by the people in war torn nations, living under occupation, fleeing death only to meet it in another continent.

It. Is. Too. Much. For. The. Heart. To. Take.

Too much of bloodshed. Too much of hate. Too much of bigotry. Too much of violence playing out in every second of everyday.

And to cope with all of this and function normally what do we end up doing? We limit who we empathise for. We keep quotas on grief and become stingy with our tears. We question those who don't mourn like us or with us. We stop caring about the obliteration of the 'other' and mock those who are shocked by it.

We don't pause to think 'Why not mourn together?'. Because mourning for and with another community necessitates building bridges between us first. And to build bridges we need to break the walls separating us, we need to open the windows nailed shut so that understanding breezes in, we need to draw the curtains of prejudice from around our hearts so we can finally see. And that's painful.

But this is a necessary pain. It's the pain that precedes healing and growth. It's the darkness before dawn. And then, once the curtains are drawn, the windows opened, the ceilings shattered, and the bridges built, you are free to love and be loved. You are free to grieve, to cry, to laugh with whoever you will.

I know it's easy to feel helpless and think that this is the end. That there's no good in the world anymore. But please, if there's anything you should kill, it's that thought.

I strongly believe that the mind-numbing violence we see in the news is the compounded effect of everyday injustice in our societies. The small injustices in our daily lives coalesce to come back and shock us out of our socks.

So listen, be a cliche- be the change you want to see in the world. Be just. Be good and encourage others to join you.

If you talk negatively about a
community/religion/person often. Stop now. Learn about them.
If you teach your kids to be suspicious of people based on their background and beliefs. Stop now. Tell them to befriend and get to know them. If you hit your child to 'discipline' them. Stop now.

Apologise and TALK to them instead. If you hear someone spreading hate and misunderstanding. Stop now. Educate them.
If you come across a victim of hate/prejudice/sexual assault and feel the need to question their motives.
Stop now. Listen quietly and be there for them,
If you see your leader/your father/your guru perpetuating hate against a group. Stop now. Call them out and then in, into understanding.
If you see an obstacle in the middle of the road/project/mission. Stop now. Be the person who clears the way for others.
If you see a hurting person/animal. Stop now. Be a relief to them.

Take a vow that from this moment you will add no injustice into this already messy world. Vow that you will stand with the truth even if it is against you; that you will be a vessel of understanding-- a means for people to come together; that you will elevate the voices that have been stifled; that the only thing you will not tolerate is hate; that when we leave, our legacy will be of love and compassion.

"You who believe, uphold justice and bear witness to God, even if against yourselves, your parents, your relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, God can best take care of both. So refrain from following your own desire, so that you can act justly- if you distort or neglect justice, God is fully aware of what you do."

Nazreen Fazal Post

ADVENTURE

TAKE OFF CONTROL

May 15, 2016,

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).

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

One day I want to see

May 15, 2016,

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

Nazreen Fazal Post

LIFE

MOVING BEYOND MOTHERHOOD

May 3, 2016,

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.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

How to MAKE a Girl in Ten Steps

April 12, 2016,

For those who don't want to break her in ten steps.
1) Welcome her into the world with the love and care that all babies deserve. Be grateful for the beautiful little human curled up in your arms. Free a hand to backhand slap those who say sympathetically "Don't worry, next time you will have a boy." Pre-dig a ditch into which you can push people who don't know biology 101 and blame the mother for giving birth to a baby girl. Seal the ditch.

2) Give her the same childhood that her brothers enjoy. Don't divide world into inside (women) and outside (men). Tell her that the public spaces are hers too. Hold onto the back of her bike as she learns to cycle for the first time. Smile as she giggles when she feels the wind on her face. Tend to her scraped knee when she falls down and send her right back on. High five those who say keep her inside because the sun will make her dark, ugly, and un-weddable, with an iron brick, with nails, on the face.

3) Create a space where boys and girls can learn tasks and skills without worrying about gender specificity. Don't strictly divide the chores between your girls and boys. Let him wash the dishes and let her help you fix the sink. Your son will be grateful he can cook to survive hostel and your daughter will remember you when she changes a flat tire in the middle of a deserted highway.

4) Make values gender neutral. Flip the norm. Inculcate in your girls the courage to stand up for themselves. Celebrate them when they are brave. Teach your sons to be kind and polite. Bring out their compassionate selves. Teach them how you can stay true to yourself. Put empathy above all else. But also show them both how to upside down kick people who scream "log kya kahenge" (what will people say) from rooftops.

5) Empower her with education. Identify her passion and talents and point to her the spring board from which she can leap, spread her wings and soar. Roll your eyes back into your skull if people tell you "But...but why are you sending a girl to study when she has to get married soon?"

6) Teach her about her body with love, understanding, and tenderness. Give it your all to ensure that she has a positive relationship with her own body. Shatter the concept of an ideal/normal body or skin type. Don't just tell your girls and boys to be comfortable in their own skin, practise what you preach.

7) Shove sickly sweet gajar halwa into the mouths of people who tell your child that he/she is too short/too tall/very fat/so skinny/unacceptably dark. Between the shoving of the gajar halwa, tell your child "Beta/Beti I give you explicit permission to ignore everything this aunty/uncle says because they are absolute morons who don't respect what God created and are still suffering from a postcolonial hangover which makes them hate their own skin. Also, please be critical of the media you consume. " Okay, maybe not in those very words.

8) Talk to her about sex positively. Ensure that your relationship is open and supportive enough for her to come to you with her worries and doubts. Guide her gently through the rough terrains of puberty, adolescence and teenage. Kick shame out of the conversation. Don't rest her honour and worth in her vagina. Teach your sons about the female form and physiology. Show him how to respect women irrespective of his relation to them. Subject those who blame sexual harassment on the victim to a lifetime of Taher Shah songs and Donald Trump videos and tell them they asked for it.

9) Imprint on her mind that she doesn't need another person to make her happy. Enable her to stand for and by herself if needed. Teach her that no man is entitled to her body. No man can control her thoughts. And no man can demand her respect and servitude against her wishes.

10) Invest your time, effort, and resources into her present and future. Don't kill her aspirations in the name of arbitrary age limits by which she is supposed to marry and bear children. In fact, tear up and burn the cultural check list for women thrust upon her since her birth. As a parent, as a sibling, as a spouse, as a friend, be the cheerleader that she has been for you throughout your life.

tl;dr: Remember she is a human being before anything else. Be allies for each other. Don't unload your cultural baggage on her shoulders and make womanhood a straightjacket to control her. Zoom out of her womb. Period. (And don't make that a taboo either)

Nazreen Fazal Post

POETRY

Not A Fairy Tale

March 30, 2016,

Once upon a time, in a far away land, lived a people who did not care for the Little Things. They cared so little for the Little Things that soon the not-so-little things became mere Little Things too. One may wonder what took up all their attention, so much so that they stopped caring for the poor Little Things. Well, it was the Big Things- much much bigger-happening in lands across the sea. If that wasn’t enough to divert the attention, some among them would walk around with seals in their hands and mark others’ foreheads with bright red labels that read ‘NOT US’. Then another group made a different seal in neon green that said ‘ANTI NOT US’. Soon they declared that those without a seal need to be hunted down as they don’t belong anywhere, hence proving dangerous. So they squabbled on, over these Big Things- the happenings of far away lands and If not that then the color coded seals they’d invented just a few days back.

The Big Things took so much of their time that one day the Little Things decided they couldn’t take it anymore and slowly faded out of their lives. The people didn’t notice it on the first day. Neither the second. Then on the third day they realized something was amiss.

The wife did not smile at her husband through her sleepy eyes, neither did he turn to cuddle her. The husband did not smell the fresh coffee brewing in the kitchen. The kids did not come running to squeeze them in a warm hug. The neighbor didn’t say hello in the elevator, gone was the friendly smile. The roses in the garden were as perky as ever but had no scent whatsoever. The sky was clear but the sun didn’t shine. The breeze refused to play with the hair. The birds went about their business without chirping their songs. The trees stood proud, offering no shade. And just like that the world had lost all its colour and smell and flavor.

While the men and women were busy debating, disrupting, and deconstructing the Big Things, the Little Things had slowly stepped away. The Little Things took with them all the hues that make the rainbow stretch and all the notes that made music just yesterday and all the joy that made life worth living everyday. And the people? They never truly learned how to live without the Little Things, so they invented Bigger Things to make the Big Things seem Little.

The End.

Nazreen Fazal Post

RANDOM

For the Omran Daqneeshs of the world.

February 22, 2016,

The image still haunts me. I see it when I close my eyes. I'm there. Outside the ambulance, looking in. There is debris, there is dust--lots of it--floating everywhere. And then there is Omran, seated on a bright orange seat. The only thing providing contrast to his otherwise dull dress of dust being his own blood, painting half his face. That dust should have been mud from playing football with his friends on the street. The bright red should have been face paint after going to the fair with his brother and parents. He is five years old. He should be making silly faces at his brother and cuddling his parents. But he is a child of war, and these are luxuries that he can't afford. That aren't afforded to him.

I have a cousin brother- Arshin. He is almost four. He is our baby, a bundle of joy and a source of happiness for everyone around him. We are all fiercely protective of him. Omran was someone's Arshin. And yet they couldn't protect him from this madness. I can't imagine the frustration and the despair Syrian parents feel when they look at their children's faces. The internal monologue, wondering how much time is left, dreading when their angel is going to be taken from them, contemplating death sailing strange seas or death in their homes, weighing pros and cons, guessing which hurts less, which death is faster? And if they do make it out-- out of the rubble, out of an imploding land, out of hell-- they arrive on the shores of even more hate and suspicion. Branded refugees, they float across the globe, still tethered to their home that is no more, wondering if they made the right choice. While those that stayed back wish, at the brink of death, we should have left too. No one wins. No one is safe. And we-- the rest of us--we are culpable in this crime. We move on from Aylan Kurdi to Omran Daqneesh to the next child that bleeds to death on our newsfeed and phone screens. No one stops scrolling to notice the blood on our hands.

I am sorry Aylan. I am sorry Omran. We have failed you. Again.

ABOUT AUTHOR

Nazreen Image

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

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