Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Hated One

On October 30, 2011, some young people I had met at the NDTV media institute became one:

""One year," the old man almost growled as he wagged a gnarly finger at his daughter. His son, his younger more menacing version, darkly looked on. "One year, and then you are back."

The young woman stood looking down at the ground with her arms crossed over her chest. She had been leaning against the wall, and if she had had eyes at the back of her head, she would have noticed the chalky whitewash stains that now ran down her back. Her armpits burned, her forehead had been knotted for a few days.

The old man put his finger away and eyed the Sphinx before him. He didn't trust women, particularly silent ones, even if it were his daughter, especially if it were his daughter. She never listened. Well, she'd hear what he'd tell her, she had no choice, but she never listened. She never confided. She always held back. He could tell. It's when those knots would appear above her black eyes, and when a shadow would pass over those eyes, like as if a dark curtain had been drawn between him and her mind. He knew this about his firstborn. He could never break in. She wouldn't let him. She wouldn't let him reach in and touch her thoughts, guide her thoughts. How he hated the woman she was growing up to be, it disgusted him. He didn't like those kind of women. They were ungodly, sickening. They had too much will, they could never be possessed because they'd just lock you out. It didn't matter if you pushed or bought them things. It was like forcing someone to acknowledge that you existed. It was more like pleading. Pleading with someone who was supposed to be obeying you instead. It was insulting. Humiliating. It made him feel like the tempestuous child, it made her the one with the power. She would have the power to deny him an audience. Him. The father. Repeated humiliations from this child since the day she had been born. Her mother, Allah bless her departed spirit, had not been like this. She would listen to him. She would protest but at the end of the day he was the head of the family, and she knew her place. She never questioned his judgment. She did what he told her, what he knew was good for her. She was a good woman. But this daughter of his, how he hated her. If only she would just listen before she ruined herself, ruined herself, and shamed them all. It was only a matter of time before she did, whether she knew it or not.

"If Zafar knew better, he would not permit this. You must keep your honour, or what shame, what shame you shall bring upon yourself."

Shame. Zafar. The things that had been planned for her. The things she wanted to do. All the things she wanted to do, all the thoughts, all the possibilities that were always in her mind. She could never share them, there was no one here to receive them. No one listened to her. No one had ever listened to her. Zafar?  Would he listen to her, would he see her? She remembered the first time she had stopped herself from telling her father the things that had been on her mind. She felt the same about Zafar. And her brother? They were all the same. There was no one here. No, she would have to do this. She would have to step out and see if there were others like her out there."

Dream Tenant

On October 3, 2011, I fictionalised myself because I thought it would help me make sense:

"The short, fat, smelly landlady had never had a stranger tenant. The girl went to work and came back, she paid her rent on time, she was always polite and spoke in an old accent the landlady had only heard in her childhood. Lately the girl had stopped going out. She still paid her rent on time, but sometimes the landlady could hear her crying in her room. In the middle of the day when all the other girls were out at work or at school. The landlady didn't know but the girl would cry at night too, but on the terrace where she wouldn't disturb her roommate. That strange foreign tenant in that room. Not really foreign, the girl was Indian but had never lived in India. Until now. Now she cried, she howled locked up in that room. She talked to herself sometimes. The landlady once thought she heard the girl say, "what is real?" between sobs, but she couldn't be sure. What kind of a person talks like that anyway, it made no sense.

The girl had first started asking that question 5 years ago. "What is real?" she had asked her mother, but her mother had not understood the question. "Amma, tell me what is real?" They were in America then, the girl had been a success - American degrees, an American job, a green card on the way. An American accent, an American attitude, American dollars in the American bank. But lately, it had all started seeming unreal. The popcorn at the theater had started tasting chalky, her mascara had stopped helping her once sparkly eyes pop. She'd started realising that every hot, young, new Hollywood starlet had fake lips and fake breasts. She'd tried so many things, but before long they'd run out. They weren't real. The female role models on TV weren't real, all the makeup she had bought wasn't real, her beautiful apartment that no one visited wasn't real. One day she realised that soon she was going to stop being real too.

What is real, what is real."

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Skinnydipping in the Juice of Life

From my diary, dated May 7, 2012:

"I don't know, everything in my life was so stunted and sad looking these past 10 years. My writing, my art, my website, my relationships. Now it's all exploded with substance and colour and texture. I'm having some sort of creative awakening, and it's so beautiful. I have rainbow light coming out of my eyes and mouth and ears and nostrils. That is exactly what I feel like. It's so beautiful. It's even more beautiful than when I was younger. My website has only had 1 page completed, but the design looks so juicy and yum. It's like a Skittles website. All froot juice. Yum. I am so happy. I feel so free and larger than life. Everything in my life is fruit juice now. You can see it in the way I talk, the look in my eyes, the way I dress, the food I cook, the scented candles I burn. I am living again!! I am creative again!!

I am so full of colour nowadays. I swear to God, past few weeks I've started feeling that the colours I see in my usual world seem richer than usual. It really is quite delicious. I feel like my wiring's changing, like my neurons are connecting into a newer network. It's so wonderful, I feel like I am constantly having my breath taken away by every stimulus. :)"

Muse Speak

From my diary, dated April 9, 2012:

"What's the difference between an inspired idea and my own thoughts? The former come out of nowhere and feel like someone is giving me good advice. My own thoughts are on-purpose, sometimes I'll be forcing myself to think even...

...things are talking to me. My body talks to me in moods and sensations, my inner voice talks to me in a solid voice from a dark hole between my lungs, and now inspiration and insight is talking to me in breezy echo-ey multiple voices around my head. Wow. And I trust this. I trust myself. I trust all these things that talk to me. They have never misguided me. Shit, shit, shit. This is incredible. :o"


From my diary, dated February 7, 2012:

"If I look in the mirror, I can see that I look like a grown-up mature woman now. I like her. She's pretty, beautiful almost in how open and refreshing her face is. She has so much intelligence in her face. She's gentle and caring and nurturing. She's a wonderful, wonderful woman. I really like her. She's also brave and protective. She's such an incredible woman. I can honestly say that I don't feel like a girl anymore. I feel like a woman, a wonderful, wonderful woman. The girl transformed into an amazing, graceful woman. I am loving, protective, just, intelligent, pretty, and very, very strong. I also don't stand for disrespect. I really like how I turned out. It happened in January and this past week. I am not a girl anymore. I am a woman. I love what I see in the mirror. I love what I see when I look back on my life. I have lived and loved bravely, with so much heart. What a woman, what a woman."

At The End of the Rainbow

From my diary, dated January 23, 2012:

"I don't know what to believe in anymore. I used to believe in:

1. putting myself through pain now if it meant avoiding greater pain in the future
2. being the bigger person
3. doing the right thing even if it meant endangering myself
4. being sincere in my personal and professional life
5. being straightforward

Now I realise that there is no point to any of it. Trashy people will always get their way more often, people will beg you to manipulate them, they will punish you for being unpretentious. Talent and hard work are rarely rewarded. There are more disappointments in life than happy times. Sometimes nomatter what you do, you will not be valued. Nomatter what. Sometimes you wil be insulted by the company you have to keep, the people you have to work with and for...

...I don't know anything anymore. I don't know if there is a God, if anyone will give us justice for the wrongs done to us on earth, if we have a soul, if there is an afterlife. I know there is something more to reality than we see, I mean I've had dreams that came true like visions. I have my intuition."


From my diary, dated January 14, 2011:

"When he looked at you, your eternal soul, your soul which has no age or form or name knew it had finally been seen. It's like how they show in movies - a ghost suddenly realises that one person can see them and is looking straight at them, is talking to them. The reaction that ghost has - "you can see me??" That is who I am. That ghost. People don't just look through you, they don't even know you're there."

Mad Desperate Scribbles That Were Breaking My Heart

A year ago, a year after living in squalor in Delhi and seeing some things too closely, I picked the corner table in the dark Ruby Tuesday in Nehru Place. It had been one of my favourite restaurants in the US. I remember how I used to go there with a boy who was my friend and whom I secretly liked and always ordered salmon there with him. I remember one young waitress - a white girl - who wore a Celtic cross. I like Celtic culture, I'd told her. She had been very happy.
She was not there at the Ruby Tuesday's in Nehru Place. The boy I used to like wasn't there. That had been a few years ago, they were a thing of the past. I was in Delhi now. I had been in India for a year looking for something, and I had bottomed out because my time there had taken from me instead.
I ordered a dish I can't remember and took out a piece of paper from the raggedy bag I had carried as a reporting intern at NDTV. I had so much to say but no one to say it to. No one who would understand the things I had seen and the things I had understood and the things that were racing in my mind and not letting me rest. I had taken to scribbling on pieces of paper because my thoughts felt like scribbles in my mind, like bits of torn paper that even when put together were not adding up, and I continued to scribble at the Ruby Tuesday's in Nehru Place:
"I was raised in comfort. I always had enough to eat, my stomach was always full, I barely ever sweated. Then what am I doing here? This country, this nation is filthy. Have you ever looked into the eyes of the average citizen here? Their eyes are hollow, and they look back at you, asking you - why are you here, aa hee gaye tum [in Hindi and Urdu]? And why did I return? To mourn a time of my life that is never coming back. And what now? My tears have been shed, I can go back to my life, where I came from, the world where I'm never hungry or too hot or too cold. So why can't I leave? What is it about this nation of shattered dreams, shit, and piss and bacteria that is not letting me go? I can't be one of them. I never was. I am part of nowhere. But they think I'm a part of them. What do I tell them, that this isn't my life, that I have to go? Where do I go to now that no other place can ever feel like home? What now, what now, why won't you let me go? You don't know me, I'm not one of you. I never lived here before this year."

Friday, September 14, 2012

Display Pic

Title: 'Like' My FB DP

Method Writer

Newspaper cutting from Muscat about an opera set in ancient Egypt
I'm writing a book on ancient Egypt, and while I am not allowed to say much more about it, I want to share that this project is different because it treads a fine line between fiction and non-fiction. It's difficult making a setting come alive when no one's really seen it, and I have found from experience that whenever I have to write about an era gone by, it helps to immerse myself in as much everyday detail about life back when. Seems like I write best when I can shut myself in a room and feel like I'm walking amongst the people I am making up and eating the food they are eating and feeling the fabric they are wearing. When I was a little girl and used to live mostly in my head, I had become a little obssessed with ancient Egypt and had wanted to live there. This was in the time long before the Internet or easy access to books, but I still remember a children's book about ancient Egypt that I had borrowed from the British Council library in Muscat, Oman. I can still see the book open before me to a page where the artist had drawn the picture of an Egyptian home. The artist had also drawn people walking about the mud house - through the door, on the stairs, in the kitchen. I felt like they were my friends, that if I went outside I would run into them. Of course I knew them. These little people made of ink, they had names and hobbies.

I later went and rebuilt the house using a shoebox and used my miniature animal toys to play in it. My favourite was the cat that was of the colour of the chicken curry my mother would make. The cat was always the heroine of all my games, and often another animal would be in love with her, but she would be too alone in her great thoughts and adventures to notice.

These days I feel like I'm living in ancient Egypt again. I've come across similar drawings of houses in all the research I've been doing about that time, and I think I've lived in all of them. Everytime I research this way and after my project has been finished, I carry with me a feeling of fondness for that time, that country, those people lost in the dust. I think of them often like I would of an old lover I once sparkled my eyes at because he smiled at me. It almost makes me cry sometimes.

No Pet of Mine

I hate keeping birds in cages. The whole time I was growing up in Oman my mother and I would clash over the sort of pet our family could have. I wanted a hamster, but my mother wouldn't let me have one. I then wanted a cat (I'd called many places that had cats up for adoption but my parents never helped me get beyond that point) but my mother wouldn't allow an animal indoors. So I took to making friends with the neighbourhood alley cats. Over time they figured out where I lived, and one started regularly giving birth in our ground floor balcony. Every 6 months for a few years. I'd bring those kittens inside to play with when they got older. Those were my happiest moments. Kitties playing with me, lounging about in my lap because they trusted me. Because they wanted to play with me. Because we were different animals but we understood each other through our eyes and body language. I miss them. My lap has been empty for so long.

My mother thought the safest pets to get were birds. Over the years we bought single budgerigar pairs - I always got to pick the colour - because we'd heard that they'd lay eggs and have families. We knew other families whose budgies bred like rabbits. And smelled like them too. Now that I think of it, I don't know why it was so important that we have birds that breed and have families and generations. In cages. What was the point? So that it would amuse us? Oh, look, they're like us too!

I never felt attached to our birds. We would bring them home from smelly bird shops in a shoebox that had holes stabbed into them with a knife or scissors. I remember sitting in the back seat of our car with the shoebox in my lap and feeling the birds scraping across the cardboard as they blindly slid around in the dark. Then we'd move them into their cages. Were they supposed to be pleased about that, their brand new cage? I hated seeing them sitting all day long in there. There was no room in there for them to properly fly even; how suffocating would that be, how maddening. I'd wonder how I'd feel if I was made to sit in a cage my whole life, even if I got all the food and water I needed.

I never took ownership of our birds, I left them for my mother to tend to. I'm not the one who put you in that cage, I think I was trying to say, your imprisonment is not on my head. I'd stop by to say hello to them every once in a while though. I liked my cats because they were free, because they didn't make me feel guilty, because they could do what they wanted and come back to me when they needed me.

At least the birds weren't alone. We always bought single pairs, so at least they had each other to talk to. Sometimes they'd chirp so much and for so long that my family would want them to stop, to let us take our afternoon nap in peace. Sometimes they'd chirp all night long, so we'd have to drape a cloth over their cage to put them to sleep. But at least they had each other. I liked it when they talked to each other, I wondered what they were talking about. I always wanted them to have something to talk about. I always wanted them to nibble each other's beaks, it made me happy to see them have each other. They were technically not my pets, but I still felt bad for not setting them free. What would my parents say if I just shook them out of their cages and let them go? We must've had at least 20 birds over the years, and I kept an emotional distance from every one of them.

And they'd always die. They never seemed to lay eggs in our house. It was always the same story. The chirping bird couple would chitter-chatter for a few months, then one day when I would go to say goodmorning or howareyou then I'd find one lying dead on its side at the bottom of the cage. The other bird - the husband/wife, I could never tell - would be sitting quietly in the corner farthest from the dead bird. And it would never sing again. I would feel bad for it and spend more time talking to it, but it never really noticed me. It would just sit there by itself and not move much. Definitely not say much. I'd bring my cats over to meet it; at first the bird would feel frightened and move away into a corner, but over time it learned to not fear my cats even if they were lying sprawled out over its cage.

But it was always a matter of weeks before I found the bird dead too, lying on its side with its eyes shut. Have you ever seen a dead bird? Have you ever held it? It feels light, like it's made of wood chippings and sawdust. I was always surprised everytime I held a dead bird because it felt like it ought to have been heavier. The closed eyelid of a dead bird always looks like it belongs to an old man, a tired old man who is tired of life and tired of blinking and wants to sleep. It's wrinkly, it's thick and thin at the same time. The claws are always curled into a loose tired fist. It looks asleep. It looks too still. Too still.

I hate keeping birds in cages. I hate it. I want them out there, living out their lives, flying wherever they are supposed to go. I don't want them dying on my watch, not on my watch, not on my conscience.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Nothin' But Mammals

Grandchildren deities of the creator god: Nut of the sky and Geb of the earth

According to one ancient Egyptian creation myth, the creator god who was both male and female gave birth to the cosmos and other gods by masturbating. Nothing unusual - the ancient religions were based on nature's cycles of creation, death, and rebirth (think seasons and harvest). I find it funny how for thousands of years polytheistic traditions around the world worshipped male and female genitalia (and still do in India), but today most people are raised to dread and even ignore their nether-regions. And masturbation? Don't touch that dial!

C/O Anybody

Find me in the bottom-right corner.
I was standing outside the NDTV corporate office in New Delhi, chewing some gum. It's an old habit of mine that my family has always strongled condemned as American. When I was in high school in Oman I was a fan of bubblegum. I liked grape-flavoured Bib Babol, and in college in America I discovered a strange new watermelon flavour. I used to enjoy blowing bubbles but I have now settled for the less effort of chewing gum. Even if you give me bubblegum now I'll probably just chew it and not put in the effort of bubbling it.
I carried this gum habit of mine to India in 2010 when I joined NDTV's year-long broadcast training programme. On that one particular day I was standing outside the building, probably on a break, with a few friends from the programme. They were talking about something, and I was chewing some gum I had bought from the dhaaba that smelled of excrement just down the very short, busted inner street the NDTV office was on. As my friends kept talking, I absent-mindedly flipped the gum pack over and glanced at the address at the back. That's another habit I've had since I was little. I always look at the address that's printed at the back of gum packs everywhere. The address is always of somewhere else, a big city far away - usually in America - that I've only ever seen on television, or a small city somewhere else in the world that had made a pack of gum for me that passed through goodness knows how many unknown hands across the world into mine. I always wondered what the building at that address looked like. Was it a skyscraper or a factory in the country? What if I wrote a letter just to say hi and mailed it out to that address? Who would receive that letter? Who would open the envelope and touch the paper I had touched? Would it be a woman called Susan or a man called Colin? Would they have straight hair or curly hair? Would they be happy? Would my letter make some difference in their lives? Would my life mean something suddenly just because they knew I existed? I would wonder. So much. In a casual glance that had become an automatic reflex by now. I don't even think about it now everytime I flip over my packs of gum. I don't look at the whole address, just the city, state, and country. I feel attached to all the people whose lives are linked to all those addresses in all those faraway cities that are on streets that have their own stories. It feels like looking at a photograph made of words. Like the pack of gum is a phantom letter that was sent to me. It's almost a lonely feeling.
 My friends kept talking. And I noticed that the address on the pack of gum I was chewing from was of New Delhi. Oh. How funny. I was in New Delhi.
I looked over the rest of the address, curious about if I had been to those areas in Delhi yet. It said 'Okhla Industrial Estate Phase III'. That's where I was at that very moment. I felt a little bit excited and a little bit sick, but I don't think anyone noticed. The floor of my stomach tightened a little bit as I moved my eyes to the building number in the address.
Wait a second.
The NDTV office, the one I was standing outside of, the one I was spending around 10 hours in everyday, was 207.
I suddenly felt weird. Frightened even. I almost felt panicky.
My friends were still talking. I lifted my head away from the pack of gum in my hands and looked at the two buildings that were on either side of the NDTV building. I saw 206.
Oh my God.
I suddenly blurted out to my friends that we were standing next to the building whose address was on my pack of gum. They smiled and thought it was cool, and then went back to their conversation. But I felt so strange, excited, frightened. I felt like I had arrived, that I had made a connection, that in all my travels to find the truth, to find life, that I had finally arrived. At an actual address. I had finally shown up at the right place. Those people at those addresses that I'd always wanted to give my life meaning, one of them ended up being me. 'Somewhere else' was finally 'here'. I could rest now.

One Head, So Many Voices

From my diary, dated January 10, 2012:

"I believe I have a significant chunk of hosh back now. I am able to listen to my intuition quite clearly again. I thought my intuition had gone quiet in Delhi, my inner system was screaming at me all the time, it was so awful - the noise from the outside, the screams from the inside. I was overwhelmed in Delhi. Now that I realise it, my intuition was screaming so much to counter the voices from the outside to make sure I always noticed it. It was trying to save me. It was fighting for me...things were actually okay until I started considering things against my intuition, that's when I began to suffer. Khadija, please always center yourself at the end of the day and blindly trust your intuition if it raises red flags and worst comes to worst, starts giving you recurring nightmares."

Delhi Stole My Divinity

From my diary, dated November 30, 2011:

"I'm in some kind of funk. I keep myself very occupied with work, and I try not to think more than 24 hours into the future. I try not to think about dreams, goals, ambitions...

...I don't know what to believe in anymore. I was driven, self-assured, because I believed in God. But that got sufficiently rattled in India. I feel like a steam engine whose engine has gone cold. I feel like I could go 100 mph but I just feel so heavy and hollow. I am trying to figure out what I believe in now, but I can't come up with anything. I feel slow and panicky. Then I remember not to let myself think and feel too much. I remember to let myself be selfish and territorial. I am a house of cards these days. I want to call on God, but I suddenly feel like there could be no such thing. My steam engine's coal room has no fuel anymore.

What a crisis I am in. And you wouldn't know it from my face. I look so calm and speak so softly, like I am sleepwalking. I want to go home, I want to put a distance between myself and my memories of Delhi this past year. Everything hurts too much, and it's been 4 months already."

Dilli ka Disease

From my diary, dated December 20, 2011:

"I was so belligerent my last 24 hours in Delhi. The bank (SBI) was giving me shit, the PG aunty gave me shit about the deposit, the airline people gave me shit, and I threw a fucking fit. I spent 2 hours at customs waiting for them to clear my stuff, it was yuck. Thank God the shipping guy was reliable. He was very, very dependable. I was like a raging lunatic by the time I boarded my plane. I went to the sleep the minute I sat in my seat."

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Bombay Girl from Elsewhere

"Where are you originally from?" I asked the young Times Now graphics producer who had been raised in Kolkata and gone to college in Delhi. She wore seeing glasses, a dark blue summer dress, black Roman-style sandals, and her long dark brown hair was loose about her shoulders and back.

"Oh, you will have never heard of it," she had said, "it's a place called Saharanpur in UP."

She was ready to move on to the next subject, but I didn't let her. "Saharanpur, of course! I've stopped there before while travelling between Lucknow and Delhi; they're known for their pottery!"

The girl perked up, and we chatted for the next half hour about our experiences as women in the anachronistic Avadh Dust Bowl. I will now always think of her everytime I see the mug I bought from a roadside street shop in the middle of nowhere in Saharanpur in 1997.

A Conversation with the Man at the Museum

"I'm taking a panorama photo, it's not a video!"

But the museum employee would not listen to me. "I don't know anything about that," he said, "but you have to pay 2000 rupees to take videos."

I showed him the 200 rupee permit that I'd bought to take photographs in the museum with my DSLR camera, but he insisted that I had been taking a video. I tried to show him the panorama photo I had taken with my smaller camera, but he didn't want to see it. "I don't know these things," he kept saying.

The more I tried to show him the photo, the more agitated he got, the louder and more shrill his voice got, and he then went off to report the 'video' to the authorities. He returned a few minutes later by himself - looking sheepish, I thought - and then suddenly straightened up and said that I was using two cameras but had paid to use only one.

I just kept looking at him because the whole encounter was ridiculous, and he soon ran off, but not before telling me to delete the 'video' I had taken because I would be 'checked' upon leaving the museum. Of course, nothing ended up happening.

Museum Directions

There was something very creepy about the Parsi-looking man from the Jehangir Art Gallery. I had asked him to tell me where the Prince of Wales museum was, and even though it was down the street, he'd almost leapt to take me there himself.

What a creepy man. He was probably in his mid-30s, light-skinned, stout, clean-shaven, and with no expression at all. He mumbled and stared directly into my eyes the whole time, and about 2 minutes into our awkward walk to the museum where I could feel him looking me up and down and rubbing his hands with silent slimey glee I told him I could get there myself and I very happily left him behind.

The Song on the Radio

"Saajan!" I shouted in the crowded NDTV shuttle, but the song on the radio meant nothing to my friends. How could it, I realised, they were all mostly born in the late 80s. The movie had probably come out before they started kindergarten. Everyone in the minivan - other NDTV employees whom I didn't know - looked at me; none of them remembered Saajan.

"You know, Saajan!" I continued, returning their startled gazes. "The Madhuri Dixit/Salman Khan/Sanjay Dutt love triangle! Sanjay Dutt was a poet whose pseudonym was Saagar?"

Everyone was looking at me funny. Who was this crazy woman having a happy meltdown to an old Hindi movie song on the oldies radio channel? Was I the only one who remembered how Saajan had turned India and even Pakistan upside down with its solid starcast and Pankaj Udhas songs? When did Saajan become an oldie?

"Haanji, the songs were very nice," said the usually silent driver quite suddenly, "jiyein toh jiyein kaise bin aapke."

I was happy.

A Death in Bombay

A crowd of men with handkerchiefs wrapped on their heads carried a large coffin through a drizzly sticky muddy busy inner Bombay street.

The coffin was covered with bright green fabric that had Arabic calligraphy on it and strings and strings of red roses and white jasmines.

People stopped to watch as the men quickly moved the coffin into the back of a waiting ambulance.

Some of the bystanders touched their hearts with their fingers and then kissed them.

A small crowd of the nearest passerbys - Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Parsi - started to gather because Death will someday touch everyone.

It is the great equaliser, the unifier.

And I remembered a dream I had in high school half a lifetime ago where I was wandering in some dirty Indian city, and I saw both Hindu and Muslim funeral processions passing by in front of me.

In my dream, I had heard a disembodied voice telling me not to stare because that's how riots get started.

Today I saw my first Muslim funeral procession, and I chose not to stare because I didn't want to make a circus out of it.

As I quickly averted my eyes and started to move on, I passed an Indian man who could've been any Indian man mumbling to himself, to no one, to everyone.

The only words that made it to my ears as I passed him by were, "it's not polite to stare at these things..."

Bombay Photo

Maybe I felt peace in Bombay because with the
rains and the mud and the humidity that keeps your hair
damp and wet all day long and the mass of people that keeps
coming and coming and coming and the young people
and the old people and the babies and the
animals and the couples kissing under umbrellas by the sea and the people
dying on the street and the old British
buildings and the old Parsi symbols and the bacteria in my
food you can see the big picture and feel
part of the forever moving human story like a link that
believes the chain exists because it can see the other
links like an arrow in the diagram of an ecosystem that
has finally been neatly put into a box.

What a relief to feel part of something what a relief to have found a
picture to paint myself into even if the scenery around me

Title: a scene from the life of Khadija.

Fiona and the Universe

Dedicated to Fiona Poojara

In Bombay by the sea
By the Arabian Sea
On a humid afternoon
Fiona sat in a cab that was yellow and black
And looked out the window and saw
On the grey tarmac
A black and grey crow with a long black beak
Picking out jiggly thin pink stringy bits from the corpse of a rat
Quite casually

Fiona looked away
These things she said make her upset
She don't want to see

My dear Fiona
Little girl
Raised on birthday parties
With clowns and movie star Miss India guests
And an Anglican school for girls
Long skirts and ladylike shoes
For the girls of Saint Mary the Virgin
Saint Mary the Virgin

It's just life in the foodchain
One death for every birth
One death or more
Somebody to eat somebody else
It's everyone's turn sometime
Nothing personal it's okay
Just life in the foodchain
Don't look away Saint Mary
Look upon your God's glory
One death for every birth
One death or more
Don't look away Saint Mary