Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A Father’s Long Distance Obituary – From His Daughter, With Love

I grieve in words. For I did not witness the physical agony he was in. For I was unable to imagine my fierce Abbu not being able to speak or move despite trying. For I will not be able to touch his cold veined hands tomorrow and say goodbye as he is laid to rest. For I will not be able to hug my brother as I cry silently – the only way I know how to cry.  Today I grieve the death of my father, in words.

From making an elaborate sketch of his face in pencil and always keeping it with me in my bag like a treasure – as I was in complete awe of him even when I was afraid of him – to tearing that sketch in anguish many years later, to finally reaching a moment when I wished I hadn’t torn it to pieces, many more years later.

From him banishing me because I chose to study business over home economics like all his other daughters, to him insisting on driving me loudly and proudly to my first day at my job.

From his rage over my ‘immodest’ sleeveless shirt, to us having a smoke together, me in another one of my immodest sleeveless shirts and him advising me earnestly to quit smoking.

It was a relationship that survived the test of anger, pain, and time, leaving only love and mutual respect behind. Whether that survival was a biological eventuality or a real bond, I don’t know, and I don’t care. It was, it is, worth so much.

We were so much alike. He was a male chauvinist. I was a female chauvinist. He had his pride. I had mine. But somewhere along the road, he lost his chauvinism – albeit I didn’t entirely lose mine – and we both relinquished our pride. We became friends who finally realized, accepted and almost cherished how alike they were.

I truly loved him. And I believe he truly loved me. Something we never really expressed in words –until our last words. Before he lost consciousness, I sent him a text message thanking him for teaching me even when he was not trying to teach me. For making me, even when he was not trying to make me. I told him I loved him. He told me he loved me. Can that be considered a worthy goodbye? It will have to be for me to not harbor regrets.

Grieving from a distance is a different and new experience for me.  When I received the text informing me of my father’s death – in another part of the world, in another time zone – I didn’t know what to do with myself. I didn’t know where to put my hands, where to look as I cry. Do I continue looking at my laptop screen and keep responding to that email, do I look outside the window, or do I simply walk out. Who do I look at when crying? And why does it matter so much that I am fixated on trying to find the right answer to this ludicrous question? There are no arrangements that I have to make, there is no one I must offer comfort to right away, there is nothing I have to do. 

And then I suddenly looked at the world’s clock to confirm which day and time it was in Pakistan so I would remember his day of death. It reminded me of the time when he told us that his real birth date was not May 15, the only birthday of his we had always known. After Indo-Pak partition and his migration, due to some erroneous paper work, his real date of birth was misplaced in the system. I would insist to know of his real birth date each year. He would tell me a different date each time– for he did not remember. How incessantly I obsessed about it for years – feeling like the cheap perfume I would buy him each year would somehow mean less, not because it was awful, but because it would not be given on his ‘real’ birthday.

I catch myself as I start to obsess about not being there on his real death day.

It’s hard to imagine a world without you Abbu. I grieve you in distance, I grieve you in isolation. I grieve you in words.

Rest in peace. You have bloody well earned it.

Mahmood Ahmed, May 15, 1938 – September 27, 2017

Monday, September 4, 2017

Erasing My Brown

When you immigrate, you bring with yourself a lot of baggage. Your belongings are more than your clothes and other items you travel with. They include memories of your culture, weight of your history of colonization in your DNA, your third world mind and heart.

You carry things that provide a semblance of familiarity, before you start letting them go to catch the subway in time, to finish your 40-hour week, to be an immigration survivor, in hopes to be an immigrant success.

You try hard to leave behind the tragedies and trauma your third world inflicted on you, and start anew. You want to integrate into a secular, modern society where the presence and ownership of your female genitals won’t put you in the line of fire, at least in your daily life. But you continue to remain in the margins. Even if you have abandoned your beliefs, you still carry your brown colour. You still carry the smell of henna that you loved applying on your hands on Eid. You still hold the taste of warm rotis in your mouth. Your tongue still craves for those words of Urdu. Some things will never become unfamiliar, no matter how much your familiarity adapts to another life.

You want to remember the henna, colourful dupattas, and the fragile glass bangles but want to forget the greeting hand of your molester on your head in a house full of family. You wish to remember your achievements of the past without reminding yourself of the social cost at which they were gained. You want to identify with how you stood tall in the face of adversity but shiver at the thought of standing in front of a judge trembling uncontrollably when he refused to help you get your child back. 

Selective memory is an art. Embracing the good and banishing the bad in that one moment in time is hard. Integrating in a new Western culture with your skin that is not brown but identifies as such is some times perplexing. 

You remain torn – stuck in between, trying to only remember the taste of warm roti's you had while licking the curry off your fingers, and reminding yourself that you still enjoy the foreign cornbread because now you can have it shamelessly with a glass of wine.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Lemon Tarts

If you hate lemons, that’s what you will often get from life. Then one day, you learn to make delicious chicken curry with them and suddenly don’t hate them anymore.

The lemons still keep coming. But their acidity stands interrupted.  These are my very deep thoughts as I stare at buckets and buckets full of lemons in my current world view. Such deep thoughts that eventually transform into unrelenting apathy, or vivid fantasies about becoming a world famous juggler who juggles expertly while standing on a single steady foot. 

The lemons in this analogy are caustic emotions.

I used to think of emotions as natural and valuable – as long as they were mine – as long as their pitch was not so high – as long as their expression not so dramatic and repetitive.

It was the “as long as” that got me into trouble each time. Lo and behold, a regular influx of drama queens in my life, who are bursting through their fragile skins with abundant sour emotions – tasting bitter and sending unwanted and rapidly dissipating shivers down my hidden places.

The need for relentless attention. The want for undeserving appreciation. The fragility of core existence. The victims of every interaction.

Yawn. Burp. 

Is it too much, or is it too much for me? Am I simply too arrogant of my adversities – faced and overcome without organized crime, religion or therapy? 

Did I lose my vulnerability with pride, like young lovers lose their virginity?

And when the fuck would I learn to make delicious chicken curry?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Visible Minority Report

Neither Black Nor White - 2017
"Are you a member of a visible minority?" The first time I was asked this question, it left me perplexed and curious. It was a very new term for me, and raised a very pertinent question as a new immigrant – who am I in the official definitions of visibility and vulnerability.

Google has all the answers, although they often raise even more questions. 

"A visible minority is defined by the Canadian government as "persons, other than Aboriginal people, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour". (Source: Wikipedia)

As a South Asian woman, I could never really figure out the colour of my skin. In Pakistan, I was considered an acceptable level of 'fair'. Fair enough to get a sufficient number of arranged marriage proposals.

It was a briefly refreshing change in issues to move from my gender to race when I arrived here. Race is something I had never really thought about in the context of my own life. In our country, we hate (and sometimes kill) people based on their religious sects, and/or religious expressions. Race is primarily a cause of intellectual discrimination based on our origins. Skin colour is not associated with race, but often with beauty. It is ironic to know that 'white' is considered the epitome of beauty.

In Canada, race is relevant. And the most popular and common identity of race is colour, or in some cases visual features - causing even more confusion for me. I am neither black nor white. I don't have a history of marginalization, or notions of supremacy based on the colour of my skin. I don't have powerful voices fighting for my colour kind and making the world listen. And I don't have the privilege of belonging to the majority that can naively claim that 'all lives matter'. My eyes are very ordinary and do not offer any visible identification. I don't think I am even brown, a race colour I am supposed to identify with. 

It was only in recent times that my kind was categorically associated with terrorism and orthodox life views – but that too has more to do with your garb, language or lifestyle. With my short short hair, multiple facial piercings, Western clothes, and non-peculiar English accent that cannot be easily placed, I am a visible enigma, for people and frankly sometimes for my own self. 

There is no one fighting for the rights of my race of colour. There is no slogan that defines my history or struggle. I cannot even rightfully claim 'Islamophobia' because I occasionally suffer from it myself.

So I continue to wonder: 

What is my colour?

Does my life and lives of my kind matter?

Does my colour make me visible?

Or am I an invisible minority in Canada? 

When will we create a world where all that becomes inconsequential? 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Mob That Lynched Your Freedom

The word 'lynched' is one of the most ugly words. The way the letters are placed next to each other, the resulting sound even when you just think it and not say it out loud, and all its assigned and associated meanings – are worth a thousand cringes. It's astounding how one word can express the depth and strength of human cruelty.

Blasphemy is another word that makes me retreat and attack at the same time. Millions of people in the country, many documented belief systems. So many of those millions, in belief or disbelief of any system, are convinced that they are the only true ones. And the others must be punished.  And for some, the ultimate punishment deemed fit for being considered wrong is death - a public and painful death. The incitement and ensuing apathy of the state in condoning this chain of thought does not help. We are the descendants of monkeys after all.

What happened to Mashal Khan is not an isolated incident. It wasn't the first time and it certainly wont be the last. Thanks to technology, we can be a witness to his lynching (cringes).

Every single Pakistani, liberal or conservative, religious or not, should watch that video again. This time imagine yourself or your loved one, even your own child, being tortured in place of Mashal Khan. Dragged from the room, shot, thrown out of the window, kicked and beaten, stripped naked and completely broken.

It could very well be you. Look at your recent facebook posts. Maybe you wrote something in support of feminism, a religious minority or the LGBTQ community recently. Maybe you forgot to write PBUH when you mentioned the Prophet. Or maybe you simply offended someone by saying anything that does not conform to any of the 3000 thoughts per hour going through the conscious minds of 200 million people in the country. Every day you express your opinions, with purpose or without, and still go out and interact, still try to be who you are without hiding, you are a target. You are brave, like Mashal Khan was. But you may be lynched (cringe), like he was.

Should you run away like I did? Or should you simply conform in every possible way? Should you limit your social interactions and live in a fragile bubble? Or should you try to fight back and hope that you won't be killed, at least painfully? Each choice is tough, either for yourself or for the society that begs for change.

Putting the perpetrators of this particular crime in jail would simply not be enough. The hunger games in our pre-apocalyptic dystopia have become too strong. This tragedy would not be the last. There would be another incident like this. It could be you. It could be your children.

This is for all my friends who did not run away like I did and who do not hide. Who continue to be who they are and live in bravery every day. I wish you safety, I wish you change. And I salute your resilience.

Monday, January 30, 2017

#HateLovesTrump #TrumpLovesHate #LoveTrumpsHate

The World is America. End of the World means End of the United States of America. It is the place where forces of good and evil will fight their last battle. It is the place that breeds the saviors. This has been and still is the primary premise in most armageddon themed hollywood movies.

But in some ways, this presumption is not entirely fictional and narcissistic.

America is – too much. It eats too much. It shits too much. It gives too much. It takes too much. It is the superpower that wields super powers. Even if millions of its citizens live in poverty, it is a country that is rich and decadent with the wealth of weapons and a bottomless need and power to trade. It is the law and its enforcer, the judge and the jury. It is a country that made a hulking villain out of a nascent socio-economic 'idea' and sold us capitalism and corporatization of human senses as the only true liberator. It is an entity that created global terrorism and now receives accolades for protecting us from it with all its might. It. is. the. world. We are merely followers - in peace or war, in love or hatred, in alliance or defiance.

So when America 'democratically' elects a president that not only does bad things but says them too , it leaves us in utter frenzy – when really nothing has changed except words and faces. Just the sugar from the coating is amiss. Some of us cannot handle the sour truth. Others are busy promoting it. Brands are being built and destroyed, political images are being refurbished or crushed. Social media is (over) charged with bipolar views. Funds are being raised, protests are being held, old stereotypes are being challenged with freshly baked ones. The leader of the 'Free World' is saying what is and has always been.

It is proof that words speak much louder than actions.

The wars that have been manufactured, funded and profited from are forgotten. The war refugees' right to live and breathe in their own homes is not under any scrupulous scrutiny. But the decision to ban those refugees from seeking shelter in the arms of the war mongers is causing extreme devastation and outcry. There are 13.5 million Syrians in need of humanitarian aid. Over 4.8 million are displaced outside their country. America has given shelter to 10,000 with 18,000 total possible settlements.  The last president supported 7 wars and gave shelter to a minuscule percent of the victims of some of those wars. The current president is playing a smaller game with much crassness. He is no politician (yet). He will learn the ways and trade his petty need for attention for diplomacy and real power. He will learn the ways of his predecessors. Or he will be replaced by someone who can maintain intellectual peace and keep social media revolutions within manageable limits. Who would know how to bait the minds and hearts just enough to remain the victim and the defender.

Despite the hypocrisy of the situation, it is still good to see the loud difference between 'America' and 'Americans' at this time. It is good to see that in a country with strong intentions, there are many inhabitants with good intentions. That there are still some things that have the capacity, albeit temporary, to unite the people of all kinds in a world that is bigger than America.
As an immigrant, it is also faintly satisfying to see the fresh wave of sympathy for those who have left their own countries to escape tyranny, bigotry or suppression, and chose to live in eternal re-settlement, with fears of new kinds. Sympathy that acknowledges on a mass social media scale that they are 'humans' after all.

I stay curious and wait. When will our attention span run out? When will we move on to the next rant, objection or disagreement? When will we get bored with this leader , who was democratically elected on the merits of his bigotry that in the form of executive orders does not seem so bearable.

Against all my cynicism, I wish this progresses to something that targets not just one leader but the years of hatred that he represents and we harbour – that exists in all corners of the world and the rest. I wish this opens our minds and hearts even more, until we stop judging good and evil as black or white, Muslim or Christian, East or West, immigrant or citizen.

And while we protest and I wait, Pakistan (my own home country) has just acquitted 112 suspects involved in torching hundreds of Christian homes a few years ago. The most progressive - lost and found - social media activists in my country have been silenced by the authorities in their 'not talked about' ways. Reported and unreported body counts have risen in countries where blatant or clandestine wars are in big business. Life and death, good and evil, freedom and oppression – go on, uninterrupted.  

Monday, December 19, 2016

Rapist by Association

Rapists-we all hate them. Even those who rape their own wives hate them. We condemn the heinous act. Even those who sexually harass others once in a while condemn it.

Rape is a crime that doesn't belong to any particular terrorist group, religious identity or race - although 80% of sex crime victims are women. So one might generalise that this crime may be owned by the tribe of 'men'. That incriminates every single man in this world with a penis or a candle stick, doesn't it? That is not a fair inference, is it now? Then why is it acceptable that if a sexual assault is committed by a man of a particular 'visible' minority, his entire race is shamed?

A Pakistani man living in Canada made news when he sexually assaulted a woman. It was reported today that he was sentenced to (ONLY) two years and nine months in prison, but has fled to Pakistan to evade the charges. Any man who has the capacity to take advantage of a non-consenting other, is vile, rotten and should be punished by law (alhough that rarely happens in this world).

The rapist was a Pakistani and a Permanent Resident of Canada. By association, the ever so sharp social (media) justice is incriminating all Pakistanis living here. One man's Pakistani penis is reflecting the character of the rest of us Paki immigrants. 

Reading the comments posted by some very polite people on the news report about the man, I wonder - is that what you really think of me simply because I belong to a particular country? Is this what you are really feeling when you meet me and chirp 'Congratulations on getting immigration' - like you are my saviour and I am your burden? 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Never Again

Cute pets wearing silly hats is the greatest thing you will see today, said a Facebook post. Light-up unicorn slippers are the most magical thing you have ever seen, said another. Toronto has a new cafe where poop-like desserts are served in toilet bowls - anything is possible, said the blogger. People are arguing about who is right about the latest situation in Aleppo. Don't believe everything you read, they say. I see a cover photo with a beautifully illustrated image of a child's bloodied shoe. Never again, it said.

Two years ago on December 16, 132 children were attacked and killed by terrorists in a school in Pakistan. We mourned, made emotional songs and talked about giving guns to teachers in schools. We said never again. 

An estimated 345 children die everyday as a result of violence. In the last 2 years, 251,850 children of the world must have died violent deaths. 

Never say never I said before liking the bloodied shoe and the cute pets wearing silly hats. I don't like unicorns anyway.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Stimulating Conversations

Q. Can you speak English?
A. Yes. We just had a long conversation in English.

Q. But how can you speak English?
A. Because it is an international language. Because my ancestors were ruled by the British. Because I worship white people and their language. Because I am stupid?

Q. But you don't even have an accent???
A. I'm so sorry.

Q. Wow!
A. Wow!!

Q. Oh, you even drink? Weren't you ever stoned to death.
A. I was. I am dead.

Q. Wow!
A. Wow!!