September is the cruelest month

Abbu 2004My parents had a 57th wedding anniversary this September 10th.

Was it really just 10 days ago?

Abbu (my father) used to joke about his wedding month of Septemberستمبر (Sitamber = September), calling it  ستمگر (Sitamgar = the cruel one).

This September was the cruelest one.

He passed away peacefully on the 1st of Muharram, the 11th of September, a day after his anniversary, at 12:30 in the afternoon, at the age of 85. We are from God, and to God are returning.

It was 2:30 in the morning in Chicago. I had no idea.

I woke up and got ready for work on Tuesday. When I checked my messages, my world fell apart and the house suddenly became dark and lonely.

The photo above is of him when I visited Pakistan in 2004. His health was declining, but he was well, and he was so happy to see me.

His name was Dr. Muhammad Saleem Mir. He was a physician, a specialist in Pharmacology, he put himself through medical college, and worked morning and evening to give us a good life. He lived a full life, with many trials and struggles, many joys, and many who love him dearly.

I would appreciate it if you would pray for him, or recite fatihah for him.


Mansion of ghosts

Untitled 2Today, we watched the heartbreaking BBC documentary, My Big Fat Pakistani Mansion. The film interviews owners of the empty mansions in Kharian, mansions built by local people who immigrated to Norway.

Over decades of often menial labor, these expatriate workers saved money, and dreamed of returning to their town. The plan was that they would build gorgeous houses, huge enough for their grown children and grandchildren to live in luxury.

Once their children were grown, and their grandchildren were in school, speaking Norwegian and a little Punjabi and Urdu, they realized the truth.

The mansions would remain empty, and they themselves would be alone, shuttling between missing and loving their Norwegian family, and wanting to remain rooted in Pakistan in their town.

The film highlights the rupture that immigration entails. It brings out the heartache and the death of roots that the triumphalist immigrant narrative neglects. Global inequality is at the heart of immigration. “No one leaves happily,” says one of the immigrants in the film. And once they have left, and then return with wealth, their return fuels inequality in their former homes as well – not to mention the isolation of these permanent exiles.

As I was wrestling with my feelings, and trying to plan my blog post, my daughter (12) produced a poem that she had just written. We titled it Mansion of Ghosts. 


They see
A vision–
All happy
in Pakistan–
In a snug-but-happy

So they work–
For decades–
And the mansion–
Is built–

But they are alone.

Their children saw
The U.S.–
The U.K.–
Their children–
They stayed
In those places–
And found partners–
Had children–
Got rich–
Happy children–
And their parents–
The elders–
Left behind–
With nothing–
But a Ghostly–
Using one room–
Maybe two.
Because in the others–
Of dreams–

By R., September 3, 2018


Journaling in the bookstore

Untitled by Toni Frissell

We went to the bookstore today. We were irritable, and we hadn’t left the house almost at all in two days.

At the bookstore, my gaze brushed across shelves upon shelves of journals – hardcover, softcover, cute, blank, interactive, religious. Every kind of journal, along with the memory that my smartest friends have started journaling or have written diaries for decades. I wrote a diary as a teen. Then, for fear of having my privacy violated, or out of laziness, or because of too many conflicting currents in my life (which do I write about?), I quit.

Maybe I could resume.

images.jpegMaybe, if I journaled, I would alight on the thoughts, the feelings, the actions I ought to engage right now.

I work. I parent. I am a friend. I am a daughter. I am a wife. I keep house. I keep my health. I pray. In all of those areas, I am angtsy and struggling to do better.

What I don’t do is know what I really want to do.

I rarely have the time to know myself. When I do, I sit and wait, surfing my thoughts, waiting for some identity, some dream to come to the surface.

Maybe if I journaled, I’d get back in touch with myself.

In the bookstore, too, is where my many potential selves, dreams, desires collide, clamoring for attention. The Annotated Alice reminds me of my original love of literary criticism. The two for $10 classics table tells me I haven’t even read all the classics that, in my 20s, I thought I would finish by my 30s. I’ve definitely read more than the people milling around me, but I haven’t done all I’d planned.

Maybe I should buy a journal, and jot down all my dreams, all my ideas, all my loves, all my questions, all my solutions, all my struggles – and then they’ll have a chance.

Or maybe that journal will end up, like the others, in a storage box in a storage unit. To be put away for that day when I have time to look at myself in the mirror and say, Who are you?

The Repentant Magdalen (1635) by Georges De La Tour

Maybe, that day, I will shamefacedly turn away from myself again. Maybe I will say, I am too busy with the dishes and the dust bunnies.

In the bookstore, 30-second Philosophy and 30-Second Physics taunt me with the other projects – some that I started as a teen and never really completed, some that I regarded as gaps in my knowledge and thought, when I’ve got a paycheck, I’ll pursue that. I’ll take courses! I’ll watch youtube videos! I’ll read books! I’ll do Math workbooks!

And always, the coffee-table books about nature, animals, birds inspire me to lose myself in wonder. My love affair with animals and birds started with this nice collection of encyclopedias my parents bought us at Ferozesons book shop in Lahore. I practically memorized those encyclopedias. The axolotl is like a Peter Pan. The red panda was my favorite. The gibbon was the acrobat of the forests. I never even dreamed of being a naturalist or a zoologist. It wasn’t even that kind of option.

There are too many dreams around me. And before me, too, is The Routledge International Handbook of Veils and Veiling, reminding me that I have a chapter to write.

I put the green $7 journal back on the shelf.

I’ll pursue my dreams when I can sleep again. These are days that are far too wide-awake. Every idea is a task and a chore. There are no dreams.