Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Close Encounter of the Third Kind

I just wanted to sell my TV and get on with my life.

A large-boned super-dark South Indian man in his late 30s came over to my apartment to check the TV out. The first time we talked over the phone, he didn't realise I was Indian until I told him so. When he came over, it's like his eyes popped out as he scanned me from the top of my head to the tips of my toes, ever so often pausing in the vicinty of my chest. Then he developed verbal diarrhea for the next hour which I quietly entertained with my arms crossed over my chest because I really wanted my TV gone. I present to you an itemised list of the highlights of that conversation, quoted in his own words:

1. He had recently moved to the US with his wife and children after having lived in places like Dubai and the Far East.
2. If he had met me before he met his wife, he would have married me.
3. Sex is very important and all problems in life arise from 'the bed'.
4. Women must tell their husbands what they want in bed.
5. Everybody needs sex.
6. The first thing people see in each other when they meet is sexual attraction. He tried to explain this point to me by saying that 'for example, if I meet you, something about you' - at which point his hands were outstretched in the general direction of my chest and so were his eyes as he babbled along as if he had just seen a porn magazine for the first time - 'will have some attraction for me'. Of course he knew all about these things because he had a PhD in Human Studies or something from Malaysia where he studied the basic needs of human beings down to the cellular level.
7. Women must get married early because everybody has needs. Time is running out for me because he thought I was 32. When I corrected him saying that I was 27, he said, that's right, you're almost 30.
8. He said I won't have too much of a problem getting married because my 'skin colour was good'. Somewhere around this point I felt like a prize dog being felt-up at a dog show.
10. After firmly disagreeing with his ignorant views on certain topics, such as how I shouldn't think about taking care of my parents because one day they will die and I will be left alone, he tells me that I need to sound less intelligent otherwise no one will want to marry me.

I was glad when my friend Keyomi came over in the middle of all this. It broke the guy's hour-long rant and relieved me off the tractor beam his attention had firmly placed on me. Keyomi is Black, and in her presence, he suddenly felt comfortable talking about how strange he felt that people in Tulsa thought he was Black too because his skin was so dark. This is a few days after Obama's election to office. While trying to sound hilarious about the dirty looks random people would give him because they thought he was Black too, he let loose the f-word while almost being funny but squarely hitting the awkward and inappropriate mark. I cringed watching Keyomi politely smile through a human personification of a train wreck going at light speed, but was thankful for her distracting him long enough for me to wiggle into a huge sweatshirt that would hide my womanly assets from the strongest of Kryptonian X-ray visions for all time.

But all's well that ends well. I sold my TV, and as a bonus, you now have insight into an encounter that I can only describe as infuriating, unpleasant, and outrageous. And a great dinner table story.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


My dadi's name was Razia Begum, and we didn't know too much about her. There were many myths about her that nobody was really sure of. Some said she was a Pashtun Pathan but we weren't sure how she ended up in Meerut and married my dada. To our knowledge, she never had any family in India, so to most of us, her life before she got married to my dada seemed like a blank piece of paper.

Apparently most of her extended family and their extended families and so on are Pakistani but now mostly live in Toronto. I left the US permanently a month ago and was literally chilling in T-Town until a couple of days ago when I got the chance to do a bit of chilling at the house of a relative of my dadi's. The only relatives of my dadi's that I've ever met were in Lahore 20 years ago at an aunt's wedding, but I was about 7 years old and remember more about the games I played with my cousins than the various adults I was introduced to.

The uncle I visited happened to be my father's first cousin, the son of my dadi's eldest brother. This cousin had never even seen a picture of my father but had heard of him. I got the chance to ask him a lot of questions about my dadi's family. Finally my dadi had a history. She was from Meerut and used to live there with her entire family until the Partition of 1947 when Pakistan was born in the east and west limbs of India. She was a very social child and they used to call her Chhanno. She had so many brothers and sisters, and she mostly spent her days drowning in laughter while playing with her cousins who were all the friends she ever needed. She got married to my dada who was also from Meerut and had a family of her own.

After the creation of Pakistan, however, her entire clan upped and moved to the new country. Her husband decided to stay in India. In the bloody partition aftermath and wars that followed for many years, she got completely cut off from her family. These were the days without phones and obviously email. The borders were sealed off during wartime. She visited a few times but travel was difficult. Mail wasn't allowed to cross the border even, and news from the other side was hard to come by. My dada moved from city to city until they finally moved to Lucknow, but my dadi had been uprooted the day her last relative had left Meerut. She had become lonely, quiet, and none of her children knew her side of the family very much. In Pakistan, her family was vibrant, and it was like life had been in Meerut except they had left behind one of their women. No one of hers was in India anymore. Even her mother, and all her siblings and their families had left. My Pakistani relative told me that growing up they had all heard of an aunt and her children that had stayed behind in India, but they were mostly names without faces. After 1947, Chhanno had ceased to exist.

I felt very unhappy for this quiet grandmother of mine who died in 1992. She used to play with me and buy me roasted peanuts and Dussehri mangoes. Suddenly hearing the human story of the old woman with hair as white as snow made her so relatable to me, I could hardly bear the emotions that came flooding at me after the dam of her anonymity suddenly flew open. I understand what being cutoff and lonely feels like, and how horrible it feels to know that while you're stuck in the middle of nowhere that the rest of your family and friends move on without you. My dadi gave birth to 10 children which probably means 20 constant years of being pregnant and going through those hormonal motions somewhere in India all by herself as she moved from place to place, unable to share her joys and sorrows with her mother, sister, brothers, nieces and nephews. The men hardly involved themselves in such family matters in those days, and I know my grandfather was a man of his times. My dadi had to rely on the women in whatever neighbourhood she lived in at the time because she had no women friends to share her small victories and worries with. I've heard that she was very attached to my father who was her firstborn and relied on him for emotional support, but that she barely had it in her to invest her emotions into the rest of her children. Sometime during middle age she had developed mood swings and would often get overwhelmed. At times like these, she would become extremely cranky and go to a lady friend's across the street for several hours if not for a few days to cool-off. After a certain age, she began to talk less but began to quietly smile more from where she usually sat on her bed. Maybe she'd made peace with her sorrows?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Climbing every mountain

Dear Diary,

I watched Duran Duran live in concert at the Air Canada Center Tuesday this past week, almost a year to the date of when I'd watched the Spice Girls on their reunion tour at the MGM Arena in Las Vegas. Both events were remarkably surreal.

I have dusty memories of watching Duran Duran with my two much older brothers on our squeaky Beltek TV in Lucknow, India. My world was different in those days. I was five years old, had pigtails and knobbly knees. I used to wear frocks then. I didn't know a lot of difficult words in either Urdu or English then, so I'd asked my brother what 'reflex' meant. I also learned other cool words from Duran Duran like 'clover' and 'Rio'. That made me feel quite smart compared to the other five-year-olds. My grandmother didn't know English but seemed to enjoy my song and dance renditions of the Duran Duran videos I'd gobbled up. She thought I was a riot and a complete genius. I also took it upon myself to expose the poor village girls who used to work in our house in India to Duran Duran's music. My three-feet-tall world was our gali in Lucknow and my parent's house in Muscat, Oman. Watching Simon Le Bon sing his heart out while straddling a yacht, bravely sailing against the wind, his hair ruffled, his white suit flapping about, seemed about as real and reachable as My Little Pony - the most incredible thing I'd ever seen. But like the cartoon, Duran Duran felt like they existed far away somewhere, like some kind of fantasy, like a vague promise of paradise. Fantastic but unreal. Nobody rides yachts like that.

Seeing Simon Le Bon singing in front of my eyes over 20 years later made me feel all sorts of introspective. A lot of thoughts were swirling about my mind, dear Diary. These kind of before-after situations always have that effect on me. Life has hardly been like it was in those innocent Indian summers. My grandmother hasn't been around in over a decade to banish my self-doubt away. The village girls who used to believe everything I said as if I were a miniature empress had long gone, some married, some tired, all older. After climbing the craggy mountain of my life so far, I took a break to look around and see how far I'd come, with all my energy gone. So, dear Diary, in the same way that mountaineers feel renewed by the sight they see once they conquer their peak, I felt renewed seeing Duran Duran live. After reaching the top of my mountain and seeing the dreamy figments of a past life suddenly alive before my very eyes, I realised that nothing is unattainable, that everything can become real. I inhaled sharply, amazed at how far I'd come from the tiny skippy child with impossible sources of inspiration. Then I turned to look ahead. What had felt unreal and unattainable before had become real today. So what about anything that I find unrealistic to achieve today? I am not willing to wait another 20 years to find out I was wrong about that as well.

Poked and podded

I am pretty much used to the amped-up safety measures that US airports have been taking since 9/11, but this time on my way permanently out of the US to Canada, Tulsa really outdid itself. I was asked to step into this giant white pod where a green and a yellow vertical scanner whooshed around me. I think they exposed me to Gamma rays so it's probably a good thing I didn't lose my temper or I would've ripped my favourite jeans. It's such a pain finding the perfect pair of pants.

After that, my handbags were swabbed for explosives, toxic chemicals, and other unpleasant inconveniences. I had an English and also the original Arabic copy of the Quran stashed in one of those bags, and as the security officer proceeded to empty out the contents of it, I began to think that maybe carrying not one but two copies of the Quran was not such a great idea. The Arabic copy was wrapped in pretty cloth and the security officer somewhat innocently asked me before unwrapping it if it was a portable DVD player. I said no, that it was a book. Seeing him pause, I added, "a holy book". I felt nervous. The officer unwrapped the Quran and swabbed it also.

Seeing my childhood copy of the Quran get swabbed for...anything really, was kind of surreal. Right next to my getting scanned in a pod. Beam me outta here, Scotty.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Rachel Barrymore?

It's about more than just the pose. Girlfriends here Rachel Weisz and Drew Barrymore look very similar in the face, don't you think?

Manisha Kaif?

Okay I know I'm not ancient but everytime I see Katrina Kaif, I get whiplash on my way back to the 90s when Manisha Koirala was super popular. These girls have the same smile!

Amrita Fisher?

Sweety pies Amrita Rao and Isla Fisher. They're both tiny, extremely delicate, and look like such evergreen little girls.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

How I Spent My American Vacation

Well, hardly a vacation, but I had to have a clever title.

1. I ran into Sharon Stone and Liv Tyler in LA
2. I sat in the first row of Jay Leno's show, shook hands with him (he has dry hands) on TV, asked him a question, had it answered, and my mug is now forever going to be in the January 19, 2008, show archive
3. I wrote my first 2 books
4. I got published in Guideposts, a magazine founded by Norman Vincent Peale and one of the top 30 in the US
5. I auditioned for and got small roles in local independent movies
6. I learned how to tell a friend from an enemy
7. I lost everything and then clawed my way back
8. I saw the best and worst of humanity
9. I learned how to say 'no'
10. I understood who I am and stopped apologising about it

Most importantly, I lost faith in God. I asked 'why?' and I heard no answer. I demanded an answer but it was quiet. Then I stopped asking questions and became empty. And then in the dark silence, the answers came one after the other, overwhelming me. I got answers when I didn't know I had questions. Then one day there were no unanswered questions. And there was God.

And that is how I spent my American vacation.

Monday, November 17, 2008

It's time for Ram to return to Ayodhya

I'm leaving the US. After almost 10 years. Wow.

I'm going to visit Canada for a bit before taking off for an indefinite break in Oman. I have no specific plans. I don't know what I'll be doing or where. I don't care either.

But why?

I don't know. No one specific reason, just one huge amorphous mass of compulsions that snowballed very slowly over time since I came to the US after high school. My memory of the past 10 years is sort of blurry, and on the inside I somewhat feel like life stopped at the age of 17. It feels like I'd been in a coma since then and I recently woke up to find that I was 27 but felt like I was 100.

In reality, of course, there was no coma. There was just me who one fine day looked in the mirror and found this haggard and unattractive female sighing back at me. Wasn't I a skippy pixie just yesterday? What had happened to my eyes? They looked tired and apologetic, didn't they use to be brilliant supernovas? I know they were there, I had seen them. I know I used to hardly be able to contain myself. I remember my mind used to be quick, always spitting out a smart comment and bringing the roof down. It used to be so easy. I could hardly speak now. I had nothing to say, and words just felt too heavy to juggle around into brilliant combinations. When did I run out of things to say?

The things that were me - ferocious creativity, unbridled laughter, fiery passion, stubborn optimism, and limitless energy - were gone. The whirlwind that had always made me feel like I would never die now was still like the air inside a tomb. It was quiet now and I already felt dead. But somehow I was still walking around, doing what I had to, doing what everyone else was doing. My soul, which I could still feel in echoes, felt like a dead planet mindlessly orbitting and rotating around a long dead star, like a ghost condemned to its haunting place for all eternity, like a stuck record scratching the same old notes when the listeners have long since left.

I don't remember much of anything over the past 10 years except for suffocating under overwhelming isolation and desperately trying to grab onto anything so I could breathe. I remember daily crying spells when the quiet got too deafening. I remember trying but failing. I remember being told 'no' and having my hands held down. I remember being hungry, tired, and wanting the tightening of my scalp muscles to go away.

I dunno. I think I didn't want to hear 'no' anymore. Last year I felt something erupt within me. I didn't want to be walked over anymore by anybody. I don't know. I felt like I had just woken up and was horrified at what I saw. All I knew is that I had to go back to a time before this to remember who I was. I don't know. I just have to go. What you see today isn't me. I have to go find the people who remember who I used to be. I can't be here anymore. I dunno.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Beauty and Brains - watch out Sarah Palin!


Let me just say that my heart completely melts into a soggy estrogenic mess while gazing upon the gloriousness that is the profile of Pakistani ex-cricketer Imran Khan.

And then I read this. Not only was I super-surprised - nay, stunned - that Imran Khan, super heart-throb and hazaaron dilon ki dhadkan, has such deep thoughts about these very intellectual things, but that his article actually reflects my opinions and experiences so much that it very well could've been written by me. Just goes to prove that we're soulmates (or involved in a Vulcan mind-meld).

But on a serious note, I'm very impressed. And surprised! This is Imran Khan we're talking about. Pretty boy and media darling. Who woulda thunk it?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Green is the new Red

Can someone please explain to me why Obama's choice of religion means anything in a presidential race? And why is the false rumour that he is a Muslim such a career-killer? What, is being called a Muslim now like being called a Commie? I've always known that of course there are ignorant people everywhere, but I didn't know that something so irrelevant to one's profession as someone's religion can be such a big deal in America. America of all places! Here I was going about feeling as equal as everybody else in my daily life in this country, even in post-911 America, but the day I got my first email forward from a friend warning me about Obama's secret Islamophilia, I've really not been sure how to feel, one, about why that friend decided to include me of all people on that email, and two, is that how people see me when they find out that I'm a Muslim? I thought people saw me as Khadija Ejaz, opinionated friend and blogger with a penchant for Italian food and 'I love the 80s' reruns on VH1. I mean, what!?

Everyone's talking about how noooooo, Obama is not a Muslim!! He's a Christian!!! Save the campaign!!! Please, like as if it's a disqualification. Why is no one talking about how shameful it is to even be using the word Muslim (or any other group classification) in the same tone as, say, witch or Nazi, or Nazi witch. What, is Muslim a slur now?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Where's Khadija?

I thought I saw myself today
In the mirror on the wall
As I walked away

I thought I heard myself today
When I laughed till I cried
But my tears were grey

I thought I sensed myself today
In a dream I had
About yesterday

I thought I knew myself today
When I said something
That I used to say

I almost found myself today
So maybe tomorrow
If not today

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

My name is Khadija and I'm an object

I've been reading up on the objectification of women lately. It's hard to put it in words but I believe this author nails it when she says:

"In conclusion, imagine a table. A table is a collection of molecules-- truly an object. It does not care if you look at it, compare it negatively to other tables, pick it up, or even damage it. a woman, however, is both an object and a subject. Like a table, she is a collection of molecules that can be looked at or damaged-- but unlike a table, she cares. When society reduces human beings to the status of tables, the humans are bound to get hurt."

Monday, September 15, 2008

Why I love this boyband anyway

They have a new song! Oh this brings back such good memories. Let me go fish out my Boyzone and Mr. Bean soundtrack audio cassettes.

I should do this the next time I fly

I LOVE this commercial - hurrah for completely unrealistic security checkpoints!

PS - his eyebrows are so sharp that I think I cut my finger (don't ask me what my finger was doing on his eyebrows...)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sunday, September 7, 2008

I fell into the TV

I watched 'Awakenings' today, a 1990 flick starring Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams. I am left speechless. Honestly, when a movie is made right, you just feel at one with each and every character. It is a dream of mine, to write a book, make a movie, create a screenplay that has the same effect on people as 'Awakenings' had on me. That magic, that experience of forgetting the world and being emotionally hitched to the plot without knowing when it happened, that's what I want to capture. Someday.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Alison Blaire Strikes Back

Once upon a time, I used to sing all the time. Song was speech. We sang first thing in the morning at school during prayers and anthems. I sang at school. I sang at home. I sang to the music on TV, radio, and cassettes. I sang while setting the table and doing the dishes. I sang in my room and I sang very loudly in the shower. I sang all the time. Every untried trill in every new tune was a new word to add to my vocabulary. I wish I'd had training. Then I'd be able to learn more! Like the difference between learning a language at school or learning by ear. But I sang. I sang like David because there was no other way to be.

Then the quiet days came. There was no more song, no more writing, no more expression. The voice in my chest was suddenly shackled. Like someone was sitting on my chest, crushing it, waging war against it. My voice had no way to come out. There were things to say but no one who would listen, no one would believe. The voice bubbled fiercely screaming to come out, but because it was hurt, it would die before making its way out into the world. And so it withdrew underground, leaving in its place darkness, silence, and dust.

I looked for it everywhere. I looked for my voice but I couldn't find it. It had gone into hiding, leaving behind a rejected ruin where the stale breeze of my soul would carry with it the echo of tunes forgotten, torturing me. I called out, I looked everywhere, but it was gone. I hung my head and sat amongst the ruins, broken and defeated, resigned to the quiet suffocation.

The years passed.

Then a few weeks ago I had a dream where I was The Dazzler. Even after waking up I could feel the magnificient freedom of singing, light emanating from every being of me as I danced in space, light shooting out in all directions into the darkness. I spun, I twirled, my arms and my fingers swaying about like the phoenix soaring with the urgency of an inferno. Every atom of me was exploding with song, with light, like a brand new sun so eager to be alive. I desperately held onto that feeling as long as I could. It had been so long since I'd been in tune. I couldn't even breathe now.

But then yesterday, something happened. I felt a new vigour while singing along to my iPod in my car. Then I turned it off during one of the songs and felt the need to carry on singing without singing along. And I kept singing. I sang all the songs I'd forgotten. I sang of the glory of God, I sang of disappointment, I sang of love, I sang of patriotism, I sang of heartbreak, I sang of life, I sang of longing. I sang non-stop for a couple of hours even. The voice came back with such intensity, such power, the old words came back with richer meaning, it had to be sung. I sang like I'd never sung before. My lungs burst open and I could breathe my heart into every single word. I had to stand, I had to move. My arms and hands embraced my voice and fiercely pulled it out of the darkness into the new world, guiding it back step-by-step until it remembered how to soar free. My soul took flight, my vocal chords wept in harmony. Heaven breathed its fresh breeze into the ruins of my soul, and light banished the cobwebs into oblivion.

Free at last, free at last! Thank God Almighty, she's free at last!

Gorgeous Person for the Day

Dapper crooner Harry Connick Jr.

Gorgeous Person for the Day

Rajesh Khanna - so tragic it hurts.

Gorgeous Person for the Day

Holy crap, it's Shashi Kapoor. Simmer down ladies.

The Men of my Dreams

Too bad they stayed there, but let me share them with you anyway.

My first wave of sudden crushes happened around age 12: Doogie Howser MD, Kevin Costner who'd just come out with 'Dances with Wolves', and Robert Downey, Jr., who totally made me fall down with his performance in 'Chaplin'.

Before I had time to recover from these 3, I got suddenly hit by a superstar in the making - Shahrukh Khan in 'Baazigar' and 'Darr'. I cried and cried and refused to eat until my dad let me go to one of his first concerts in Muscat, Oman.

While I never really got over my adoration of Shahrukh Khan, I met Captain Kirk. Holy crap, that guy just took me way out there. I was insisting everyone call me Mrs. Kirk!

But then Boyzone took over the world and I realised I could not live without Ronan Keating. I sent a dedication to him for his birthday on our local Oman radio show that I made sure all my friends tuned in to!

My first semester in the US in August 1999, and I came across a fledgling show called 'The Daily Show'. Everyone on my dorm floor knew that at 6pm I'd be camped in front of the common room TV watching Jon Stewart with twinkling eyes, laughing at his jokes because I couldn't believe he was such a genius. I even sent him a birthday card but the address was wrong so it came back. :(

By the time I started grad school, I thought I was over with these one-off obsessions . Well never say never and hello Tim Daly! I would wake up at 4am to catch him on 'Wings' reruns.

By now I had graduated to the real world as a careerwoman. Then James Roday fell splat into my lap (I wish!) on 'Psych'. He's the second person I sent a letter for an autographed photo, and he did reply! I screamed all the way from my mailbox to my apartment!

So who's going to be next? Email me for an application.

When Jimmy met Disco

It was 1982 and super-shine was in style.

PS - At 3:06 I start to get the feeling that she's scolding a noncompliant pet

Monday, August 25, 2008

Well lookie here

Look whom I came across while researching the Persian Empire - Pazuzu, the freaky entity from The Exorcist. Happy 3000th birthday, ol' buddy ol' pal (not)!

Back when Cyrus fought the Medians

It's that time again when I'm researching for yet another children's book. This time I'm time-travelling back 2500 years to ancient Persia. I am seriously in awe of it all. Two reasons why this project is personally enlightening to me is because I grew up in Oman and because my background as a North Indian Muslim was heavily influenced by Persia. So now that I'm studying the details of the Persian Empire, I'm finally able to put two and two together and understand the relevance and origin of all those metaphors, names, details, and other parts of my own distant lineage. Not to mention that reading about such fantastic civilisations makes me feel totally insignificant. Like looking up at the night sky and wondering about time.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Why I want my Heaven to be the 90s

Holy $%#$#%#$ I LOVE this song!!!

Like the plague but worse

Once upon a time there was the Great Indian Middle Class (GIMC or the Gimmicks). The Gimmicks formed the majority of the population of India. They watched MTV India, spoke Hinglish, drank Pepsi, and wore blue jeans and qurtas. They also worked hard, took entrance exams, and took care of their parents and grandparents. The Gimmicks were like Turkey (the country, not the bird) - a perfect blend of the East and the West.

The people of Gimmick had sons and daughters. These children grew up studying & watching movies together, confiding their dreams in one another. The boys worked hard. The girls did too. One day, the young Gimmick women suddenly realised that their generation had worked so hard that for the first time, they were at par with and even beyond the boys. These were the young women who now worked in all sectors of the economy as professors, researchers, journalists, doctors, engineers, government employees, media professionals, lawyers, social workers, counselors, you name it. These young women worked just as hard as the boys. They became independent but still came home on time to their families. They earned their money and made chai for their parents. These were the ideal women, professional and domesticated. It was perfect. It was only a matter of time before they were swept off their feet by the man of their dreams and have children like their Gimmick families before them.

So what happened?

The Gimmick boys began to feel insecure because of the girls' achievements. These women expected more out of a relationship than simply being provided a house and clothes and food. They were educated enough to question authority and male chauvinism. They had worked too hard, their parents had encouraged them too much for them to compromise in the way that was the tradition for Indian women.

So the traditional society punished them. The days went by and the well-meaning young Gimmick women watched bewildered as their lesser accomplished sisters swiftly got snagged for marriages and were set on their readymade lives. Men wanted the Gimmick girls as pals, buddies, and even girlfriends because they were modern, cool, and had seen the world. But no one wanted them as wives or mothers of their children. The constant rejections forced the young women to combat their loneliness by trying to make friends with those of the other classes. But the cocktail ways of the upper class were too different. It was another planet altogether. The expectations of those from lower-income backgrounds were equally distressing. The Gimmick parents hadn't gone against the currents of society and invested in their daughters' educations so that the girls would be made to check their opinions at the threshold of their married lives.

Exemplary young women, just as good as men, supporting their families emotionally and sometimes even financially. Broken-hearted young women who unbeknownst to themselves hold the power to change the future of their country, by nurturing strong families and courageous children, their intelligence trickling through generations and changing the course of a future yet to be written. Would a nation lose its most precious asset to foreign communities where these women would not be made to apologise for who their parents had nurtured them into becoming? Will a diaspora miss out on recapturing its rule on the world by not allowing these women to rock its cradles?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

No Country for Young Girls?

Okay so I've borrowed the title from this article. But I addressed this issue (of gender bias, not of stealing titles) in my blog only a while ago so I thought I'd resurrect it for a little bit.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Gary, is that you?

Something totally weird happened to me today. I was standing in line at the downtown Subway when this guy wheeled his bike in. He parked it in the corner of the store and stood next to me in line. One look at him and all sorts of bells and whistles went off in me. He looked like a grown-up version of this guy I'd mentioned in my book, Beardless Muslim (currently on the backburner for the want of some major overhauls). Check out the excerpt:

"I had this Astronomy class my freshman year at college. While I may not remember the workings of the Hubble telescope or why the opponents of the Big Bang Theory think it’s absolute bosh, I can never forget this particular incident.

There was this guy in my class. He was probably the same age I was, as was the rest of the class. We were all in this thing called ‘college’ together, trying to figure out exactly why we were in this Astronomy class when our degree sheet clearly stated our major as ‘undeclared’. I wish I could remember this particular fellow’s name, but let’s just call him Gary. I really don’t want to keep referring to him as the ‘boy’, ‘fellow’, ‘guy’, or any other nouns I might have to creatively come up with just because I forgot the bloke’s name.

Let me tell you what Gary looked like. He was a white boy of average height, very pale with the most curiously creepy light grayish-blue eyes I have ever seen. Remember, I’m from India where eyes besides the brown/black variety only rarely arise due to complicated genetic mutations. I’d noticed before that he was always dressed in black and that the friends he used to attend the class with were also always in black. Their hair was even blacker than mine! Sometimes they went ahead with the whole bondage theme and donned chains and other assorted metal devices. Once I noticed that Gary had black nail-polish on, which made me quite jealous because I had never been allowed to wear any sort of nail-polish myself. After my guttural reaction of envy, the fact that he was a male and that males traditionally don’t paint their nails occurred to me. Before I had time to get over that, I saw him come to class wearing a black cape. But it was not Halloween. Maybe some other American festival…?

Upon innocently asking one of my American friends about these strange new things I was seeing, I discovered that Gary and his friends were evil Goths, devil worshippers, spawns of Satan. Hey, I didn’t have anything personal against the guy.

So one day I showed up to my Astronomy class wearing shalwar qameez, a totally Indian outfit. It was no big deal, I wear those things quite a bit, and I was happily wrapped up in the feel of home. The class went ahead as usual, no surprises there. Fifty minutes passed by in a shot and as the professor dismissed the class with the promise of impending homework, the class ended as the students folded down those inconveniently tiny writing desks back down to our pseudo-movie-theater chairs. I had no idea what was about to happen in the next few minutes.

Gary raced and weaved through the swarm of clueless freshman like the Flash and tapped me on the shoulder. I can’t quite remember but I don’t think I’d really spoken to him before. He was in another class of mine that semester – Freshman Orientation (yes, that’s a real class they charge tuition for). In any case, I was pleasantly surprised when he stopped me at the end of that class.

“Hey, are you from India?”

My stomach went all aflutter the way it usually does when someone takes an interest in my ethnicity right out of the blue. It’s quite a matter of pride, really.

“Why, yes!” I chirped.

“Are you Muslim?”

My heart leapt!

“Yes, I am!”

I was totally not expecting what he said next.

“So is it true that when you’re fighting the enemies of Islam, like jihad, and if you’re doing good things for your religion, you keep collecting so many points from God, and once you die and get to Heaven, you get to have sex with so many virgins?”


That was one of the most traumatizing events in my life. How can I be so sure? The fact that I generally have a great memory but today, I cannot for the life of me recall what happened once he posed me that unforgettable question. All I can remember is that I was so stunned that I didn’t know what to say. The next thing I remember is that I was back in my dorm room yammering away about the incident to my brother who’d been in the country since the early 90s.

Here I was, a fresh 18-year-old, looking at life with rose-tinted glasses, unbelievably naïve, thoroughly delighted that someone had recognized my ethnic background because of the clothes I was wearing, and expecting him to pose me a wonderfully intellectual question that I could answer with all of my innate wisdom and patience. Enlightenment is a wonderful thing. Buddha got enlightened, and look where that took him.

But despite all my interest in comparative religion, world philosophy, and a college education that had just begun, I was stunned. I don’t think my parents covered this aspect of my religious training. All I’d heard was that Heaven was overflowing with rivers of milk and honey, all the pets you could ever want (I’m a cat person myself), your friends and loved ones that you’d met in your lifetime, palaces made of gold and silver studded with gems, rainbows, even chocolate if that’s what I wanted. I don’t think anyone’d ever mentioned virgins to me before.

Collecting points from God, eh? That would make for a sweet video game. And just when you’d thought we’d left Gary behind

The week after the episode from Astronomy class, I was busy trying to pay full-attention to the professor during the Freshman Orientation class. I think he was talking about the art facilities we had on campus. Gary noticed me sitting in the front row (I’m one of those front-row-benchers you’d love to hate), and he scooted up to the vacant chair right next to me.

Gary had a slithery quality, the way he talked and moved, you’d think he was sneaky. And his eyes didn’t help his case. There was always something about him that made me feel uncomfortable, maybe it was the way he’d talk, like as if he was telling you a secret, even if he was only telling you his name. Or maybe it was just the whole sex-and-virgin issue he wanted addressed the week before.

Anyway, I was usually very quiet during Freshman Orientation class, mostly because I was the only non-white person there and the other students that shared the class with me just didn’t know what to say to me. So they played safe, and decided never to say anything to me at all, except this one time when we were all supposed to interview someone from another country as part of an assignment, and guess who got asked.

But I digress. So Gary sat up next to me…nay, slithered up to me, splat in the middle of the professor’s lecture about our fine and diverse art resources. He (Gary, not the professor) shifted the chair closer up to me and leaned in to my side as I froze in recollection of the Gary-related episode from only the week before.

“Hey,” he hushed.

Oh crap, I thought.

“So why are Indian sculptures so erotic?” he asked.

“It’s art,” I stubbornly replied, neither one of us taking our eyes off of the professor who blissfully went on with his lecture. Dude, arts gratia artis. You don’t trivialize art. It is an insult to creative inspiration to trivialize it to something to simple as sex, drugs, or rock-and-roll (sorry, Buddy Holly, but you know it’s true).

“So what’s Indian music like?”

I decided to give myself the liberty of a second to adjust to this shift on conversation.

“I’m not musically trained,” I hissed, “but we have the same basic stuff as Western Music. You have do-re-mi, we have sa-re-ga.”

“Sing it for me.”

Alice once said, “curiouser and curiouser”. That day in 1999, Khadija thought “weirder and weirder”. I desperately wanted the conversation to end, and so I decided to forgo any protests and comply with his ‘request’. I mean, come on, we were in the middle of a lecture. Who belts out a tune in the middle of a lecture? This was Freshman Orientation, not Music 101. But I just wanted this encounter to be over, and anyway, I’ve long since forgiven myself for what I did next, and I don’t care for your judgment.

I sang.

For Gary.

“Sa re ga ma pa dha ni sa”.

For the musically inclined amongst us, you may sing this in tune to ‘do re mi fa so la ti do’. You may sing it just to put yourself in my shoes as well.

That day I realized two things. One, that it is incredibly hard to whisper a tune. Two, Gary didn’t really bring out the best in me.""

Was this Gary, this tall dude standing next to me with the dusty dark brown hair with a generous mad flop of white? I mean, maybe he was too old? He had sideburns too. Wait, let me sneak a quick look at his eyes. I can never forget that diluted grey. I didn't bother. Not that I'd be able to look at them anyway. From what I remember, those eyes always scared me to death, their gaze just sleepily lingering too long.

So I turned and blabbed - "did you go to OSU?" He turned and gazed at me for a second just too long. It's not him, I thought. And then he said, "yeah". He had me going there for a second; I thought he was going to say no.

"Did you take an Astronomy class?" I asked. He paused for a second, and then rolled on with his forever sleepy drawl, "...yes."

That did it for me. "You were in my class!" I blurted. I'm sure Gary'd never had someone recognise him from random events 9 years ago. I know because he said so. He said I had a great memory.

We caught up over the next 10 minutes. As we struggled with our soggy sandwiches, I learned the following about Gary who looked like he had abandoned his curious ways for business-casual suburbia:

  1. his name is Brian (and now I remember him telling me his name during Freshman Orientation)
  2. he probably asked me all those weird questions because he'd been reading about Hinduism in those days
  3. he's a software engineer in downtown
  4. he is married and has two daughters, Mia age 2 years and 10 months and Gabriella aged 10 months
  5. he left OSU a long time ago and finished up at community college in 2007

Brian finished his sandwich and rose to say goodbye. Then, as if I needed more proof of his identity, he slithered away from the table and rode out on his bike. His slither had become less pronounced and heavier, like an older bear more firm in his step, but a quiet shadow-like movement all the same. Looking at him, you would've never thought that he'd once worn black nailpolish. He melted out of the restaurant, and with that, ended the weirdest encounter I've had since...well, since Astronomy class.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Rick, Clay, Cynthia, and Freddie

I'm not trying to pick on redheads here, but everytime I see either one of these folks, I think of the other 3. They all look related!!

Vocally separated at birth?

Is it just me or do Strawberry Rick Astley and Cher the Fierce-Maned sound similar? You decide.

PS - it only works if you listen to their songs with your eyes closed.

Love in the Time of Recession

Dude ain't got no money. He can't even buy her flowers! For Pete's sake, they can't even go anywhere exotic because of the floundering US dollar. Not to worry - putting the common man's woes with the current US economy to song and dance can make for an inexpensive dance date! So who cares if those futbol players are suddenly richer because of l'Euro? Some things like the love of uber-beautiful Keri Hilson are always free! As for the economy, we'll just let the free market thug it out till they get it right.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Not phat at all

Ladies and gentleman, presenting the fattest states in America (as per this article)!

1. Mississippi, 32.0 percent
2. Alabama, 30.3
3. Tennessee, 30.1
4. Louisiana, 29.8
5. West Virginia, 29.5
6. Arkansas, 28.7
7. South Carolina, 28.4
8. Georgia, 28.2
9. Oklahoma, 28.1
10. Texas, 28.1

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Fight spam!

I love Everytime I get a guilt-inducing gut-wrenching email about a disease-ridden child or an email promising money from Microsoft and AOL, I immediately check it on Snopes for legitimacy. More often than not, it's fake, and I let the email sender know. Spam and inaccurate forwards are such a pain. I mean, why does anybody care that Barack Obama could secretly be a Muslim?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Hello Myers, hello Briggs

I am an INFJ. What are you? Take the free test and leave me a comment about your personality type.

For more information about the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), click here. You can get more information about the individual MBTI personality types by scrolling down to the 'Type dynamics and development' section and clicking on the relevant personality types in the 'The Sixteen Types' table on the right-hand-side.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Thursday, July 10, 2008

For all you psych majors

I have been conducting my own personal Pavlovian investigation regarding a hard candy related incident. You know when people keep a pile of candy at their desk at the office for folks to enjoy? Well the administrative assistant at my office started doing just that a few months ago, and I had no idea why I'd feel so delighted everytime I tried one of the butterscotch candies. I got slightly addicted to them and I had a feeling I had had this candy before, but I just could not figure it out. It made me nuts. What was it that I felt everytime the butterscotch lapped up with my saliva in my mouth into apparently happy blocked out memories? It felt like repressed previous incarnation memories that they show on TV. For months this black hole in my memory bothered me. Then one day, as it usually is with these things, I suddenly remembered. Twenty years ago my family was visiting Lahore, Pakistan, for my dad's youngest sister's wedding. There I met one of my dad's maternal uncles. I've met him only that one trip, but it was sufficient for me to give him the name 'toffee waale dada' (the grandpa with the candy). A tall man with a white moustache, he'd be swarmed by children wherever he went because of his candy stash. He'd always, always, always have this delicious hard candy for the children. I remember it was as addictive as a drug. I'd never been able to find candy that tasted exactly the same until twenty years later in Tulsa, Okla-frikkin-homa.

So that's what it was. I'd forgotten the taste of the candy and only remembered the wonderful grandchildlike happiness it brought me at the age of 7. That feeling was triggered back into the foreground of my mind when I experienced the same taste again. What a completely involuntary reaction. I didn't even know why I was feeling what I was feeling. It's like my mind has a, well, mind of its own.

Ars gratia artis

Meet Joseph Chamberlain, a self-taught inner-inspired artist that I ran into at a mini fair in the Williams building during the lunch hour. I stopped and chatted with him about his art and ended up feeling quite talent-deprived after he described his dedication and drive toward his work. For instance, one painting he's been working on for 7 years and will take another year or so to complete. Why? Because it involves him using your everyday ink pen and drawing in little circles until you cannot tell if the painting's a computer printout or a photocopy. Dang.

Joseph talked of using colours to express his heart on the canvas. The only thing that stopped me from feeling like an idiot is my medium of expression: words.

'...and words are all I have, to take your heart away'.

The big picture

I had developed global myopia living in the US for so long, so I decided to tack on a World Map next to the US map I have up in my office cube. Gosh, what a difference it makes. It's all about perspective I tell you. My mind's feeling open again! Suddenly I can see all the other countries in the world, and many are as large as if not larger than the US. I sorrowfully also realised how far India and Oman really are from the US. All of it takes my breath away. I have been so deeply embedded in the US for so many years; you have a tendency to get cut off from the rest of the world here. The years I've been here made me feel like my life before the US was a hazy dream that didn't make sense anymore, but now I feel like I've got a grip on reality again.

So hello, Libya, Australia, Peru, and Norway! Hello all you others! So good to see your pretty political demarkations again!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

I declare

That I am a casual, flat-shoe wearing, comfortable clothes wearing, highly sensitive chick.

That I will never apologise for my feelings.

That I will walk around with my nose in the air if I feel like it.

That I am not interested in the rumblings of dumb people.

That I simply do not care.

That it feels good to not care.

Barbaric news

God, this is so terrible. . I repeat, I repeat, all men and women are as equal as the teeth of a comb. You are no better or worse than anybody except by your deeds.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


The preference for male children over female in India is no secret. In 1970, my mother shared the same maternity ward with another woman who had given birth to a daughter. The young woman was completely terrified about what her family and inlaws would think. My mother remembers that this woman's family and inlaws did not celebrate the birth. In fact, they were disappointed in the woman, and looking at their behaviour, you would've thought that there had been a death in the family. Of course, it is the woman that gets blamed for the sex of the child too.

This is utter rubbish and completely unacceptable for a culture that long worshipped the feminine as the ultimate manifestation of the sacred forces of the universe. Education, education, education is the answer to all problems. Reminds me of an instance when I was 17 in India on my summer hols. An aunt of mine was chatting with another lady about some poor woman who kept giving birth to daughters and was harassed by her inlaws because of it. I had studied the details of sex determination via genetics in 12th grade, and I could not help announcing 'but it's her husband that determines the sex of the babies!' I mean it's like blaming the oven for not turning out cookies after you yourself put in the ingredients for a cake. I got even more annoyed when my aunt and her friend, women well into their 40s and beyond, giggled and blushed at my unmentionable opinion.

These are things that must be addressed to all men and women, to all boys and girls. It's not a joke. Not any one gender is better than the other; they are meant to live in harmony, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. I like both cookies and cakes quite fine. They've both got sugar, maybe not spice, but definitely everything nice.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Gender (often ignored synonym for sex) and the Metropolis

I have a strange relationship with 'Sex and the City'. I don't want to watch it because I don't approve, but everytime I catch an episode, I totally relate to everything and have a great oestrogen experience. Is it a surprise that although I thought I would be pulling one over my morals by casually watched the new movie this week with a couple of girlfriends, I ended up enjoying the 2+ hour movie like only a girl could. Nothing deliciously naughty about it.

Cascading waterfalls

On my cheeks
My face
The deafening sound
Of quiet
The sound of none
The thump when you realise
That you're back to
Square One
Then the quiet
So you whimper
To hear any voice
When you hear none you wail
A little louder
Then your cry breaks free
And you wonder if the neighbours
Can hear you going mad
Will they help you run away
Find a place on the map
Where you have always belonged
Where you are free
To breathe
To plan your life in freedom
To do all the things
That normal people do
Be born, live, and die
Without documenting every move
Living by a trail of paperwork
You are what their database says
First name, last name, address
Social security number
Don't give that out
It's your primary key
In computer binary
Right-click, left-click
You are your bank account
Your HR file
Your credit report
Plusses and minusses
Push harder
Be better
Wipe those tears off your face
You look ridiculous
How are you going to hide
Those puffy eyes
In the morning

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Bereavement Poem

I came across this poem online today, and I think I love it.

Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The memo you missed

This article about office-lingo has me completely mortified. Maybe I took college and graduate school too seriously but I came across these in textbooks and lectures so often that I thought they were actual phrases. Once I started working, I was hit by a cascading plethora of jargon that left me struggling trying to fit in. Well I guess going forward, I'm going to have to loop back and look under the bonnet with a holistic cradle-to-the-grave approach to tackling the challenge in this space. This is going to require some solid 360-degree thinking. I'd better not let the grass grow too long before getting all my ducks in a row. I'll touch base with everyone regarding this issue but I hope I can accomplish this huge task - I don't really have the bandwidth nowadays.

Your gut

No, the intangible one deep under the fat deposit under your belly button. Here's a great article from the Life School of Oprah. I believe in intuition. I believe that you must listen to your body and your feelings. I believe that if you ignore the signs your body gives you, it will begin to scream at you by making you feel all sorts of convoluted horrible, even tormenting you in your dreams and health screenings.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

SPFfing it up

Do you know what your SPF level is?

Dutch Painters

I watched 'Lust for Life', starring Kirk Douglas as Vincent van Gogh, the other day. My heart broke for van Gogh's depression and loneliness in passion. It gave me new insight into his painting 'Old Man in Sorrow (On the Threshold of Eternity)' which he created in 1890, the same year he committed suicide. I had come across this painting last year while googling for information about depression. It resonated so terribly with me that I clung to it with relief. The painting resembled the ones I'd been intrinsically compelled to paint over the past few years so much, it both terrified me and made me feel less lonely all at the same time. Now I'm no major painter; I can hardly control a brush or the paint and I don't know anything about the different styles or masters of the art, but I think that it is the sign of a great artist when his/her work reaches into your soul at first sight and rips your heart out, maybe even giving you comfort that maybe you're not alone after all. So what if the only person who understands you shot himself in a yellow field in another continent 120 years ago.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A mockingbird no more

I left Oman for the US at 18 in 1999 and have been here since then. These years have been the most awkward and terrifying of my life; I've felt out of sync with everything nomatter how hard I tried to earnestly then soulessly mimic the new world around me. Everything's remained alien: the food, the clothes, the weather, the people, the TV shows, the music even. But thanks to YouTube I can connect to the sounds and images from my old happier days. I can escape to the most wonderful days of my life when I was just beginning to giddily feel the intense emotions that would become my only companion (or tormentor) for the next decade.

This song that I rediscovered today almost gutted me. It brought back the old feelings that I thought I'd never be able to feel again.

Friday, May 30, 2008

'Horrifying' headgear

So according to this story, I am showing support for Islamic extremism.

Gimme a break.

Background on the picture: I was wandering about the old streets of Oman where I grew up, and immediately tried out a traditional Middle Eastern scarf that I'd always seen but never worn. It was hot as HELL that day in 'wintery' February, but the cotton scarf immediately cooled my poor old head down. It's not a terrorism garb, it's a very practical cooling device that has been perfected over thousands of years in that region.

PS - Even Perez Hilton has been seeing wearing it.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Prophets of Doom

Sharon Stone's recent comments about the 'karmic' earthquake in China has prompted this informative article. Personally I found the reasoning behind her comment to be similar to that of the people who said that God sent the tsunami in South-East Asia to wipe out the Muslim terrorists hiding there and Hurricane Katrina to punish the social dysfunction in New Orleans, Louisiana - well-intended but too simplistic and irresponsible.

Word to the Mother

The more research I do for my children's book about India, the prouder I feel about my country. Largest democracy, oldest continuous civilisation dating back to 10,000 years, thousands of years of religious, cultural, political cohabitation and growth, a ridiculous amount of everyday busy diversity. I barely remembered any of the ancient and medieval history we learned in primary school, although I am pretty much well-versed in the modern history part of it (thanks to our frantic 10th standard board exam mugging). I spent the past decade in foreign lands, oddly disconnected from my identity, so I'm so glad that I got the opportunity through this book to review India as a grown-up. This seemingly simple book ended up being a godsend. Like Che Guevara on his motorcycle trip across the South American continent, like Khushwant Singh researching for his books 'The History of the Sikhs' and 'Delhi: A Novel'. Not only do I suddenly feel connected to my identity, I now feel connected to all these great thinkers, known and unknown, in that timeless dimension where we are all still sharing our thoughts and inspiring one another from across the ages.

Also the more I research, the angrier I get at the chaotic state India has fallen into. This is not what we dreamt of in 1947. But all is not lost - members of the diaspora are trying to change things from within the country and from without. Hail to the Ganrajya. :)

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Once upon a time in India

What can you say about an old man who died?

That he aged before his time? That he died on a charpai far from where he was born? That his funeral was attended by more than he ever thought would bother?

Ejaz 'Baba' Ahmed was born in Kanpur, India. Orphaned at an early age, he was raised by the family of his mother's good friend. He was from a Sunni Muslim family, and his Shia foster family respectfully raised him according to his background. Baba grew to become a soft-spoken well-educated young man, and over time, became a successful businessman. He had an arranged marriage, but no one told him that that his wife had long had psychological problems. Misery embraced him as he realised the deceit. His wife's family frequently lied to him, and after a while, temporarily took in his wife and their 2 sons. His wife, in an effort to escape mistreatment at the hands of her brother's wife, leapt to her death in a well. Baba's sons mistreated him so that he refused to see them ever again. In the meanwhile, Baba lost all his textile goods in post-Indira-Gandhi-assassination India when an angry mob set fire to the truck that was carrying the cloth that was his livelihood. The truck was owned and driven by a Sikh, and the Sikh driver perished in the national retaliation alongwith Baba's future. Baba ended up on the street, and he eventually moved to Lucknow where he started pulling rickshaws. My aunt began to regularly hire him for her trips to her school where she was a teacher. She trusted this tall thin quiet man who never really looked like the other crude rickshaw-pullers. His polite manner and long white beard hardly seemed fitting for the physical exertion of the dirty hot Indian roads. Under his sunburned squint, he didn't look like he belonged on the street. My aunt hired him for all her transport needs, and after learning about his story, began helping him to set up a paan shop and give up the strenuous life of a rickshaw-puller. My aunt lived alone in our big home in India, so she began to involve him in helping her run errands, and that's how Baba began to leave his life on the street. That's when I met him 10-15 years ago. After my aunt died in 2000, my family asked Baba to move into our empty house in India and help run things there for us from Oman. Baba humbly moved into a small room on the terrace and graduated to handling everything from our finances to providing protection to Marjeena, the little orphan girl whom my aunt had taken in many years ago.

2 weeks ago, Baba discovered that he had cancer. My doctor brother's contact in India examined him and discovered that his case was terminal. Baba's health took a sudden turn for the worse and he was put on dialysis as his kidneys failed. He was unable to speak and was only able to gasp for breath. He wasn't even able to walk the stairs up to our house so a charpai was set up for him in the garage where he lay, weak and dying. I called him last week and he was unable to speak, but I spoke to Marjeena and she told him I was calling for him. I heard him struggle to breathe, and I told Marjeena that I'd call again later. 2 hours later, I received an email from my parents on their visit to the US that Baba had passed away in the middle of the night. He was buried in Lucknow around noon that day, and 150 people attended the final farewell. None of them were related to him, but they were all the people from the nearby galis and crannies who had had exchanged salaams with him as he quietly passed them by.

Baba never informed his sons or his family about his illness. He had severed all ties with them many years before. He never talked about them. In the beginning when he started living in our house, my brother had told him to think of us as his family. In his last few days, when my brother spoke to him over the phone from Oman, he asked him to let his sons know about his illness. Baba refused and told him that we were all the family he had.

6 months ago when my mother was visiting India, Baba hired her a taxi to see the new big mall in Lucknow. He was surprised when my mother asked him to not wait in the taxi out in the heat. He had his first ride on an escalator and at first was afraid to get on it. My mother says he had a wonderful time and was very happy at the mall.

At the end of my last trip to India, Baba saw me off as I cried all the way from the house to the taxi. He was crying too and said he didn't know when he would see me again. He used to call me bitiya ('little daughter'). 10 years ago when I was crying after a big fight with my brother, he told me that this stuff happens and I'd be okay. I only found out Baba's real name after he died. He was just Baba who always quietly laughed at my dumb jokes and arranged for any snacks or things I ever wanted on my trips to India.

So I remember Baba, the seemingly ageless tall thin quiet man in the corner with the white mop of hair and equally white beard. I remember his trustworthiness and his trials, and his bare-essential chappals and not-quite-white qurta pajamas. I also remember the surprising hurt he always carried with him.

I wrote a poem a few years ago, and now I realise that I had written a eulogy for Baba. Here you go, Baba, I am so glad you're in a place now that's free from this hurtful existence called life:

The Good Man

There once was a man,
Who, in his life span,
Did nothing but pure real good.

Helped others in pain,
For no personal gain,
He did all that he knew that he could.

And while he was living,
Most misused his giving,
They hurt him with blows and with leers.

But one day he died,
And then those men cried,
So his soul stayed to wipe all their tears.