Showing posts from 2013

Day 2: Shame is of Zero Yuan

October 19
I’m not much of a shopper, most definitely a weak bargainer.  And that put me at a severe disadvantage for today’s mission: to shop.  Since uncle was gracious enough to spend his Saturday taking us to a few choice malls and markets, we started the day with some mild hustling at the Chinese sabzi mandi.  Once again the sad, cute strays, trudging amidst heaps of beautiful looking vegetables: bright purple eggplant, perfectly crafted Chinese cabbage (which looks like fancy lettuce) and gigantic squash type green vegetables that weighed as much as a baby whale.  Or at least a baby human.
We bought enough vegetables to set up a small mandi of our own and as we drove off, I saw a lady holding her adorable baby in her lap, his butt exposed to the world, and almost as disturbingly, to the vegetables all around her.  I hoped she was just airing his baby behind and not mistaking the middle of her cabbage stall for a bathroom cubicle.  
We passed more crumbling walls, dusty, potholed r…

Day 1: Laughing in Chinese

October 18
Who goes to China? I suppose 26-year-old women about to lose their free PIA tickets (to the joys of marriage).  It was really my parents’ idea and I acquiesced to it (the most aptly I have ever used the word ‘acquiesced’!).  It is a seven-day affair and we are staying at my dad’s friend’s house.  He lives here alone while his family lives in Pakistan and therefore has plenty of space to spare.
According to my dad who is visiting after at least 20 years – and general knowledge around the world – Beijing has transformed drastically.  The airport was impeccable, systematic, quiet, neat.  The sweet immigration officer barely looked at our faces as he stamped us through.  Is it because he doesn’t know English or because he assumes we don’t? I wondered but gave him a ‘greatly satisfied’ rating.  There were Likert-scale rating buttons outside each cubicle! 
Stepping out into Beijing, even at the airport, it felt like I had suddenly lost the ability to read.  There was hardly any En…


October 4
I saw a fake nail in the gym today.  It was lying all alone by a yoga mat and two 4kg weights and although I am no expert, I am positive that the pink, plasticky-fingernail shaped object was a fake fingernail (at least I hope it was fake).  And it just really bummed me out.  And then it reminded me of how Myra and I didn’t get our Greece visa.  I’m not sure how my brain made the association between the fallen nail and our dashed hopes of bare feet burrowing in white sands and sneakered-treks to the Acropolis… maybe cause the nail bummed me out and not getting the visa bummed me out and all bummy thoughts are shoved together on the same shelf inside my mind? (Of course it is organized inside there.  I alphabetized my books for crying out loud.)
Or maybe the forlorn nail reminded of the word ‘rejection’.  Nobody likes that word.  In fact, we are terrified of it – it makes our stomach plunge, gives us nightmares, aims for our confidence and self-esteem like Mohammad Ali aiming f…

In the Company of Insomnia

September 28
Tara sat in the armchair by her bedroom window, unable to fall asleep.  The evening had slipped into night, exchanging her lavender gown for a black velvet cloak, switching on tiny lamps in the sky because she is afraid of the dark, nudging the moon with her toe, slowly rolling it to the top, from where it shone whitely onto Tara’s window, where she sat with her insomnia in her lap.
The silence stands just behind her, softly breathing melancholy thoughts into her ears, like a selfish lover whose love has atrophied into jealousy and insanity, no longer warm and comforting, instead distant, foreign, painful because of the memory of their closeness that now taunts.
It is when her house falls quiet and the neighborhood too crawls into bed, when the eagles are swaying in their sleep on tall coconut trees, when the crickets have exhausted all conversation, it is in the blaring quiet of the deep night that Tara’s insomnia sidles out from under her bed and comes to lie down with …

Red Light, Red Light

September 23
I think the first and last time I have heard my father curse (and by curse I mean a whopper of an expletive) was in our car.  I remember being more stunned by the fact that he cursed out loud than the mad bus driver who had almost run us over like we were in a cartoon movie (in which when you’re run over you simply stretch thin and then shake yourself back to normal size).  Driving in Pakistan is an incredible phenomenon.  It defies all rationality and once again, if we were cartoons, just a couple of minutes out on the road would make our heads explode in a burst of disbelief.  But of course, since our heads stay intact – physically, usually, - the disbelief gives way to frustration, anger, temporary insanity.  Especially in Karachi, a mad city bursting with machismo that erupts out on the roads.
In Karachi, we don’t believe in traffic rules.  We like to think of them as suggestions, something to follow occasionally, almost accidentally.  Just like the city itself, how p…

Wicked Forces

September 16
They are insidious creatures that hide in my pillowcase, crouch behind my ears, hang on to me with their nails digging into my scalp, tiny deep blue imps, conjured in times of idleness, times of distance, powered by the insecurity that courses through my veins. They carve messages into the walls of my brain, paint my emotions a heavy gray that overwhelms, drowns, dives from my heart to the bottom of my stomach, billowing further down my legs, disappearing and leaving a deep vacuum, an absence like a whirling vortex, a black hole that drains me of energy, rationality, thought, that drains me of me.
It is like being kidnapped, overpowered, blindfolded and thrown into the back of a moving car, like being shoved into the corner with a vise around my head so that I can’t turn away, can’t see the light filtering in through the curtains behind me writing messages of love in the dusty script of sunrays, so that I can’t see the signs of love that float around quietly, waiting for …

Let’s Get Gymin’

September 12
Since we never have enough time in today’s world, we always put insignificant things like physical health, social obligations and childhood dreams at the backburner, promising ourselves that one day we will join the gym, start swimming, incorporate sports into our lives, one day we will call that old aunt who sits in a dusty corner by the window, lost in the past because the present is the same day after day, colorless, melting into an unending strip of melancholy, one day we will give ourselves the time and energy to pursue dreams of writing a book, painting murals in dilapidated government hospitals, opening a café that specializes in cheesecakes and good conversation…
Right now we have more important things to do, office work, house work, repetitive weekend plans with friends/co-workers, and of course, Candy Crush. (or if you think you’re cooler, then FIFA).  
And then I came back to Pakistan, to this sweet sterile valley of Islamabad, my friends in Karachi, my fiancé i…

A Fine Balance

September 10
Words may have clear, neat meanings in dictionaries, but in real life the finite explanations tend to lose their distinctions, they move away from their specified, alphabetized places, and float smugly coyly, changing in front of our eyes, elusive, vague. And the most elusive of all are adjectives that we use to understand and color our worlds.
Humans are selfish (I want to say ‘by nature’ but my social work training is preventing me from doing so). We are silly, shortsighted; tickled by how other languages sound, that’s a funny word, it rhymes with something dirty in my language, shocked at ways of living that are different from ours, you mean getting married to someone you have never dated, you mean adopting a child as a single woman, you mean sending your grandparent to an institution, you mean to say seven billion people living all over the world don’t see, hear, breathe and act like me? Confused, disgusted, even angered and indignant, female genital mutilation? marrie…

Looking for Rainbows

September 3
If the sun is out and bright, and you can feel a drizzle, it is your job to position yourself such and look for the rainbow that fifth-grade science books will tell you, is somewhere up in the sky.
I remember being on the mumti once, it was a bright early morning and Annie and I had not slept the entire night. (Those nights when sleep was like a secretary we didn’t have any need for, so we would always send it packing on a vacation, those summers and winters of unbridled youth, that were too petulant, too bored for slumber). We had seen the sun rise imperceptibly and stretch its yellow arms all over the eastern sky and it seemed like a clear day till I felt a cold drop on my arm. “I felt a drop! Did a bird just pee on me?” (Do birds pee while soaring in the blue heavens? I know they poo while flying; quite gracelessly too, I feel). But then Annie and I both felt more scattered drops and we looked above in surprise, rainclouds camouflaged in the morning blueness above.
And I…

Lahore, my madeleine

July 30
You know those bright plasticky toys with lots of colorful buttons, big enough for little kid hands? Every button you press, something cute or creepy pops out, and too often there is a loud obnoxious nursery rhyme that follows? Some are educational, a cat jumps out from a square and meows, while others make no sense at all, mooing sounds from stars that change into a poem about roses or chirpy sentences in a voice so squeaky and shrill it doesn’t sound like any language I know.
This time around I went to Lahore, I felt like I had walked into a gigantic toy keyboard, everywhere I looked, a hologram, a memory, a sound, conjured itself and followed me for a few seconds, and then popped, like a soap bubble only I could see. 
I think the reason I loved Proust was because of the madeleine-induced prose that painted his past in pastels all around him in such a way that he had no choice but to pen it down, calm the writhing images and sounds and guide them into the pages of a novel, so…

Pandora’s Box

July 3

No matter how much your mother loves you, if you go away for school your room will be used as storage. Now that I’m finally back in Islamabad for long enough to care, I thought I should use my unemployment for the best.Movies and sleep? Not quite.More like cleaning and sorting.And ever since, I have been finding old post-it notes, photographs, cards, random memorabilia whose significance I can’t seem to remember so I make something up (a movie stub for when we shared nachos and you ate more than your share? The night of the broken pinball machine or one of those evenings that I wanted to remember it in its ordinary yet lovely perfection?), faded writing, travel logs that make me laugh at first and then crush my heart like an iron fist, nostalgia bleeds a pale gray.

I’ve always liked collecting stubs and cards and paper napkins with everyone’s signatures, scraps of notebook paper with jokes from a trip that were repeated from start to finish and then remembered forever – reminds …