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Parenting in America, and a never-ending chain

Today we had a small devotional session to remember my grand-shaikh, Hz Zauqi Shah (RA)’s passing on 9 DhilHajj (during Hajj 1951).

My teen is learning Urdu so I also took a moment to translate for her two lines from our Chishti shajrah. Nice opportunity to introduce some highfalutin Urdu on top of the basic conversational lessons. Some sacred hilarity ensued 🤭


“In the first 13 days of DhilHajj, we should remain مشغول بحق ” =literally, busy with The Truth*; idiomatically=remembering God
(*al-Haqq, The Truth=One of the Divine Names).

So now I ask her “kya tum Mashghool bi-Haqq ho?” and she bursts out laughing, because it’s a far cry from her usual lessons of “the table is clean” and “I am sad.”

Once upon a time, we thought that if we just taught them a simplified religion, namaz and roza, and taught them to insert these things in an entirely American life, that would be enough. But there just isn’t the furniture for a full life. The atmosphere is needed. There are no surfaces for the namaz and roza to rest upon. The zikr has nothing to breathe.

I make a point to have these little ceremonies, because we live on the moon, as it were. So I connect her with my shaikh, and his shaikh, and the spiritual lineage, and their lives.

As we watched Moana today, I repeated to my daughter:

“We tell the stories of our elders
In the never ending chain”

We are trying to create this chain of jasmine flowers, connecting our children here in this land, to a never ending chain.

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Leeches and leaders

In my many years on this planet, I’ve served many orgs & institutions.

I’ve learned there’s a certain type of person who has the talent of figuring out how to dine off an organization, while contributing the least amount of labor in return. People like me take a job description seriously – as in, to serve & build the org, to contribute to the constituents’ wellbeing. But the parasitical type of person looks at the org and sees not a flowerbed they can nurture, but a larger animal whose purpose is to be leeched off, sucked dry, & eventually discarded. They grow fat, accumulate laurels, & keep the powers-that-be happy.

The key qualifications they have are this: They are neither encumbered by excess competence or professionalism, or by inconvenient ethical principles.
They are free to follow the route of profit & power. They are trusted because they’re as self-serving as those already in power.

I’ve often been mystified by why orgs do not ‘work’ properly, why they are betrayed by their own members, why at key moments they seem to fall through. And now I have learned that this is the reason.

Victorian Era Children's Education Facts

They *do* work. Just not the way they *say* they will.

Why do I mention this? Not for self-congratulation, but for people raised in a certain ethic of integrity and principle, who believe in following rules and procedures.

FIND and READ THE HIDDEN CURRICULUM of your org. The org’s written rules are not the whole story.

Be true to yourselves. And figure out how to survive. If you weren’t raised in the Room Where it Happens, you’ll need to figure things out.

When your parents tell you to be truthful and honest, but also to watch your back, they speak from experience.

You know how some kids attend schools where they learn to lead, to question, to create? Others learn to memorize, obey, and conform?

Orgs present different faces to different people, different types of people. Figure out what face of the organization is presented to you. And why. Who is reading a different face of the organization and how.

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Blowing bubbles

The past few days, it’s been rough. Each day is far too similar to the past many days and weeks.

I’ve been crocheting, and attending scholarly Zoom meetings. And now, I’ve turned to something new. I’m blowing bubbles.

I’m enjoying blowing bubbles outdoors. The best part of it is watching them fly with the wind, up past the trees, over the roof, and wondering if someone will see them, if someone’s heart will dance just a little.

I’ve also been connecting with some younger organizers, movers and shakers, and former students. I watch their trajectories, and marvel at their struggles. I listen to their stories, I record some narratives, and I wonder how far, how high they will rise, whose lives they will touch.

Through their journeys, my heart flies, rises, and goes past my walls and windows.

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When a Punjabi filmi song becomes part of my dua

Some days, a Punjabi filmi song becomes a lament, a prayer. Women used to sing devotional songs when weaving at the spinning wheel. For me, this was a refrain while sweeping the floors today – a reed song of separation.

سانوں نہر والے پل تے بلا کے
ہورے ماہی کتھے رہ گیا

ساڈی اکھاں وچوں نیندراں اڈا کے
ہورے ماہی کتھے رہ گیا

Sanu nehar waley pul tey bulaey key
Te khorey mahi kithey reh gaya
Sadi ankhaan wicho needra udha key
Te khorey mahi kithey reh gaya

My beloved invited me to the bridge over the canal
But I don’t know why he’s not here with me
He stole the sleep from my eyes
And I don’t know why he’s not here with me

Udhda duppatta mera mal mal da
Dil utte zor channa nayiyo chal da
Awen te manawagi mein haath jod key
Mahi ve tou ghussa kita kedi gal da
Sade peraan vich beriyaa pa key
Te khorey mahi kithey reh gaya

My muslin dupatta flutters in the breeze
And I’ve got no control over my heart
When you come at last, I’ll plead with folded hands
Beloved, after all what was it that vexed you and turned you away?
He put shackles on my feet
And now I don’t know why he’s not here with me

Thak gaiyan paniyaa nu pun pun key
Galan is dil diyaan sun sun key
Dada sanu keta ai tu tang sajna
Badley lawa gi teton chun chun key
Sanu pyaar wali pori tey charha key
Te khorey mahi kithey reh gaya

I’m tired of playing with water
I’m weary of my heart’s reproaches
You’ve tried me sorely, Beloved
But I’ll get back to you for every grief you gave me
He boosted me up to climb the ladder of love
and I don’t know why He’s not here with me

Rut tere pyaar wali rang rang di
Dil tenu chum da te ankh sang di
Mul kera paya we tu sadey pyaar da
Har wale mein teri kheraan mangdi
Sanu pyar de pulaikhe wich pake
Te khorey mahi kithey reh gaya

The season of your love scatters colors around
My heart kisses the memory of you, my eye seeks you
What price did you put on my love?
Still I seek your good all the time
He took me into the forgetfulness of love
and I don’t know why he’s not here with me

Translation mine. Lyrics from here.

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parenting mortality

Making the decision to have a child - heart go walking around ...

The trouble with having children is this: it’s inherently about continuity. Lineage, for example, is all about perpetuation. But even without notions of lineage and legacy, a child is statistically supposed to outlive you, and continue – well, you in some form.

But paradoxically, the moment your child is born, you hold in your arms the presence of mortality. It is a monstrous thing, as a parent, to embrace this beloved, vulnerable, small person, knowing that they will die. It is truly a small thing to know that you will die. But to know that your child will, – this is another matter altogether.

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existential musings

Deep in the night, the fragility, the mystery of our tiny lives washes over me.

The futility of those strong, deep markers we draw into these lives, – like lines drawn on a sandy beach before the tide comes in.

Birth, education, family, friends, accomplishment, suffering, joy, death.

A sprinkling of decades, if we are lucky. Perhaps some laughter. Some joy. Some love. Less disease. Less failure. Less violence.

For myself, I don’t mind the mystery, the pain, the fear, the whistling of wind through vacant space.

For my child, my heart cannot bear to carry the burden of mortality.

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Long-delayed lessons in Urdu

Years ago, I promised myself that I would be That Parent who ensured that her child would fluently speak Urdu, Arabic, Punjabi, and her native English. Maybe Farsi and Danish too.

A decade of U.S. grade school later, a sadder and a wiser woman approaches the task again.

So this summer, we are courting Urdu once more. We’ve unearthed our qaida, the Urdu primer. And yes, I feel a little sad inside, as I remember how my 3-year old kid handily recited all these words. Now, after elementary school and middle school in the US, she has lost much of her Urdu knowledge. (I’m looking at you, Miss Bonnie, who found fault with my toddler for not being fluent in English in preschool, so I felt pressured to ditch Urdu).

I bury my sadness, and reassert joy. I firmly believe in laughs as we learn. So with ب, I throw a mock-fit because LOOK AT THE BILLI it’s like they got our very own cat Ghost for the photo!!

It’s a sign!

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I go on to explain to R that Urdu is like, such a very obliging language for English speakers. Because ٹ is for ‘tamatar’ and ‘tank.’ Can you see how you really should not even get credit for learning a new language?

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I ask her to read the word for ج and she goes 🤨 “But that’s JUG.” So I explain patiently, “Yes, you’re welcome; we’re a welcoming sort of language; we accept all words, and when you come to learn our language, we say, no problem, ma’am, bring your words, we’ll take it all.” Hammered the same point home with ر for ‘rail and ‘rickshaw.’

However, I was forced to apologize for how we use the same جہاز for a ship and an airplane, sorry about that, but you can always be persnickety and say ہوائی جہاز for an airplane, and be ridiculously literary and call a ship a سفینہ but nobody’s going to get that, especially not the current generation of romanized-internet-Urdu texters 🧐

As for the word for ث I mean, this is just the most useless word ever; you’re not going to go up to a fruit-stall and say, “Janab, my good man, give me some samar;” you’re gonna ask for پھل so this is the ‘Mess With Your Head’ side of Urdu. “Why do we have them?” she asks, “why do we keep them?” WE DO NOT TOSS. We keep it, we save it, because we don’t throw anything away.

This goes for various letters we get from Arabic, which we take, and we smelt them all into one sound each. So ث and س and ص are all the SAME sound; she’s curling her tongue to say ص and putting a little lisp into her ث and I say “NO. It’s ALL the same, don’t you be all fancy and Arabic with us.” We take our lowly ت and our sophisticated ط and we flatten them into One. “Why?” she says. Why don’t we just get rid of them? Because Tradition.

Because words with ط have meanings and links all over the place, and to substitute them with a basic ت would disconnect it. We do not disconnect – whether it’s a toxic cousin or a grumpy uncle, we do not disconnect. So we do not disconnect from our ط or our ص either.

My kid has named چ the ‘preening letter.’ Arabic doesn’t have the sound; English doesn’t have a single letter for it. But we have a چ! 🇵🇰

Likewise for ژ – if you want to transliterate French, like bonjour, you’ve got the perfect sound right here. But we know, don’t we, that for most of the time this is a useless letter. Who’s going to say ‘zhaala’ instead of اولے (hail)? And who’s going to say مژگان instead of پلک (eyelash)?

The ح word حوض is not very useful unless you’re reciting a na’at about حوض كوثر. Or you’re familiar with the water reservoirs they use to water cattle. Or you go to a mosque where they have standing water for ablutions. 😬

My teen got a kick out of خرگوش (rabbit) being an amalgam of خر (donkey) and گوش (ears). Here, we risked a long digression re: amalgamated animal names – except I moved right along to ذ which is basically like the X of the Urdu alphabet.

What is X without xylophone? For ذ all we have to offer, for years and years, is that old trade word ذخیرہ – which most folks don’t use unless they’re talking about hoarding.

I guess toilet paper would be the latest ذخیرہ and ذخیرہ can return to currency in the pandemic?

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Emotional crochet

I know, I know – it’s amateur hour for this new crocheter. But I turn to my crochet needle and yarn to drown so very many struggles.

There is so much I cannot control. But I can control this needle.

Do you see it, can you feel it – the anxiety and the grief woven into the stitches? Every stitch carries the burdens of forgetting. Every chain is an irregular heartbeat. The double crochet, the half double crochet, patterns and rhythms of separation and displacement. I plunge into the new quest of the linen stitch because so many of my journeys seem to be endless, never arriving at my refuge; this quest will go somewhere. Somewhere imperfect, but something I can get my hands and fingers around.