Happy 64th birthday, Pakistan

You’re my family and my cradle. Wherever I go, you’re in my heart. You held me in your arms when I was young, and I grew up to be who I am today. I walked your streets, and I drank from your waters. Your trees shaded me from the hot summer. Some day, I want to bring my child for you to cradle in your bosom and to teach her what you taught me.
Now you’re facing tough times again. You’ve faced them before. Inshaallah, we’ll leave the struggles behind and move ahead. Inshaallah, better times lie ahead. I want to wipe your tears and dress your wounds. I want to see you rise up, glow with your former beauty – no, with a new glory. I am far away, but I am always connected to you, always yearning for you, always praying for you. In being far away, I am in pain forever, divided, and torn. But I am grateful, no matter what, that you are there.
Better days will come. Some day, we will not be fearful, in line at immigration, with green passports. Some day, we will not all be jumping ship, reaching out for foreign lands. Some day, we will stand proud and tall again, ambassadors of peace and love, generous and loving even in our poverty. Some day, we will not be afraid to walk the streets. Some day, our hearts will not break daily at the sight of barefoot children struggling to make a living on the street. Some day, Lord, some day, God, – let that day come soon.

Love poetry

Some days, you have to let go of everything and give in. For me, if I allow myself to listen to Pathana Khan’s rendition of Hazrat Khwaja Ghulam Farid’s Meda ishq vee tun, it will happen by itself. The passion-drenched soft Saraiki lyrics in the elderly folk-singer’s powerful voice wield a force irresistible. Enjoy it, with lyrics and translation here. I’ve copied the English translation below: please let me know if you find out who to credit. Or the love-insanity of the shaikh’s Yaar daadhi ishq aatish in the voice of Muhammad Jumman.

And soak in the faizan of Hazrat Khwaja Ghulam Farid, in the pages of Maqabees-al-Majalis translated by my beloved shaikh, Hazrat Wahid Baksh Sial Rabbani.

You Are My Ardour
You are my ardour, my friend, faith, creed.
You are my body, you are my spirit, heart, soul.
You’re the direction towards which I pray.
You are my Mecca, my mosque, my pulpit.
You are my holy books and my Quran.
You are my religious obligations,
My Hajj, charity, fasting, call to prayer.
You are my asceticism, worship,
My obedience and my piety.
You are my knowledge and you’re my gnosis .
You’re my remembrance, my contemplation
You are my tasting and my ecstasy.
You are my love, my sweet, my darling, my honey
You are my favourite, and my soulmate!
You’re my spiritual preceptor, my guide ,
You are my Shaykh and my Enlightened One
You are my hope, my wish, my gains, losses.
You’re all I see, my pride, my deliv’rance.
You’re my faith, my honour, modesty, glory
You’re my pain, sorrow, my crying, playing
You are my illness and my remedy.
You are what lulls me to a peaceful sleep.
You are my beauty and my fate, fortune, fame.
You are my looking, enquiring, seeking
You are my understanding, my knowing
You are my henna, my collyrium,
My rouge, my tobacco, my betel-leaf!
You are my terror, my passion, madness
You’re my crying and my lamentation.
You are my Alpha and my Omega,
My Inner, Outer, Hidden, Manifest.
If, O Belovéd, you accept Farid
You are my Sovereign and my Sultan.

Check one: super-mother OR super-professional

Today I was super-mother. At least by my standards; probably not yours. I thoroughly tidied the entire house – of course, you need ONE remaining room, don’t you, to shove all the bits and bobs in? I picked up every bit of paper from the carpets: Raihana is learning to write, draw and cut, and this means the entire carpet looks like confetti. And then there were the various odds and ends that are the greatest nightmare of all. Now, bits of trash are easy: pick up, crumple, toss. But odd screws, purple pencils, binder clips, … those are things that need to be individually placed in specific locales. Dozens of items.

All this, for a playdate for Raihana. Yes, I know it’s just another 5-year old but I don’t want Raihana’s friends’ parents wondering if their child should be wading knee-deep in confetti-covered carpets. She and her friend danced around each other happily, pulling ugly faces and giggling nonstop. The success of the arrangement was most satisfying.

Then I took Raihana to the grocery store, and hauled a ton of eggplant, plums, cherries, honeydew, zucchini, eggs … and so on. No delicious cheese puffs and no candy. In horrific 108 degree heat – horrific because it’s been going on and on for weeks – we headed back home.

Immediately I got to work getting Raihana her meal. I gave her 3 healthy meals today. I cut no corners. No shortcuts. No french fries, no unsavoury wet slaps of deli meats, no crackers, no hot dogs, even. Green beans, broccoli, rice, tilapia, and such like. I timed everything just right. I knew she would be hungry when we were grocery shopping, but I avoided the Burger King nearby, and instead offered her deli bread from the grocery cart. I worked to get her hungry, and waited in the corner to pounce with my healthful meal. It was very successful.

Then I gave her a happy bubble bath, and got her dressed within a few minutes of a home visit by a teacher. I allowed her a little bit of television so I could get dinner together – and that was a fun video on biology. I warmed the spinach-and-chicken curry I’d made the day before, cooked rice, made a salad for Svend – herb mix sprinkled with strawberries, grape tomatoes, sesame seed oil and sunflower seeds – he’d had a long week of fasting and commuting. Then I started work on a zucchini-goatcheese-spinach quiche. (No, this kind of volume is extremely unlike me. This is why this level of self-congratulation and self-satisfaction is unlike me, mostly). At 10 the quiche was ready to be sampled, and to be put away for the next day.

I thought to myself, Lord, I’ve had a good day. Raihana’s had fun. Svend’s had a hearty meal. They’ve both had healthy meals. I’ve cooked and cleaned my butt off. I’ve had a good meal too. And I mean, how much more productive can you get?

And then, as from several incarnations away, a dim thought crossed my mind like a dark cloud floating before the sun.

I didn’t get a lick of work on my writing done today.

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When Raihana was at summer school, my schedule was: get R ready, drop her off, get my coffee, and write, write, write, until pick-up time. Frozen fish and fries. Steamed broccoli and boiled eggs. Laundry when necessary. In June, I felt satisfied when I surveyed my steady progress on the manuscript.

But with the 2-week break before the fall, this schedule came apart. I had to rediscover togetherness with my 5-year old. All day. All day, day after day. And it is sweet. Inexpressibly sweet.

Except when that thought crosses my mind.

Now, I mostly prowl around the edges of the day and night, watching hungrily for scraps of time, in 15-30 minute increments, where I can clean up Chapter 2, or prune the Conclusion. I take Raihana to Panera, and while she watches a cartoon on my laptop, I read the manuscript and make notes. I bring her home and stick a DVD in for her to watch, while I get some work done: soon, she will come to join me, rehearsing the show, adapting it to her own imagination, forcing me to engage with her, while I gaze longingly back at the raw text on the screen. Days like today are rare. I can almost never allow myself to immerse myself in my home, its order, food, an organic daily rhythm, Raihana’s needs and her imagination.

That’s when I am reminded of the inescapable dilemma of today’s woman. The precarious balancing act where each end of the balancing pole is an entire life in itself – a full time job. On the one hand, cooking, cleaning, maintaining a household, laughing and playing and reading with the child/ren, observing good bedtime hours, and so on. On the other side, writing a book while simultaneously working on a book review, preparing syllabi, teaching, advising, serving on committees, serving students, networking, conferencing, research, grants, oh and yes, reading books and articles to stay on top of the multitude of disciplines that are all my areas. Both of these must be done at the same time, and in perfect balance. And to have any sense of joy about it, they must be done WELL. If they are not, well, in this economy and this market, you know there is a throng at the gate waiting to devour the scraps that were initially thrown to you.

Of course, to be able to achieve this balance in any degree and with any quality at all, you have to have a perfect constitution: a continually productive mind; a congenial work environment; a strong and fit body; a merely moderate need for food and sleep (there’s not enough time in the day for much, and it’s better if you function like a camel for food and like a bear for sleep: wait till you get the chance.) And we all know that you must also have an audience for your efforts which is inclined to see the good you do, and disinclined to focus on your flaws. Merit is relative. And vested interests are ever present.

I am not the only one who bears the burden of such balancing. I am, in fact, a fortunate one among so many. Svend pitches in whenever he can. But the workplace for men is perhaps even less permissive when it comes to domestic responsibilities (“why? Where’s his wife? Can’t she pick up/care for/drop off the child?”) The matrix, the world of possibility that I am positioned within, is a crippling one.

I hope that one day, Raihana will grow up to not bear the burden of all of this in so inequitable a fashion as women bear today.

I hope that the worker of today, man or woman, becomes whole tomorrow – not divided, torn, and ripped apart at all times. I hope that the worker of today becomes a human being tomorrow – that the domestic, the caregiving, the parenting – these do not become the random bits and bobs of not-quite-trash that we brush under the carpet so that our professional colleagues think well of us. I hope that the worker is permitted real life, family, flaws, hiccups, less than perfect productivity – I pray that labor becomes joy, and I pray that our non-laboring lives regain their forbidden joys some day.