Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Terrible Tuesday

This morning has been quite a strain on my nerves. I woke up to find that the constant hip ache that has plagued me since the start of this pregnancy has decided to do some more damage. The pain is currently radiating to various connecting bones and stretching right down to my toes. Now my penguin walk (given the size of my ever growing belly) is even more pronounced and I feel like a penguin with crutches. At least that’s the pace I’m walking at.

The pregnancy has been weird for Z. As a toddler she finds it difficult to understand why her mamma is suddenly so tired all the time, why she can’t play wrestle and tickle games anymore, why she can’t sit on mamma’s tummy , why mamma won’t pick her up and carry her around (my heart breaks when she asks, so I do pick her up at times, only to be scolded by those around), among other things.

My lethargy has resulted in Z constantly running late for play school for about a week. The teachers at school usually take a few minutes of tardiness in their stride but today when we arrived a good 20 minutes late, the teacher-in-charge thought it best to bring it to my attention that being late is causing Z to miss out on the funnest part of school – nursery rhymes. I already knew this. But as I heard her gently and most politely give me a lesson on ‘Time and tide wait for no pre-schooler’, the blasted pain in my hips threatened to explode and my legs were ready to buckle. Not to be left behind, the little one growing in my womb decided to make a statement with a powerful kick. I struggled to be composed as I apologised for being late so often and assured her I would try my best to bring Z to school on time. I hope she didn’t notice the tears pricking my eyes, as she enquired about my health and commented on how weak I looked. Unable to handle the sudden concern about how I felt, I quickly ended the conversation and turned to walk back home, tears spilling over. The rain clouds gathered and decided to keep me company with their own tears and I wondered why oh why I was being so silly and full of self pity. The answer lies in this post – I hate messing up what I do and Z becoming a tardy child because of my problems is unforgivable.

Also it was just one of those days. The combination of physical discomfort and sleep deprivation was getting to me. Not to mention, the frustration of dealing with a tantrum-throwing toddler and the jitters of knowing that I’ll soon have to handle and be responsible for two children (not counting the hubby). Also, today is the day my feet have started to look a little swollen. I can only pray that I don’t end up with elephant feet like the last time I was pregnant. Lastly, I’ve been waiting all these months for the shiny and luscious head of hair that pregnant women can flaunt, but it just didn’t happen this time. *sigh* Okay, I’m done with wallowing in self pity.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Wedding Anniversary Special

I completed five years of marriage today.

Last night I revisited the Sumira who existed 8 or 9 years ago. Hubby and I took a trip down memory lane. We went through the numerous cards and letters we had given each other during our courtship. It was a wonderfully sweet experience to relive those first flutters, those hopes for the future, those tender, earnest and heart-breaking young promises. The words we chose in our correspondences made me smile at their innocence, laugh aloud at the lovey-doveyness and get all teary-eyed at the journey and the story behind it all.

It’s the story of two college kids who fell hopelessly in love. It’s the story of two individuals who come from starkly contrasting environments and cultures, who met in Mumbai and decided to spend the rest of their lives together... It’s the story of a boy and girl who came face to face with plenty of opposition to their union, but overcome it all and finally won everyone over. It’s a true story. A happy story. A story that came rushing back in all its beauty at 12 am, 5th September 2010 as the couple sat on their bed and tried to read the cards and keep their impish 2-year-old daughter’s hands from destroying them. You know that feeling makes you feel warm and safe and happy? The one that tells you, right now, in this moment, all is right with the world and that you are truly blessed to have what you have? That was the feeling that enveloped this small beautiful family last night.


After getting all that mush out of my system, I think I should end on a cute note. Z was feeling a little left out as we were reminiscing about our wedding day. She was wondering how she wasn’t a prominent character in the story. If you’ve met my daughter, you’ll know how much she loves being the centre of attention. She decided that desperate times called for desperate measures. She must soon say something to divert the family attention and conversation back towards herself, and fast. She picked up the nearest cell phone and pretended to make a call. This is what she said, with a dead serious and straight face.

“Hello? Ummm... mujhe aapse shaadi karni hai”

(English translation: Hello? Ummm... I want to marry you.)

She then looks at the phone with a shocked expression and says, “Arey! Ye tho band hogaya!”

(English translation: Huh? The line went dead!)

Monday, August 23, 2010


Yes, I'm back to blogging. What have I been up to during these 3 months of hiding? Well, mostly procrastinating, among other things. But I thought it was about time to get cracking with my blog again. Lots of things to talk about. Today, let me tell you about Kashmir.

The family and I visited Kashmir in June to attend a wedding. This was my second trip there and I was so looking forward to be steam-rolled by hugs and kisses from the family, as well as by the overwhelming beauty of the place, people and culture. The first time I visited the valley, last year, I was highly apprehensive, being completely aware of the extent to which I would be scrutinized. You see, a girl from Goa visiting her Kashmiri sasural is a big deal. Aunts, uncles, grannies, distant cousins, neighbours and probably even long lost relatives flocked to see the spectacle of a ‘South-Indian bahu’ in their midst. I do believe they were half expecting me to show up slightly intoxicated, in beach shorts, sporting tattoos and a phoren accent. But I disappointed big time by showing up as plain old me; someone who easily blended into the Kashmiri background, except for my complexion and inability to speak the local language. I like to believe I warmed up to them and vice versa. And I truly enjoyed the entire experience. I soon realised that all the descriptions I had heard of Kashmir, from hubby, in-laws, friends who had visited, travel shows, websites, and books, did not do a shred of justice to the place. Their traditional houses, their rich food, their over-the-top hospitality, their elaborate handicrafts, their immense pride in their culure and roots... everything about them is wonderful and unique. I tried my best to not let the 'daughter-in-law visiting her sasural' factor colour my obsevations. That helped me completely appreciate the depth of culture I was experiencing.

This time round, the Goan bahu was familiar with the drill. So I was going there minus the anxiousness and without a fear of the unknown. I was merely going to visit family and get drowned in the splendour that is Kashmir. Anyone who has visited Kashmir will know that it is not just the natural scenery that makes the place special. Kashmir resides in a world of its own. It belongs to another time. It is a place that has been blessed by many many wonderful things. Except peace.

The situation in Kashmir took a turn for the worse while we were there. Due to which we didn’t get to see much of Kashmir, but we thoroughly enjoyed the elaborate and expensive Kashmiri wedding. Unfortunately, Z got a raging fever bang in the middle of the merry making. Once she was a little stronger, curfews kept us indoors. We heard of several lathi charges on the stone pelters, and even on innocent residents trying desperately to get along with their lives in the midst of a crippling situation. If we had stayed longer than we had, we probably would have been witness to full-fledged protests and clashes, for shortly after arriving in Mumbai, we heard that more and more people were braving the bullets and the beatings to protest against the way they have been treated and continue to be treated in their own land.

I am not going to discuss right and wrong here, nor am I inviting debate. All I know is what I’ve seen and heard from the Kashmiris themselves, and I pray with and for them for peace. For freedoms that we take for granted every day. For freedom of expression, for freedom from fear, for freedom that allows their children to play in the streets without fear. For development, for jobs, for opportunities, for growth. For the things that have been denied to the youth and thus forces talented, educated and bright individuals to search for opportunities elsewhere. After years of being ignored, I see subtle signs of progress. This 15th August, when my daughter was waving the tri-colour she brought home from play school, I caught myself instinctively thinking about her cousins in Kashmir, a generation that was born into turmoil. Freedom. A word that will come to mean so much to Z a few years from now, as she grapples with what it means to be a Kashmiri.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Introducing Z

I have been putting off writing about my daughter Z for a long time. I don’t know why exactly. Maybe I preferred being seen as a ‘writer’ blogger as opposed to a ‘mommy’ blogger. Yes, shallow, I know. But I think that could be a reason. Another (more justifiable) reason would be that I’m a little weary of writing about my family. I wonder if it’s fair to lay specific characteristic details about them bare for all to read just because it’s my blog.

Damn, I now wish I had an anonymous blog. Just think about it. I would never fall short of post topics. I could happily wax eloquence on the eccentricities of practically everyone I know, myself included, of course. And people would think “Wow, this is interesting stuff.” But instead (shallow person that I am) I bully my friends into reading my blog, as well as publicise new posts through my FB account. In the bargain, I chose not to be this wonderfully mysterious blogger who people stumble upon suddenly and get hooked to. Frankly, I don’t think I’m good enough for the latter to actually happen much. I know because most of my readers are my friends. Or friends of friends. Or my mom. I think I’m depressing myself.

So, as I was saying, I was worried writing about Z’s shenanigans would be like asking her to just hate me once she is old enough to read her mommy’s far-from-anonymous blog. Crappy old age home guaranteed, I thought. But what I was doing was just putting off the inevitable. I can’t continue making myself believe I currently have a life outside my home. And how can one not write about something or someone who consumes one’s thoughts, hopes, dreams, and worries so greatly?

Taking care of Z, listening to her non-stop banter, chasing her around the house with food, stopping her from finding strategically stashed away chocolates, singing songs with her, listening in awe at her rendition of ‘Give me some sunshine’ from 3 Idiots, watching her dance to every kid’s reality dance show on TV, obsessing about how she’ll fit into play school, among other things, is what my whole day is all about. As I type this, she is stripping the pants off her rag doll and applying generous amounts of Johnson’s Baby Powder to the doll’s butt. How can one ignore that, tell me?

So, it really is the easiest thing for me to write about Z. Yep, I think she’s ready for the spotlight now. I think I can manage a decent job of it too, and thus, spare myself the crappy old age home.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Introspection is not always a good thing

The blasted nausea and dizzy spells have me lying in bed for more hours than I like, every evening. Apart from a break from work, and time to read, I have been able to think and introspect. A lot. Which is not always a good thing. One of my introspection sessions led me to compose a list of random things about myself. And I decided to put it up for everyone to see. *Gulp*

Please note that the points listed below are just random things about me that came to my mind. The list, in no way whatsoever, represents who I am. Okay, so with that important bit of information in mind, you may proceed.

10 random things about me

1. I adore cats. I don’t know why I have this of all things on the top of my list, but here is it. I really wish I could have a pet kitten, one that my kids and I could cuddle and take care of. But considering the rest of my family’s aversion to pets, I don’t see that happening. And I am not an okay-I-guess-a-gold-fish-will-do kind of pet lover.

2. I hate messing up what I do. I know nobody likes doing things wrong, but I obsess with things that don’t go my way. From failed culinary attempts, not-good-enough writing assignments, bad shopping choices, to the inability to handle certain conversations, I grandly obsess and obsess about how I could have done it better. And in the bargain I drive my hubby crazy. He happens to be the opposite of me. He not only spews lines like, ‘Let the past go; move on,’ but he actually can move on. Okay, why am I writing about my him? This is supposed to be a list of things of me. Which brings me to point number 3...

3. I have the attention span of a 5-year-old. Even in the middle of an important assignment, I need to go and read someone’s blog or check my email. After half-an-hour of procrastination, I need to slap myself and say the word FOCUS three times, aloud. I am generally a good listener, but when the person on the other end of the phone starts prattling endlessly about things I don’t really need to know, I will drift off to la-la land.

4. I don’t believe a lie has a colour. White, black, grey, they are all lies to me. And if there is one thing I can’t stand, it is dishonesty. I realise that this is in stark contrast to the way the world works. Everyone thinks a tiny little white lie to make someone feel better is okay, right? I don’t.

5. I believe in the goodness of people. Despite the weight of evil crushing everything good and right in the world, I desperately cling to the belief that there in a glimmer of hope, of light, of goodness in every heart. I will still teach my children to be careful of trusting too easily (we’ve burnt our fingers too many times with trust), but I will also teach them to give the good in people a chance. Once I figure out how to explain this delicate balance. *Sigh* Thinking about this reminds me of what a cruel, untrusting, difficult world we have built for ourselves.

6. I always wanted to have four kids. I love the idea of large families, siblings growing up together, a noisy household, filled with love and fun and games, a big pot of chicken stew bubbling in the kitchen (did I read that in a book somewhere?), homemade pizzas on weekends, the six of us stuffed into an SUV, picnicking in the park... okay, you get the picture. But after having one hurricane of a child, I decided I didn’t really need to add to India’s burgeoning population woes. I was happy with a one-child family. A few weeks ago that changed as well. Ho hum. I just can’t seem to stick to my own plans.

7. I hate travelling. Don’t get me wrong. I love seeing new places. I love going out. I love trying out new flavours, experiencing new cultures, and all that jazz. But what I don’t like is the process of getting there. The main reason being - I have motion sickness. I’m sure I would get sick travelling by Floo network (Harry Potter) too.

8. I can cry at the drop of a hat. I can see many people who know me nod their heads at this and smile as they recollect the countless times I have embarrassed myself. Happy, sad, hurt, angry, touched, sick, hopping mad, flustered, cranky, nostalgic, bored (?!!), you name the emotion, and I have the tears to go with it. I know. Tch tch.

9. I have no sense of direction. I am horrible with maps. I can’t remember routes to places, unless I’ve been there at least 10 times.

10. I think ephemeral is a beautiful word, even though it means fleeting, transient, momentary, brief. I recently learnt that change, however scary or intimidating, is actually a wonderful thing and it always happens for a reason. Be it a job change, a friend moving out of your life, a death, a birth, change in lifestyle, whatever. Life teaches you to grow with change.

My list has more negatives than positives. That doesn’t make me feel any better. So much for introspection. *sigh*

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Random Notes: Nausea, the Reading Habit and a Big Heart

I haven’t gone in for the check up with the doctor yet, but thankfully things are looking hunky dory. That is, if you consider constant nausea, wild cravings (yes, this early on!) and miserable mood swings to be normal everyday behaviour. Just another mad pregnant woman with hormone levels rising...


A friend of mine in Mumbai always carries a book with him to work, so he can read during the one-hour journey in the early morning local train. Why not on the one-hour journey back? I ask. Because I’m too bushed to read and prefer to doze, he says. Anyhoo, he said he noticed something different among Mumbaikars lately. Every day he comes across people who want to know what he’s reading. Every day there are at least three inquisitive people in the train.

If you’ve lived in Mumbai, you know how Mumbaikars don’t give a damn about the throngs of people they meet every day in their travels to and from their work places. So it’s quite strange to have random people strike a conversation with you every single day. And all because you carry a book. He says this never used to happen about 8 years ago. I find this wonderful. It means more and more people in Mumbai are getting interested in books.

My friend says some enquirers even ask him what the book is about and if it’s any good. He says Chetan Bhagat’s book (he read Two States recently) has generated the most interest, hands down. That’s what I love about Bhagat. Purists can scoff all they want at his writing skills (lack of?) but ultimately, he is one of the few writers doing a great service to the common man, namely pushing the reading habit in India.


I was reading this post on adoption which got me thinking about something I’m sure a lot of us have thought about sometime or the other. When I was younger I was almost certain that I would adopt a child one day. But the problem is we grow up and as we do, we rapidly shed ourselves of courage and idealism, preferring to link ourselves to things more within our comfort zone. Oh for the strength, love and determination to happily go through all the sticky issues that come with raising an adopted child! Especially when one already has biological children. I know no one is perfect and we are only human, so it is hard to imagine parents being completely unbiased all through.

Then again, I know there are exceptions. The following example is not really about adoption but it comes close, I think. Growing up in the Gulf, my family was very close to this family with five kids. We never realised till years later that the older two kids were products of their father’s previous marriage. They were only toddlers when their real mom passed away and their father remarried. No one in our circle of friends knew this bit of history, and the amazing woman who became their new mother never gave anyone a reason to doubt that all five kids were her own flesh and blood. We came to know the truth much later when the eldest child was in med school. I do remember when I was probably only ten years old, my mother remarked to this fine lady how much her eldest daughter resembled her and she only smiled in response.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Family Expansion in Progress

The assistant at the doctor’s office took down my history. “29 years old, third pregnancy,” she said aloud while scribbling on a notepad containing other important details.

I suddenly felt quite old and wise. I repeated the words in my head. Third pregnancy. That would make me a pro by now, right? Something I can probably just breeze through. Never mind that my first pregnancy lasted only two weeks or so (after I found out I was pregnant, that is) and ended in a heart-wrenching miscarriage.

It was a beautiful two week period. The excitement of finding out that a life was growing within me was overwhelming. Countless plans and expectations soon came crashing down and I spent my first wedding anniversary flat on my back, hoping against hope that somehow, the life within would put up a fight and sustain. It was not meant to be. Thinking back, I now realise that it was for the best. I grew, professionally and personally, in leaps and bounds the following year.

The second time round, praise the Lord, it was meant to be, and I delivered a beautiful bundle of joy, complete with powerful ear-splitting wails. I had a harrowing C-section experience, followed by night after night after night of trying to constantly coax, sing and plead the wailing baby to please, please go to sleep. She was a very light sleeper during the day too, so you can imagine how much rest I got. This went on for over a year. She is almost two now but still wakes up twice at night. Despite being a complete brat from day one, our daughter enveloped our lives with love and a warm, cosy, baby pink feeling of fulfilment. I don’t think I have experienced anything as beautiful as the feeling I get when my baby girl puts her chubby little arms around me and says “Love you, Mamma.”

This time feels nothing like the previous two. Our future plans didn’t have a second child in it. But there I was, in the doctor’s office talking about nausea, tiredness and the other baggage that comes with pregnancy. And here I am, announcing my pregnancy to the world through my blog. :)

It’s elation I feel again, but from a different perspective this time. My daughter will have a sibling. I can be a mom to one more little person. It’s uncanny that one can have enough love to go around no matter how big a family one has. It’s still a strange feeling though, the love that I’m feeling, having not being in the scheme of things for us. I’m still trying to come to terms with it. My thoughts and feelings are a little too disoriented right now, but that could be due to the hormonal rollercoaster my body is experiencing.

A minor complication put my doctor on high alert. She tells me it’s too early to know if the foetus is strong enough. We’ll know after two weeks. If we can detect the heart beat at that point, things should be fine. Until then, I’m told I need to put my feet up and get some rest. I’m nervous. I hope the little angelic life within will pull through. And when we are back at the doctor’s office in two weeks I hope to see that miraculous heartbeat flutter on the ultrasound.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I Just Discovered I Will Never Be a Genius

Last year, I watched an online video of Elizabeth Gilbert on this wonderfully refreshing site. The American novelist and widely successful author of Eat, Love, Pray spoke about the disturbing observation that creativity and suffering are inherently linked. This is probably a fact everyone is familiar with. For centuries, artists – from actors to writers to painters to musicians - have fallen prey to depression and often died young because of it.

Gilbert says that this is due to the enormous pressure creative people have on their shoulders to perform, to delight their audiences, to move mountains maybe, to keep going a step ahead and better their previous works of art. Something that they might never be able to do, and which therefore leads them spiralling down to the depths of despair and is ultimately their undoing.

The author said that to protect herself from going down a similar path she looked at how ancient civilizations had dealt with creativity. This led her to a theory that she believes in strongly. The theory, in brief, is that creative people are not geniuses, but each of them have had a genius. She likens it to having a house elf (or a genie) who appears magically to complete all the housework. She believes that the reason a creative person can create those rare marvellously magical works of art is because of the presence of a divine spirit who decides to send a message through the artist.

The fantastic work, therefore, is not the human being’s at all; rather he or she is just the vehicle for the work to reach the world. So if he or she is never able to match that quality of work again, it isn’t his or her fault – the spirit had moved on to another artist.

When I saw the video last year, I was a struggling freelance content writer (I still am, mind you) who wasn’t giving as much thought to creativity as I was to paying the monthly bills. All I thought was, ‘hey! that makes sense’ and equated it with something that I believed in – that everything we have is on loan to us from God; it can be taken away from us at any point. I don’t think I gave it much thought after that.

Cut to today. I am still a struggling freelance content writer but I’m not as worried about paying bills so I’m using my few hours of daily joblessness (“It’s the financial year end,” my clients tell me, “bear with us.”) to indulge in my long standing fantasy of becoming a story writer. A few days ago I wrote my first short story. Yes, first ever (not counting the one I wrote for this blog). I’ve never had the nerve to do it before since I never thought myself capable of it.

Anyway, I wrote. And I surprised myself. For a first attempt I think it’s pretty good. And a few other people who read it said they love it (my husband actually got goose bumps reading it last night). But when I read the story today I still feel I am incapable of story writing. I have no idea how that story formed in my head and how I could make it so interesting to my readers.

Which made me think of Gilbert’s suddenly-everything-falls-into-place theory. I’m NOT saying my story is so wonderfully brilliant or that I am the next bestselling author to look out for. Nor am I saying I am suddenly being visited by God’s little helpers. What I am saying is I completely believe that without the presence of a divine something I would not be capable of writing a single word, let alone writing a whole story, and one that a few people find interesting at that. This makes complete sense to me. Keeps the pressure off the artists and keeps them sane.

So twenty or thirty years down the road, I’m not sure if I’m going to be a hugely successful author or not, but I do know I will be always be a writer, a sane one who is not contemplating suicide. I won't get all depressed when people say "Sumira who?" and I’ll have God to thank for keeping me sane. Oh yes, and Gilbert and her theory too.

P.S.: Don't forget to watch the video and tell me what you think of her theory.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Writer’s Block

Early mornings are the best time to write, especially if you are a mom and happen to live in a joint family. In such a household, the peace and tranquillity of predawn are bonuses that do not exist at any other time of the day.

Yesterday I crawled out of bed and headed towards my laptop, wondering if this is going to be worth losing an hour of sleep over. Because I had no clue what I wanted to write. But write I must, I said to myself. I kind of hoped inspiration would hit me while I stared dazed (and yawning) at the blank word document open in front of me. Nothing gets the creative juices flowing like a blank page just begging to be typed on, right?


I realised that I had been staring at the screen for the past 10 minutes with not much coherency in my thoughts. I decided to put some caffeine in me which would hopefully slap me into consciousness. And it did. Soon enough I was typing like mad, writing like there was no tomorrow. The plot and characters materialised in my head, and on and on I went till my time was up and the other members of the household began to wake up.

I looked proudly at the 3 page word document… half a draft of a short story. I shut the document, pleased with what I had accomplished in half an hour.

I reopened it at 5 am the next day. This time the strong coffee didn’t help. The creative juices had taken a day off. 10 minutes of staring later I crawled back into bed telling myself I needed the rest and maybe if I’m lucky the rest of the story will materialise in a dream.

I'm guessing being articulate at 5 am is a talent I will have to acquire over time.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


This post has been submitted to the Indusladies.com International Women's Day Contest under the category Women’s Education. Click here for details on the contest.

I am tagging Saadia, Andaleeb and Ravia.

“You’re Muslim?” enquired a fellow hostellite, eyeing my head scarf.

“Yes, I am,” I replied smiling at the incredulity in her voice.

It was my first day at the hostel. I had travelled miles away from home to be here—for an education.

My teenage head was filled with the thrill of freedom and living away from home. Freedom to do as you please. Well, almost. Living in a girls’ hostel came with strict boundaries. But it was freedom all the same.

I was also thrilled to be back in India, my motherland. These thrills blinded me to a fact that became clearer over time, much later. I was living a dream.

A few months later...

“So, how did you convince your parents about your studies?” My friend who lived four rooms away was full of questions as she battled with a stubborn needle and a thread that chose to magically knot itself after every attempted stitch.

We were swapping stories about our families while attempting a needlework assignment. Textiles and Clothing was a mandatory subject in our Home Science college and one that our Communications batch despised and sucked at.

I looked at her blankly.

“I mean, being a Muslim. How did your parents allow you to study further?”

My blank look continued for another five seconds before I understood what she meant.

“What do you mean ‘allow me to study’? They sent me here to get an education. Actually, I did have to convince them about this particular college but once they realised how much I wanted to be part of the communication course, they were happy for me.”

Now it was her turn to stare blankly.

I went on. “I come from a family that values education. There was never any doubt that I would go on to get a degree. Any parents would want their children to do something with their lives, right? Why would it be different for Muslims?”

“But you’re a Muslim girl. And you come from a religious household, don’t you? I thought those kinds get their daughters married right after school.” She was struggling to understand when and how the stereotype had changed.

And I was beginning to get annoyed.

“I don’t know where you get your information from but that’s not true.”

Our conversation was interrupted by a sudden corridor brawl over someone stealing someone’s snacks. My friend never brought it up again and I never got to tell her that she was partly right.

I thought about it later that night. As much as I would have liked to ignore it, I knew her stereotyping was not far from the truth. I knew of talented girls who had immense potential to soar in their academics but had had their wings clipped and were home bound. They were then married off young while their classmates from more ‘broad-minded’ households pursued fancy degrees. I tossed and turned that night wishing this wasn’t true. But it was.

I remembered a Muslim friend of mine from school who was brilliant in studies and had topped her class each year. An all-rounder, she was often seen participating in extra-curricular activities as well. I remembered her contagious laughter, her witty conversation and her ready smile.

“I’m going to be a doctor.” I had heard her say this a couple of times. I remember imagining her in a doctor’s coat, laughing her infectious laugh as she diagnosed her patients with an assortment of illnesses.

I had no doubt in my mind that she would achieve her dream.

We lost touch after school but I heard through others that she did not make it to medical college. In fact, her parents did not send her to any college. She spent a year at home and was then married off to the first suitable boy.

Call me crazy, but this seemed completely bizarre to me. I mean, why would her parents not allow her to pursue her aspirations, despite knowing how far their daughter was capable of going? Now, unlike what some people like my hostel friend believe, this has nothing to do with Islam or being a ‘religious type’. It had more to do with family customs and traditions existing in certain societies, which did not allow people to reap the benefits of education. I was fortunate enough to grow up among people who realised that when you educate a woman, you educate a family. But not everyone had that perspective.

Yes, the situation was changing.

I recall reading a newspaper story about Irfaana Mujawar and Gazala Mughal who belong to families that were deeply affected by the Mumbai riots of 1992-93. The riots served as a wake-up call to them. They realised they needed an education to get back on their feet. While one studied MA in sociology, the other got a diploma in crafts. They then pooled their savings and started a school for girls in the slums of Jogeshwari. The school employed five other Muslim teachers – all women – and together they began to help little girls from poor Muslim families become literate.

Stories like this made me jump for joy and I pictured myself being part of such noble efforts. College was when I was high on idealism and optimism. I felt strongly about the need to do something for my community. Our assignments often sent us to work with NGOs and each experience at a slum made me feel I could do something. I didn’t know what but my mind often drifted back to my friend who would have made a wonderful doctor, if only she had been given a choice.

Five years later...

“I hope you don’t mind me asking. Why do you wear a head scarf?”

The question came from a particularly talkative colleague at the publication where I worked as a journalist.

I resisted the urge to scare him off with a, “Coz I’m bald!” response.

“It is part of my religion. I am a practising Muslim,” I replied coolly, instead.

I was used to being asked about my attire and I usually got into lengthy conversations about it. But today had been a really tough day and I wasn’t feeling very chatty.

“Oh okay.” He shrugged and turned away. The response seemed to make sense to him.

He was about to walk back to his desk when he decided to stick around for further conversation.

“We don’t see many Muslim girls in our line of work. I know Islam promotes education. I remember reading a book about it. So it’s weird why so many Muslim youth don’t pursue further education. And the girls aren’t encouraged at all. But of course this happens in all communities, among the poorer or narrow-minded sections of society. I think educated individuals don’t really pay much attention to this issue. I mean, so much can be done to help in terms of awareness creation, right?”

This was not a question. It was déjà vu. This ordinary statement sparked off a chain of memories. My mind raced back to the hostel room. Needle and thread. Family rules. Stereotypes. My friend who could have been a doctor. My education. Girls with dreams in their eyes. A long forgotten desire to make a change. Idealism lost in the daily grind of earning a living.

He wasn’t done.

“You are one lucky girl. I have seen so many girls from your community who can only dream of what you’ve achieved. You should be really proud of yourself,” he smiled.

“I am.” I squeaked with my best impersonation of a proud smile.

Yes, I should be proud of myself. I had successfully completed my post-graduation in Human Rights; I worked for a leading newspaper; I had a lucrative career ahead of me; and with the internet making the world a global village, I had a string of profitable options to choose from.

However, what I felt right now did not feel like pride.

He was exaggerating, I said to myself. Things had changed drastically. Today, there were many Muslim girls from practising Muslim families who were highly educated. Today, girls belonging to any community were confident and independent individuals who did not depend on someone else to make their decisions or how they should lead their lives. Right?

Who was I kidding? One girl denied an education is still one too many. Why was I trying to ignore them? Girls for whom life would have been different had they been born in a more understanding environment... I felt ashamed.

What had become of those promises and desires to make a difference? Waking up to the ways of the world had killed my idealism. But what about my dreams for my community? Why had I never given this issue any thought? I had thought about it. But the guilt of not having done anything had impelled me to push such thoughts to the farthest corners of my mind. My busy life, revolving around my family and work, made me believe that I didn’t have time for any more commitments.

I could go “tch tch” about the issue all I wanted but that wasn’t going to change a thing. It wouldn’t help a single one of those girls. They didn’t need pity. They needed the freedom to make their own choices.

I felt an old idealistic ember ignite somewhere inside. I didn’t need to feel guilty. I needed to do something.

Facing the issue through this post is my first miniscule attempt at doing something for those girls.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

See... this is how the wheels turn

This post is inspired by my friend’s concern that I am probably drifting towards an unwise revelation mode through my blog. My friend feels that I am making myself vulnerable by exposing my inner self and thought process to all and sundry. To quote him “Give them the final picture; don’t tell them how the sketch is made.”


Being honest and baring your soul, or at least part of it, is so very liberating. Blog-therapy, as I call it, has helped me come to terms with a few issues lately and I’m itching to know how it can continue to help. That calls for more straight-from-the-heart writing and further access to my inner thoughts. Do I want to do that? Do I want to let people into my head and show them how the wheels turn? I’m not sure what the repercussions of such actions would be.

I am not double-faced and I hate false pretensions. But like almost everybody I do not always voice my thoughts. Two reasons for this.

# 1: I do not like confrontations. I voluntarily, though sometimes half-heartedly, choose peaceful dialogue over exciting debates, no matter how exciting. Cowardly as it sounds, I’m very uncomfortable about rubbing people the wrong way.

# 2: I get tongue-tied. When I try to voice my opinion, I hear myself say things that are not exactly in line with my thoughts. I think this is because my thoughts are racing from one idea to the next and my vocal chords cannot catch up.( I wonder if this condition/disorder has a fancy name.) So the end result is a distorted version which rarely makes for strong dialogue.

Now writing, via blogging, is another story altogether (pun intended). This mode of communication helps get the message across minus distortion. There are tons of bloggers out there who rejoice at the freedom of expression available though the blogosphere and are going all out to bare their soul. But, from what I have observed, a lot of them do it under the cover of anonymity. Like him and her.

Some courageous bloggers do it without using an alias. Like her. But of course there are still limitations when you choose not to hide behind a pseudonym.

What route is this blog going to take? I don’t really know. Right now it’s serving as my therapist and I’m going to try and experiment with my treatment methodology as much as I have the nerve to. *Seat belts on.*

Saturday, February 20, 2010


“Tomorrow and all the other approaching tomorrows looked bleak and thorny. She wished she didn’t have to get out of bed and face whatever it was that was in store for her. With the option of Melting into Nothingness unavailable in the list of things to do with herself, she decided to meet Sarah. She needed to talk, big time. Spill her guts to someone who would hear her out. Speaking with Sarah always had a soothing effect on her frayed nerves.

Two hours of conversation later, the heaviness had lifted. The sky was blue again and sun shone down on her. The predicament still persisted, yes. But it was no longer unchallengeable, its thorns visibly reduced. She could look at it rationally. She was able to think again.”*

*Spontaneous fiction written to underline a thought.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Wear Your Attitude

I am not difficult to please.

I am not a fussy eater. My taste buds are open to trying new flavours, both bland and exotic. I might eat less than what is required to satisfy my tummy if I don’t find something particulary tasty. Nevertheless, I eat it.

I do not hog the television. I happily allow the other living room occupants to take complete control over the remote. In fact, when I have the remote control in my hands I hardly know what to do with it, and gladly pass it on to someone who can make better use of the device.

I do not require fancy or expensive clothes, shoes, bags, make-up and jewellery. I have very simple clothing preferences that have more to do with comfort than high fashion.

That said, I am certainly not a clumsy dresser nor do I adhere to any Gandhian fashion beliefs of austere simplicity. I like elegance, I have fashioned my own personal style (at least that is what I like to think) and I occasionally like to look dressed up (dolled up?) too.

Now let me tell you what I don’t like. I absolutely loathe being told what to wear. I mean telling me what is appropriate attire in certain circles is something I’m open to and I will surely appreciate the inside information. But dictating that I must follow the current ‘in’ thing and specifying the fabric and cut is taking things a little too far. I refuse to bend down to something just for the satisfaction of gossiping aunties (apparently) who would otherwise get enough fodder to fuel their conversations, while they condescendingly click their tongues, disapproving such poor sense of style (hypothetical).

But it looks like I will be relenting after all. Not for the aunties, mind you. Only to put a smile on the face of someone. I guess it won’t kill me to indulge a loved one and give in to pretentious yet harmless joys.

Aaaarrrrggghhhh!! The woes of being a sweet lass who readily stomps her own desires for the happiness of others (again, this description is purely hypothetical)....

P.S.: It looks like I am going to be using this blog as my punching bag. Considering the past few posts, I’ve been letting off steam through my writing (as well as bottled up emotions – positive and otherwise) and treating myself with some blog-therapy. So far, it seems to be working! :)

Monday, January 18, 2010

To the city I love

11th January 2009: I wake up a little unsure of my surroundings. I turn and look out the large window and see, from my 13th floor perch, the hustle and bustle of a familiar city below. I’m groggy from the exhaustion of the last few days spent in relocating, depressed about leaving the place I called home in Bangalore, missing the few close friends I made over the past four years, the friendly neighbours, everything. Yet, there is this unmistakable spark of excitement growing within me as I look out the window. A thousand memories flood my thoughts. College, hostel, friends, family, journalism, meeting Gowhar, tears, laughter, regrets, lessons learnt, fears overcome, friendships cemented, reality checks, and much more - so many powerful moments packed into the three wonderful years I spent here. This is where I spent some of the most important years of my life, a city I missed immensely and craved to go back to. A place I wanted to embrace and make my own. Mumbai.

Though I had been meeting you briefly throughout my life, I only got acquainted with you in 1999 when I joined college. Within the first month I was hooked. I never knew a city could be alive and take a personality of its own. As months passed we developed a bond, an unspoken and nameless bond. You accepted me for who I am and helped me find my identity. Far from restricting me, you gave me wings to fly, let me learn from my mistakes and gave me friends and family to cushion my falls. Despite the polluted air, choked streets, poverty, and slums that make you unhappy, you gave me the air of freedom to breathe, ample space to run and play, obstacles to make me strong and opportunities to find success and of course, even love.

I’m looking out the window and smiling. I had my doubts about coming back to you. Today, I am not the same girl who reluctantly left you in 2002. I’m married, I have a daughter, my priorities have changed, my ambitions and dreams are not the same. I’m a bit wiser, I don’t trust that easily, and I’m over cautious. But I’m still over sentimental about things, I still love Juhu beach morning walks, pani-puris, linking road haggling, the monsoon rains, the adrenaline rush of travelling in the local trains. Sigh. I’ve missed you. But now I’m back. Back against my will. I didn’t know how badly I needed this. I should learn to stop questioning destiny. I’m being taken care of. Your streets may look different, parts of you may have got a facelift, but its still you. The same embrace I left years ago. Thank you, Mumbai. Thank you for being you.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Change is the only constant

A couple of posts ago, I mentioned my fear of change. Well, it’s happening. Change is happening now! It’s staring me in the face I am not sure if I should run and hide or look at it in the eye and face what it has in store for me. I am not entirely sure I can face it. I’m too fragile right now. I’m ready to break into a million glass pieces that can be swept away into the trash.

Change can be good. It can come as a pleasant breeze that gives things a little swirl, making things exciting and even better than they were. But change can also be harsh. It can be a strong wind that tosses things up in the air and has them twisting and turning, without will, in the melee. Then when done with the torment, it stops and lets them fall back down to the ground. But never will they be the same again. The damage is done.

It is not just change that I’m terrified of, it is the attached unpleasantness that this change is bringing along with it. Or is that just a figment of my imagination? Have I just conjured it up to be an ally to my pessimism?

Stop. Think. Breathe. Tomorrow, when the tide of emotion has calmed, and I can think with a clearer head, I know it won’t look this bad. It will be some time before I truly embrace it. But at least tomorrow I think I will be able to accept it. Accept it for what it is – inevitable and unrelenting. Change.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Glass Globe

I suddenly realise that I am alone. Not literally. But I have become conscious of the fact that I sometimes walk a few steps away from the other people in my life. Standing outside and analysing a tiny glass globe of people who happen to be my dear family and friends. Figuring out what everyone is really about and where I stand in the hullabaloo. It’s a lonely feeling.

As a kid, I was always an extension of my family. No matter how much I would have wanted to break free and be an individual at that point, there was no escaping the fact that my life revolved around the family boundaries. As kids, our thinking is moulded by what we see and hear, and we are conditioned to behave a certain way. As a teenager, we might have argued and rebelled hard enough to create our own persona, even if it was a façade. Yet the strings remain, more for a sense of security and a kind of default identity.

As an adult also, especially in Indian societies, we are always attached to family. Yet there are those who gravitate towards standing outside the glass globe. Some like to look away and live their life the way they want. And some look in and make their lives miserable wishing, wanting, hoping, regretting, rebelling, antagonising and sometimes yielding. I belong to the latter.

As most teenagers would, I have given my parents their share of angst and regretted it later. But generally I think I’ve done okay and been a good girl. At what point in life did I realise that I was free to have my own opinions? Those that did not conform to what I was taught. When did I decide that it was okay to not always agree with the people around me even if it meant standing on a lonely opinionated island? I don’t know. But what I do know is that having that opinion, arguing my point of reason, caring enough about something to fight it out is what makes me ME. And this means I have to sometimes walk alone, look at the glass globe and wonder if differences put cracks in relationships.