desi, fun

Stuff Pakistanis like

I thought I’d do what I thought might be a “witty” take on Stuff White People Like and adapt it to what Pakistani Americans like. With the many caveats that are necessary – these are stereotypes, they are not universally applicable, they have a class bias (I don’t fit them either – well, okay, not ALL of them). They’re listed in a very Pakistani, very organic fashion – as in, in illogical sequence. Feel free to add more!

1. Cars – Hondas. Pakistanis have a deep loyalty to Japanese cars, and among those, to the Honda. We believe (it’s somewhere in the Pakistani creed) that Hondas never die, and that all other cars are mere cheap imitations of Japanese models.

2. Shopping – Retail. We dislike used goods. It’s low-class. Who would buy second-hand items to use? What are we, beggars? However, wealthy Pakistanis love to shop at Walmart too.
3. Clothing – Short-sleeved silk shalwar kameez outfits flapping in sub-zero temperature, combined with strappy high-heeled sandals and no stockings.

4. Careers – Medicine. Nothing else. All other careers are second to medicine. Service-oriented careers such as teaching are “admired” in other people’s kids. The humanities and arts are not careers: they are hobbies. For White people.

5. Homes – sprawling brand new detached house with attached bathrooms, in the suburbs. (Who would want to live in an apartment in the city? Pakistanis do not need street cred.) Townhouses and duplexes are technically not homes.

6. Number of children – 3-6 (and up).

7. Beverage – milky tea that’s been cooking for a half hour.

8. Dessert – the more ghee, sugar, cream and whole milk the better.

9. University of choice – Harvard. (Actually, the only currently existent university).

10. Hair dye color – dark brown streaked with dirty blond.

11. Make-up – more is more.

12. Jewelry – a) Diamonds b) gold. (Once these two ‘basics’ have been established, others such as emeralds, rubies, etc. may be added. Silver does not count).
13. Food – Meat. A lot. Vegetarian dishes are for poor folks.

14. Animal protein -(in order of preference) a) goat b) chicken c) mutton. (Beef is for poor folks too).

15. Choice of children’s school – private.

16. Choice of neighbors – White.

17. Choice of sons/daughters-in-law – tall, fair, educated Pakistanis. Intellectually bland is okay. Lower middle class is not.

18. Religiosity – just enough, not too much, not too little.

19. Home decoration – crystal ornaments and shiny majestic furniture.

20. TV – Geo and Zee.

21. Exercise – treadmill at home. Outdoors? Hiking? Who does that?

22. Politics – apathetically conservative.

23. Radio – What?

24. Pets – children.

25. Book preferences – gilt-bound religious volumes in living room. (Don’t worry, it’s not like we READ them).

26. Best friends – wealthy and influential. Gifted, religious, smart, intellectuals etc. are okay for big parties or to show off to others.

27. Time zone – Time does not exist. Space does. But time doesn’t. Come to my son’s wedding and you’ll find out.
28. Common environmentally friendly practices – Enviro-what?

29. Favorite health food – Food is healthy. “Health food” is redundant. (And greens are for rabbits).

30. Cultural pursuits – Didn’t we just mention Zeetv? What do you mean “the arts?”

31. Top topics of conversation – a) children’s career highlights b) bodily ailments.

academic, fun

Academic interviews

Tis the season for academic interviews! From my personal experience, allow me to offer a bit of advice on what to do when invited for a campus interview:

  • Read carefully your brand new “free” business cards ordered off the internet. Do so especially before you hand one to a head of department and to all the members of the search committee. You never do know – your business card company may just have decided that “Mir” is not a valid name, and that you are really “Shabana MR” (all caps, bold). When such a business card is examined, your case for being a  smart, productive and organized member of a dynamic team may well be somewhat weakened.
  • And if the business cards are good, well, make sure to take some with you for each interview. Don’t remember them just as the plane takes off.
  • Make sure you get plenty of rest and sleep before a campus interview. A campus interview lasts all day. Literally. Usually, it runs from breakfast around 7:30am to productive after-dinner conversation at 8:30pm. If you are Pakistani, and have those large and characteristically deep-set eyes, you might want to use a bit of concealer and not use mascara and eye-pencil. Around 5pm, you might find that your bright-eyed mien will dwindle to a rather wizened, darkened appearance, and your prospective colleagues will wonder why you got two black eyes just prior to flying in.
  • Try out those brand new shoes that you picked off the Wal-Mart sale rack before wearing them for a 14-hour interview day. They might just become blocks of cement as you scurry from office to office to meet the dean and the faculty in half-hour sets of time. You may also wish to figure out for sure if you are a 6W or a 6.5.
  • Wool pants, rather than a lightweight cotton, might be a good idea when flying out to snowy 8 degree weather.
  • And make sure that you travel in clothing that would be appropriate to meet new colleagues in, when they pick you up from the airport.
  • On the morning of the interview, get ready before taking time to re-prep your job talk. If your hair doesn’t look quite right, it could distract you throughout the day.
  • When you have breakfast with a senior prospective colleague, EAT. It’s going to be a log day. When you have lunch with students, also, EAT. Perfect your skill of politely interspersing food with conversation.
  • When traveling during the late winter months, make sure your CARRY-ON contains some wardrobe essentials and toiletries. You MIGHT end up being the horror story candidate whose flight was delayed, whose connection was canceled, and whose baggage was lost. You don’t want to be the candidate whose future colleague is obliged to drive them around in freezing weather to find a late-night grocery store. Also, one does not feel like a competitive candidate in a grubby t-shirt, an old cardigan and SNEAKERS. Still, stranger things have happened, and people in grubby t-shirts sometimes end up getting offers. If the unexpected happens, avoid freaking out, and treat the situation with good humor and flexibility. After all, YOU are the interviewee, suit or not.
desi, gender, poetry


This is a poem that I’ve had hidden away for seven years. It tells the story of my own sister’s divorce in Pakistan, and the response from many on-lookers. There were sympathetic words too, but they were mostly muted – because no one wants to be on a losing side.



Hi there.
What happened to you?
He broke your heart?
Took you for granted?
Hurt your feelings, left you? Degraded,
dehumanized, derided you?

He treated you like dirt?
What’s new?

It’s your own fault, you know that, right?
Did you provoke him?
Did you annoy?
Did you disobey him?
Refuse him sex?
Did you frown? Were you sad?
Depressed, anxious, insecure?
Didn’t you know he didn’t want to see that?
Do you know
he should see you smiling, ever,
always beautiful, alluring,
fertile with many male children,
a courtesan goddess-like holding
in many hands a broom, a pan,
a telephone, a brief-case, diaper,
a child, a prayer-rug, a delicious meal,____

And if you should see him whispering into the telephone
and you are not on the other side,
shut your ears and pick up the broom,
the pot, the child, and smile. For he is,
foolish one, after all, a man.
It is for him to hunger for more.
Isn’t it true that you’re a tiny morsel
and his belly the divine cosmos?

You questioned him?
Probed him? Why, it’s true.
It is your fault.
It is true what your in-laws say:
you’re a slattern, good-for-nothing,
your bruises probably of your own hand.
The black eye from his heavy fist
divinely inspired. He threw you out, well, woman,
what else should he do?
Does he need the dis-ease you bring?
Does he not have many more options?
Aren’t there many more downcast virgins
waiting for his gaze to alight?
Are there not hungry sisters at the door,
circling over your sky in wait?
Many more elderly mothers, waiting,
watchful, for you to slip and fall?

It is true then, I knew it was.
We all knew it was your fault.
Your parents knew it, your uncles knew.
Your aunts were happy to tell you so.
Your cousins’ eyes shone to recognize
destruction looming over your head.
A circus! A show! A tamasha! Look!
I knew it would happen. We saw it come.
I told her not to disobey.
She never would cook the rice quite right.
She didn’t smile at her father-in-law.
She didn’t play the game as we did.
She thought she was special! So what if he
did beat her, slapped her? How’s that new?
I never complained when my husband did.
I never stepped out of my house, or thought
to see a lawyer, or picked up my child
and ran out, bare-headed and barren-eyed.
I never followed him when he slipped out to meet
with a woman, or asked him why.
Serve her right!
Serve her jolly well right!

Look at her now,
alone, unsmiling,
she plods her way to work each day.
Courage? Diligence? Self-reliance?
Hah! All I see is a divorcee
who doesn’t sweep her porch every day,
who doesn’t have a front porch to sweep,
who doesn’t serve dinner to a man,
who doesn’t have a man to serve,
in this little world where to be is to have
a man to serve and to answer to.
Look at her children. Fool. She chose
to take them. Didn’t she know that they
are not her’s, and will never be her’s?
She’ll fail, we only await the end.
See them, hungry-eyed, look up
at uncles and grandfathers, see them look
at my children’s toys and books, the house,
the garden, the dog, the private school.
Shield the blessings that we alone possess
from their eyes, lest they snatch them away.

“Where is your father? Why don’t you have one?
What do you mean, he turned you out?
Didn’t he love you? Doesn’t he see you?”
They are like animals with chewed-off tails.
Don’t let them play with your toys because
their eyes are too hungry, their need too large.

In this world, where I have lived
and where I have died, a woman is death.
She brings death with her birth, and her
first cry calls upon her mother to weep.
The cycle of tears continues, they sob.
The wheel continues to turn. And there is
everything that I can do.

(January 11, 2001)

Pakistan, race, religion

Sister Rose and a Teenager’s Headscarf

I was nervous when I waited that cold morning in 1983 for Sister Rose. At 15, I was a senior student at school, at the Convent school in Lahore, established over 100 years ago by Catholic missionaries from abroad. Later that year, I would be taking my O-levels, sent over from Cambridge University, so that the young daughters of upwardly mobile and wealthy families could obtain British credentials. But for now, I was preoccupied with other things.

I was always a rather thoughtful child, inclined to moral and spiritual reflection. And in my early teens, an urge to seek a deeper spiritual life welled up inside me. It was not something I understood terribly well. The milieu was Pakistan in the 1980s, mildly mutinous under General Zia’s “Islamic” dictatorship. Most people I knew were more concerned about worldly matters than about spiritual quests. Perhaps Sister Rose would understand. She had, after all, sought the religious life as a young woman and now lived in a nunnery as a school headmistress. So that morning, I approached her nervously at the staircase.

“Yes?” she paused at the top of the stairs. Sister Rose stood across from the beautiful statue of Mary — Mary with a mantle over her head and a serpent under her feet. …

Read the rest at Religion Dispatches. I wondered how to frame this story – cultural imperialism, race, European Christian missionary work in developing countries, the education of children, power and religion, women, clothing — and I couldn’t categorize it under any one label. I leave you to try.