Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Do you realise?

As 2009 draws to an end, and people all over the world prepare their party itinerary for the new year celebrations, let us remember that:

- the Gregorian calendar has only been around since the 16th century
- there were innumerable calenders all over the world before the Gregorian one
- there are many, many other calendars that are still being used today
- human beings have relied not only on the sun but the moon, constellations, planets, seasons, natural disasters, and reigns of kings to mark time periods
- calendars rely on at least one external object to relatively define the passage of time
- your age says more about the number of times your planet has revolved around the sun with you on it rather than anything about you
- even time, as people define it, is a relative concept

Reminds me of a seance transcript I once read where the medium repeatedly failed to get an answer from the channeled entity regarding dates and how long it had lived. The entity seemed to have answers for everything except the time-based questions. It would go silent, or ask for clarifications, like it could just not get its...head around the concept.

This is not about believing in ghosts. This is about accepting that you are not the authority on everything, that your view of life is limited to your very localised circumstances. Even the religions of the world simplify Creation for you in a version that you may understand, asking you to just trust, have faith in the actual reality that cannot be fathomed right now with your limited senses. Understand the limitations of what you think you know as an absolute fact. Unlearn what you have been told, every single bit of it, so you can really begin to see the true message. Unlearn that blue is for boys and pink is for girls - colours are merely light vibrations. Unlearn that chiseled or hairless or tall is all that's acceptable - it's just what you've been fed. Unlearn that summer means June and winter means December - there is no such thing really as a month. When you touch a table, a tree, another person, yourself, do you think they're all solid? They're not. They are all made of molecules which are made of atoms which are made of protons, electrons, neutrons, which are further made of smaller particles that only differ from each other in the way they behave. But your skin, your eyes, your every sense tells you that the table, the tree, the other person, yourself are solid. So are you going to believe everything your 5 senses tell you?

Unlearn the stereotypes. Unlearn it all, challenge what you define yourself by. Do it if you have the courage to discover what is absolute, what is universal. Undo all the conditioning and break free. Everything you know right now is someone else's opinion. You can't even be sure of what you have seen. Don't you see, I mean really feel in some strange place inside? The only thing you can be sure of is that you can't be sure of anything at all.

Plugged

Spirit
Awakens
Trembles
Remembers
Sonic song
Light on fingertips
Shooting
Bright
Eyes shut
Dancing
Arms out
Spinning
Live wire
Electric
Crackling
Energy
Universe
Sound
Light
Cosmic
Heartbeat
Racing
Ecstacy
Living
Eternal
Eternal
Eternal

Friday, December 25, 2009

Friend me or else

I'm not sure how to respond to Shahroze Malik's Facebook friend request. When I asked him if I knew him, he said, "u don no me....bt u'll".

OMG he can see into the future??

Milk Carton People

The flyers were in all the usual colours - flourescent pink, green, yellow, but also white. The thin young Indian boy smiled at the world from under the caption, "Missing Student". His father had initiated the search for his son who had seemingly vanished from the university campus. "Please come back," the rest of the flyer read, "we love you and don't care about your grades or anything else. Please call Daddy." The smiling face followed me everywhere on campus. I wondered where he was now. It was my first semester at the university. I had just turned 18.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Surprise

The dream only lasted a few short seconds. It was dark the whole time. Someone had swung out a gun at me, but my eyes were already shut because I was so scared of the tearing feeling of dying, of the hot pain of being shot, of the loud bang! that would set me on a fire. I couldn't believe that someone would do this to me, end my life, without even letting me say anything. There was so much to say and feel, and he wouldn't let me. The urgent terror of it had shot up to my ears.

It was quick. I didn't have time to say anything except begin to mouth a 'no' and raise my hands as my eyes pressed shut. My body was just beginning to curl up out of panic when I heard the loud shot. I was so afraid of the pain that was going to come, I wanted to cry.

But there was nothing. It was still dark, and I was surprised that death had been so painless. I didn't even know when I had died. There was the screaming bang, but I'd never felt anything, like I'd been whisked away to some other place. I was still here, but here was somewhere else. I'd felt nothing, there had never been any pain to be afraid of. Who knew?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Yoda Man


Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship.

Do or do not... there is no try.

May the Force be with you.

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

Grave danger you are in. Impatient you are.

Always in motion is the future.

Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around you who transform into the Force. Mourn them do not. Miss them do not. Attachment leads to jealously. The shadow of greed, that is.

Named must your fear be before banish it you can.

You will find only what you bring in.

Not if anything to say about it I have.

Soon will I rest, yes, forever sleep. Earned it I have. Twilight is upon me, soon night must fall.

[Luke:] I can’t believe it. [Yoda:] That is why you fail.

Yes, a Jedi's strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan's apprentice.

Powerful you have become, the dark side I sense in you.

The dark side clouds everything. Impossible to see the future is.

Foreplay, cuddling - a Jedi craves not these things.

Ready are you? What know you of ready? For eight hundred years have I trained Jedi. My own counsel will I keep on who is to be trained. A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away... to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things. You are reckless.

Pain, suffering, death I feel. Something terrible has happened. Young Skywalker is in pain. Terrible pain.

Remember, a Jedi's strength flows from the Force. But beware. Anger, fear, aggression. The dark side are they. Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny. Luke... Luke... do not... do not underestimate the powers of the Emperor or suffer your father's fate you will. Luke, when gone am I... the last of the Jedi will you be. Luke, the Force runs strong in your family. Pass on what you have learned, Luke. There is... another... Sky... walker.

Ohhh. Great warrior.Wars not make one great.

The boy you trained, gone he is. Consumed by Darth Vader.

Lost a planet, Obi Wan has.

Happens to every guy sometimes this does.

Only the Dark Lord of the Sith knows of our weakness. If informed the senate is, multiply our adversaries will.

Feel the force!.

Around the survivors a perimeter create.

Good relations with the Wookiees, I have.

Not victory Obi won. The shroud of the darkside has fallen. Begun the clone war has.

Use your feeling, Obi-Wan, and find him [Anakin] you will.

Blind we are, if creation of this clone army we could not see.

Urm. Put a shield on my saber I must.

Save them [Luke and Leia], we must. They are our last hope.

Always two there are, a master and an apprentice.

When 900 years you reach, look as good, you will not.

Karl who?

Cute story in the Times of Oman today.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Out of this body

I don't want to come back down to the world below. I never do. Whenever I feel the overwhelming web of myopia tightening around my lungs, I escape to a place of higher altitude. Up there, I can see far. I look down where I came from and I wince. I don't want to go back there. How was I living down there, how are those people still living down there, running around everyday with their eyes to the ground, never once even looking up to believe what could be real? They don't even know, can't even imagine what I can see from up here, how the things that people would kill or be killed for suddenly make no sense as I try to understand what drives the world down there, why I cared for any of it before. I cannot go back. I don't want to go back. But go back I must as the day draws to a close and a breeze I'm not yet ready for gains strength. I look at the setting sun, knowing that it is not that aging orb but rather the Earth I'm standing on that is moving. I finally know peace here, do I have to go back where I'll have to once again give up my sight and remember serenity only in dreams? Will I remember what I knew up here when I'm gasping in the treacherous quicksands of the world of Man? Can't I stay?

The breeze grows stronger, and I know I have to return. I will be back someday when this body will not limit me, not hold me back from taking flight on this breeze. For now I take leave. I begin to descend lower, back into the world of bodies and things. From here, I can't see the heights I had been to - the buildings and city lights block my view. But every once in a while a secret breeze rustles past my ear, where it comes from and where it goes a dull mystery, briefly awakening a vague feeling of a promise made to me in some forgotten time.

"Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return." - Leonardo da Vinci

The Land of the Lost

Here's the emotional narrative of a dream I once had when I was 18. A terrifying vision of things to come as I entered a new phase of my life. I wrote this narrative down soon after having the dream, but the images and ravaging emotion of it have stayed with me ever since.

You can only reach that place if you are lost. If you've strayed from your path, you will come upon this place. They will greet you, welcome you, and it will be the most beautiful place ever imagined. You will have everything you ever wanted in this land of those lost, those strayed. When you will look at all the bountiful joys surrounding you, you will convince yourself that the shallowness and dread lurking behind each object is unreal. You will convince yourself of that. And then, when they begin to claw at you, when they toy with your nerves, when they begin to push you, push you, push you, you will seek refuge. Seek safety in danger and evil. You will not know why you feel terror when looking into their eyes. Fear for your body and soul. You will try to escape - run away. But where will the lost run to? Where do they run to? The waters of this land do meander aimlessly, but for the first time, you will notice them in a different light. View them as refuge. And once the plunge is taken, you will feel confused. You will sense an existence different but vaguely familiar. And you will behold a new land, one which doesn't appear to be as attractive as the one you will have just left. And you, orphaned once more, will wander in a trance into this new land. And they will welcome you and accept you. You will never find all the riches the previous land had bestowed upon you. You will never get all you want but you will get all you need. And you will feel more at peace than you ever had before, because sometimes all you want is not what you need. In this land, you will feel safe and have the gift of peace of mind. What you will see is what you will get. You will not get all, because you will not need all. And you shall dream of a land of the lost and will never ever feel like one again.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Beyond forever

There is a small grassy hill in the tiny park behind my uncle's house in Toronto, Canada. People walk dogs around it, and Little Leaguers play football in its shadow. No one ever climbs it though, I noticed on that breezy late summer afternoon. Everyday the world walks past it like it isn't there.

I stood at the foot of that hill looking up at its peak. There seemed no reason to climb the hill. There was nothing up there. I looked around, expecting passerbys to look at me funny as they saw a young woman standing in front of a hill, her head slightly bent to one side, looking up at its peak with a curious expression. But no one was looking at me at all.

I took a few steps towards the hill. I could feel the ground beginning to rise to meet the slope of the hill. A few white birch trees rose from the earth like eternal witnesses staring up at some invisible phenomenon. I stood under one of those trees, my eyes still looking at some unseen soundless something at the top of the hill. I placed my hand on the rough bark of the tree. I inhaled sharply, and a tear came to my eye. I'd been here before. Twenty years ago, I had seen this hill, these trees. Except this time I was alone.

I was nine years old when I dreamt that I was standing at the foot of a hill, facing its steep slope. The hill looked big as its slope spread out into the light grey sky. A lot of people were climbing the hill, walking all the way from the bottom to the top, taking slow careful steps as they strained against the force of gravity. They all seemed to be dressed in robes similar to the garbs of a Hajj pilgrim. I could just see the backs of these people who looked like the elderly waddling up the hill, many of them securing the hems of their robes so that they wouldn't trip and fall. I don't recall anyone looking back. They'd keep walking even after reaching the top of the hill so that they'd go to the other side and disappear from my line of sight. The hill wasn't crowded, people kept lots of space between each other, like the players on a football field. Everyone was climbing the hill, and so was I. I was following directly behind my maternal grandfather and grandmother, both of whom had passed away over the past few years.

There were a few trees scattered at the bottom of the slope. The top of the hill was completely bare and looked to be covered with short grass that had begun to lose its green colour. I was following my grandparents until I got stuck in the exposed roots of a tree and couldn't go further. I began to cry out to my grandparents, my hands shooting out to reach out to them. I was bleating like an orphaned lamb that had fallen into a hunter's trap, terrified at my fate of being left behind. My eyes were brimming with tears.

My grandmother turned back and began to cry because I was crying out for her, because she couldn't come back to get me or make me stop crying. She stopped walking and raised a shaky hand to me before drowning in sobs. She brought her shawl close to her trembling mouth as her eyes filled with tears at the helplessness that was both hers and mine. My grandfather turned to put his hand on her shoulder and laughed his usual clucking laugh, his eyes twinkling, his small cheeks shiny and round. He kept chuckling as he helped his wife get back on the course they were on, the one that took them up the hill and over it to the other side. The twinkle in his eye said that there was nothing to cry about. Their backs turned to me, my grandmother's small bent one as her sobs shook her frame, and my grandfather's tall strong one as he helped his wife up the hill, leaving me behind, stuck in the roots of the tree.

I looked at the birch tree next to me. I felt like I'd met that tree once before in another lifetime. I looked up at the top of the hill which grazed the bright blue Canadian sky. What was on the other side? I took my hand off of the tree. My feet were rooted to the ground that was beginning to rise to meet the hill. My stomach was in knots. I took my first few steps towards the peak, away from the trees at the bottom of the hill. I stopped and turned to look back. The trees hadn't held me back this time. I faced the peak once more and took slow but certain steps until I had reached the top where the breeze was fast and the world fell away and I knew what was true.

While googling for an appropriate image to accompany this post, I clicked on one that seemed perfect. Turned out to be a painting by a Canadian artist who likes to display her work on her blog, the - get this - 'Gallery of Dreams'. Of all the...

Friday, December 18, 2009

My secret way to the Truth

Love. Real Love.

I'm not talking about what people think they feel for someone else out hormonal or social compulsions. I mean Love the thing, like Good or Life or Universal Law. Love the force that is always, whether you have ever felt its presence or not. Love the thing that is bigger than your faith in it, bigger than your experience of it, bigger than your understanding of it. Love the thing, the silent song of the universe. Love is what we think we've glimpsed from the corner of our eyes sometimes in shadows and echoes, some truth of existence that we remember from another time, in the back of our mind, a long forgotten story, a repressed memory of being that we don't believe in anymore. Love is a clear pool that is always there, a pool we sometimes find when a catalyst leads us to it, a pool we are surprised to see reflecting a saga back to us, a pool we surrender to, to sink into, to let us breathe its secret waters, to let us never go back to the dry world again. Love was not the catalyst, it was not because of the catalyst, and it will not cease to be once the catalyst has served its purpose. The catalyst, whatever it may be - a person, a song, a temperature, a scenery - suddenly lets us see a wordless truth. Then, Love looks like the single radiant flower that startles us when it delicately blooms on its own in the darkness inside us, its roots agonisingly pinching your numb soul to a tantalising temporary sight. Then the sight is gone and we are blind once more, but we remember.

Every time I listen to Swan Lake, my eyes closed, I'm immersed into that pool each time, and I am so grateful. I fall deeper and deeper into the pool, into Love itself, sinking into its very depths, my tears mixing with its waters, at peace at last, so grateful to be able to touch the intangible for however long the music, my catalyst, lasts. I can fall in Love over and over again, I don't need anything else to know the truth anymore. I know Love, I know the stirrings of the Universe, and I am home, I am where I came from, where I one day long to go back to, to be...effortlessly.


It is so beautiful.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Return of the Feminine

I like Kaali. I always have. There is something about the symbolism of it that lives on in the forgotten recesses of my female soul.


Or maybe I've watched one too many Hindi movies with Rekha chasing Kabir Bedi into a lake of crocodiles. Either way, I know Kaali. I know why she's outraged on a cosmic level.

Friday, December 11, 2009

My name is Ozymandias, king of kings

We were paying our respects to my aunt's mother in the cemetery in Windsor, Canada. I had just finished silently dedicating a faateha to a woman I'd never met. I'd looked her square in the face in pictures at my aunt's house, the gentle old woman looking right through me, as if I were the one that wasn't there, two people destined to meet only through ink on paper. My aunt and her brother stood at their mother's old grave with their children a bit longer while I stood a little away from them, my arms clasped behind my back, giving them the privacy that I felt they needed. I didn't want to intrude on their circle. My gaze wandered to the other gravestones around us. The summer sun was helping the grass and the trees grow. The cemetery was really quite beautiful. The sky was blue and the breeze assuring.

"We know a lot of the people buried here," my aunt's brother said as he walked up to me. He was looking down at the graves around us somewhat apologetically. "I've already reserved a plot next to my mother's." I suddenly felt uncomfortable as I always do in cemeteries, wondering if I'm accidentally walking over buried people. He pointed at three graves in front of me. I noticed that the stones were almost identical in design. Down to the last names. And the date of passing.

"A family we knew. A young man, his father, and grandfather had a car accident. The young man and his grandfather passed away on the spot but the father lingered in a coma for a few days before he too died."

We looked on at the three graves, the both of us standing with our heads slightly cocked to one side. "Three generations gone." My aunt's brother went back to his sister who was sitting by her mother's grave, quietly reading Quranic verses from a small prayer book.

It was then that I saw it clearly. My name in print, what I adoringly gaze at each time I am published or mentioned someplace important. "Khadija Ejaz". I live for that visual. It is pure selfish love, it makes me feel important in a deliciously thrilling way. But it was here that I realised what would be the last time I would have my name in print. On my gravestone. The final lonely dedication to the arrogance of anonymous dust.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Escape to Neverland

The sign on the middle school staff room door said "No Students Allowed During Recess". I am not a student anymore but I felt like a 5th grader as I stood on my tiptoes, straining to reach the narrow glass pane at the top of the doors, only my eyes and the top of my head visible to the teachers inside. I don't think anyone noticed me though, all the teachers were taking a break and loudly chatting. Hindu teachers in their bindis, Muslim teachers in their scarves and prayer caps, Christian teachers in their skirts and trousers.

On a quiet bannister I passed an Arabic teacher. He'd taken to wearing a long white beard when I'd been in high school 10 years ago, but now he also wore a thick rosary around his neck and a prayer cap. He was a really nice person and called every kid "child".

The rest of the time that morning I spent silently drifting about my old school like a shadow, subconciously taking back a world that had been my real home, a place I ran to to get away from my own home, to be free, to be myself. I'd lost my way in the world outside of it. What a relief life still went on here the way I remembered it. Outside is a world where people are growing increasingly divided over their differences. But here, that hatred didn't make sense. Children from all backgrounds fit in, the schoolgirl wearing a scarf, fullsleeves, full pants, or any combination of the three (if at all) didn't feel any different from the girl who purposely hemmed the skirt of her uniform shorter than required and pushed her socks down to her shoes. Everyone had the same issues - exams, parental pressure, crushes, and gossip. It didn't mean anything if you happened to look different. It never stood in your way. It meant nothing. You were just a kid.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Our neighbour didn't want sugar or eggs

One evening in between the shifts my parents and I had taken to spend time with my brother in the hospital, our South Indian Christian neighbour, Mr. Jose (pronounced joze), appeared at our door. My mother was at the hospital - she had the night shift - so my father and I accompanied our neighbour to his house.

The Jose flat was the mirror image of our own home, and I always found it slightly dizzying to find my way around. In the room we used as a dining room in our own flat, a dark brown man sat on the couch, surrounded by Mrs. Jose and her young children. He looked to be about 30, a muscular man, but the way his head hung below his strong shoulders looked out of place. Mr. Jose explained to us that the young man's wife was in the hospital. They were newly married, and he'd brought her over from India to Oman soon after their wedding. She was a nurse. A few days ago the newly-weds had got caught in the tail-end of a traffic jam. The husband had already got out of his car to survey the scene. His wife was still in the car. She wanted to join her husband and was in the process of taking off her seatbelt when another car crashed into theirs from the back. The young wife survived but broke her neck. She was now in the hospital, permanently paralysed below the neck. Her husband was here, he knew the Joses from church. I looked at him, his strong shoulders shaking under his white office shirt. Mr. Jose knew about my brother's recent accident and paraplegia, so he'd brought us in, but I'm not sure for what. I just stood there, not old enough to interrupt all the adults.

I ran into the nurse once, now being tended to by other nurses, at the Indian Spinal Injuries Center in New Delhi, India. She was dark brown too with the short Princess Diana hair. I heard she had wanted children. Her face bore no expression, and I didn't know what to say to her either. You never know what to say. My brother once told me that paralysis is infinitely worse for women, all the things it can mean. I heard that she went back to her village in South India. The Joses have long since moved away, the building we used to live in demolished.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The judge and his son

The distinguished-looking gentleman by my brother's bed was a big judge. My mother had already told me about the other patients and their families at the Indian Spinal Injuries Center in New Delhi, India, the ones she'd run into while my brother himself underwent rehabilitation for his paraplegia. The judge was a tall brown man with a trimmed black moustache and some grey in his Brylcremed hair. Today he was wearing dark brown corduroy pants and a mehndi-coloured sports jacket. My mother and I sat on the other bed in the private room my brother was occupying. We kept our distance as the the judge quietly talked to my brother. It was strange to see a tall important man like him talk softly, his hunched back suddenly aging him. His 30-something chartered accountant son was a patient at the ISIC. He'd had an accident and broken his back, becoming paraplegic, like my brother. But the judge's son had also suffered a brain injury and lay there with a blank look in his eyes. The judge often liked to come to my brother's room to talk to him about his son, asking my brother for his opinion as a surgeon, relating to him as he wished he could with his own son. His son was married with a young wife and children.

I approached the judge with a plate full of biscuits. I gave him a weak smile, "Uncle, yeh maine banaye hain (I made these)." Anything stronger than a weak smile felt like lying.

The judge quickly shook his hand at me, a troubled look in his preoccupied eyes, and went back to talking to my brother. He didn't want the biscuits. I took the plate back to my mother on the next bed and silently joined her watching the two men talk.

The judge suddenly turned towards me. "Beta, I'll try one of your biscuits." He gave me a weak smile.

A quadriplegic my age

Sharad was a 19-year-old patient at the Indian Spinal Injuries Center in New Delhi, India. I met him when I was 20.

Sharad had been on his way to America for further studies and a bright future when he broke his neck in a scooter accident. His friend had been driving, two young men on a celebatory round of their hometown somewhere in Uttar Pradesh before Sharad flew to his dreams in the West. When his friend swerved to avoid hitting a cat on the road, Sharad fell from the passenger seat at the back. Now he was a quadriplegic at the ISIC.

When I met him, my brother was going through his own rehab experience for a broken back and paraplegia. While the ISIC staff was always cheery, all of their devastated patients and their shaken families would have given anything to be anywhere else, in a world where there was no such thing as a spinal injury. The numbed-out families of the patients would frequently run into each other, patting each other's shoulders and hands over stories being shared over and over with strangers who were bonding over despair and confusion.

I met Sharad once when my mother took me to his room. His family was there, all wearing forced smiles for Sharad who lay on his bed, forever unable to move or feel anything below his neck. His father was there too, and a brother and sister maybe. I remember his mother the most. A short Hindu lady in a sari and bindi who looked nothing like my mother except in the permanent helpless smile she had taken to wearing lately. Sharad was lying on his back on the hospital bed, silent with a face refusing emotion. He was a delicate young man. He was fair of skin and had a face that was pretty like a girl's. His slight moustache was like peach-fuzz.

We didn't stay there for more than 5 minutes. It felt like intruding, cruelly forcing the host family to go through meaningless social courtesies. My mother told me later that Sharad's famly often came to visit my brother and her in his room. His mother would tell her how she'd make her son's favourite foods and try to feed him with her own hands, but he'd refuse. She said that Sharad used to have a beautiful singing voice, but now he had trouble breathing on his own.

I think of Sharad often. I don't know what happened to him after that. I wonder where he is now.

Friday, November 6, 2009

People who've waited with me at government offices

It was business as usual at the Canadian Health Registration office. At least I think it was the usual. I'm not very sure what unusual business at a government office should look like. Probably perky employees and enthusiastic customers? I wondered about that as I sat, watching the digital number display boards for my number and waiting my turn. Two bored Chinese-Canadian college students lay slumped in the chairs two rows in front of me. I think they were college kids because of their wrinkly Abercrombie & Fitch tshirts (whatever happened to Old Navy?), bedheads, and ubiquitous white earphones. An old Chinese lady sat with them in a dull but thick purple dress and sensible shoes with her hair in a neat bun. Her posture was perfect, well-disciplined with nary a quiver. Maybe the grandmother?

A big beefy white man sat down between me and the objects of my attention. He was wearing a tired white tshirt and faded blue jeans, probably ripped at the knees if I could've seen them. He had tattoos, lots of tattoos, new ones and faded ones, peeping out of his neckline and the hems of his short sleeves. But the only one I really paid attention to was the one on the back of his sturdy shaved head. I giggled as the large Roman calligraphy style letters proudly announced to the world, "FUCK OFF".

I couldn't help it. I reached out and tapped the edge of his broad shoulders. "I like your tattoo, " I blushed, as the man who was for sure a roadhog turned his thick neck and bull shoulders to look back at me.

He had the smile of a baby, and I don't mean he was missing teeth. What a child-man he seemed; I'll always remember the simple innocence on his Jesse Ventura face.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Goodbye Present

"The Queen [Elizabeth II] insisted on this protocol to recognise the work of the staff who made her life run smoothly. Once, when she was asked how many servants she had, she replied: "Acually, I have none. I have many members of staff, but no servants.""

- excerpt from 'A Royal Duty' by Paul Burrell, butler to the late Lady Diana, Princess of Wales

The moving men were making me nervous. I'd never had to rely on movers before, and I had no idea if I was forgetting any crucial steps in this new process. What made things worse is that I was shipping my belongings not just around the block or even to another state - this was an international move that made things way complicated. I tried to contain my anxious paranoia in front of the two moving men. I was on my own, hundreds of miles away from any family or friends who could've helped me or in the least given me an outlet for the stress I'd had no choice but to bottle up inside my weary body for the past few months. I badly needed the moral support, another set of wise eyes to tell me that I was doing alright.

As the two sweaty men lumbered in and out of my apartment that unusually warm November afternoon in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I strained to maintain an appearance of being perfectly in control. It wouldn't do to appear like an underconfident tearful silly in front of these intimidating strangers. They scared me with their rough edges and wife-beaters. Their ruddy complexion and unkempt appearance told tales of living on the wrong side of life. Both looked to be in their late twenties. The shorter one with dark brown hair spoke better English than his mostly silent taller companion whose stringy dirty blonde hair fell lifelessly into his expressionless eyes and past his shoulders. They were from the Caucasus, but by their thick accents I would've guessed they were Russian. No, I wouldn't show these men how vulnerable I was. They wouldn't think twice before taking advantage of my being alone and quite helpless at the first sign of a kink in my armour. Especially the silent one. I watched them from the corner of my eye as I pretended to survey my fast-emptying apartment. The ease with which they lugged the heaviest of boxes on their bare muscled shoulders frightened me. They were much stronger than me, and even the shorter one was bigger than I was. It wouldn't take them much to harm me.

The brunette was putting his English skills to use in his truck with the paperwork while the lanky Sanjay Dutt type continued to lug my belongings out of my apartment. It was just me and him in my soon to be ex-apartment. I approached him with two cans of Pepsi and 40 dollars. "Uh, excuse me?" I said. My voice was meek. I cursed myself. He turned to look at me, his greasy hair not matching the dark stubble on his face. His eyes were quite red and sleepy looking, his mouth wasn't quite shut. I extended the drinks and money towards him. I didn't know if he knew any English at all, I had only heard him talk to his friend in something that sounded like Russian.

"For you and your friend. Buy something to eat?"

I'd always seen my mother treat workers at our house in Oman to soft drinks. I hear that that her mother used to do the same with the craftsmen that used to work in her home almost a hundred years ago in India. That was why I always did the same for the electricians, plumbers, and other workers that helped me in America. I know I could never do the work they did, and besides, I felt bad for how hard they had to work. Even with these intimidating Caucasians. I just hoped they didn't pounce on me thinking that there was more where the money in my hand came from. My heart skipped a few beats as the silent Russian's eyes fluidly dropped to the drinks and money in my hands. His gaze lingered for a moment too long before he raised them to look at me in a new but mute curiosity. He silently extended his long boney hands towards me and accepted the offering. "Thank. You," he said slowly in his strong accent. Then he turned and exited my apartment. Probably to split the tip with his friend, I thought.

I checked the bare corners of my now-empty apartment for the hundreth time over the next few minutes. I couldn't afford to make any mistakes with this move. What if I left something behind by mistake? I was leaving the country permanently in the next few days. There was no room for mistakes.

The silent Russian entered my apartment alone, but I was too caught up in the never-ending loop of worries that played on and on in my mind like a recurring nightmare. He was probably going to do a last check to make sure he'd removed all my things. Instead, he began coming towards me. I looked up at him as he came closer, wondering what he could possibly have to say to me. He hadn't spoken a word to me for the past half hour, had hardly even looked up at me, except when he had wanted to use my bathroom. I was surprised at how he had left it spotless. I hadn't expected that.

He came close to me. I noticed the alert look in his eyes.

"You.Are.Nice.Per.Son," he said, pronouncing every word slowly as if it were a matter of life and death that I understood how serious he was. His index finger was pointed at me, slowly rocking up and down, stressing every word as he spoke them. The force in his eyes was holding my face captive. He didn't blink as he made a final firm but desperate attempt, "Nice.Per.Son. No.One.Give.Us.Be.Fore." His tone sounded more like, "You'd better realise that you are a nice person." He concluded. "You. Nice. You. Good."

* * * * *

I still have nightmares where I've failed to pack all my belongings before the deadline to leave a country. Sometimes the stuff that I'd packed magically unpacks itself and sometimes, things that I never knew I owned quietly appear on the day I'm supposed to leave. Many times large items that I thought I'd sold off, mostly electronic items like my big TV, seem to reappear on my last day. It's usually after these dreams that I am reminded of those two Russians. Or sometimes I just think of them anyway. I don't know their names or if they even were Russian, just that they were from the Caucasus. I wonder if they remember me.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Power of an Isolated Act of Goodness in a Jaded World

The world has always been a violent place.

In those days after the Persian Gulf War, the USSR had collapsed, Divya Bharti had fallen to her death, and the Babri Masjid had been demolished. The adults around me were always discussing these issues quite literally over my head, but the grownups and the children lived in two separate worlds, two different realities. I was a happy-go-lucky middle-school student living in a protected environment far, far away from the mess of the world, at least in my head. From the safe bubble of my home and school, all the monsters were confined to the newspapers and radio broadcasts. They never gatecrashed my friends' birthday parties or told me that I couldn't have burgers and fries when I wanted to.

That random schoolday, my friends in my 6th grade class had been acting shady all morning. During recess, however, they approached me as a group, all smiles as they eagerly presented me a handmade Eid card.



I was one of a tiny handful of Muslim students in my class of forty-something Indian students. My friends were from all over India, they were Christians, Hindus, and a Jain. In a school where most of the students were Hindu and where Muslims formed a tiny minority, we got along. One's religion was never a reason for discrimination or debate but more like one of innumerable personal traits like having curly or straight hair.



The Eid holidays were approaching where we lived in Muscat, Oman. My friends had painstakingly got together to make me an Eid card. The carefully executed surprise was top-secret. Without my knowledge, my friends had decided to do something genuinely nice for me.

It's been almost twenty years since that happy day. The world is still a violent place, and somedays I can't bear the ugliness of it. When I now look at the card, I see its careful pencil outlines and think about how meticulously a bunch of 11-year-olds traced it over with felt pens and colour pencils. They didn't have to do it. They didn't get anything from it. I don't even know how they came up with the idea. I do know that it was a big deal to them and that they spent all morning fairly dividing the art work and logistics amongst themselves, making sure I didn't get a whiff of the secret project. I do remember their beaming faces as they gave me the card during recess. Now I realise that nomatter how many times the world hurts my feelings and walks all over me, there are people out there who don't see me unidimensionally for my religion, race, or nationality. And if there are some of those, there's gotta be more. I believe in that.

Monday, October 12, 2009

He made me an offer I couldn't accept

I was trudging along to the library around the corner from my uncle's house where I was staying in Toronto, Canada. I felt right in my well-worn black t-shirt and jeans, my sports shoes keeping my feet comfortable on the hard pavement. It was a bright and breezy late afternoon, the summer was giving way to the fall, and I was having a good-hair-day. My long dark layers were freshly shampooed and bouncing with each carefree step all the way to the middle of my back. My bookbag was heavy with the weight of the books I was going to return to the library.

The suburban lakeside neighbourhood that had been uncharacteristically sleepy all summer was once again scattered with young people - it had been the first day of the new school year. Teenagers were hanging around the neighbourhood video store and meeting up with their friends at the pizza shop around the bend. Life was back in business.

The parking lot in front of the library sprawled alongside a major intersection, and people were strolling beside it on the concrete sidewalk. As I made my way across the parking lot, I heard someone call out to me from somewhere behind me.

"Excuse me? Excuse me!"

I slowed down and looked over my shoulder to see a young Indian-looking man in his 20s waving at me. He was wearing a typical Abercrombie-and-Fitch style green t-shirt and faded blue jeans. He looked like he was coming from the strip mall I had just cut across. Was he following me? What did he want? I stopped so he could catch up. As he shuffled up to me, I eyed his grin suspiciously. "Yes?" I demanded in a slightly hostile tone.

His grin didn't budge. His eyes made me feel slimey.

"So...where are you going?" he asked casually.

I snapped back. I didn't know why I felt like I needed to.

"Did you need something?"

I didn't like his expression.

He started slightly but then regained his composure. He ignored my question and smiled some more.

"So...do you go to school around here?"

He thinks I'm a schoolgirl?

Something made me feel more defensive.

"I'm sorry, did you need something?" I locked a stern gaze on his face.

His sweaty eyes that had been focused on me suddenly broke away. He looked around, his eyes blinking, and he began to stammer. He was trying to look everywhere except at me. The rehearsed confidence in his voice, gone.

"Um, wow, you are really direct. Are you, is that what you're like, I mean, um, is that what you, you know, like? I mean, I could be stopping to ask you for directions and you, um, you just ask me what I want like that."

My gaze remained fixed on the beads of sweat on his face.

"Yes, so what is it that you need?"

His grin waned as he looked around at the ground. I adjusted the weight of the heavy bag on my back.

"See, I've got someplace I need to be so if you don't need help with something, then I'm gonna have to get going." I began to move towards the library in front of me. He suddenly looked up at me and his body tensed up with desperation.

"No, wait!"

I shot him an impatient look. He began to stammer again but faster.

"No, I mean, do you live around here?"

I lied. "No, I'm visiting from the US."

"Okay, so can I have your number and...and call you to...to...so we can talk? Hang out??"

He didn't give me a chance to respond.

"We can meet up and...and...and..." I turned my head away from him and began to walk towards the library. I turned to look at him over my shoulder, following me.

"...and you can have a good time before you go back to America! Don't you want a good time in Canada??"

I turned my head back towards the library and began to pick up speed. He gave up his pursuit. I waved my hand up in the air as I left him behind. "No thanks," I called out without looking back,"I appreciate the offer though!"

Pondering over what better parting comment I could've come up with, I entered the sanctuary of the library and decided to stay an hour longer than I'd originally intended so as to throw off the initiator of one of the stranger encounters I'd had in a while. I wonder what he would've done if I'd informed him that I wasn't a naive schoolgoing teenager but a 28-year-old firebrand who'd been having a bad decade. I mean, there are other ways of giving a girl a compliment...aren't there?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Oliver Twist and Optimism

Welcome to post-independence India!

Some say that art is a snapshot in time of a particular society. See if you can decipher the socialist dreams in this timeless number!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mujhse Shaadi Karogi?

I would forget about my experimental Shaadi.com profile if not for sporadic responses like this guy here:

"I AM LIKE BEAUTI FULL GIRL SO PLEASE CONT MY MOBILE NMBER ANY TIME AND I AM VERY HARD WORKING MALE I AM WORKING TELE COM COMPANY AS MANAGER IN PAKISTAN KARACHI"

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Not your average brick in the wall

I recently came across my old marksheet from my 10th standard CBSE board exams.

The year was 1997, and I can never forget missing out on topping in English in my entire school batch by one. measly. point. I could've got a medal and a certificate and my name in my school's records, but I didn't!

ARRRRRGHHHHHHH!



It's 2009 and turns out, I'm the author of two English books. Take that, subjective testing; we don't need no dark sarcasm in the classroom.

Okay, I'm just being dramatic. School was fun but impending board exams were soul-shattering. But goes to show, eh? The value of education cannot be stressed enough, but you are much more than your transcript should you choose to be.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Dual citizenship

There is an ad that graces the sliding doors of the Muscat International Airport's arrivals lounge. Trouble is, everytime I see the model on that ad...


...I think of this man here.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Tall, fair, and handsome

I grew up in the Fair & Lovely world. The lighter your skin (or hair or eyes), the more you could get away with murder, ugly features, or even deplorable social graces. In a region where most people were brown as hell, I never understood the tall, dark, and handsome adage. Everytime I read about some dashing hero in some Victorian/Elizabethan novel, the preteen me would wonder, erm, so is the darkness referring to the colour of his eyes and hair? But why is that desirable in a nation of blondes and blue, green, and grey eyes? I mean, in a sea of beautiful skin-, hair-, and eye-colours, shouldn't the dark person be the unfortunate leper?

Generations of women were automatically assigned rungs on society's wobbly ladder depending on aspects of their appearance that they couldn't control. The fairest girls had the most admirers. Grooms and their families shopped for the palest wives for their sons regardless of their sons' physical appearance. If you were a girl and weren't born a certain kind of pretty, then sucks to be you. Better develop your personality in that case because brown = pre-destined loser with no prospects. There was no such thing as fair enough.

So after generations of women vigorously scrubbing their skins in promise of that certain life-altering hue, the launch of 'Fair & Handsome' sparked indignation from certain sections of Indian society. What! Imposing such meaningless standards of beauty on men! Irrelevant! Unfair! Boycott!!



Which makes society revisit the meaningless standard of beauty that had always been matter-of-factly imposed on women and guarded by the sentries of society as a sacred gender role. Makes me think about my opinion that something is an important issue as long as it affects the men. If the women object, however, then they're just being hysterical and hormonal. Come, let us leave the womenfolk to their kitchen gossip while we men discuss important matters. We. Is. Caveman.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Arrival

Tring tring!

"Mitchell Lane Publishers, this is XXX, how may I help you?"

"I'm calling from overseas. May I speak with ABC XYZ please?"

"May I ask what this is regarding?"

"Yes, this is Khadija Ejaz, I'm one of your authors."

"Why yes, ma'am, I'll put you right through."

...

...

...

I'm an author.

O.M.G.

I'm one of your authors.

Open Sesame.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Eli Quinto?

Eli Roth burst onto the screen and I yelped, "Zachary Quinto??".

The director and most recently actor of 'Inglorious Basterds' looks a lot like the Heroes alum and the latest alter ego of Mr. Spock. See for yourself.

Shahid Macchio?

I've heard people point out the resemblance between Shahid Kapoor and Ralph Macchio. What do you think?

With friends like that

One Hem Chandra sent me a friend invite on Facebook, and when I asked him in a message if I knew him...well, see for yourself:

Hem sent you a message.

--------------------
Re: Do I know you?

if u r intrested to know about me..................
u will came to know.........
About u .....!
You have to Tell................
Baaaaaaaayyyyyy !!

--------------------


Ohkayyyyy...goodbye now.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Thank you for smoking

Here's an excerpt from a book I'm currently reading:

"For hundreds of years, most people knew or suspected that long-term tobacco use was bad. Yet its use is still a protected right in our society. The fact that its toxic effects are not generally felt until the person is old and relatively less useful in society (such as the aged in China and elsewhere), makes it a perfect drug and a fabulous moneymaker. The cigarettes you smoke for forty or so years support governments, farmers, retailers, distributors, and on and on. They're good for business. Later, as you finally sicken, the medical and pharmaceutical establishments will make money caring for your last days. And to think, nobody forced you to do it! Smoking is good for you."

Here's an interesting fact from thetruth.com:

"Problems with self-esteem. Has menial, boring job. Emotionally insecure. Passive-aggressive. Probably leads fairly dull existence. Grooming not a strong priority. Lacks inner resources. Group conformist. Non-thinking. Not into ideas. Insecure follower. These are all terms taken from Big Tobacco’s files that have been used to describe different groups of potential customers for their deadly, addictive products."

Click here for some more facts about the tobacco industry.

White Girl

I had a job interview to go to that morning, and I was nervous. It had been a while since I'd last interviewed, and I didn't feel too confident. Plus I hadn't slept very well the whole night because I was worried I'd oversleep. A hundred thoughts were running through my mind when I noticed my arms.

Milky white discolourations were splattered all over my arms, like paint splashed upon a canvas by a bohemian artist. The pigmentation was fresh, I could see its sleepy pink borders inflamed upon my skin. The blotches looked violent, like an invasion racing up my arms to my face. I could hardly breathe. These were not my arms, they couldn't be, what happened, how did my skin get assaulted overnight??

Then I noticed my legs.

The same discolouration. The same insanity. An overnight conspiracy. Oh God. Oh God. Whose legs are these?

My breath cut my throat like a razor, my mind raced like an overheated car engine, my dry eyes burned from the lack of sleep suddenly set ablaze with hot panic.

My job interview! How can I step out like this?? People will stare at me, they'll think I'm a filthy freak. They'll look away when I catch them staring at the ugliness I want to hide. No one will shake hands with me or sit near me. How will I try on clothes in trial rooms, they won't let me with these frightening marks on my body. They'll think I'm unclean, contagious, infested with bacteria or fungus. Will I have to wear full sleeves and full pants forever? Do I have any full sleeved and full length clothes that I can wear to my interview right now?? Oh God, what is going on, how will I step out, I have no control over this body that's been hijacked that I'm a prisoner in...

I wake up drenched in sweat. I have an interview to go to. I look at my arms and my legs. They are like they've always been. I feel so depressed for Michael Jackson who died two weeks ago.

The Circle of Life

Toronto, Canada
2009

I was taking Shaheen Chachi for a check-up at her doctor's. Her cataract surgery had only been a week ago and her right eye had a patch on. We stood at the zebra crossing at the busy intersection, waiting for the light to turn green. The red hand gave way to the green walking man, and we began to cross the wide street. I saw Shaheen Chachi tremble, nervously eyeing the traffic with her one free eye, trying to compensate for the peripheral vision on her right. Her shoulders had a slight hunch, and she was chewing her lower lip. I gently took a hold of her hand. She seemed grateful and relieved that she hadn't had to ask. We slowly crossed the street, a short young lady leading an older tall one.

Muscat, Oman
1988

Amma and I had just made it out of the airport. Abbu met us at the entrance and took us to his car. I trailed behind the two adults, holding the hem of Amma's qurta as we made our way to the parking lot. Abbu and Amma were busy talking, and I was too short and uninterested in what adults had to say to each other. I wobbled along behind them in my summer frock and sandals. I suddenly saw Gul Chachu standing by our car, and wings sprouted from my ankles. I was about to squeal at my young uncle when I noticed a tall lady standing with him. I froze and retreated behind the safe heights of my parents. This woman was unlike anyone in my family. She was tall, had strong square features, and big curly hair. My mother and aunts were shorter and rounder with straight hair. This woman was wearing a party sari and makeup in the middle of the day. I eyed her suspiciously and wondered why she was standing with my favourite uncle. The adults began to talk over my head, and Abbu introduced Amma to the tall woman. I looked up at all their faces like a tourist surveying the towers of a new city. Amma nudged me towards the tall woman. "This is Shaheen Chachi," she said. I stood next to her, uncomfortable with this new person standing between me and my uncle. The cloth of her blue sari was soft against the side of my face. She took my hand in a strong grip and held it for a long time, a small child with a tall woman.

A thousand words

Sunday, July 12, 2009

I am Kaali

The lake was calm but the storm was within. I sat by the water with my best friend that cool summer evening. The sun was out; it only set by ten 'o clock at that time of the year in Toronto. The Sunday breeze had brought out a picture-book neighbourhood of families, children, bikers, dogwalkers, and joggers. My friend busied herself with her new camera, taking pictures of the crispy sky and my toes. A tempest was gathering within my chest.

About half an hour earlier, my friend and I had walked out to lake Ontario, a short walk from where I was staying with relatives. We climbed onto the narrow rocks that bordered the perimeter of the lake along a busy walking trail. A group of boys, in their late teens and early twenties, hollered at us from a boat from the left side of the cliff we were on, but we couldn't understand what they were saying. We knew they were calling out to us by calling my friend 'the purple one' and me, 'the blue one', because of the colour of our shirts and jeans.

Then we noticed another group of boys on the right end of the cliff, a few feet away from us. They were standing under the sunshade overlooking the lake, and they began to holler back at the boys in the water. My friend and I tried to mind our own business even as the boys near the cliff started talking about us loudly, referring to us by the colour of our clothes. We tried to ignore them as two of the young men flung bottles of water over our heads at their friends in the boat. It looked like friendly fire to me.

My muscles tightened as one of the boys, an Indian fellow in a blue shirt that read 'India '07', slithered behind my friend and I on the narrow rock and whispered, "hello aunties, goodbye aunties" as he passed us by. I glared at him through my sunglasses.

"What!" I said. He turned and gave me a dirty grin. He passed us by three more times on that cliff, keeping a distance of a few inches from us each time, circling us like prey. There wasn't much room on that rock my friend and I felt imprisoned on. I looked at the water below and remembered that my friend couldn't swim.

One of the boys, a black guy, yelled at us to ignore his Indian friend, but we couldn't. My friend mumbled a "goodbye, fool" the last time he slid behind us, saying, "hello aunties, goodbye aunties". The group of boys under the sunshade laughed and hooted at us the whole time.

My friend and I felt afraid and decided to leave. We walked down the rocks away from the boys as they howled at us like apes in heat. My cheeks burned with shame and outrage as they called out to us, singing, "aunty, don't break my heart!". Men and women of all colours witnessed the bullying but did nothing. My friend wanted to curse back at the boys but was conscious of the little children playing around us. She showed them the finger but the gesture got drowned in the sound of catcalls. The world turned a blind eye to two young women being bullied by a group of even younger men triumphantly high-fiving each other and celebrating their budding manhoods. As we walked away, trying to hold on to our dignities with our heads buried into our shoulders, the world silently witnessed our humilation. Every victorius laugh and hoot shot me in the back like arrows dipped in Scylla's venomous blood.

I stopped a little way off to complain to two elderly Indian couples, but the men just tittered. One of the women asked my friend and I for more details, and then smiled at us in a silly way. "Teenage boys," she said, her head trembling slightly. "It's okay, you are probably finding it odd because you haven't seen it happen often." It happens, she meant to say, isn't life funny sometimes?

I couldn't believe her.

"Actually," I shot back, "where I come from, this happens a lot, but I didn't think it would happen here." I walked off with my friend in disgust, the silly woman still smiling a smile that lasted too long.

I sat by the water with my friend, my mind replaying memories of a life filled with older men harassing and molesting little girls in public and in private. Long-forgotten old shame that lay buried under layers of tears curdled once again inside my belly.

"It never ends, does it?" I asked my friend. "You grow up with older men making you feel dirty, and if you survive to make it to adulthood, a new batch of younger men takes their place. No matter what a woman achieves and lives through, she never gets respect? Does it never end? Is she never spared?" I couldn't believe it. I had little cousins as old as those boys who all treated me like a big sister.

"We weren't dressed slutty or were even sticking out," I continued. "There were plenty of females around in all kinds of clothing, but they picked us. Why? Is it because we're desi girls that they know won't retaliate because we're conditioned to be docile?"

"And that Indian lady didn't help either," my friend said. "Look at her, enabling the boys' behaviour."

"She actually said we weren't used to it!" I said. "I'm sorry, but why should I have to get used to this??"

Something thick was boiling inside me. We hadn't done anything wrong, but they had misbehaved with us and taken control of us...again. The faces had changed, but the story was still the same. They had controlled us again, and we had had to leave because they had made us feel dirty and scared and ashamed.

My friend and I decided to go home, but that meant walking past where the boys had been under the sunshade again. All of them, black and brown. I felt like blinders were growing by my head. A phantom gush of air hit my face as I felt like I was entering a tunnel.

We had just started walking past the sunshade when the boys, all twenty of them, noticed us and started hollering at us again. We were several meters away from them with a lot of families and single people all around us, but that didn't stop them. They began to call out again, "aunties, aunties, helloooo!" They laughed at us. My friend flipped them the bird, and they found it funny again.

I was in the tunnel and couldn't see anything around me anymore. I stopped and turned towards them laughing at my face and my body and my naked breasts under my clothes. "WHAT THE FUCK IS YOUR PROBLEM???" I screamed. The laughter stopped. A few of the young men shouted back some quick apologies. "Sorry," a lot of them hurriedly said. A snigger made its way from the corner of the group, and someone called me "aunty" again. A nervous laugh circulated through the group as they remembered that there were twenty of them in a group, and then there was just me. My heart contracted in fear as I also suddenly realised that I was posed like a single hawk against a mob of scavenger vultures. One single woman headbutting against twenty young men in the prime of their lives. A small voice from somewhere in the corner of the group called me a cunt. They began to laugh at me again in front of the world that was still turning a blind eye.

What name have I not been called before, most by the very people who were supposed to have loved and protected me? Slut, whore, bitch, cunt, dyke - it was so easy to shut a female up. A male could do whatever he liked, right or wrong, but if a female ever confronted him, he'd demolish her femininity with one word. And the world would never question it. It was so easy. Did these boys think that calling me a name in front of the whole world would devastate me into silence?

It didn't this time. It energised me instead in the most primal way, like a mad she-wolf sinking her claws into the earth and baying at the moon. A rabid growl that has only come out of my throat once before barked out at the young men laughing at me. I don't remember what I said, but it blanched all of their faces, wiping away all of their smiles, physically jerking them into immobility.

One of the guys in the group roared at the Indian guy, "what the FUCK did I tell you??" The Indian guy lashed back out at him incoherently, "what the FUCK what the FUCK I'll FUCK her up I'll FUCK you up!" Etcetera etcetera. He was waiting for his friends to hold him back, but they had all lost their enthusiasm and stood there nervously, suddenly aware of the world watching them, a crazy woman clinging to them with her nails. I was bolted to the ground, facing them in an immobile posture, like a bloodhound that's detected the trace of prey. My body was hard. I noticed my friend standing beside me.

The infighting continued. Egos had been hurt and they noisily tried to defend their dignity by turning on each other. Whatever had possessed me was now gone, but the boys were still trying to be men. "SHUT UP!" I roared. I turned to my friend and we walked away. The sounds of boys trying to rescue their egos soon fell away into the past. Minutes later, we were screaming in delight as we rode the swings in the children's play area behind the house I was staying in.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Dream home

The old man and the young girl sat on the porch under a busy spider furiously weaving an invisible web over their heads. "Look at it," she said, "so amazing. It's working so hard." The spider raced across the underside of the shade over their heads. Its silken threads were so delicate, the spider looked like it was walking on air, like some arachnid prophet.

The old man and the young girl looked on at the spider spinning a home out of moonbeams and raindrops.

"Now it's too bad," he said, "that it doesn't know that I'm going to use my broom to demolish its new home tomorrow."

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Anomaly

The two energy spheres on the moon stirred. The first one resonated to the other's frequency and communicated its confusion at the sudden phenomenon.

What was that?

The other maintained the resonance.

I don't know, but it's coming from Earth.

They'd never encountered such vibrations emanating from their study planet before, at least since they'd started observing the deceivingly tranquil world many earthly revolutions ago. The invisible entities opened themselves up to the unusual waves that were washing over them and everything else that lay around the blue globe. Isolated occurrences of weaker strains were normal for the planet, but the visitors had been detecting a vibration that had been growing stronger over the past half revolution of the moon they were stationed on. This was a curious development that had not been seen before on this planet.

A sudden explosion of light ripped through the universe and interrupted the entities' focus. The epicenter of this cosmic earthquake was Earth. The entities sensed a spatial displacement in a nearby galaxy. A distant nebula crackled as if electrically recharged. The whole universe seemed to be ringing with the echo of...

...a song?

The entities maintained their mutual resonance.

The planet is singing?

The inhabitants are. One song, together, at the same moment.

Do you see that? The whole planet seems to be focussing on one thought strongly enough to have tripped the cosmic circuit.

The entities' energy spiked.

This phenomenon has only been observed in highly evolved species throughout the universe. Could it be...

...that the humans have discovered the secret force behind all of existence?

Do you know what this means? Do you think they are even cognizant of what they have just stumbled upon?

It is hard to say. Earth's inhabitants are not naturally inclined towards unconditional cooperation. On the contrary, their first instinct is to aggressively break themselves down into hostile groups on the basis of recursive layers of biological and social identity.

Precisely. But what can be causing this uncharacteristic behaviour in such a self-destructive violent species?

The planet now glowed with an unusual aura.

The collective consciousness of the inhabitants of Earth is directed towards one end of the continent of North America.

In the city they call Los Angeles.

An energy metamorphosis is occurring in a large structure there. I believe it is the human ritual of passing into a higher dimension.

Human beings all over the planet are focussing intensely positive thoughts on the one transformation occurring in that structure there. All of them, sending powerful mental signals over an extended period of time at the same instant. They've even managed to emit overlapping harmonic sound waves at the same time. That's the song. In its particular human language, it is called Heal the World.

Intensely focussing their mental resources on positive thoughts of love. They've discovered the secret power behind Creation. But who is the human that has stimulated its species to take the first step towards transcending its own barbaric nature?

It seems to be the one human we'd been documenting as emitting the strongest sonic and mental vibrations for fifty of Earth's revolutions. That specimen has just transcended into a higher plane of existence.

The entities transmitted this historic turn of events to their world thirty-six planes perpendicular to the one they were currently in. Even they, in their infinite wisdom and patience, did not know what this startling incident in Earth's present would mean for its future. According to their data, the human race had a history of unpredictable behaviour. That is what made the study of Earth a highly desirable assignment.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What's on your altar?

I barely had the courage to reach out and touch the old man's diary. It felt like I was going to disturb something silently sacred, but I couldn't help it. I picked up the leatherbound notebook and held it respectfully before touching its dry pages with my fingertips. I looked at the thoughts handwritten in dark blue ink and wondered about the dead man who had made sketches in his diary of the birds he used to like to observe as a hobby. My eyes wandered over the rest of the small table and stopped for a few pensive moments at the framed black-and-white photo of the old man at whose altar I stood. An old pair of eyeglasses lay neatly near an empty bottle of Dr. Pepper. A pair of binoculars together with an old hat and cane completed the altar of the man who's name I have forgotten.

It was the night of El Dia de los Muertos, or the celebration of the Mexican festival of the Day of the Dead. A local art gallery in Tulsa, OK, USA, had been converted into a mausoleum of sorts where people had set up altars in memory of loved ones they had lost. A common practice in Mexican and Latin American communities around the world, these altars are decorated with items that represent the life and personality of the deceased relative or friend. Loved ones remember those that have passed on by retelling favourite stories about them at the altar. Some say that this makes the souls of the departed happy when they visit Earth on the day of the festival. It is a time of celebration, not of mourning.

The little art gallery was crowded with altars, the people who had made them, and the people who had come to see them. A crowd of merrymakers in the blocked off street outside was cheering on the fire-eaters that were breathing hot light in the dark night. A local band was performing near the stalls that were selling Mexican handicrafts and music.

The light inside the art gallery was yellow. I detected the musty smell of age at some of the altars. I saw one altar for a young girl that had her ballet shoes, bottles of nailpolish, and favourite music. Another young man's life was showcased by his guitar and songbooks. There were photo albums, clothing, perfumes, food items, certificates and prize ribbons, books, pieces of art, stationery, and other mementos. God knows when these people had passed away, but they looked at me through their photos and their belongings, like static phantoms from yesterday.

I wondered how I would be remembered after my passing. What would people put on my altar? More importantly, what would I want to see on my altar? I noticed that no altar bore any indication of the person's wealth, employment, or general status in society. What was I going to leave behind? How would people remember me after death snipped off the artificial labels?

What do you see on your altar right now?

Milestone

She slid off the hairdresser's swivel chair and leaned into the mirror in front of her, bits of dark jagged hair lying about her feet. She peered into her reflection and began to critically assess her new layers. Her hands expertly tousled her hair, her eyes never leaving her doppleganger's mane.

She picked at the hair on her crown. She paused. Her fingers stroked a silver strand that hadn't been there before. She leaned in closer to the mirror when she saw yet another silver shimmer. Maybe it was the light reflecting off of the shine in her hair?

The sound of a giggle made her turn to the counter next to her. The middle-aged Trinidadian woman with the short red hair was chuckling to the elderly lady in her chair. "She just found a white hair," said the stout brown hairdresser. Her customer smiled on, her short fine hair wet against her paper-thin white scalp.

She turned back to the mirror and focused on the new colour in her hair. The salon fell away as her life played before her eyes. She thought it only happened when you're drowning. It felt like minutes but in just two seconds, she had witnessed all her defeats, her conquests, her humiliations, and her courage.

"Don't pull it out - you're lucky you only have one." The old woman in the chair had her eyes closed as the rust-haired hairdresser massaged sugar-scented conditioner into her hair.

She pulled away from the mirror, her eyes deep into the eyes that shone back at her. She smiled and flipped her hair back with a toss of her head. She had made it.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Reality? Check.

"Excuse me? Excuse me?"

The little South Indian girl was straining to reach above the DQ counter at the deserted airport terminal. She caught my attention from the corner of the restaurant between mouthfuls of burger and fries. No one came to her aid because no one was there. Maybe the grownups were having a meeting in the walk-in freezer in the back.

Her oily pigtails continued to tremble as her huge black eyes darted about nervously. "Excuse me? Excuse me?"

I dabbed my mouth with the corner of a tissue and rose from my unfinished meal. "Do you need something?" I asked her as I crossed the empty restaurant, making my way towards her. She fixed her black eyes on me. She couldn't have been more than four feet tall.

"Tissue."

I looked around and noticed a stack of tissues behind the counter. "There are some here," I said. "Go take some."

She looked around, smiled a small hesitant smile, and shook her head. What if the grownups came back from the giant freezer?

We stood there for a second, the little girl and I, at the terminal time had forgotten. Then I walked up behind the counter and grabbed a bunch of tissues and handed them to her. "Here you go."

She clung to the flimsy paper, and her shiny dark brown face lit up. "Thank you, aunty!" she chimed. She turned to run off but paused when I help up my hand.

"Woah, woah, don't call me aunty," I declared with a smile that masked my horror at her obvious error.

She cocked her head to the side. "Then what?" she demanded.

My mouth opened to tell her that I wasn't an aunty but a damn cool young person with a great lust for life. Why, only yesterday was I voted Miss Sunshine at my high school farewell party. But one look at her confused face had me cringing in embarassment regarding my sudden surge of raw vanity.

"I...I...okay, okay, go on now," I muttered as I shooed her away. She shrugged and hopped off. Time may forget terminals but it doesn't leave us behind.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Sound of Music

It's not often you come across a tune that just punches you in the gut and makes you add it to the soundtrack of your life that they'll use when they make a movie about you. Sometimes a song just feels like what your eternal soul would sound like if it could sing.

I was in the car waiting for my mother when 'When Love Takes Over' (David Guetta featuring Kelly Rowland) came on the radio. I hadn't really been paying attention to the music until then, it was just something to fill the silence as I waited for my wet hair to dry in the oven-like desert afternoon. Simply put, I was struck, like when something resonates with your soul. OMG I can't stop listening to this song, it makes me want to jump up and yell out loud for the joy of being alive. Have you ever felt like that?


A Difficult Conversation

"Amma, I don't like it when Abbu talks to you like that."

The older woman shrugged. She shook her head and shrugged because she didn't want to talk about it. "Leave it", she said. She didn't stop rolling the ball of dough in her hands. She suddenly didn't want to look at anyone's face, least of all, her daughter's.

"No, Amma, it's not fair."

The woman rolled out the dough into a thin sheet. "It's okay."

"No it isn't!"

The woman flipped the sheet of dough onto a hot pan. "It's okay, at least he's always been faithful."

The young girl watched her mother spin the cooking dough on the pan until the roti began to puff like a paper bag filled with hot air.

"Amma, it isn't normal. It is wrong to make a habit of taking out one's frustration on someone else."

"He'll change when we go to America. They have laws there."

"No, Amma, you think the laws there stop their men from behaving like that?"

The woman tossed the hot roti into the breadbasket like the thousands of rotis she'd made over the years that her husband had taken for granted. The girl had just wanted to let her mother know that, like the other criticisms, it hadn't been her fault.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Gossip Girl

Eve-teasing is not anything new in India. I was eighteen and propped up on the back of my uncle's scooter in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, on a quiet street after sunset when some guys on two bicycles started hovering around us. They all looked like they were in their late teens and early twenties. They were hooting at me. I couldn't believe the nerve. My six feet tall uncle was right there, I was covered from head to toe in unattractive bag-like clothing, and it didn't even matter to them. My uncle tried to yell at them but one of the bicycles veered too close to us, and my uncle lost control of the scooter. Nothing major but the scooter teetered off to the side of the road and fell to the ground. My uncle and I got a couple of scratches but that's it. We didn't actually even fall because the bicyclists had really slowed us down.

That summer I was in India after finishing 12th standard in Oman. When an old classmate called me from way down in South India, I happened to tell her the scandalous story. Then I forgot about it.

A month later I was back in Oman making salad with my father when the phone rang. It was a friend of my mother's. She sounded a bit confused when she asked me how I was doing. I told her I was fine and was just about to have lunch. Then she told me that her daughter, who was a year behind me at my old school, had told her that I had been terribly injured in a car accident in India. She said her daughter had heard the news at school.

I laughed and told her that I was fine. I thanked her for a hilarious story I could tell my grandchildren (or blog about, but this was 1999 and there were no blogs then), and hung up. I told my dad who wasn't thrilled about the nature of the gossip.

But I knew what must've happened. Have you ever played Chinese Whisper? My friend must've told her mother who was a teacher in Oman. She must've told some friends of hers, most probably teachers, and the word must've spread in the Keralite Christian community (there was only one church in Muscat then) about the terrible fate of the impish student from Indian School Muscat who had just graduated from childhood. Most of my teachers were South Indian, and my Biology teacher for four years was a Keralite Christian. It must've been pandemonium when the news hit my school. I was a well-known student.

The imp in me chuckled naughtily. I decided to pay a surprise visit to my alma mater. This was too good an opportunity to pass. That day I landed straight into the senior science supervisors' room. As I burst into the office with a smile on my evil face, the three teachers who wielded the fate of the senior Physics, Chemistry, and Biology departments leapt to their feet, shouting and waving their hands about all at once. Pandemonium further ensued as I happily walked about the campus and ran into students who had heard that the accident had left me bed-ridden for life. Someone even said that they had heard that I had died. The whole school was buzzing about the girl who had come back from the dead...sort of. I felt popular in a sick way.

It's kinda cool to know how the world will react when I die for real. It's like I saw the future or something.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Wallflower

The skinny little girl had finished her drawing. She got up from the bedroom floor and scrambled to where her parents were taking their afternoon nap on the bed behind her. She excitedly shook her father so she could hear him tell her how proud he was of her.

Her smile fell away as her father shoved her halfway across the room with his strong arm. He growled at her with a face frighteningly bloated with rage, what a horrible child she was to have woken him up.

Her insides rattled as she tried to balance herself from the force of the sudden shove, staring in dumb shock at her father's bulbous eyes, her drawing tightly clutched in her hand. She saw her mother wake up beside her father to glance at the humiliated child in the middle of the room. The child stood there, paralysed by shame, and watched her mother go back to sleep. Her father angrily turned on his side, away from the embarassed child. She stood there with her startled eyes and slightly-open mouth, too stupid to move. A few moments passed before she began to gather her drawing things in guilty silence.

*****

Her father had been humiliating the high school student in front of the Eid guests all day, shouting at her in the kitchen the way he usually did to make sure she hurried up with the right order of food and drinks. Tea with sugar, tea with fake sugar, tea with no sugar, water, juice but mango, Mountain Dew not Pepsi. Guests were constantly streaming in and out of the house, and she was having a hard time keeping up. Her mother was taking a shower. Her father had been ready since the morning prayer. He always picked at her loudly whenever guests were over, but things got worse during the Eid rush. The guests, all well-known family friends, looked at her awkwardly as her father expressed his disbelief at her incompetence as she brought tea with sugar instead of without. One person tried to intervene but was quickly silenced by her father's insistence that his daughter know how to do things right.

She was crouched on the floor, playing with her young cousins that night in the house they shared with another family. That family's little daughter was also with them. The young ones were like her little brothers and sisters, and they all looked up to her in admiration. She loved the way they wanted to be like her. She was still sore from the daylong humiliation at the hands of her father, so when he suddenly entered the room to lovingly pat her head, she ignored him and stubbornly shrugged his hand from her head.

What felt like a thick piece of board hit the right side of her face. It was her father's hand. She fell to the ground and heard her father roaring between kicks and shoves about what a hateful inconsiderate creature she was. He took off his new Eid sandals and began to beat her as she lay curled on the floor with her arms around her face. The sandals made a sharp slapping sound, unlike the hard opaque sound his hand had made on her face. She decided to not cry out because she knew he wouldn't stop. It would only make him angrier, and there was no point anyway. He was shouting louder than any scream she could ever muster up.

In a few minutes her uncle and aunt came rushing into the room and made him stop. Her head was still covered by her arms. She could hear him heaving as he angrily explained to her aunt, his favourite, that his daughter had asked for it when she disrespected his show of affection. Her aunt was repeating over and over again that no one ever hits their grown children, especially their daughters. The young girl decided it was safe to open her eyes. She peeked through her arms and saw that the children had run away.

At home that night her mother tried to calm down her distraught daughter. She also lashed out at her husband, demanding an explanation to his behaviour that would push away all his children. He apologised but his daughter wouldn't stop crying. She hated him for humiliating her all day long in front of adults and then treating her like an animal in front of children who looked up to her. She became delirious, promising her mother that she'd never come back once she'd left home for college. Her father had calmed down and began madly apologising to her that he'd never hit her again, never criticise her again. The young girl didn't believe him and she cried herself to sleep.

Her friend visited her for Eid the next day. She noticed the father hovering about them with a sickly apologetic smile, bringing them Pepsi, offering to take their picture. She noticed the girl not looking at her father and asked her what was going on. The girl did not respond. The friend panicked and insisted that she tell her what was wrong. The girl brushed it away. It was too humiliating. It was so embarassing. What would her friend think? She just wanted to forget.

*****

She heard the front door bang shut and knew her father was home. He sped to her room and pushed her off the bed onto the floor. She didn't see his face, she'd already shut her eyes. He shoved her head towards the ground and beat her with his shoe like a man possessed. He hit her in quick blows, on her back, on her arms, on her legs. It made a dusty flat sound every time. He screamed his throat raw, how dare she have a boyfriend that too a Hindu, if they were in India, he'd have dragged her like a dirty animal through the streets for all to see. Her mother entered the room and closed the door. She didn't want the cleaning man to hear.

The young woman on the floor didn't made a sound. It'd be over, it'd be over. He picked her up and threw her against the wall. He picked up a wooden hanger from the bed and hit her with it until it broke. He screamed at her that she was cursed, that she was the cause of all his problems, and that she would make him lose his job. Something inside her hurt, and she inhaled sharply as her heart broke. She shut her eyes more tightly and pretended like she was far away. Pretty soon the blows stopped hurting. She felt nothing. He kicked her repeatedly like a punching bag and beat her with his shoes again. She waited for him to stop. He cursed the day she was born. He just knew that this ungrateful woman-in-heat would be the cause of her parents' death. They had weak hearts already. She stole a look at him as he brought down yet another blow. She would remember the look on his face long after she had forgotten his words.

Her mother then pleaded with him to stop. He sat down on the floor, his head in his hands, thinking he was going mad, why was she doing this to the family, why was she making life so hard for everyone? Are you chemically unbalanced, he asked the crumpled girl who had always over-achieved. She grabbed her stuffed toy, the lamb her mother had given her when she was little, and hugged it. She began to cry into it, rocking back and forth, laughing and wailing by turns. Her mother tried to hold her but she wouldn't let anyone touch her. She kept laughing and crying and talking to herself. Her mother ran to the bathroom and threw up in the toilet.