Sunday, October 1, 2017

On sexism and humor!

“A woman is the biggest enemy of a woman”, is a rather popular claim that is made by men and women alike in serious and casual conversations. I not only find it false but to an extent, absurd. If I were to read too much between the lines, I would say it is a conspiracy to divide and rule by the ruling powers of patriarchy. 

For me my biggest allies, confidants, cheerleaders and friends have been women in shape of relatives, mentors, colleagues and friends. That is not to say men have not played a role in shaping who I am today- they have and I am grateful to them. 

The matter of the fact is that we find people at workplaces, family gatherings, social get-togethers and other places who are sincere, helping, friendly & encouraging and we also find people who are deceiving, manipulative and leg pullers. These people can belong to any gender and it is wrong to stereotype and popularize claims like ‘woman against a woman’. Because if anything economic progression, even more true in the context of a country like Pakistan, would only transpire when men and women both work together. It is not a hidden fact that there is a massive gap in that ratio right now and it can only be achieved if an environment of inclusion is created where sometimes special arrangements are necessary; having an open mind and heart towards making such efforts successful is what can lead to a progressive society. 

So I would urge my friends to:
  1. Embrace diversity, do not resist it.
  2. If you are a (privileged) male in Pakistan, please do not assume you know everything pertaining to female or minority challenges. And resist the temptation to jump to judgements and solutions. Follow the lead of inclusive (male) leaders to be a role model and cheer leader for inclusion.
  3. Support your colleagues that belong to a minority group.
  4. Making a sexist comment in a humorous conversation does not take away the negative connotation of that comment. Please refrain from such conversation. 
  5. Women, especially privileged women, be an even stronger supporter of women and other genders. More voices at the table make them louder. 

We only go far, together!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Ramzan Diary

Turning the volume up of the catchy Panjabi beat playing on the radio, I catch sight of the beggar on the road side eating. Idiot! who does he think he is for eating so shamelessly in broad day light, on such a busy road, on a hot Ramdan day. I observe as he takes another bite of that... what the hell is he eating? Disgusting! I almost get out of my car to give him a piece of me.. only if it wasn't this hot. But I won’t let that ruin my mood and I turn the radio louder.
Its 12 PM now, seven hours to go before I could break the fast and enjoy that last dose I have left. Last iftar before the wife returns from her trip.
Ahhh.. Today is a slow day at work. It could have been faster if “miss-perfect” choose to stay in her kitchen instead of making my life miserable by being on my team. She gets it so easy with the diversity quota but my superior intelligence wins at the end of the day. She is fine, nonetheless.
Such a long day! I should take a prayer break. That's a good idea. It will make me look good and kill some time too. Walking towards the mosque I hear someone calling my name “wait bhai”, it sounds like the tea boy. Why is he calling me? I turn around and find him waving and catching up to me. Oh God! Is he going to start walking with me? I hope no one sees us together. Now he wants to chat too.. I am sure he will ask for money any minute now. These people are best kept at a distance. Here we go, there is the sick mother. Before he says anymore I give him 100 rupees to shut up. He smiles and puts the money in his pocket.
At office I feel so proud to be among the few fasting. Poor colleagues of mine, I feel for them for having to miss out on all the blessings of this holy month. Not everyone can manage the workload and still fast- I understand how bad they feel about not fasting and I feel very proud of myself for fasting. They all know I fast, I made it very clear when they were making a plan to watch that film during the fast.
Time to go home. I thought this time would never come. I hope that shia does not ask me for ride again. He should at least care for the month. Phew! Seat belt on, AC on, music on, good to go. Oh! Is that Mr. Adam of XYZ corporation that I see entering the office building? They still have that opening in Sales. Looks like the day has not ended after all. I could beat him if I take the stairs. Lucky me- we run into each other at the elevator. This is my opportunity to pitch to him. Quick introduction, name throwing and right down to praising him and XYZ. He seems flattered. Its okay that he ran out of business cards, I give him mine. Leaving the elevator; he says good-bye. I know he is impressed and with that I press the lobby button on the elevator. That is how it is done; short and sweet. I feel butterflies in my stomach for such a perfect elevator pitch! I wish my supervisor could see me in action. Or may be not.
I should go home, take a shower and nap before the fast breaks. Eat the nuggets fried to perfection, fruit mix and chicken patties.

Today was a good day; I gave charity and offered a prayer in mosque. God rewarded me by presenting a job opportunity at XYZ. God is kind and merciful, indeed.

* This is a satirical writing 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Pakistan-ioun! We had our Trump in the 80s.

The US election drama, as entertaining and involving it has been to follow, it did not have a happy ending or should I say a tragic start. The Trump-mania had started to surface during the crazy election period with both the rise in hate speech and that of the guilt speech but it reached a whole new level upon the result announcement. There has a wide range of sentiments from people around me and as much as I am not a fan of Facebook status wars (or comment wars of that nature) I had a sudden urge to share my two-cents on situation.

My American friends are mostly shocked and feel sorry; not sure who are they most sorry for; their country’s fate, Trump’s supporters or everyone else living in the USA. Although I feel very special when I receive messages telling me ‘I am sorry what Trump said, its offensive and not what America stands for- I am with you’[1], I don’t fully require them to say that to believe it. Primarily because I can empathize with their situation. I was very frequently expected to justify that Pakistan is not a terrorist country and not everyone there is an extremist. People were mostly curios, little-informed on the issue yet very interested and plain bias. I remember this one discussion with my ‘well-read’ class fellows, vividly, about the Syrian Refugee crisis[2] and we started talking about refugee hosting and I said Pakistan is among the top 5 countries that host the most refugees in the world. And they were just not willing to accept that fact. That was a sad day. My friends were not willing to accept a true fact about my county. The common American’s bias about Pakistan is like sexism that prevails among Pakistani men; they believe they are not sexist, have keen interest on the topic yet are not open to changing their learned behaviors and thoughts. Having said that, most of the people around me were very inclusive, friendly who opened their hearts and homes for me. So to my American friends I want to say what I wanted to hear all along.

“America is a great company; its very diverse which is one of its assets. And the times are just not in her favor (hopefully not for too long). I, too, am sad for what happened but you do not owe me or anyone any explanation. Its not your fault. You play your role by being you with your pure heart.”

The other popular sentiment in the air was, among Pakistanis that, ‘leave America to its fate; Pakistan could use more of your attention’. I agree with the later part but we should care; we should never stop caring. Its selfish how we lack empathy for one another. We also need to remember how we had our Trump in the form General Zia in the 80s and the things he did, the price of which I and rest of the country is still paying today. It is a lesson for us. General Zia is the reason I have to defend my robbed, tortured, poor country. It is a reminder for us that all the sentiments that Trump capitalized on crawls in Pakistani streets too. It is not a country where a Hindu can go to his temple in peace or a Christian to church. Minorities do not feel safe disclosing their religious identity. The discrimination is not limited to religion but extends to include gender and ethnic discrimination among other sorts. What qualifies anyone to be the judge of what kind of a ‘Muslim’ or human other is? Or is it just that you are a hypocrite living in a Pakistani-Muslim-born’s body? So to my fellow Pakistani’s I would say:

“Its not too late. Please take a hint and learn to treat this country and its citizens with the respect they deserve. America is a powerful country and we have had a long-ongoing relationship with her. We need to learn from their experience, vote and elect individuals who represent our country and make decisions that favor her and not themselves.”

With all this chaos; we could make use of some patience, tolerance and self reflection. If you don’t like someone’s point of view; that’s okay! You don’t have to agree with it, you just have to respect it. Be more tolerant, be more respectful, be more Pakistani!

[1] Mostly happened when I was in US and the election craziness was picking on.
[2] Oct 2015

Friday, June 10, 2016

All in blink of an eye!

You know when sometimes you dream and get up and it seems so real that it scares you? You can recall the intricate details like the different types of flowers in the flower bed. The posture of how people were sitting; their expressions, body language, thoughts? Only in my case it was all real! I opened Facebook and all the people existed. I was also friends with them.

I have had all those communications and interactions- that was all real! May be I missed it too much, perhaps a pleasant dream is how I want to remember it and don’t want to make it my reality. In reality, things are different- the stakes are high.

The friends, I was going to be friends with for life and it was true, existed. The friends, I was going to be friends for life and it was a lie, existed. The friends who were close to me and seemed like a part of the daily routine but disappeared quickly in the changing time zones and the friends that I saw less often but trusted; distance from them ached more.

I got up to the sound of the cleaning man (why does cleaning man sound so weird, when cleaning lady doesn’t? What is the opposite of cleaning lady anyway?) I made my way to the kitchen and had the old-fashioned mom-approved breakfast – eggs, paratha and a milkshake. The thought of cereal and milk dismissed as quickly as it came. 9 AM and my day had started. My siblings had already started their day and passed smiles as they saw me around. They all had something to do. My mom came and asked me if my jet lag was gone. I was home after two years of studying and living in Washington D.C.

Washington D.C. – a transitional city overflowing with ambitious people, very cut throat yet peaceful, political hub yet clean. I was able to settle in that city- it wasn’t easy mind you. It was nothing like Lahore yet I started calling her my home. I found friends, some found me, in that hustle bustle. The city of opportunities, threw me a few as well. The city of progress, added to my direction too. The city of diversity, took me closer to my Pakistani Muslim roots like never before. The city of inclusion, made me realize how small a piece I was that made the whole universe.

I took time to adjust. But I did adjust. It was fine after a while. Unlike Elsa, the cold bothered me. But snow day, snowing, is the most beautiful sight in the world. Fall is the most beautiful in Washington DC. and unlike spring time, its not crowded with tourists. Tourists? Funny I say that.

I can not believe; I was gone for two years! Nothing here has changed, perhaps not even me. Perhaps I have. The roads, the dust not even the cobbler who sits at the corner of the street and not even his prices. He is an honest man. Sits all day on his table under a tree in extreme weathers fixing things. Asks for little amounts of money that put you to shame. 50 cents, 20 cents, nothing for a few stitches. How can I help him?

In those two years. I was no one, I was myself. I was Miriam. A student. A girl. I was my own identity; my family was not my identity. Anyone well-treated or mistreated me for me. I was exposed to all kinds of people- mean, honest, selfish, selfless, greedy, competitive but fair, competitive but unfair, ambitious but loyal. I dealt with all sorts of people, not just the ones in an academic or professional environment. It was learning; gave me perspective. Interesting word perspective.

Ahh- I also had to once call 911 (I also learned you don’t say nine-eleven but nine-one-one, fun times) to break open a stuck door in our apartment at 3 AM in the morning.

I loved going to Thomas Jefferson memorial. Any given time. Not a time of the day I haven’t been there. It was serene.  

Surviving on peanut butter and bread. Still not cooking.

Calling my professors by their first names was weird- talking to them about personal life was even weirder.

The walks. By the Georgetown waterfront. Up to home when it started snowing and we were faster than the bus. DC can not handle snow.


First Fridays. C4. SE.  

The road trips. The day trips. Trips.

Vapiano. Nandos. Burger 7. New Dynasty. Café Romeo. Mayor Kabab. Muncheez. Grand Trunk. Ahh- Grand Trunk. Dominos.

Fulbrighters. The not very bright-ers. The desis. The not-so-desis.

Café in glover park.

The summer at Yale.  

The sense of knowing, these are the only people you know. The knowing by the people that they are the only ones you have. Dealing with it. Making the best of it. Making it like you wouldn’t want it any other way. With its betrayal, love, loyalty and need.

DC crew. Wesley friends. SIS. Friends.

When friends would visit. When I would visit them.

Knowing this is the last $100 in the account until the end of month. That makes you responsible. Being independent makes you accountable. If you don’t eat, you will not have energy to do anything- no one is going to force you to eat. And you really don’t want to be sick.  

That experience made me strong. I formed strong bonds of friendship, I found mentors, I made memories. That dream prepped me; I am ready for reality.

I think I would like to visit sometime. I miss it all.

I am happy I am home, I missed Lahore.

Photo: Cirque du soleil's Believe by Criss Angel