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Showing posts from 2011

Winter stories

December 8 Sometimes I miss the comfort of permanency. Even though I think part of the reason I applied for masters was to step off track and start walking in a different direction, knowing it was going to be a short-term journey. I know that, but sometimes walking back home in the cold to wonder over which frozen kebabs to have for dinner, I think it would be nice to be settled. To have a good job, a husband, parents close by, friends, cousins, relatives, colleagues in neat concentric circles around me and my perfect house. To know people on the street, wave at the guard everyday as he helps me back my car out of the driveway. To invest in real furniture, rugs, frames – you can tell the difference between students and real people when you visit their houses and see the posters, photographs, and postcards put up on the wall with tape. Real people have nice glass frames. And lots of lamps, and cushions on the couch that match two of the coasters on a non-Walmart coffee table. At least …

Psst...its the past

December 3There are some memories that are so perfect, like powder fresh snow, that you’re scared to remove them from the shelf in your brain, afraid that if you transport yourself back to the sidewalks that served as your everyday sitting areas, the paper cups of tea that strange bees would attempt to sip and in their attempt to sip they would drive you mad, zipping around your hands in circles; to the green benches, the photocopied reading packages that were perfect for straightening out crooked postcards; to the nights spent playing games and just talking, leaning back to put your head on somebody’s bag, the nights spent fighting sleep to reach that stage of delirium when everything is funny and everything is okay and oily halwa poori seems like the only thing that make sense; you’re afraid that if you are able to turn back enough to see all that is over, your heart will crumble, like a moldy cake, or an over-baked cookie.Basit Koshul was so cool and so were Peirce and Allama Iqbal…

Conjuring perfection

November 29 The skies cleared today and the sun returned from a three-day holiday in the Bahamas. The air warmed up, the colors crept out, over the trees, flinging themselves into the breeze, brightening the blues, the reds and browns of roofs and onto the few lazy leaves still hanging on. I stepped into the porch and country music followed after me. It finally felt like it was day – a bright, beautiful early winter day, crisp and cold. I leaned forward with my elbows on the rickety wooden banister and you came out to stand next to me. ‘Why are your hands so cold?’ you wrap your warm hands around mine.‘Because I’m about to die,’ I lean my head on your shoulder. ‘There’s gotta be more than this…’ drawls a country singer.No, I tell her.

Vague aches

November 27It feels like nine but it’s just past five. Winter is here, I felt it in the sharp tingling on my skin as I walked from the Metro station to my house, a thousand and five pins of ice smattering across my face. The windows are foggy and the heat is humming constantly, trying to churn up some life in the house. It seems empty, we need rugs and couches.Ah, couches. I spent the most indulgent weekend and the couch at my brother’s was just amazing. I mean, I’ve always defended our free-Walmart futon but it is definitely not one of those castles of comfort in which you can sink and just remain static for hours – even though my roommate would beg to differ. Goodbyes can be like thorns, stuck under your nails, constantly painful or like small holes within your chest, as if something is missing and the feeling of something amiss sits on your brow, balancing itself on your eyelashes, you feel it every time you blink, you’re not sure what it is, it’s like something dancing at the edge…

Happy Thanksgiving

November 22 Words can be like hamsters. If you’re not careful and you look away for too long, they can escape and hide. And when you finally set around looking for them, you can’t find them. You’re forced into a hide-and-seek game and it’s not as easy as playing with four year olds who always hide in the same places, no, you really have to work on it, bending down on your hands and knees, looking into dusty corners, between pages of a book tucked far away on the shelf, maybe curled right in the middle of a bunch of receipts you were supposed to use to finally record how much money you really spend in a month.I saw what looked like a doll made out of straw in the branches of a tree and I wondered if squirrels are smarter than we think. I also never realized what an annoying sound squirrels make – strange, high-pitched birdlike squeaking. Screeching like very tiny, angry ghouls. Which makes me wonder about all the noises animals make. I mean, one of the first conversations we have with …

Reference points

November 12 Grandparents are important in our culture. They sit sturdy like rocks in the center and no matter how many directions the children go in, how far and how entangled the lines get, their presence is like a magnet. When weddings, funerals, births, Eids and summer vacations come tumbling down the pathways of time, the grandparent’s house lights up.America is struggling with an aging population. In the midst of individuals who lose all connections in their passionate struggle to be independent, climbing up a mountain of freedom to realize there is only room for one person at the peak and at the end of a day, it is a terrifyingly empty and lonely place to be, in the midst of anti-aging products lining shelves upon shelves in an explosion of consumerism, small red bottles of magic potions and green bundles of money, red, blue and white plastic credit cards, in the midst of a manic fear of growing old and weak, live an ever increasing number of older adults. Nursing homes are a …

See, smell, touch, be in New York

November 8 The city assaults all of your senses – the smell of perspiration, people, piss, the sight of so many people, black, brown, white, yellow, blending in together like a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle, all the pieces are different but when you put them together, it’s just right. The skyscrapers, the lights, the hats, the boots, the people, the people, the people. The sounds – of an off-key drunken man singing about change and the beat of drums in the dingy basement of a subway station, the trains chugging by every five minutes five miles away, the scattered group protesting against Israeli oppression… “Speak out against Israeli oppression…” yells a compassionate man into a loudspeaker, “You’re an asshole,” says a nearby pedestrian, “So are you, we’re both assholes,” the compassionate man replies compassionately, adding, “And you’re a fat asshole, at least I’m not fat.” You hear so many languages you forget which one is supposed to be the dominant one and the joy of catching a phr…

Stinking awesome

November 4The buildings stand tall and solitary, in a solemn queue awaiting the sun that knights them with a ring of burning gold, glory for a minute and then it’s gone, the buildings are dim again. But when it gets really dark, they’re going to light up from within.I’m starting to like New York. The city makes me lonely but it’s the romantic loneliness, the kind that could inspire prose, poetry and graffiti. The lady with the red shoes, the boy with the incessant desire to write mediocre short stories and the fat, bearded man who turned into a son-of-a-bitch every time he eats a banana, the rats scampering along the dirty train tracks, the thousands of hands that touch a metal railing in the subway, leaving imprints of grease, germs, baby powder, blue lint from gloves, sweat and sadness. The red-eyed man who was going home to dirty dishes and a loving wife too drunk to remember that she loves him.I like how people here carry around paperbacks. Guys just need to be wearing glasses, mi…

Coffee to go

November 3 The privilege of not caring. The privilege of thinking of family first, of taking a break, of letting go. I always felt I was so smart the way I try and rationalize, convince the knots of stress in my shoulders to unknot simply by listening to the logic of my argument, about what really matters in life. Your family is more important than an assignment, sometimes you just need to give yourself a rest and indulge – ice cream, or an awful reality show. But everybody doesn’t have the luxury to think of themselves first, even if it is now and then. Even worse, everybody doesn’t have the privilege of spending time with their family, even when they need them most. It all comes down to money and that crushes me.Somebody argued me once about religion and all the wars it has caused. What about all the misery money causes? All the wars, the big ones and the ones that go on in thousands of countries, cities, millions of neighborhoods and households every day? “Well the economic system …

I promise you, gaanaa abhi uthay ga

November 1All the watches and clocks disappear, time as a concept dissolves and all that exists right now is the crisp Autumn breeze. The sun shimmers in a pool of gold behind leaves, the trees are tall, beautiful and that is my world at this moment.It is the best kind of silence, the solitude that glitters like a drop of rain on the tip of a leaf. It is momentary and that is where its perfection lies. Two squirrels perch on our fence, an old, faded blue rug hangs on the banister, and every now and then leaves swirl down as if in a dream. I’m sitting on my back porch, with Coke Studio, a glass of pink lemonade and the after effects of a single cigarette. I think of you and when we sat on the brick ledge after our Aasim Sajjad class, sharing headphones and you wanted to listen to a fast paced song. “Listen to this,” I told you. “Yeh gaanaa abhi uthay ga.”I miss you, Rouje.

Higher

October 30You know you’re having a lucky day if you hit your Walmart desk with your Walmart rolly-chair five times and still nothing falls off. Not even the gigantic blue mug of elaichi chai. So, Elizabeth and I finally pushed one another out of the house, onto the metro and into Upper Limits. We weren’t sure how it would work out considering neither of us knows/remembers how to belay very well but it turned out well for us because that gym had auto-belays. And they were situated very conveniently near the 5.6 to 5.8s. All you have to do is clip on twice and then climb up.Seems easy enough. And so I started the 5.6 and it truly was simpler than I had expected. The ‘rocks’ were spaced at easy intervals and they had nice upward curvy corners that provide good grips. About 20 feet up I started to feel a little scared though. Not because I was tired or the climbing was hard – no, it was just a thought that casually came and perched on my shoulder like a parrot. “You’re going to fall and b…

A Pakistani dream (I)

October 27So I’ve been thinking about it for a while but it feels like a harder task so I’d been putting it off. I was either too sleepy or too tired and Desperate Housewives was easier. But right now, listening to Laal singing Habib Jalib’s poetry, I’m revved up like a clockwork toy all wound up and waiting to whir forward.In my attempt to make sense and not fall off a cliff of alliterations and magic realistic cotton candy-colored thought bubbles, I will tackle this on two fronts: 1. our perception of America as the place to be and 2. the nerve of American (government, politicians, media and population that falls into this category. I take care to point out the Americans who stand vehemently opposed to what follows) to push Pakistanis and Muslims down a muddy slope of negative stereotypes, sticking them with labels of terrorism, underdevelopment, fundamentalism, extremism and oppression, cover us up with so many labels that you can’t even tell what lies beneath, blind us, stifle us,…

Friends like hammocks

October 24The difference is like that between falling into a groove cut exactly to fit you and sitting patiently on your knees at the edge of a stiff heap of clay to slowly carve and mold a new one to fit you. To not have to think about whether you’re talking in English or Urdu, to have a list of people to refer to and wonder and ask about, where is he now? When did she decide to go there? To have a few years of memories together so that hanging out is kind of like chilling out on a hammock. It’s easy. Old friends are like old jeans - the more worn-out they get, the better they fit and the more you love them.So I went the entire weekend without touching a book or notes or an assignment. Grad school is about priorities.You can’t let work get in the way of going to Chicago because those opportunities just don’t come by the dozens. Kind of like trying to find someone who is going to the Indian store. You just have to put it first. And am I glad I can make the right choices because Chicag…

`Mulch` on my mind

October 12 I hear footsteps and my heart pounds. I open my eyes and stare at the ceiling, concentrating on the sound of soft slippers slowly walking away. I dare to sit up and my door is open just an inch more than it was before I fell asleep. Sweat starts to pour down my forehead and I try and remember if I had locked my front door properly. I did, I didn’t, I’m sure I did, I always check all doors and windows at nine pm, but did I get a phone call – what’s that? My train of thoughts derails, the track disappeared and now all I can see is the shadow of a person standing outside my room.“Are you awake?” someone asks and the fake concern, the imitated normalcy of the tone catches me off-guard. Chills creep up my spine as the person just walks into my room, peering into the dark.Maybe if I pretend I’m asleep…but I’m sitting up…who is this? Who took away the dagger I keep under my pillow, my hand searches in vain for the comfort of a sharp edge. “Mirrah? Hey, are you okay?”I nearly choke…

Letting in the light

October 9 The best part about studying social work is the constant tap on the shoulder that makes you look in a different direction. Things I read or hear pop the bubble around my head, grab me by the ankles and pull me out from under my sofa of inane insecurities. I blink because it’s so bright and then sit back and examine the words that construct, deconstruct, shift and reorganize my thoughts. As awful as the three-page instructions were, I started on my assignment – which is to understand, analyze and study a privilege we have – I’ve decided to choose my ability (that is being non-disabled) as a privilege simply because I never thought about it much. I mean yeah, every time I’d read Helen Keller or see someone in a wheelchair, sometimes when the electricity would go and refuse to come back I would wonder what it would be like to be blind but I never had to analyze what disability is and how as an able-bodied person I perpetuate a system of oppression.Ha! I sound like an obnoxious …

Fat and sad

October 7It’s like walking on thin ice, or a field with pits and holes dug all over and then covered with dried leaves. I don’t know when I’m going to fall but the feeling of falling is imminent, it hangs over me like a cobweb – I can only see it at a certain angle in a certain light. I was walking on a tight rope over an abyss of loneliness even before the sun set and then, as it became darker outside, instructions to an assignment pushed me over. When you’re on a tight rope it doesn’t take much to make you slip but seriously, three pages of instructions for one assignment tells you something. It tells you you’re in for two awful weeks, for long stretches of researching. My eyes will shrink, the muscles between my shoulders and neck will tense up, knot together in wiry balls of stress, my brain will stop functioning eventually and I will eat incessantly and get depressed at a rate proportionate to the food I’m shoveling into my mouth. I wondered if I should take up on a friend’s offe…

Knitting socks, scarves and sweaters

October 4The beetles and bugs and butterflies line up before the little tubs of paint at 10 past 10 every night and one by one dip their little feet into the tubs of yellow, red, orange and brown. Some choose one color but others mix and match and then they all spread out, across the asphalt, grass, ground, up the tree trunks and onto the leaves, changing the green into colors of autumn. Yellow like marigolds, orange like the rust that lines the windows of houses near the sea, deep red like black cherries, brown like your eyes. Trees with their tops still green and the lower branches ready to flick off rows of brown, the leaves still green in the middle but toasted around the edges. I love the red trees, with all their leaves drenched in shades of cerise and maroon but I think I love the trees that are in between, peachy, soft pink-orange colored, even more. There have been frequent robberies around our neighborhoods in the past two weeks. Somebody got whacked with a tennis racket! Mo…

Bedbuggered

September 29I woke up that day adrift in a sea of blossoms, pale pink, delicate, silent. Except they didn’t smell like flowers, more like mothballs or dust and then when I leaned over, closer, the blossoms turned out to be scrunched up paper, I barely touched one with a finger that the entire sea shook, shuddered, rustled and it sounded like rain or a child beating on tin sheets, and the papers unfurled, words poured down, catching in my hair, bruising my skin, scratching, tearing. I woke up one night to find myself standing on a bridge made of playing cards. It was dark all around me so I couldn’t tell if I was surrounded by water or fire or a just a deep abyss. I’m afraid to move because I fear the bridge might collapse so I continue to stand, gingerly, terrified and stuck. I hope the sun rises soon so I can see clearer…Thoughts can sometimes be like bedbugs. They make you twist and turn and roll around, they yank sleep away just as it starts to settle on you like a film of dust on …