Tuesday, 17 May 2016

The Door That Caused Rape

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.
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?

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Five Ways to Improve Your Language Skills

'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. wink emoticon
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!

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. wink emoticon
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.

Friday, 13 May 2016


The other day I was stirring in some sugar into my chai and thinking about life, as you do. As I looked at the swirls the spoon made in the cup, it struck me that someone was probably doing the exact same thing, at this very moment, somewhere else in the world. I don't know why that thought overwhelmed me. Maybe because Life (with a capital L) has a way of making you believe that your life is the only one that is moving (or propelling, or stalling, or jogging, or crashing, or burning) and others are just extras who come to life in the brief moment their life intersects with yours. Then they fade away the moment they step out of your frame. 
Think about it. At this very moment, as you are reading this, a baby has just entered the world, a child is high in the air on a swing set, a boy feels his heart thudding loud as his crush walks by, a bunch of classmates are graduating college, a woman just said yes to her boyfriend's proposal, a couple just exchanged their vows, a twenty something is gushing about her first job offer, someone has had a heart shattering break up, someone lost his faith, someone else is discovering God, a child has lost their parent, a husband is by his wife's death bed as she breathes her last. 
We think about our singular experience a lot, but what about the experience of Life in a moment? In one second, as the Earth flings itself around by 460 meters, 7.125 BILLION people are immersed in their lives- being born and giving birth, conceiving and abandoning, falling in and out of love, finding and losing hope, picking their nose, loving their kids, paying their debts, drinking their woes, doubting themselves, surging ahead, dying, mourning, finding meaning again. It's breathtaking. This mind boggling range of human experiences that a single moment goes thorough. 
So the next time you find yourself in the extremes of any emotion, be it happiness or sorrow, excitement or boredom, dread or anticipation, remember that there is atleast one person out there who is going through the same right now with you and there are probably many more who are in the other end of the spectrum. Either you find hope in this or you become grateful. It's a win either way. Right?

Thursday, 12 May 2016


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

Tuesday, 10 May 2016


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.

Monday, 9 May 2016

For Umma

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!

Friday, 6 May 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."

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Moving Beyond Motherhood

In her lifetime a woman takes on a range of roles. However, it's her roles which are in relation to others (most of the time men) that she is asked to live up to the most. Countless are the articles which go "A women is a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother so....". My gripe is with the word 'so' here. It makes the respect that a woman deserves contingent on her relationships and not on her own capabilities/values/strengths (or just by virtue of being a fellow human being). I have a problem with conditional respect. And I have an even bigger problem with making these roles a to-do list that all girls are supposed to check to become women. This is where 'motherhood' comes in. 
Recently the President of Turkey said during a speech on International Women's Day that a woman is above all a mother to him. This makes no sense to me. The only person who is a mother to him is his own mother. Implicit in his statement is the society's general view of women as incomplete till they reproduce. It tells you that her purpose on earth is to be the producer of the country's future citizens, the mother to men who will go one to become leaders, scientists, doctors, and global shapers. That her primary and most coveted quality is that of a nurturer. It undermines everything else women have to offer to the society and the world at large. 
While it is true that women can nurture when occasion arises, it is not what defines her. In fact, there is no one quality that can define women because women are not a monolithic group. Women who can't or don't want to nurture are not less feminine because of it. What's interesting to note is how the society makes 'attentive and caring' the default for mothers and 'goofy and irresponsible' the standard for fathers. This double standard puts the onus of parenting on the mothers, while taking away all the responsibility from dads. It is also an insult to the many excellent fathers who take pride in their parenting and are committed to the well being of their children.. 
Women are constantly told that motherhood should 'complete you'. Those women who do not agree with this idea are seen as heartless and cold. If you as a woman feel that motherhood does complete you, then I respect that and stand behind you. But no one else has a right to tell anyone that birthing a child is what will complete you. My personal opinion is that nothing in this world will ever complete you. This world is vast and it has a myriad experiences to offer in our short life time. How can one feel complete then with just one aspect of their life?
Motherhood is put on a pedestal and those who don't measure up and 'mother' are seen as lesser women. While we should have nothing but love and respect for our mothers, we should not box them into just motherhood. 
Let women define themselves. Give them the breathing room to be more than just their wombs. Have higher expectations of them rather than their reproductive systems. Allow them to chase their dreams and passions without having to worry about checking a to-do list of ideal womanhood. Tell yourself and others that a woman is, above all, a human being. Then watch the world become a better place.

Rage-For Jisha

We are the women
you undress with your eyes
and then you wonder why we don't smile wide 
We are the women
you acid wash
and then you exclaim when we scar. 
We are the women
you bury alive
and then you ask why we choke.
We are the women
you set on fire
and then you complain when we burn.
I am woman,
hear me cry
when my sisters burn
and daughters die.
I am woman,
watch me rage
when our futures hang
on flimsy tips of your desire.
Don't tell me I was in the wrong place
at the wrong time
wearing the wrong thing.
Because I am the woman
you break and tear
in every second of every day,
in every corner of every space
in every fabric's every fold.
Don't play the blame game.
Don't tell me my anger is misplaced and
wonder why my hate
radiates through my pores
and sears your mind. 
I am the woman
you use and throw.
Now watch my wrath
pierce your soul.

[For Jisha, a Dalit student who was brutally raped and murdered in her own house.
Us women have been set on fire again and again and again,
Since the beginning of time.
We say ENOUGH.
Now take a seat, and feel the heat ]

Sunday, 1 May 2016


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
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
So make No enough,
Before it isn’t anymore
Because, sometimes,
No takes a while
But arrives
With a bang.

Saturday, 30 April 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,
Ask me what I am.
I’m a collage of
super-imposed identities.
Let me show you,
gaze into my soul,
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.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Why Bookstores and Restaurants are Basically the Same

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.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Why We Write

Time and again I find myself wondering why writers write. What is it that makes us gather words and attempt to weave them into coherence, sometimes even against their will?I can't speak for all writers, but for me three words come to mind- To make sense. Of things/people/events/the world. Not to others, but to myself. 
When in confusion, writing for me is a journey I need to undertake to arrive at understanding, to chance upon an emotion that might help, to slowly dust away what's unnecessary and view the skeleton of the answers I seek. 
On some days it's a way to reel in my thoughts before they swim away so I can make a meal out of it and share it with those I love. However, on most days it's a struggle to keep the light burning, it's an antidote to the fear of not feeling anything anymore. It forces me to scoop out unspoken memories from the crevices of my mind and then pluck words to weave into a bouquet for them as I send them out. At the end of the day it's making sure that the world doesn't see my real thoughts naked. It is allowing myself to confront and choose the beautiful and the ugly within me which I can then dress in words, groom with metaphors, and present to the world with no shame or remorse.
This journey might be smooth or perilous. On the way I might chance upon emotions within I was unaware of. I might accidentally trip on parts of myself that I realise I don't like very much. Or worse, I could lose myself to the journey and never make it out. But on other days, the better ones, I might arrive, weary and worn, but victorious; having battled my inner demons, knowing something I didn't know before.

Sunday, 24 April 2016

You've Got (Hate) Mail

Allow me to explain 
the politics of hate.
Let me give you a taste 
of what it means to be
in the wrong lane.
It entails being lodged
between a rock and a hard place,
and asked to make cloaks
out of doled out despair,
for sons and daughters
born into blankets of second-hand hate.
It's deciding to be walled in
or out, in times when fear trumps all else
and you lose either way.
It means being uprooted from home
and planted a thousand miles away
to be then told you are a parasite that needs to
go back home anyway.
It's blinking back tears as you try to explain
that when they'd severed your roots
and left with gathered goods,
the dust had settled down and
home was no longer there.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Celebrating Love

Trigger Warning: Extreme Cheesiness. 
Passionate, blood spilling, soul spinning, mind boggling love has been celebrated since the beginning of time. Sonnets and plays and films and verses abound praising and pursuing this love. But what of the other kind of love?
Of the quiet kind
which doesn't rage
and burn
everything in its wake. 
Soft Love
like footprints on snow
Love like rain that showers on your soul. 
How do you describe it? This feeling of falling to being to rising in love.
I speak of the quiet peace that two people nurture between them over tea. Of tranquility that envelopes you even in the middle of stormy seas. Of what transforms two separate beings into one. So close, so tight, no one knows where onebeginsandtheotherends. 
Love that develops, like camera film, on intimate exposure to another bare soul. Love that grows on you, ever so slowly, through habits and annoying quirks. Love that exists between intertwined fingers, in that small space between warm palms. Love that is a secret smile or a mere glance. Love that doesn't fear silences. Love that punctuates the spaces between words. Love that curls up in bed between two sleepy heads, four criss-crossed arms and legs.
Love that ages like wine. 
There is so much to be said about this kind of love. But all I can say is, I wish for everyone this love that expands in your chest, courses through your bones, reaches your fingertips and toes, and settles in the corners of your smiles. 
"And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquillity in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought." [Qur'an, 30:21]

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Asian Remedies

The best thing about being born into an Asian 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 Asian 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. Back pain? Probably because you don't help out at home (true story).
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 mother 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 you fall sick that you realize how much you need your mother and how much she does for you. 
Thank you moms! Please know that even though we roll our eyes when you tell us about the latest home remedy to boost our immunity or cure cancer, we love the Love which makes you do this for us. heart emoticon
What are some of the home remedies used to (torture) treat you?

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Letters Written Never Sent

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.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Muslims Get Depressed

'True Muslims don't get depressed' he thundered off the mimbar. "If you really believe in Allah you will not get sad. Ever."
With that the imam sealed Her a weak Muslim, or worse, a disbeliever. The voices in Her head laugh gleefully. 'You never belonged'. One cackles and says 'You are insane.' and another one, most solemn of all, announces 'Maybe it's time to put an end to this.' 'Maybe you don't deserve to live. 
As though reading Her mind the imam screams into the mike "Suicide is haraaam. It's a grave sin. Lost are those who take their lives."
And now He, sitting in the first row, is shaken. Is He hell-bound too? What can He do when the only thought that comes to mind when crushed under crippling anxiety is to Escape? To Leave. To End. 
What must He do when everything else is dimmed out by the screaming inside, like a soundtrack made just of finger-nails scratching chalk boards. And all He can think of is that grating and the nails cracking and the fingers bleeding. What must He do when the only people He trusts tell him it's all just in His head. That He just needs to cheer up and smile and it will get better. What must He do to make them see that He smiles so much that His cheeks hurt, that the sides of Hjs lips crack and bleed. But it doesn't lift the heavy darkness that colours all of His days. 
What must She do when the one She loves tells Her to stop making excuses and just 'move on' with life like a responsible adult? What must She do when they ask Her where it hurts and She can't rip Her insides to show the scars.
What must They do when Their pain is not seen. And when seen not acknowledged. What must They do with a community that recognises only physical ailments and condemns those whose symptoms don't manifest as bruises or tumours. What must They do with a society that labels Them cowards when living is the bravest thing They have done.
What must Those souls do, pushed to hang from ceilings or bleed out from the wrists, because no one would pause, not even for a second, to say 'I see you. I see your pain. I hear you. I hear your cries for help. I am with you. And you are not broken. Together we will seek help. And we will make it okay.'
Maybe, just maybe, if They had not been shamed, there would have been fewer premature graves.

Sunday, 27 March 2016


Go the blasts from
indifferent bombs
in distant lands and
echo round the world
when the right shade bleeds.
The screen feeds more tweets about
Senseless violence when
some nations shake and
make exceptions when other
lands quake under
outsourced violence
of the everyday,
within borders on bodies imprisoned.
What is this prism
that bends light and
makes blood more red
when certain bodies bleed and break?
Explain this new lexicon of tragedy
where borders decide solidarity.
Or do lives matter more located
outside the peripheries?
Explain why some deaths are meant to
hang heavy on minds, hearts
and coloured bodies
but others deserve no empathy
no mourning, no cover stories
Losses morph instead into self-inflicting rage
and inevitable damage.
Tell me why one grief
transcends as universal protocol while
all other pain is just meant to be
or made to fade away till they
leave scars, start wars and
become booms
in distant lands.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

How do we discuss our bodies?

The other day I read a beautiful, heartfelt article on how we should talk to our daughters about their bodies. The gist of it was to NOT talk about it. At all. That we shouldn't make any comment about it- good or bad. That we should praise them instead for inner traits that have nothing to do with their physique. While after the first read I cheered the powerful message, after some thought I don't think I fully agree with the proposition that the best way to address body image issues in girls is to avoid discussing their bodies altogether. 
In a world where fat-shaming, skinny-shaming, peer pressure, cyber bullying, and eating disorders don't exist, the above tactic would probably work really well. Maybe then we could create a society from scratch where bodies are mere vessels for gentle souls and curious minds. But it isn't. The reality is that even if we don't mention a single word about their body at home, our kids/younger siblings/cousins are probably going to hear about it in their playground/school/college/THE INTERNET. On one side they are told that they should be concerned about how they look and on the other they don't even have an avenue to talk about it because it seems unimportant to their parents. What do they do when they get these conflicting messages? What do they do when someone they like doesn't find them physically attractive? Who do they talk to? Which ideas will ultimately stick with them and inform their outlook and decisions regarding their body? 
I often think about how I will raise my daughters and sons (if I ever have any) and how I'll approach this delicate topic. But how can I do anything neutrally when I myself am riddled with the after effects of years of being told that my skin/my curves/my shoulders/ my height are not right/not enough/not perfect? Maybe what I should have heard more of-as an impressionable child, as an awkward, approval-seeking teen- was that I am more than enough, just as I am. That my body deserves my love and care in every stage of its growth, degeneration, and regrowth. That yes, there will be people who will tell you that your smile is wonky or that your hands are too big or that you have too many crows feet around your eyes, but they are ignorant people that aren't worth your time or space or peace of mind. That you need to love yourself on your skinny days and your bloated days and the in-between days. That your worth does not lie in the width or your hips or the curve of your breasts, so you love them in whatever sizes they come. That there might be people who are attracted to you and there might be those who are not, but the important thing is to always- always- know that you are more than what others think of you. That in bodies there is no abnormal- that upper lip peach fuzz is okay, the thigh gap is okay, no thigh gap is also okay, wrinkles are okay, grey hair is okay. That these 'imperfections' are what being a real human is about. That life is beautiful precisely because of all the colours and shapes and sizes. That you are okay and loved and wanted- not because of your body, not inspite of it, but with it, as a part of what makes you YOU.
Maybe once I learn and internalise these lessons above, I'll be able to teach my kids a thing or two. What say you?

Sunday, 31 January 2016

The Connector in Our Midst

Yesterday I met one of my father's Airforce course mates. If you meet them both, you'd be surprised at how they ever got along. They are just polar opposites in their personalities. My dad is the kind who gets restless after spending just one day bound to home. He's the happiest when he is travelling and meeting family and friends. Jacob uncle, on the other hand, would rather stay home and read a book or watch a documentary. Yet they have been close friends for more than 30 years. Longer than I have been alive. 
Last year my parents had a mini-vacation in Singapore. In those three days my dad managed to get two of his friends who are settled there but hadn't met each other for years, to come for lunch. In that short time, he made two people get in touch again. 
This has been the case for most of the people my father has invited into his life. He nurtures his friendships and relations meticulously, ensuring he is always there for them. And they are there for him too. At my wedding, dad's friends outnumbered my friends by a HUGE margin.
I have wondered often how he does that. Mostly because I can't network at the scale he operates on. I see it as real, consistent, hard work. But, over time, I think I have come to understand how he does it. 
Years ago I read a book by Malcolm Gladwell called 'Tipping Point'. While I was too young to appreciate the wisdom and ideas in the book, somethings did stay with me, like the three archetypes of people- Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen. Connectors are the ones who, obviously, connect. They are the links between social groups. The ones you turn to when you want to get introduced to someone. They are the 'social glue' that hold different circles together. 
No points for guessing what my dad is. He is a born connector. Which translates into- Shereef and I having one of his college course mates as our local guardian while we studied in Malaysia. That when we go on trips we usually have at least one person he knows in that city. That we have access to knowledge from a wide range of industries. That even after marriage, and moving to Saudi Arabia (of all places), I have one of my dad's friends living just 15 minutes away from my house.
Dad obviously wants his connector talents to be passed on to his children. Unfortunately, I think it has rubbed off only on Shereef so far. Bilal and I still need to put considerable effort in widening our circles. While I do get annoyed at times because of the pressure by dad to meet more people, keep in touch, and build bridges for other people to meet, I think that ultimately my life has been richer for it. I have my father to thank for my incredibly diverse friend circle. And more than that my mother who has made it possible for my father to be this way by opening our home and hearts to family and friends to come and stay. She has been the gracious host to dad's endless last minute parties. She has embraced his family as hers. Even the connector needs that one person he can come back to, and that's my mother. 
Here's to my parents, An odd, odd couple who have somehow made it work against all odds and brought to life three quirky children on the way. Thank you. heart emoticon

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The Umbilical Cord

The umbilical cord
Once cut
From the navel
Till it dries into
Forgotten anatomy
Unless you were born
Into a label
The Umbilical Cord then
Bleeds and never leaves as
It ties you to your mother,
her mother, your foremothers
and stretches to reveal
the outlines of pain
engraved on your backs and
the blood on your bones
So when other mothers feed
their unborn what they need,
the Othered Mothers seek
inherited deeds to teach their child
the skill of unravelling Umbilical Cords 
morphed into nooses
that kill you by the inch.
The child,
born as a footnote to a
history of oppression that spills,
unchecked, into the present,
isn’t afforded the privilege of forgetting
his roots unless he demands
a hand to escape his pre-dug grave,
an opportunity to become human again;
Then it's his duty to discount the rusty chains
shackled to his ankles,
to ignore the dusty cords that hang
his shadows every day
With rage and centuries of hate
‘It’s no great news’ they say,
Till the day,
forced to accept the noose
wound around his neck,
constricting each breath,
choking lungs labeled by ancient men,
the one born in the margins
turns a headline in death.

Friday, 15 January 2016

The Big Little Things

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.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

The House

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.