Transitions post-travel

Let’s accept that the transitions we make during conference travel can be difficult ones. This past week, I was in Oakland, CA and Los Angeles, eating fusion cuisine with great friends. Today I am in Central Illinois / Champaign-Urbana and my restaurant choices are Red Lobster and Panera – with my grading.

Grief and hope: on bad news from the homeland

Today, I am grieving. I am exhausted with the flow of bad news from home.

Sometimes it feels like things are going from bad to worse. But today, just today, I refuse to let my heart be clogged with despair. Instead, I share with you a song from Junaid Jamshed’s solo career.

Yes, I’m familiar with Junaid Jamshed’s career. This is the land where a rock star can also be a global fashion entrepreneur and a religious leader. We want a land of many colors and possible futures. We refuse the monochromatic colors of small minded people who close their eyes to reality. We embrace today and we dance to the music of yesterday all the way into the future. We will submit to the embracing passion of the Merciful, to the Unity of Being, and the unity of creation – not to divisions, disunity, hatred, hierarchies. We open doors and welcome today. We will change the future, no matter how dark the present may seem. Prepare yourselves for change, because change is inevitable. We will make it so.  

Remember the dream that your gaze brought to mine
see that that dream is never shattered
And the traveler who returns after so many years
take care that he is not turned back sorrowful

The color in your cheeks today
is new to your face this spring
The wine in your voice
is new to your song this spring

Let our hearts come together for just a spell
and we will find a way somehow
The dust of sorrowful memories will be washed by the rain
And the miles between us will shrink and fall away

Remember the dream that your gaze brought to mine
see that that dream is never shattered
And the traveler who returns after so many years
take care that he is not turned back sorrowful


Village Woman on Suspension Bridge







Riding the bus from Tulsa at dusk
singing to myself, I fill the air

With richly-colored rainbows, and know
I’d missed those Mughal-e-Azam songs.

You know what they say, how people are people
and people everywhere are just the same,
their lives, experiences, feelings, joys,
sorrows, fury, frustration, tragedies,
all practically uniform.

I say – with all due respect to uniters
of a troubled world – no, we live in different rooms.

And me, I occupy two spaces
at once, speak different languages
My throat emits sets of different sounds
My two atmospheres differently composed
The stars in their heavens sparkle differently

I manage. I combine them both
in unequal measure at different times,
slipping one behind my back on campus
whipping it out with a flourish at the mosque.

But the struggle comes through sometimes
when I say I will do this yesterday and I stood my car
when I can’t find the right words in Urdu emotion
when I’m talking to ammi.

When they say bicultural
it’s not just that s.he can make lasagna and lassi
It’s that she can construct, maintain, and live in
two different worlds, set them up
with different furniture, in different colors
Fabulous, amazing, colorful lives!
(Bloody lonely hard work, of course).

Many who call themselves bicultural
can live one culture and can just manage the other.
Functionally literate. Not so bad,
but not quite comfortably at home.

To those who (try to) color the world
monochrome, I say, transcend that.
Maybe embrace the world that swirls
with dramatically different,
clashing hues, that clatters with a cacophony
of millions of kinds of sounds.
Going colorblind’s the lazy way.
A cop-out. That way, you’ve no need to try
to contain it all. All you have to do
is pretend it isn’t even there. Big deal, huh?
What an achievement to shut eyes tight,
and tell me I am beautiful (despite the swarthy skin
the heavy hair sans sunny hues, the opaque dark brown eyes.
Oh yes. Gorgeous and exotic.) try instead
to become an Argus, with eyes that truly
see a thousand colors, with ears
that truly hear a multitude
of children crying in different tones –
some of them charming your hearts away
and others not.


Cold enough for ya?

It’s pretty cold right now. My Facebook feed is practically exploding. Sometimes, even though I am an immigrant, I lose this perspective.

As a girl, I had no coats when I was growing up, and we were middle class. I remember wearing thin cardigans over linen shalwar kameezes, with lightweight socks. One time, a schoolfriend wore a fuzzy coat to school one winter’s day (her brother had brought it her from the US) and I was stupefied. In the late 1980s, Afghan tradesmen used to sell fuzzy sweaters – possibly aid or charity clothing – at the roundabout in Liberty Market. We’d never seen anything like it.

To this day, when I wear performance fleece, I want to stockpile the stuff, fill a plane with it, and take it to Pakistan. The poor – the milkman, the vegetable seller, the gardener, the maid – they all wore nothing more than their shalwar kameezes with a woolen shawl over their faces and bodies.

You might think that it doesn’t get very cold in Pakistan. The coldest I feel is when I visit Pakistan in the winter. The poorly insulated homes and the lack of central heat make a visit to the bathroom an experience to be remembered.

The upper and middle classes now have access to a range of products, in Pakistan as well as abroad. But for the poor, the thin layers of a shalwar kameez with a worn-out shawl is all most of them have. And in recent years, the shortage of gas and electricity make for a killer mix.

Even if you do have gas heaters (and gas), those things tend to be leaky and you will get dizzy and ill if you enjoy them too long. I’ve done it too many times. I will never forget the time when a group of Albanian students at the International Islamic University (I was the Residence Hall Director) decided to run the gas heaters in their closed room at NIGHT. I went upstairs to check on them  and found them all passed out. We opened doors and pulled them awake, and carted them off to PIMS (local hospital). It was terrifying. Those women learned that cold was not something you could always fight. You think we’re fatalistic? Try spending the winter in Pakistan.

So if you are in the US in the middle of a cold wave, or even sidling up to your radiators in parts of Europe, some would love to have what you have.