Nonsensical and sometimes not-so-nonsensical rants about what may or may not be going through my head. Try to liberalize your canvas of interpretation when reading these posts - you will go far...

Friday, December 30, 2011

Tis the season

We experienced a late winter in Karachi this year. Just when I had given up on the prospect of nippy weather, I woke up one day and there was a certain air about Karachi. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but my city was beaming. In the time that followed, the mornings were draped with a thin layer of fog, and the evenings shrouded in a slight chill. Winter was here and just like that, life was perfect.

In Karachi, you know exactly when winter has arrived - the moment when your lips become chapped and your hair feels static.  My litany of Karachi winter characteristics runs along the lines of: dry skin; the silence of no fans and no air conditioners; thick, fluffy socks and shawls; Vaseline; peanuts roasted in their shells and bought by the pao in newspaper bags; nivea; random (and frequent) beach plans; oranges; hibiscus flowers; bonanza ads on TV; bonfires; hot chocolate; nihari; cream of tomato soup; hoodies; Christmas trees; countless cups of chai and coffee; lip balms; moisturizers; quilts; comforters; warm, cozy beds; laziness. But really, as Kamila Shamsie so aptly articulated in ‘Kartography’, “For Karachi high society, winter is all about envelopes. Or rather, about the invitations inside those envelopes”

Come November and the invites start pouring in. They appear in ones and twos and soon you have enough wedding cards to start your own business. Though we don’t get the snow most northern regions get, winters in Karachi have a life of its own. The weather isn’t all that cold, but its cold enough for us to enjoy our ice creams, walks in the evening, and eating outdoors. Nobody asks for the AC remote, or reaches for the fan switch, save for a few hardened individuals who still love their fans and ACs even as the mercury drops. We are entertained by the ever cheesy Bonanza ads for sweaters on TV, and bonfires at the beach take special precedence in our weekend plans.

Winters in Karachi also bring with it many unwanted guests. Dryness on our skin increases in some as we reach for the chapsticks even more so. The dew in the morning permeates over our cars quickly becoming the bane of drivers/cleaners. There is also increasing susceptibility to flu and other diseases. But cons aside, winter in Karachi has its special place. People still flock to the sea, amid high winds and even higher gatherings. We admire ourselves in our brightly colored sweaters and hoodies, pointing and laughing at scooter drivers wearing funny hats and completely unnecessary earmuffs, and nuzzle within our own blankets as we ever so desperately try to break its embrace in the morning–and fail miserably.

In other news, the New Year is less than 42 hours away. As per tradition, I’ve been drafting this year’s resolutions in my head, attempting and struggling to start 2012 without encumbrances and bad memories of the past year.  In retrospect, the last 365 odd days of my life have added some much needed rebellion in me; I have met some wonderful, wonderful people and had some really fun times. Rest assured, I have also had my (more than) fair share of not-so-fun times but I have learnt (albeit later than I should have) that such is life.  C'est la vie. Here’s to a new year; a clean slate; a fresh start. Here’s to the beginning of the end. Or the end of the beginning.

*Refer to last year's post on New Year's.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A hell of heaven... or a heaven of hell

“The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”
- John Milton, 'Paradise Lost'

I have been lost in the labyrinthine recesses of my own mind lately, listening to the cacophony of hounding thoughts. Trapped by the inability to halt the ever present nagging of my racing psyche, I have ineffectively searched for a quiet mental corner where I could hide amid the static calm of incessant white noise … the sound of a roaring waterfall or the crashing of ocean waves on an unnamed shore.

“A thick, black cloud swirled before my eyes, and my mind told me that in this cloud, unseen as yet, but about to spring out upon my appalled senses, lurked all that was vaguely horrible, all that was monstrous and inconceivably wicked in the universe. Vague shapes swirled and swam amid the dark cloud-bank, each a menace and a warning of something coming, the advent of some unspeakable dweller upon the threshold, whose very shadow would blast my soul.” 
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

When I was ten years old, I found a paperback copy of Tehmina Durrani’s autobiographical account ‘My Feudal Lord’ in my mother’s collection of books and began reading it. One day when I was conveniently sprawled across the bed, reading, my father walked into the room and ‘caught’ me reading the book. I hadn’t been hiding from him in the first place; I had no reason to. After all, he had always encouraged my love of reading and bought me as many books as my little heart desired. But when he saw me reading this particular book, he looked a little taken aback, annoyed almost, and asked me to hand over the novel to him with a terse question, ‘Where did you find this?’ With childlike innocence I replied to his question and he explained to me gently, ‘This is not a book a child of your age should be reading. It’s all trash anyway. Give this to me and read something else, beta.’

Later that evening I saw him tuck the book deep in his closet. I had understood the gist of the book but had not been too intrigued by it because it was a bit too complicated for someone my age to comprehend, in its entirety. But the fact that my father had chided me for reading something sparked my curiosity, an inexplicable itch that demanded gratification.  It is, after all, human nature to be drawn towards the ‘forbidden fruit’ and so, when he left his room I opened his closet and stealthily, took out the book and sneaked away with it.

I finished reading the entire book a day and a half later but for the life of me, could not find anything quite so vulgar or obscene as may compel him to dissuade me from reading it. The book gave a vivid description of Durrani’s traumatic marital life with Mustafa Khar, an important politician in the Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto regime, who later became the Chief Minister of Punjab. Professionally, he appeared to be a charismatic champion of democracy, but on the personal front he was an inveterate wife abuser. In the three sections of her book, Durrani mapped her journey from an ordinary elitist housewife to an emancipated human being contesting for equal rights and women’s empowerment.

Soon after finishing ‘My Feudal Lord’ I read Durrani’s second book, this time a novel titled ‘Blasphemy.’  The book description at the back cover read, ‘To me, my husband was my son’s murderer.  He was also my daughter’s molester; a parasite nibbling on the Holy Book. He was Lucifer; holding me by the throat and driving me to sin every night. He was Bhai’s destroyer; Amma Sain’s tormentor; Ma’s humbler and the people’s exploiter. He was the rapist of orphans and the fiend that fed on the weak but over and above all this... he was known to be the man closest to Allah; the one who could reach Him and save us.’ It sounded rather grotesque and upon reading it, I realized the story was not only grotesque but downright perverse and morbid.

By the time I turned 11, I was reading Salman Rushdie’s ‘Shame’ and Khaled Hossaini’s ‘The Kite Runner.’ It was one of those days that my school principal caught me reading Fozia Siddiqui’s novel, ‘Taboo’; she was positively livid. I remember the flash of anger in the eyes of a woman who had been a nun and a principal of a Convent school for more than 50 years of her life. She lashed out at me for reading content that was not ‘fit’ for someone my age and snatched the book from my fingers. Needless to say, the rebel that I was, I did not alter my reading habits to suit her or others whims and fancies.

One of my favorite playwrights of all time, Oscar Wilde, had said,’ It is absurd to have a hard and fast rule about what one should read and what one shouldn’t. More than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn’t read.’ When I was younger, it seemed like everyone had an opinion about what I should be reading and what I shouldn’t. I believe that whether or not people read, and indeed how much and how often they read, affects their lives in crucial ways. My life, like everyone else’s, has been shaped by a conglomeration of influences. Most of those influences are people. Yet, I cannot point to any one person who has played a “larger than life” role. Each has their place in sculpting me into what I am today, chipping away here and there, changing who and what I am. None that I can think of have stepped beyond their place and prompted a complete change in direction in my life.

In contrast to people, I can point to several books that had an immediate and lasting influence on my life and personality. Perhaps the strongest entry in the field has been T.S.Eliot’s collection of poems. Though not regarded as a ‘book’ in the constructed sense of the word, Eliot’s work and recurring themes on the disintegration of society,  the anguish and barrenness of modern life and the isolation of the individual changed my very outlook and perception towards life and people. There have been others along the way, Harper Lee’s classic ‘To kill a mocking bird’, Kamila Shamsie’s ‘Kartography’ and Charles Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol’ are only a few books that I have read every so often that I have almost memorized them by heart and they have all played a peripheral role in shaping my personality.

Maybe the difference between people and books is that I can go back to the books I have read and find them unchanged. I can find within the pages the same message that spoke to my soul and prompted change in my living or the same character that warmed my heart or made me weep. I am often surprised to find the headwaters of a stream I now take for granted in a forgotten book. In contrast, for better or worse, people always change and my memory is fallible; I don’t know which of my character traits trace back to a stray comment here or there by a teacher or friend or stranger.

In an old Dr. Seuss book I used to read as a child, I remember the quote on the back cover, ‘The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.’ People around me tried to suppress my flight; tried to stop me from soaring but armed with my books and an air of indifference, I travelled the world through the eyes of the authors, far and wide, from pre-historic eras to the future – I have seen it all. And what I haven’t and cannot yet fathom the books I read in the years to come will illustrate for me.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


Last night I dreamt that I had died.
But I could see, or rather feel,
what was going on around me.
I felt I had no strength or will,
I was only capable of witnessing
my own death, my own corpse.
Above all, I could feel in my dream
something long forgotten, something
that had not happened to me for a long time - 
the feeling that it was not a dream but real.
It is such a powerful sensation
that a wave of sadness fills your soul,
of pity for yourself, and a strange,
as if it were an aesthetic way of seeing your own life.
When you feel compassion for yourself in that way,
it is as if your pain were someone else's.
and you are looking at it from outside,
weighing it up, and you are beyond
the bounds of what used to be your life.
It was as if my past life was a child's life,
without experience, unprotected.
Time ceases to exist, and fear.
An awareness of immortality.

Inspiration: Andrei Tarkovsky

Saturday, August 27, 2011

For the love of MJ

"Why not just tell people I'm an alien from Mars? Tell them I eat live chickens and do a voodoo dance at midnight. They'll believe anything you say, because you're a reporter. But if I, Michael Jackson, were to say 'I'm an alien from Mars and I eat live chickens and do a voodoo dance at midnight,' people would say 'Oh, man, that Michael Jackson is nuts. He's cracked up. You can't believe a damn word that comes out of his mouth.'"

People are often bewildered, amused almost at my love affair with Michael Jackson. Most of them immediately respond with a, ‘You like that child molester?’ in incredulity and horror. I try to handle such situations with nonchalance and composure but the truth is, I cannot feign indifference and that manifests itself in my terse replies. Contrary to what most people think, I am not blind to Jackson’s many flaws and imperfections. I realize the horrible atrocities which he was said to have performed have besmirched his reputation, but I also appreciate that they may or may not have occurred; few people know the answer to that part of the story. And therefore, to accuse him so authoritatively and with such unfaltering conviction is both unfair and uncalled-for.

More than Jackson’s revolutionary music, his awe-inspiring dance moves or his phenomenal success, what draws me towards him is his incredible life and the aplomb with which he lived it. It is so easy to disparage and sully his reputation, but a deeper and more introspective look yields a glimpse into a deeply troubled individual who not only happened to revolutionize the music and the music video industries but also lived a most extraordinary life. The tragic details of his life are not unknown; he was raised in a tumultuous home, suffered physical and verbal abuse from his father and spent a major part of his life sheltered and lonely for companionship. His circumstances in life caused him to grow up in age, but not in maturity level. He was an adult trapped inside the mind of an adolescent, with a penchant for having a Peter Pan complex. Needless to say, there is more to MJ’s story than meets the eye…

In his last few years, especially the ones following the child molestation allegations, Michael had become a laughingstock. People ridiculed his lifestyle, his appearance, his personality, his mannerisms. He had always been shy and reserved but after the criminal charges were levied on him, he became a recluse. He was ostracized by the media, and hordes of paparazzi hounded him mercilessly. But it is entirely irrelevant what the public perception was and is of this man, and his 'Wacko Jacko' persona. MJ proved his mettle as a singer/performer par excellence; he was an icon who turned the pop industry on its collective ear with his impeccable falsetto and rhythm.

As an entertainer, Jackson was revolutionary. With his trademark single white glove, his sequined red jacket, and his spry agility and lightness of foot, Michael moved with trademark flair, and it was clear that he belonged on the stage, regaling audiences spanning several decades. When MJ would moonwalk across a stage he would send throngs of fans into an unequivocal frenzy. Trying to perfect his elegance caused many a night of unrest for millions, as they endlessly attempted to sashay backwards across their floors, but in vain.  

Somewhere underneath that collision of figures that is his career - twelve No. 1 records, fifty one million copies sold of Thriller, eighty million copies of the others, thirteen Grammy Awards - there's a man, and one whose achievements are far greater than mere numbers. His '80s success opened up white America to black music in a way never seen before. Without Jackson there is no Prince. No Whitney Houston. No Lenny Kravitz. And the world is a lesser place. 

Such is the magic of MJ…

Sunday, June 19, 2011

An ode to dad

Every year on Father’s Day, I am in a dilemma. I ponder long and hard over what I should buy for the man who means the most to me in this world and every year, I am at a loss of ideas.  I know my father is extremely fastidious when it comes to clothes and perfumes’ so buying either of these without his approval is a risk of a very grave sort. To this end, for the last few years now, I have taken the safer road and chosen to pen down my thoughts regarding his importance in my life. This year, I decided to profess my love and appreciation for my father (‘dad’ henceforth) on my blog so I could share my sentiments for him on a public forum.

As Dad’s youngest child and only daughter, I have been extremely pampered and a (self professed) ‘daddy’s little girl’ in the truest essence of the phrase. But dad’s pampering did not just extend to buying expensive gifts for me; rather he chose to pamper me with knowledge, with his unconditional love, time and patience. I come from a somewhat conservative family; in terms of their thinking, my grandparents are very old school and orthodox. In such an environment, my dad who is both liberal and secular stands out as a rebel. He inculcated the same fighter and never-say-die spirit in me and my brother and taught us to stand up for our rights and principles, even if it meant gaining disapproval from others. On many occasions dad urged us to be stubborn and unrelenting where the situation demanded it and I have a constant, unfaltering reassurance that come what may, one maelstrom after another, I will always have my father’s support and encouragement. He will always stand behind me like the pillar of strength he is in my life and keep nudging me forward.

Speaking of which, I don’t think I have ever seen a father in my life who is as expressive as my father (I may be a little biased but I’m not exaggerating right now). Dad never misses an opportunity to tell my brother and me that he will always support us in whatever we choose to do in life. Day in and day out he reminds us that he loves us and will continue to do so no matter what happens. Every single time either one of us talks to him on the phone, the last thing he says before shutting the phone, is ‘I love you, beta’ and by habit, we reply ‘love you too, dad’, without realizing the effect his three parting words have on our lives. Hearing someone confess their love for you is the most beautiful feeling in the world and I have to thank my dad for making me experience that feeling several times in a day.

I told my father many years ago that he’s not a ‘cool dad’ – an allegation he has taken to heart and hence, tried his level best to alter my opinion. Today, I am taking this opportunity and clarifying what I really meant when I said that: My dad was never a “cool dad” in the way that fathers often try to be “cool dads.” He’s just a “cool” person whose “coolness” happens to spill over into his dad-ness. I’m not sure I’m able to get the message across, but in a nutshell, all I’m trying to say is that my father is a pretty darn awesome person and he incorporates that into his role as a father.

Honoring a Father on Father’s Day is about more than a Dad who brings home a paycheck, shares a dinner table, and attends school functions, graduations, and weddings. It isn’t even so much about spending time together. It’s more about unconditionally loving children who are snotty and stubborn, who know everything and won’t listen to anyone. It’s about respect and sharing and acceptance and tolerance and giving and taking. It’s about loving someone more than words can say and it’s wishing that it never had to end.

So on this day, I want to thank my hero, my mentor, my inspiration - the one man who always knows how to put a smile on my face. Thank you for everything. Here’s to the best dad anyone could ever wish for.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A memory trigger

A few days back, a car stopped next to mine at a traffic signal. The girl who was driving did not look a day over thirteen and her lack of control over the car indicated just how inexperienced a driver she was.  Her friends who accompanied her, some eight of them stashed in that car like sardines, gave the impression of being squealing, excitable six year olds, sticking their necks out of the windows while four others peeked through from the sun roof. I won’t digress by going into the details of what I think of such girls. I’ll save that for another day. The purpose of narrating this story right now is to draw attention to the song that was blaring on full volume from their car. It was a 90’s song by Aqua, popular among the girls at the time for its lyrics ‘I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world.’

And the moment the song started my attention shifted from the hyperactive girls and I was transported back in time from a grimy Karachi street in Defence to 1997; to the winding, twisting roads of Quetta and the beautiful, coral coloured valleys and Juniper forests of Ziaret. In the summer of ’97, I took a trip with extended family to the western part of Pakistan and this song is one I closely associate with that trip. I still remember the music store I purchased Aqua’s cassette from and have vivid memories of driving for long distances with this song playing on my Walkman (yes, this is pre-Discman, mp3 and IPod) and rewinding the song and re-rewinding it because it was such a hot favourite.

Its interesting how sometimes certain sounds and smells instantly remind one of an event or occasion and nostalgia overcomes with such force that one loses track of one’s bearings and surroundings. The realization that a particular sight, sound or smell can have such an overwhelming impact on human memory dawned upon me when I read Sujata Bhatt’s poem ‘Muliebrity’ many years ago. The poet describes a young Indian girl collecting cow dung on the roadside in Maninagar, Ahmedabad while simultaneously evoking a sense of smell with such intense description and dexterity that each smell is a mood to explore for the reader. She talks about ‘the smell of cow-dung and road-dust and wet canna lilies, the smell of monkey breath and freshly washed clothes and the dust from crows’ wings which smells different – and again the smell of cow-dung as the girl scoops.’  Some time later, when I read Elizabeth Brewster’s ‘Where I come from’ , I realized we tend to use negative smells to illustrate a place or situation we find unfavourable. For instance, in Brewter’s poem she conjures smells of ‘smog or the almost-not-smell of tulips in the spring’ and the ‘smell of work, glue factories maybe, chromium-plated offices; smell of subways crowded at rush hours’ when she talks of city life. But when she talks of her hometown she describes ‘hints of jungles or mountains; acres of pine woods; blueberry patches’ - all words with positive connotations.

Of all the senses I would say that smell is the sense that is best at bringing back memories. When you smell a certain scent it feels as though you slipped back in time and that you are actually at that scene again. Freshly-cut grass. Cakes just out of the oven. Buttery popcorn. Old, yellowed paper. Laundry fresh out of the dryer. Rain mixed with wet sand. These are some of my favorite smells in the world. And most of them, not coincidentally, automatically bring to mind specific memories or feelings.

Freshly-cut grass reminds me of playing hide-and-seek in my garden when I was little. The smell of butter on popcorn reminds me of the endless nights I have spent watching movies with my brother. The smell that whiffs through while flipping old paper reminds me of the used books I would exchange at a bookstore in Boatbasin where I would go with my father when I was a child. Our sense of smell is a powerful thing — and certain smells can often act as triggers to our memories. This works with some of my travel memories, too. There are certain scents that will forever be associated with specific destinations in my mind. The smell of pine cones always reminds me of a trip to Swat with my friends; the smell of a dust storm always takes me back to the highway where we experienced an angry dust and thunderstorm while driving to Orlando; the smell that comes right before and right after it rains, that fresh, clean smell that brings the earthworms out onto the pavement on a cool summer evening never ceases to remind me of New Jersey.

When I was much younger my grandparents used to live in Nazimabad; there was a park near their house where the residents would throw their trash and the designated kachre wala would burn it. I don’t know whether words can really describe the smell of burning garbage - It’s a strangely intoxicating mixture of wood, ash, burning rubber, dirt, and chemicals.  It’s the smell I most associate with my childhood, and one that immediately transports me there on the now rare occasions when my nostrils are assaulted with that scent. And to this day when I see anyone burning garbage or smell it, the malodorous scent attacks my synapses and I am carried back to the Saturday’s I would spend at my grandparent’s place.  

Truly, sometime a whiff or sound is all it takes for one to take an unexpected trip down memory lane.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a great ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair. 

I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy - ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness--that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, God has been kind to me, and this is what I have found. 

With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved. 

Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate this evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer. 

This has been my life. In spite of all the hatred and suffering life brings with itself, I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me. 

Inspiration: Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Procrastination is the thief of time

I suffer from chronic procrastination. And for those who think it is not a recognized mental disease – think again. I believe procrastination is a global epidemic, plaguing millions around the globe, driving them to put off their work till the very next day. It is a handicap that affects the psyche of an individual and ultimately leads to the breakdown or demise of the physical. It is the virulent disease that annihilates academic success and curbs productivity, leaving people like me struggling for ‘more time’.

Procrastination has many symptoms, anxiety being one. In many ways, we are addicted to time the way gamblers are to money or alcoholics to liquor. We love time. Why waste it doing something we don’t want to? Our motto is “If you can do it tomorrow, why do it today?” However, one should not confuse indolence or laziness with procrastination. I often tell people that I work best under pressure. It sounds so corporate. I have literally scrubbed my room from top to bottom in order to avoid writing a homework assignment. Procrastination takes a lot of work.

I also believe there is an inherent link between creativity and procrastination. “Time on Task” is not our maxim. We tend to abhor the mundane and the tedious. I don’t open my textbooks a month before my exams. It’s against my creative, intuitive nature. I now do most of my work by Karma. And it works, more often than not.

I wait with bated breath for the day the American Medical Association or Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders will declare procrastination a disease and accord it a proper and legitimate place in the annals of medicine. I’d even settle for psychiatric institutions to classify it a behavioral problem with a possible chemical imbalance in the brain worthy of research and medication.

With a legitimate stamp of abnormal approval, procrastinators would then be eligible to petition the government for equal-right status. This silent disease would be out of the closet once-and-for-all. And maybe then, people like me will feel less guilty for putting things off till the last moment.

In many ways, us procrastinators are essentially optimists. There is always tomorrow…

Sunday, March 6, 2011

What is the moment, the exact moment when everything changes and the person you thought you couldn’t live without, leaves without saying so much as a goodbye? That is the moment when everything changes, yet nothing really does. One goes on with life and daily chores and mundane activities, as is the order of the day. This is an idea I seem to have reiterated several times in my blog because I believe it with utter conviction – the person we claim we ‘cannot live without’ is hypothetical – merely a figment of our imagination. No such person exists in the world. There is absolutely NOBODY we need to depend upon for survival.

In the words of the truly great and wise, T.S.Eliot, "Hell is oneself, hell is alone, the other figures in it merely projections. There is nothing to escape from and nothing to escape to. One is always alone."

Twelve years ago on this day, they buried my mother. I stood there, eight years old, and in complete denial, watching them lower her in the grave. And here I am, twelve years later, twenty years old and possibly still in denial; because somewhere deep in my heart there lives an eight year old who still believes her mother is alive.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Birthday thoughts

16th February, 2011 is the day I celebrate a milestone birthday – one that ends with a zero. Herein onwards all my birthdays will be in the ‘tees’ and somehow that makes me a little sad. For as long as I can remember I wanted to be twenty years old. For some odd, inexplicable reason I thought that when I would turn twenty I would have the solution to all of life’s problems. I believed with full faith and utter conviction that at 20 my life would be perfect; I would be an educated, independent working girl with at least two degrees to her credit. In retrospect a somewhat unrealistic proposition, at age 10, however, as plausible and real as Matilda’s magical powers.

Now that my birthday is less than a week away, I seem to be almost dreading it. And that comes as a huge surprise not only to me but to my family as well because I have always awaited and celebrated my birthday with great fervor and exuberance. Perhaps the reluctance and melancholy has to do with the realization that I have been unable to achieve all that I thought I would before I turned 20. For the first time in my life, I am regretting not being able to make use of time to its fullest. On the achievement barometer, I am somewhere close to the bottom – there has been no substantial progress in the last two decades of my existence; I let that time pass me by and it makes me so mad at myself. Mad enough to make myself depressed.

I am a staunch believer that celebrating birthdays is not merely a convention. Birthdays are occasions to celebrate one's growth, maturity, and development. Birthdays remind us that the gift of life is the most precious and important one. Thus, they are generally associated with celebrations; partying, receiving good wishes and gifts, holidaying without any care in the world. However, this particular year I’m feeling pensive; my 20th birthday is making me pause and think about that gentle nudge of the clock that keeps moving me forward, ever forward. This year it is the catalyst that is making me stop and ask these questions: What have I accomplished over the past year? What have I done that would make me proud? Am I more successful today than I was last year at this time? There is no definite answer to the aforementioned questions. However, I can say with certainty, that the journey from 19 to 20 has made me a better person; it has helped me explore myself; it has made me aware of my strengths and weaknesses and that in itself, is no small feat.

It's the start of 2011, a brand new year. I may not have accomplished all that I thought I would by the time I turned 20 but starting today I'm going to do what I can to get closer to my dreams and goals. I'm going to appreciate life more and give it the respect it deserves, not just for me, but for everyone who no longer has this luxury. And when I blow out my candles this year, I'll make a wish that every year that I'm alive is better than the one before – I am going to make my birthday a reason to celebrate. And I'm going to face it the way I have always done, with laughter and excitement at all that I have yet to accomplish and all that I have to look forward to in my life.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Of feminists and opposition*

Yesterday evening, somebody accused me of being a ‘man-hating, pro-choice, NGO employee feminist.’ By ‘accused’ I most certainly do not mean to allude that the term ‘feminist’ is a derogatory epithet. On the contrary, I hold most feminists in reverence; they wish to end the gender gap and oppose sexism in all shapes and forms.  They work for female empowerment, the recognition of oppression, and the advocation of equality and the courage with which they do this makes them worthy of praise and appreciation.

The accusation was made by one of the few men I loathe in the world. He runs a so called religious tv show, has a fake degree and supports the man who murdered Salman Taseer. Yet, he has the gall to act like no one more pious and God-fearing than him ever existed. On the live show that he hosts he made tall claims that the ‘liberal and fascist’ feminists of our country are soon forgetting their values and morals and that they are indifferent to Dr. Aafia Siddiqui’s 86 years of imprisonment but condone the treatment lashed out at Bibi Aasiya. He felt the reason for this was that these ‘liberal and fascist’ (his repetition of these words was almost nauseating) feminists will support anything our religion has declared as inappropriate.

He did not stop at that. He went on to state that ‘NGO feminists’ are in essence, atheists and promote the ‘shameless way of life’ of the U.S. And that they seek to give Pakistani women as many rights as the female community in the West has, whereas (and here comes the joke of the century) women in Pakistan have more rights than Western women can even dream of. He asserted that Pakistani women play the role of ‘sister, wife, mother’ whereas Western women are only recognized as ‘partner, girlfriend or call-girl.’ His naiveté (or should I say ignorance?) made my blood boil; his claims were completely ill found; his arguments entirely baseless.  

It is rare in Pakistan to hear feminism being described as female empowerment or as an organized activity on behalf of women's rights and interests, which is how it is defined in the dictionary. Why has feminism taken on such a negative meaning? In my opinion, any strong and independent woman would want to be labeled as a feminist. Yet many women are cautious, afraid even, of aligning themselves with the word feminist. Fear is part of the equation…the justifiable fear of what lies ahead for any woman boldly proclaiming her commitment to empowerment. Is it because in order to be a feminist, a woman must deal with false assumptions about her sexual preference, cultural beliefs, and general outlook on life? What woman would want to deal with this constant barrage of insults in order to proclaim herself a feminist? 

*Click HERE to gain access to the aforementioned television programme.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Another year goes by...

I don't particularly like New Years. I have always been shy of novelties; new books, new faces, in a nutshell, any sort of change - from some mental twist which makes it difficult in me to face the prospective. I have almost ceased to hope; and am sanguine only in the prospects of other (former) years. Many things turn on the New Year. We vow and reminisce; we plan and gather our thoughts towards an action we may not be able to carry out through the following twelve months. Some things end and some start. We get an imagined chance to start afresh, a New Year, a clean slate. The New Year is also a boundary and arbitrary line drawn to enable the world to sort things out. 

From Christmas Day till New Years Eve, I like to plunge into foregone visions and conclusions. I encounter past disappointments. I try to make myself armour-proof against old discouragements. I forgive, or overcome grudgingly, old adversaries. But most importantly, I review my last year’s resolutions, in hope to carry them out in the following year. If anything, each new year teaches me that plot and plan as we will, every month will spring up some completely unexpected surprises on us; people will change for better or for worse – some will come into our lives, others will leave us. Come what may, one maelstrom after the other, life will stop for no one and nothing. With this spirit in mind I begin 2011 and like every year, resolve to make this year, the best one of my life.

To those who follow my blog and those who don’t, ‘May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books, and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art. Write, or draw, or build, or sing, or live, as only you can. May your coming year be a wonderful thing, in which you dream both dangerously and outrageously. I hope you'll make something that didn't exist before you made it; that you will be loved, and you will be liked; and you will have people to love and to like in return. And most importantly, because I think there should be more kindness and more wisdom in the world right now, I hope that you will, when you need to be, be wise, and that you will always be kind. And I hope that somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.’ – Neil Gaiman