Monday, April 27, 2009

Fame by proxy

I emailed Shashi Tharoor's assistant after I finished reading his novel, 'Riot'.

Subject: 'Riot' comments
Date: Mon, 20 Apr 2009 23:47:44 +0400

Hi there,

I'm an Indian Muslim who was raised in the Sultanate of Oman and spent a decade in the US at university and at work. I'm also a writer. I actually just finished reading Dr. Tharoor's novel, 'A Riot', all in one day, mostly because I was unable to tear myself away from it. I just had to reach out and let Dr. Tharoor know how gripping his book was; it left me completely drained. Whenever I come across creative work that has such a powerful effect on me, I end up hoping that I too someday create something that affects people in the same way. Yikes.

All the best to Dr. Tharoor for the elections, woo hoo!


"Verily in the heavens and the earth, are Signs for those who believe."
- The Holy Quran (45:3)

They must've figured out how important I am because they replied back really fast!

Date: Mon, 20 Apr 2009 16:11:58 -0400
Subject: Re: 'Riot' comments

Thank you, Khadija! I have sent this on to Dr. Tharoor and he was thrilled to hear from you and touched by your compliments.

He wishes you all the best with your writings and looks forward to hearing of your success!

Holly Ellis

Guilt-free forward

Someone forwarded me this thought-provoking...poem, I guess you can call it.

"The woman in your life

Tomorrow you may get a working woman, but you should marry her with these facts as well.

Here is a girl, who is as much educated as you are;

Who is earning almost as much as you do;

One, who has dreams and aspirations just as you have because she is as human as you are;

One, who has never entered the kitchen in her life just like you or your Sister haven't, as she was busy in studies and competing in a system that gives no special concession to girls for their culinary achievements

One, who has lived and loved her parents & brothers & sisters, almost as much as you do for 20-25 years of her life;

One, who has bravely agreed to leave behind all that, her home, people who love her, to adopt your home, your family, your ways and even your family ,name

One, who is somehow expected to be a master-chef from day #1, while you sleep oblivious to her predicament in her new circumstances, environment and that kitchen

One, who is expected to make the tea, first thing in the morning and cook food at the end of the day, even if she is as tired as you are, maybe more, and yet never ever expected to complain; to be a servant, a cook, a mother, a wife, even if she doesn't want to; and is learning just like you are as to what you want from her; and is clumsy and sloppy at times and knows that you won't like it if she is too demanding, or if she learns faster than you;

One, who has her own set of friends, and that includes boys and even men at her workplace too, those, who she knows from school days and yet is willing to put all that on the back-burners to avoid your irrational jealousy, unnecessary competition and your inherent insecurities;

Yes, she can drink and dance just as well as you can, but won't, simply because you won't like it, even though you say otherwise

One, who can be late from work once in a while whendeadlines, just like yours, are to be met;

One, who is doing her level best and wants to make this most important, relationship in her entire life a grand success, if you just help her some and trust her;

One, who just wants one thing from you, as you are the only one she knows in your entire house - your unstinted support, your sensitivities and most importantly - your understanding, or love, if you may call it.

But not many guys understand this......
Please appreciate "HER"

I hope you will do....
Respect Her.

Forward this to as many women as possible... they'll love you for it!
Forward this to as many men as you can so that they'll know why women are so special :-)"

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Man running sore
Night mist and smoke
Searching, searching

A streetlight broke
Two holes on throat
Still searching

They drift there still

A brother and sister drowned together
Cherubic faces
Curls untempered
Their hair shone gold in the dark river
She fell first
And he came after
Why they fell they don't remember
But down they went
One after the other
They sank in silence in slow motion
'Til all was quiet
At the bottom
They told me that they are there still
They sent me numbers
For their coffins
Dimensions for boxes of wood
98, 32, 68
They drift there still.

Wake-up call

It happened in the middle of medieval history class. The professor was excitedly waving his hands about to Rome, Byzantium, and Charlemagne, like a spellbound maestro gripped by the harmonies and percussions of a passionate symphony. The students were silently filtering his enthusiasm for noteworthy facts. She sat slumped in her second row seat, having drifted away from the balding professor's words five minutes ago. Thinking of nothing, her bored gaze settled on the sluggish pimply blonde sitting in front of her. And a violent vision of smashing a thick slab of glass on that blonde head startled her to attention.

She wondered what that was all about.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Night Mare

In a dark room
An inn of wood and shadow
A strange dimension
Where I felt
In a woman's world
They gave me a mare
Made of toffee
Smelling of caramel
Skin like suede
A yellow-brown tan
Her name was Wonderful

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Susan's got talent

The lyrics to the song that Susan Boyle sang and made everyone cry.

There was a time when men were kind
When their voices were soft
And their words inviting
There was a time when love was blind
And the world was a song
And the song was exciting
There was a time
Then it all went wrong

I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted

But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
And they turn your dream to shame

He slept a summer by my side
He filled my days with endless wonder
He took my childhood in his stride
But he was gone when autumn came

And still I dream he'll come to me
That we will live the years together
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather

I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I'm living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


the Prophet said daughters are a mercy from Allah
so i prayed for a future in ribbons
come to me, my daughter
in the name of the secrets of Hawwa
Maryam, Khadija, Amina, Fatima, Hajira
I name you Kausar, the river of plenty in Paradise
Daria, queen of Persia
Nura, light of the universe
my universe of frilly socks and jewels
daughters today, mothers of civilisations tomorrow

but she hides in the night sky
in an armour of stardust
holding on tight to galaxies and novas
i'm scared, amma
they will make me cry when you're away
like they do you and your sisters today

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Uh oh

What would you think if you were getting your hair done, and suddenly, in the middle of everything, the stylist goes, "oops!"?

I thought about that as I walked past a hair salon called 'Oooooops!' today. Whoever came up with that??

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Fiery Freshman pre-9/11

Ohhh look what I found while Googling myself (yes, it's a hobby of mine) - an old letter-to-the-editor I'd written in response to an op-ed piece in the Daily O'Collegian, the college newspaper.

When neighbours have no fences

It was my first apartment, and I'd promised my new neighbour downstairs that the first thing I'd do whenever I bought a shiny new DVD player was bring down my copy of 'Singin' in the Rain' and watch it with her. I had got my first real job and was able to afford new things for my awesome apartment. My enthusiasm knew no limits. No more hand-me-downs or church-donated stuff for me!

So there I stood at her door, brand spankin' new DVD player under one arm, the movie in another, and a beaming smile on my face. Betty-Lou Schweir let me in, and I set to work plugging my awesome new purchase from Circuit City to her TV. Betty-Lou was an 89-year-old widow who lived by herself at Sheridan Pond, the apartment complex I would call home for 3.5 years. A piece of heaven tucked away on 81st and Sheridan, by the two gas stations and the Neighbourhood WalMart. Betty-Lou had lost her husband twenty-something years ago to a heart attack. Her middle-aged twin sons didn't talk to each but often dropped by with their families or called her over to their homes in Colorado and Oklahoma. I'd introduced myself to her the same way I had to my other neighbours - I left a 'Hi, new neighbour!' card at her doorstep with two copies of my business card, my first business cards. She was the only one that had responded, and that made the two of us friends. I was amazed at the courage of the woman to live all by herself. I'd often see her from my window upstairs, hobbling along to collect her mail or pay her rent. She was delicate with paper-thin white skin. Her voice was soft and often wavered and broke in little chinks. Her short hair was always done up in perfect curls. Over time we began to exchange muffins, cookies, and hot Pillsbury biscuits. She would call me if I left my car lights on by mistake, and I'd randomly drop in to say hello without telling her that I was feeling lonely and scared. We'd exchange presents on birthdays and bring each other trinkets from long trips. I once randomly bought her something I always wished people would give me: a fresh bouquet of yellow roses.

Betty-Lou's apartment was done up in the old Victorian style. All her furniture had pink roses on them. Her china tea set was on permanent display on her four-seater dinner table which she never sat at. Her couches and chairs were upholstered and had wooden panelling to hold it all together. She'd often watch TV late in the night because that's when the old shows and movies would be on. A fourposter bed dominated the little bedroom, and she particularly enjoyed her wallclock which would chirp in various bird calls on the hour every hour. Now my mother has the same clock in our house in Oman.

A fine pair we made that evening. Delicate and luminous Betty-Lou, and a rambunctious and tomboyish me. But we watched the entire movie, beginning to end. I'd seen it a hundred times before, it's a personal favourite that makes me feel pretty everytime. Betty-Lou had only watched it once, with her husband at the movies in 1952. We giggled, we laughed, we reminisced. At one point, she made me pause the movie so she could go fetch the last Valentine's Day card she had received from her husband for me. I felt guilty and honoured at the same time. I hadn't meant to conjure up past grief within her. She told me that the movie made her remember the days she had been young, when tap dance was in style, when Gene Kelly was alive, when chivalry lived, and when innocence wasn't mocked. We talked a little bit about how things used to be and then went back to finish the movie. She showed me around her apartment after that. I remember a pretty little framed pencil drawing that hung on her bedroom wall. She told me that it had been made on the spot by her best friend in their youth as they sat under a tree. Her friend was about to toss the drawing but Betty-Lou had asked her to give it to her instead. That was the story behind that lonely relic.

A couple of years later I was returning home from work. I had parked my car in my usual spot and was passing Betty-Lou's apartment to go upstairs. A man I later remembered having seen in Betty-Lou's sons' photo came up to me and introduced himself as, sure enough, her son. He said he knew me from talks he'd had with his mother, and that he wanted to thank me for having watched over her the way I did. He told me that Betty-Lou had fallen down a few days ago and had broken her hip. She was now in a nursing home. He told me the name of the place and the phone number I could reach her at. She was eager to see me, he said, and she wouldn't be returning to her apartment at Sheridan Pond.

I felt terrible. Not only did I feel horrid about Betty-Lou's health, but I had been having such extreme personal issues that I wasn't able to call her for a while. When I did heal myself enough, I realised I had lost her contact details. I looked for it high and low, but that was the last I ever heard of Betty-Lou Schweir.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Gorgeous person for the day

I was hopelessly in love with Jimmy Stewart's heart of gold. When I read in the papers that he'd died, I mourned for days. I still have the newspaper cuttings to show for my broken heart. :(

Gorgeous person for the day

I loved Gene Kelly the first time I saw him on TCM in Oman many moons ago. I guess I'm just an old-fashioned girl.

Instant Maternity

Baby girl asleep in her crib
In pink and soft cotton
An organic promise
A new beginning
A blank slate
The world before her
Everything a possibility
Every single thing
No mistakes yet
See her in all her perfectness
Ten fingers and ten toes
One samosa-like nose
Every part working miraculously
All by itself

And I think of the men in her life that will give her pain
All the people out there that are just waiting to do her harm

And I suddenly just...
...feel so mad

I feel SO mad
My eyes get so hot
My throat so tight
My limbs so cold
I just know I could kill the person that hurts her
I could do it right now
Slice the person who treats her less than she is
And makes her believe she deserves it

My first little niece
A brand new chance for good things
We'll do this right
Never a tear in her eyes
Never a grief in her heart
Never a reason to doubt herself
She wouldn't
If she could see what I saw in her crib today

Ripley's Believe it or Not

Until the age of 18, I didn't know what sex was. After a friend explained the process to me in very mechanical terms, I was like, "why on earth would anybody want to do that" and I quickly branded my friend a liar. I had seen many enactments of rape in Bollywood movies growing up, and even though the imported American soap operas like 'The Bold and the Beautiful' and 'Santa Barbara' always showed people hooking up in every other scene (net result: recursive family-trees with frequent branching), I still wasn't sure what sex involved. I mean, I hardly ever heard the word anyway and I never cared besides. A friend had randomly told me in 7th grade that sex was something we had to do with our spouses, and I remember getting all indignant about being naked in bed with another person and going, "I will NOT". My friend had a progressive mother who was also a doctor, see, so she was always telling her daughter about these things.

Looking back, sex was probably rolling around in bed without clothes with a person of the opposite sex. Rape, therefore, was probably someone forcing you to take your clothes off. I never saw rapes in English movies, so I thought it's something that never happened outside of the East. Indian movies always showed women getting their clothes ripped off by force, and then switched to scenes of the woman killing herself. I actually thought rape was a two-step process like so:

1. Woman gets her clothes taken off
2. Woman kills herself

Imagine my shock when I came across the 1974 TV movie 'A Case of Rape' and it showed a woman not killing herself after being raped. The woman was White on top of it. This was new. The trailers actually showed the woman fighting against the rapist in court. All of this really confused me. It was like suddenly someone told me that C comes after A and I'd been speaking another language all this time. I made it a point to watch the movie whenever it came on TV. Soon after, I moved to the US for college and was regularly exposed to all sorts of information about sexual assault and other kinds of abuse. I honestly look back upon things and can't believe I was such a dud. And I was a Biology student in high school even. I remember being taught about the human male and female reproductive systems and discovering that females actually had three body cavities in their private parts! But don't look at me all funny, most of my friends were shocked too. I distinctly remember immediately whispering to them, "there's a third"??

Ah, life was simple in binary.

The French-fried Art of War

Long ago, my father and brother emailled me a letter that Napolean had written to his son way back when. I was so affected by it that I still go back to it time after time.

"You are still at an age when one does not realise the perversity of men's hearts: I cannot therefore too strongly recommend you to be prudent and circumspect. Our Italian subjects are more deceitful by nature than the citizens of France. The only way you can keep their respect and serve their happiness is by having no one have your complete confidence and by never telling anyone what you really think of the ministers and high officials of your court. Dissimulation that comes naturally at a maturer age has to be emphasised and inculcated at yours. If you ever find speaking unnecessarily say to yourself, " I have made a mistake" and don’t do it again.

Show respect to the nation you govern and show it all the more as you discover less grounds for it. You will come to see in time that there is little difference between one nation and another...learn to listen and remember that silence is often as effective as a display of long as a prince holds his tongue his power is incalculable: he should never talk unless he knows he is the ablest man in the room.

Don’t trust spies they are trouble than they are worth. The army is one thing you can deal with personally... You must not expose yourself to any sort of affront. If anything of the kind occurs, don’t stand it. Whosoever he may be have him arrested on the spot. Don’t show too much attention to foreigners, there is nothing to gain by this. An ambassador will never speak well of you as it his business to speak ill.. Ambassadors/ ministers of foreign countries are in plain words accredited spies. Don’t show my letter to anyone under any pretext. One last word: Punish dishonesty ruthlessly. The exposure of a dishonest accountant is a victory of the Government...."