grief in a vacuum

Abdul Sattar Edhi's soyem held in Karachi - Pakistan - Dunya News
Abdul Sattar Edhi’s soyem, via Dunya

When I lived in Pakistan, – or shall I say, when I was a Pakistani? – I had mixed feelings about family.

As a young person, family – and I mean, extended family, as in, kin networks – were all about duty. Birth, death, marriage, summer vacation – you visited family. You brought mitthai, or you brought mangoes, or fruit, or clothes. You gave up your room or your bed, so relatives could be comfortable. I thought, as a kid, family were fun but they could cramp your style.

When I left Pakistan, I realized what I had lost.

Yesterday, my dear cousin-brother died of liver cancer in Lahore.

He was a dignified, private man, and did not share his diagnosis widely. It was therefore a shock to me, but I respect his wishes.

Suddenly, he was gone. Suddenly, all my plans – I’ll make time to whatsapp with him and his family – fell through.

I grieve him from afar, talk to his daughter on whatsapp, talk to my mother on the phone. We sigh over our submission to the will of God. We are all returning to God, today or tomorrow.

I have no janazah to attend. No one to weep with. No one to tell stories about how funny, or how strong, or how devout he was, what a humanitarian he was.

My mind loops, flashing to me at 13, at his wedding; or me as a kid when he had a big accident; or how he would visit our home whenever we had any trouble, and support our family.

I’ve lost a brother.

I am not grounded. If I had people who were doing this, grieving, just being sad, together, it would be real.

I feel like I’m on the moon. I’m in a vacuum.

I miss rituals of mourning. The women step in, white bedsheets are spread on the floor. Each grabs a bunch of date-seeds, and starts to recite la ilaha illallah or ayat-kareema over them, using them to keep count. Or they pick up a sipara, and start to recite. We look up to acknowledge each other. We know, silently, that we are all gathered for a beloved that has departed but whose love is shared by us all.

A quiet whisper of recitation continues.


20 years ago

Twenty years ago, spouse and I were having the usual adjustment difficulties of newlyweds. Squabbling, sniping, maneuvering for power, trying to find agreement – I’m sure you’ve all seen it and had it too.

One day, I saw him do something–and it told me to have faith, that despite his many flaws haha, he has a true heart of gold.

So one evening, he returned from work. And it was a long commute (you know the Beltway and DC), and I was always dissatisfied with how late he’d return home.

This time, he returned home — with an elderly Dominican woman in his car 🤨

Turns out, he’d seen this old woman standing outside a Starbucks, confused, in the dark and cold, with her baggage. She’d just flown in from the Dominican Republic that evening. Her daughter lived in the area, but was maybe late picking her up at the airport.

“I got tired of waiting,” she said. The elderly woman took a cab and set off. She did not have her daughter’s address. She was more than a little senile.

The cab driver had given up on her, and dropped her at the cafe.

I was stressed and irritated about the situation. You just picked this woman up? What are we supposed to do for her? She can’t even give information about her family, her address, anything.

We tried to extract info from her. We were unsuccessful. She had nothing helpful. Maybe she lived in a small town, where just to know the neighborhood’s name was sufficient.

I’m ashamed to say that I was a bit impatient with her.

Spouse was not.

He was gentle, kind, patient. Spoke to her respectfully. Worried for her. “I couldn’t just leave her there.” If she’d been left there that day, she could’ve ended up one of the many unhoused, or dead.

Eventually I said, “Let’s go back to the airport. Perhaps her daughter is still waiting there. Slim chance. Let’s see.”

So we went back to National Airport. I asked the nice people at the Information Desk, and they got the woman to make an announcement using the mic and speaker.


They were reunited. We returned home.

I thought to myself many times afterward: he picked up that random, strange, senile woman, and treated her like a lost treasure. I really don’t know that I would’ve done the same.

And I thought: when I am a random, weird, senile, weak woman, he will treasure me TOO!! So hold on to this one!


Massacre politics

After every mass shooting, Americans get ready for the shooter’s identity. White guy? Muslim guy? Muslim Black guy? Latinx migrant? Mixed-race? How mixed? Who gets to lord it over the others?

Guess what all of them have in common though … guns.

As Nina Paley shows in ‘This Land is Mine,’ various warriors fight each other for land and power. But at the end only death lords it over us all.


Don’t tell us to “raise strong girls.” Raise boys who won’t kill them.



25 Parenting Books About Raising Mighty Girls | A Mighty Girl

They exhort us to raise strong girls, —but not so much to raise gentle, emotionally healthy, non-harmful- boys. What, after all, are we raising girls strong for? -incel violence and toxic masculinity?!

Quit burdening girls with everything. I’m so tired of this irresponsible over-emphasis.

What is the point of raising girls to break barriers, to pursue their dreams, to get educated, to re-make the world – when boys think a father’s job is just to “babysit” their children? When they can’t find their way around the kitchen? And men and boys are so “bad at” domestic things you have to do it for them?

Listen, you get your Phd, your MD, your dream project — and you discover that if you want love, personal happiness, family stability, all those things in heteropartriarchy, you have to let success fall through your shaking fingers — Oh, and you had better not complain about it either, or you’ll be lonely and bitter.

If people keep raising boys the way they do, I understand why some people — not I — teaching girls how to disguise their strength as soft weakness.

Are girls supposed to fix broken boys? violent, filled with toxic masculinity and resentment? That’s part of the the theory behind co-education, right? that girls will help boys become “gentlemen?” Well, my daughter is not your son’s jungle gym. Fix him on your own time.

The raising of strong daughters is out of touch with cultures. You don’t make something that won’t work in its environment. Develop the environment. At least make a serious effort. I don’t see this happening almost at all.

Every celebrity has to do a whole “girls are amazing,” “girls can do anything,” “raise strong girls” campaign. Where are the campaigns to raise humane boys, emotionally intelligent boys? programs to develop boys’ psychological health?

There’s no market for those campaigns is there? There’s a desperate need, but nobody is running them because they don’t win any popularity contests that way.

So stop telling me and my sisters and our daughters to be strong. We were always strong. Fix your boys. Fix your men. End patriarchy.

The damage of this world has the signature of masculinity all over it.


Stop Anti Asian Hate Crimes

Anti-Asian Hate Crimes include state-sanctioned, decades-long domestic & international violence against Asians, militarization, that destroys societies, life expectancy, life quality, opportunities for generations AND drives Asians abroad where they struggle to survive in low-income work.

Includes resource stripping, deforestation, climate devastation that results in climate extremes -> widespread death economic exploitation of low-income countries by corporations & their sweatshops arms sales to authoritarian governments-> human rights violations & death.

The creation of poverty, refugees, immigrants, and inequality.

Remember Asia is a big place, with a huge colonizer footprint. Consider all those footprints — Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, China, East Timor, Georgia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kashmir, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Lebanon, Malaysia, Mongolia, Nepal, N Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Saudi, Singapore, S Korea, Sri Lanka, Syria, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Yemen –

Count all the hate crimes, not just individual shooters.


Pepperidge Farm cake

Oh, about 20+ years ago, I was at a party with a wealthy Pakistani American family. They served a lot of food, and I was a hungry graduate student. A hungry graduate student short of money, and with poor cooking skills.

There was cake.

I sampled it. It was glorious. Amazing. Delicious. I hadn’t eaten much in a bit.

“That cake is outstanding!” I gushed.

“Huh?” The hostess auntie said quizzically. “What cake is she talking about?”

The wealthy auntie’s wealthy daughter shrugged impatiently and made a wry face. “Er – just Pepperidge Farm.” Her face assessed me, clearly evaluated me and my delight over a grocery store cake.


I don’t like Coke Studio’s music

Very unpopular opinion. I should shut the blog down now.

I’ve tried to like Coke Studio’s productions, and I cannot. [Now you know you can just ignore me]. Yes, I am an old nostalgic fuddy-duddy. I probably lack true musical appreciation. But I keep looking for older, simpler productions of the same desi songs. I really feel like the voice quality is better. Or is it something about the entire commercial process that does something to the sound and the entire experience of sound? Idk.

Every time I listen to a Coke Studio re-do of an old song, I stop midway and go back to the old one. Like my friend Zara’s sitar rendition of Amir Khusro’s ‘Ambva taley dola rakh de’ sent me looking for youtube videos. I tried Coke Studio – because they are so ubiquitous. I tried. I couldn’t finish it.

Then I found an Indian rendition, contemporary, but simple- and wow, the voice and musical training.

I think the first rendition I heard was one by Bilquees Khanum et al (it’s at amazon). The recording is not great but the voice is beautiful and something about it is real. I wish someone who’s not Coke Studio would re-do these songs. The old recordings are terrible to listen to on the internet. But do them in a simpler fashion. Fewer instruments? With trained classical singers. Not commercial artists. — Though ironically many of the commercial artists are classically trained.

There is no adequate ‘market’/public for this kind of listening.

And something is lost. I was one of those who pooh-poohed our classical music tradition. Until, of course, I met my Chishti Sabri pir, who told me about the spirituality of the ragas.

May be an image of 2 people
An artist’s rendition of Hazrat Nizamuddin Awliya and Amir Khusro


File:Jan Matejko - Stańczyk - Google Art Project.jpg
Stanczyk, by Jan Matejko

That whisper says: you are not right.
I’ve spent years trying to trace that call.
Stomach acid? Something to eat?
pain, discomfort? tylenol?
trauma unresolved? ugh now I
can’t avoid the therapy.
Spiritual loss? call to repent?
Rootlessness, call to return?
Reminder of lost loves and homes?
Or a tiny broken synapse there,
a bit of missing chemical?

I cannot trace this awful call.
I cannot soothe my heart to drowse.
It wears me out. I cannot work.
I cannot rest. I can’t enjoy.
I cannot be a source of peace.
I cannot cannot cannot can’t

Maybe some day it will be fixed
and everything be strange to me.
New lenses in my spectacles,
a lightness in my chest and mind.
I can’t imagine what that might
be like. To know – that I am right.

March 2, 2021



Image result for snow at night street light

Lake Michigan was frozen tonight. I saw a pool of light in the snow under a lamppost, and flashed back to grad student life in Bloomington, Indiana. Trudging to the library in wintry nights. I used to feel like I was so alone in the world that if I vanished, no one would notice.

I lived alone – London; Bloomington IN; Charleston IL; Arlington, VA. I checked in with no one when returning on foot late at night.

And the worst part was the utter aloneness. As a child, I used to relish, solitude. But as an adult in the US, I learned to fear being alone.

It was no longer a creative, refreshing solitude, but a crushing, destructive, total unitization of humans into disconnection.


Sehra for my nephew

Image result for sehra

My ammi wrote a sehra, a wedding poem for my nephew. ❤❤ 

It is actually on the meter of the sehra that a local poetess of my mother’s time, Shu’aa, wrote for ammi and abbu’s wedding in 1961. That sehra was framed and hung up in their room; I used to read it regularly as a child, and could probably recite it in full for you.

The sehra is a poem written in honor of a specific wedding. Sehra is literally the handmade ornament, made from roses, tinsel, and often banknotes, covering the bridegroom’s face, decorating him as well as protecting him from the admiring and harmful gaze. Sehra bandi is the moment when the baraat (the groom’s party, including his family and friends) prepares to go to the bride’s home (or wedding hall), and at that time, they actually or metaphorically put the sehra on the groom.

The poem mentions by name the groom, the bride, and important family members on both sides. The last word of the couplets is often “sehra.”

So this sehra mentions my nephew Taha, his parents Imran and Tayyaba, his sister Izza, me and my sister (aunts), etc. It’s quite lovely, and I am so proud of my mother. She doesn’t fancy herself a poet, but this perfect and beautiful composition just flowed from her mind.

I recited it while I was visiting in 2018. When I mentioned “dada” (grandfather), i.e. my abbu, who had passed away just months ago, she broke down.

And to demonstrate yet again the worlds that a language occupies, I find myself baffled as I attempt to translate. Hoor? Arman? Sanwara? These are not concepts easily translatable without extensive commentary. Moreover, the poem reflects the emotional lives of the people as well: she mentions the ‘hasratain’ – the unrealized hopes – of Taha’s nana (maternal grandfather) – who passed away many years ago and never saw Taha’s engagement or wedding.

No photo description available.