Friday, December 24, 2010


steel in me
a core of steel
north to south
east to west
a core of steel
strong as death
like blood but steel
silver and ice
it shatters not
high boiling point
soul skeleton
a core of steel

Scaring Indian Muslims

The short, stout Indian policewoman grimaced as she looked down at my boarding pass. Ugly mustard-yellow curtains separated the two of us from the rest of Terminal 3 at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. The woman's skin was dark, thick, and shiny, and the tight bun on her head had the dried out look of old hair oil. Her head was round, and her body seriously plump. She didn't look like the police type of woman. Who had brought her here anyway? She should've been buying vegetables somewhere in a bright yellow sari and thin gold bangles that clanged as her too-tight blouse developed sweat stains around her armpits. I was pretty sure her khakhi uniform had pungent sweat stains too. The uniform looked uncomfortable - it was bunching up in all the wrong places in the most unflattering of ways. Am I the only one that ever notices how obscene some government uniforms look on female employees?

"Are you a Muslim?" she suddenly questioned in a flat, restrained tone. She was still looking down at my boarding pass, not making eye contact. From what I could see, her face was tight and bore no real expression. Or maybe concealed another?

Oh God, why did I have to run into this policewoman of all personnel? Why did I have to come back to India? Everyone had warned me about these things. My stomach tightened, and I felt small and powerless. This was India, and the two of us were alone in the fast-becoming claustrophobic security compartment. She was the one with the uniform (ugly as it was) - what was she going to do? Why did I have to end up with the closeted Hindu right-winger government official? I hated being a Muslim in India already.

"Uh, yes, I am a Muslim...?"

The dark oily face looked up at me and startled me with the smile of a small child. "Me also, I am also a Muslim!" it squealed excitedly.

I remembered to breathe. "Masha Allah then!" I said, as she handed me back my boarding pass with an eagerly expectant gaze. She was still smiling, and I had begun to as well.

NDTV Journal, weeks 12-17

I’m 29. I should have had a husband by now. A well-groomed, kind, and ambitious husband who hugs me and tells me I’m pretty and buys me small, meaningful presents. I should have had a baby by now. The other day I saw a small, fat baby wrapped up in winter wear in the arms of his young mother, rubbing his face into hers, and I honestly felt like someone was stabbing me in the heart. It was all I could do to hold myself up and not crumple like the paper a half-written poem was abandoned on. By now I should have had a house of my own with a kitchen of my own where I could exercise my culinary talents and then invite all my yuppie friends over to parties where I would wear nice clothes and look like a real woman, all made-up and perfumed. I do look great when I’m made up. I am a great cook too. I can make roti and even pizza from scratch. I bake like it’s nobody’s business. You should try my Chicken Biryani, my Karhai Chicken, and my Chicken Sweet Corn Soup.

But you can’t. Because I live as a paying guest where the kitchen is hardly equipped for anything more than boiling eggs. You can’t see how great I look in makeup and nice clothes because I don’t wear any, because the smog that hits me when I ride an auto rickshaw would ruin my face and my clothes. I’m having to relive my student years, right back down to the ghhisi piti jeans, cheap sweatshirt, sports shoes, and baseball cap – attire that is an insult to a woman’s body. One of the bathrooms in my PG has a resident lizard. The sink only runs boiling hot water, and the sink in the other bathroom only runs icy cold water. Someone stole my favourite hoodie from the clothesline up on the terrace. It’s not fun washing my own clothes anymore. My hair is falling out. I thought I’d paid my dues – I lived like a pauper at university, had my heart broken a number of times, and got used to eating meals and going to the movies alone. I’ve worn donated clothes from a church, skipped on personal grooming until I looked like a cavewoman (and then some), and had tears burn my eyes because the winter wind was going through my bones. Later I had a beautiful apartment with a soft cream carpet, huge beach-house windows, a vaulted ceiling, and a shower curtain with butterflies on it. I wore smoky-eye makeup and sexy heels because my new car could protect my makeup and my clothes from the elements. I turned heads in my bouncy skirts. I even used to live next to a Hope Hill. Hope Hill! Could anything sound more meadow-like. And you know what – I gave it all up. Because even the corpses at the local funeral home could be made-up to look alive!

Now I live in one of the most unsafe cities in the world for women. I’m the oldest in a class where ¾ of the folks are in their early 20s and have never had to file their taxes. Most have never even left the subcontinent. I have no handsome husband, no gurgling baby. I used to think that I’d have all those things by 24. All my old school friends on Facebook now suddenly have spouses in their display pictures. I am still listed as in an ‘open relationship’ with my female best friend who’s getting married on Christmas Day. I’m sure most people think I’m really a boy. Every Corolla – heck, every sedan - that passes me by taunts me like a rejected lover, reminding me that I gave it up for this, for standing by the road covered in traffic exhaust and dust, trying to catch an auto rickshaw. That perfumed woman I see in the driver’s seat, the one with the sunglasses and winter boots and lip gloss – she used to have my face once upon a time.

And insha Allah, she will again.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Set to stun

"Charlie X", the first episode of Star Trek I ever saw:

Kirk: Charlie, there are a million things in this universe you can have and there are a million things you can't have. It's no fun facing that, but that's the way things are.
Charlie: What am I going to do?
Kirk: Hang on tight and survive. Everybody does.
Charlie: You don't!
Kirk: Everybody, Charlie. Me too.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010