One Man Cult

Who do I write for? If for myself, does it really matter if my words are stifled in me or if I lay them out?

I get afraid to write more often than not.

It is just twenty five minutes after midnight and it’s raining outside. There is the sound of the fan and the mist of the rain and I can’t stop thinking about her, can’t stop thinking about her.

The rain is so tender. Well, at least we figured out one riddle. Even though I have a companion in my bed, I can’t fall asleep. Though it may have to do with the fact that my head isn’t on his shoulders and my head is too full to sleep.

Except I’m meeting a client in the morning first thing and I’m not ready for her but I don’t feel like working either. There is a skeleton of a website though. I have something to present.

Oh. He said a thing today. That the bed is ours. I’m (finally) sharing a real bed with him that he got from his Grandmother. And he told me if I wanted to stay up and work, I could. That it’s “your bed too”. It made me smile.

Every time I meet her, she tells me I make her laugh. I am in wonder of this every time, and I am so afraid of jinxing it that I can’t help but quietly guard this…. easy tender flame that’s within me.

I love lightning.

People that come in our lives always inevitably teach us a few things. He taught me that safety was possible and in that safety I learned to nurture love and tenderness towards myself. And in the midst of it all, I recognized a truth in myself. There was no shame, no guilt that God wouldn’t love me for what I was. I am. It is a simple truth. And I’m not afraid. I have never been afraid. And I thank God for this blessing.

She taught me tenderness. A different kind of tenderness, and I want to trace empires in her glowing black skin. But. I’ll leave the but hanging. It’s ok.

Frank Ocean is right though. This unrequited love/To me it’s nothing but
/A one-man cult.

I don’t need to drag her in this cult. She deserves better.

Racism Matters

Two semesters ago, I was sitting in Anthropology class and we were discussing Code of the Street by Elijah Anderson. The week before, we had discussed Death Without Weeping by Nancy Scheper-HughesCode is set in North Philadelphia while Death is set in Brazil. Many of the themes are similar. Poverty, racism, death and everything that’s caught up in it. Both books are heartbreaking and illuminating. 

As we were discussing Code, one of the things that students kept bringing up was how people described in Death were suffering so much particularly because of hunger. Scheper-Hughes has described how such pervasive hunger can affect every aspect of a person’s life including their inability to stand up for themselves and demand a better way of life. But in Code, students pointed out, residents were provided with food stamps, and so were better off than their counterparts in Brazil. Right?

When I pointed out that lack of institutional support hold people back in North Philadelphia (and pointed out specific examples from the book), one (white, male) student said (and I paraphrase): “I wonder if like… if…what if we provided them with great education but not give them that easy access to food stamps? Like, would they want to make their lives better? Like, I wonder if we changed a few parameters but kept the others constant, if that would make a difference?”

They. By that point of the discussion, I realized that I was the only one speaking on the “institutional access” diatribe while everyone in the class genuinely seemed to find that question thought provoking and I didn’t want to respond anymore. I didn’t want to respond anymore because even the professor seemed to genuinely not know the answer of why North Philadelphians weren’t doing so well and I didn’t want to come off as the angry brown girl. The angry brown girl who talks about race and class and ~controversial, political stuff~. There were only two other students of color in the class and they hadn’t said anything in the entire 50 minute discussion.

But his comment also struck me because it felt like he was talking about lab rats in a social science lab. It made me nauseous. If we changed factor A, but kept B and C constant, what would happen? I was physically sick and I wanted to be anywhere else on Earth but sitting in that room. 

Recently, I have been thinking about that moment a lot. About how no one commented on that charged (passively racist?) statement but it made me physically sick. 

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There are many types of uprooting. The brutal expulsions like those now devastating hundreds of thousands in countries like Iraq and Syria are common in the cycles of politics and war. But it can be more subtly political, too, as was Dante’s banishment from Florence at the hands of the Black Guelphs, or economic, as it was for the immigrants dancing in the Argentine brothels. Each person who survives this uprooting and finds himself in exile experiences an existential earthquake of sorts: Everything turns upside down, all certitudes are shattered. The world around you ceases to be that solid, reliable presence in which you used to feel comfortable, and turns into a ruin — cold and foreign. “You shall leave everything you love most: this is the arrow that the bow of exile shoots first,” wrote Dante in “Paradiso.”

From Ovid to Dante to Czeslaw Milosz, exile has been portrayed as a catastrophic event. If such an uprooting comes to the exile as a form of death, it is not just his own death, but that of the world that dies with him and in him.

To live is to sink roots. Life is possible only to the extent that you find a place hospitable enough to receive you and allow you to settle down. What follows is a sort of symbiosis: Just as you grow into the world, the world grows into you. Not only do you occupy a certain place, but that place, in turn, occupies you. Its culture shapes the way you see the world, its language informs the way you think, its customs structure you as a social being. Who you ultimately are is determined to an important degree by the vast web of entanglements of “home.”

Uprooting is a devastating blow because you have to separate yourself overnight from something that, for as long as you can remember, has been an important part of your identity. In a sense, you are your culture, customs, language, country, your family, your lovers. Yet exile, should you survive it, can be the greatest of philosophical gifts, a blessing in disguise. In fact, philosophers, too, should be uprooted. At least once in their lives. They should be exiled, displaced, deported — that should be part of their training. For when your old world goes down it also takes with it all your assumptions, commonplaces, prejudices and preconceived ideas. To live is to envelop yourself in an increasingly thicker veil of familiarity that blinds you to what’s under your nose. The more comfortable you feel in the world, the blunter the instruments with which you approach it. Because everything has become so evident, you’ve stopped seeing anything. Exile gives you a chance to break free. All that heavy luggage of old “truths,” which seemed so only because they were so familiar, is to be left behind. Exiles always travel light.

The redeeming thing about exile is that when your “old world” has vanished you are suddenly given the chance to experience another. At the very moment when you lose everything, you gain something else: new eyes. Indeed, what you eventually get is not just a “new world,” but something philosophically more consequential: the insight that the world does not simply exist, but it is something you can dismantle and piece together again, something you can play with, construct, reconstruct and deconstruct. As an exile you learn that the world is a story that can be told in many different ways. Certainly you can find that in books, but there is no deeper knowledge than the one that comes mixed with blood and tears, the knowledge that comes from uprooting.

Exiles travel light because they barely exist. And that’s another important lesson philosophers can learn from exile: Uprooting gives you the chance to create not only the world anew, but also your own self. Deprived of your old world, your old self is left existentially naked. It is not only worlds that can collapse and be rebuilt, but also selves. Selves can be re-made from scratch, reassembled and refurbished. For they, too, are stories to be told in different ways. Often with uprooting there also comes a change of languages, which makes the refashioning all the more fascinating. You can fashion yourself in very much the same way a writer fashions her characters.

Tags: diaspora


“…when you’re looking at live footage of a city in your country where people are being ASSAULTED by the police - side with the people.

(Source:, via pbnpineapples)

I want to write more on this but I’m exhausted tonight so maybe tomorrow or later if I wake up

I want to write more on this but I’m exhausted tonight so maybe tomorrow or later if I wake up

Tags: own

Rituals and ritualized spaces. I’m probably not using the word ritual correctly but allow me to explain.

My audience whose first language is English probably associate rituals with formal spaces such as religion etc. But I suppose I don’t always. Ever since I wrote that paper on space and how women subject private spaces to their own rules in an institutional patriarchy (in Pakistan) I have been a little hyper aware of spaces in my home.

I wonder if anything has been written about, say, an office environment in terms of rituals. You pass by the desk of your boss every morning and you say an (obligatory) hello. A ritual defined in/by space. Various workers like myself logging ours in for the start, middle and end of the day. Obligatory small talk in the meantime. Ritual.

I hope I’m making myself clear. But I digress.

My home is a very feminine space. Except for my younger two brothers and uncle, everyone in the house is a female. So they own their space. In this space, they allow their bodies to (relatively) relax, not cover their hair or be mindful of their dupattas etc

It’s disrupted by the arrival of my grandfather. It offends him if his daughter and granddaughters are not wearing a dupatta. It’s not just that they have breasts, it’s that those breasts are not barren. And so he’s embarrassed by them as one would be embarrassed by another’s genitalia. Call this archiac thinking, call this decor, but the fact remains that the women of this home don’t wear their dupattas indoors. Adding this article creates an unnecessary bulk; dupatta sambhalna partha hai. Though this article of clothing is worn with pride in public space, it creates a disruption in the (feminine) private space.

Yet, there is respite. My grandfather is relegated to his bedroom or to the common areas. Kitchen. Living room. And so when he is not around, (or his presence not expected) the dupatta is informally cast aside.

(Funny, but if I think about it, the dupatta often is the sole marker of my femininity to him rather than flower-ed kamees shalwars or my long hair or any of the. …traditional gender markers I suppose. The dupatta hides my breasts, which is my femininity but then also loudly defines it. For my grandfather (and perhaps for his generation), at least.)

When I’m going down to common spaces, I have to consciously wear my dupatta. A ritual. And that’s what my last piece (particularly) was about (though I don’t think I quite articulated it). For a Pakistani girl, wearing a dupatta is very ordinary, and yet here in this case for me, becomes a ritual.

Tags: own my shorts

I almost had a compulsion to write those three scenes out. So I did. Now that I think about it, I have written them in an almost reverse time order. Or not, I guess. 

I wonder if I’ll be able to make stories out of these scenes that stay in my head. 

Ritual Disruption of informal (feminine) space(s)

[part 3]

A teenage girl is sitting on her bed scrolling on her laptop. Her hair is down,  wild. She is reclining against the pillow. Her purple-pink bra is next to her and her voluptuous chest rises and falls easily with her breathing. Her kamees is rumpled, and her shalwar has ridden up to her calf. 

The room is not neat, but is not a mess. There are papers scattered on her desk and her shoes are forgotten by her bedside rather than neatly by the door. Books scattered by her bed. 

A male voice calls her name. Her door opens. 

She is startled. Frantically is looking for something. An old male figure enters. He is dressed in a faded white kamees shalwar wearing a white Pakistani topi. 

As he enters, she snatches her blanket up to her chest, slightly consternated. Her mother will berate her for not wearing a dupatta and taking off her bra. Her grandfather doesn’t like seeing the women of his house without a dupatta. 

He asks her to come down to help him with his computer. Ji acha, she replied. She watches his face the whole time. He doesn’t seem to have noticed anything, or doesn’t want to betray it if he has. As he leaves, she goes back to searching. 

Title: Ritual Disruption of informal (feminine) space(s) 

[part 2]

Begin scene: 

And old woman is doing dishes in the kitchen. The floor is tiled a beige-brown color, the cabinets are polished wood and the counters are a crisp grey. You can hear a male voice blaring the athaan on it’s last notes. In the kitchen are two wooden doors that lead to an unknown somewhere. One is directly opposite the entrance to the kitchen, the other is opposite the window. 

As the old woman is finishing up her dishes, an old man walks in. He is dressed in a white kamees, and a brown loungi which impeccably comes to above his knees. 

He starts praying in the kitchen so that he is blocking both the wooden doors. The older woman is done with the dishes and moves out of the kitchen.

A teenage girl bursts opens one of the wooden doors. You can see that she was coming up the stairs very fast and is startled to see the man there as his body prostrates. Irked, she closes the door and starts slowly descending again. 

Girl: An entire house. An entire house to pray and he chooses to block off doors to turn towards his God.

End scene. 

Title: Ritual Disruption of informal (feminine) space(s)

Begin scene: 

In a large space where the living room and dining room is adjoined, we see a Muslim Pakistani sit down to dinner. As per tradition, they’re sitting a dastarkhwan; the dining table is off to the side. On the dining table are snacks, fruits and other miscellaneous foods and crockery. There is a sense of haphazard order to it.

The elderly two women have a dupatta over their heads, there is a middle aged woman (clearly the mother), two young boys, about ages 4 and 8, a girl who is just coming into puberty and another older girl who is just entering her twenties. The TV is on, there is flurry about the dastarkhwan as they begin dinner. 

The phone rings. 

One of the older ladies hands the middle aged lady the cordless phone. 

M.Lady [into the phone]: hello? Yes, yes, of course…. . ok…yes…yes.  [switches phone off]. 

M.Lady to older lady: tell aba his student is here. [to the girls]: c’mon, c’mon pick up all this, put it away, ba’s student is here. The one who is becoming a hafiz. [to the older woman]: I guess he’s coming now, he didn’t come earlier in the day

Flurried motions. The dinner is put away on the dining table haphazardly, the dastarhwan is wrapped away. The older girl takes her plate upstairs into her room, the younger girl into another room to watch the show. One of the younger boys follow the girl upstairs with his plate, she is irked. Asks him where their mother is, just as the mother follows him into the room. 

The room has a Queen sized bed, and another twin sized mattress on the floor. It is otherwise filled with cupboards and shelves. Hooks on the doors have keychains and bags hanging from them.

Girl sits down on the mattress with her plate, while the mother sits on the bed. The boy whines about wanting to downstairs, but the mother refuses to follow him there.

Boy: “well, can I go to the bathroom?”

Mother [irritated]:  ”well, I’ll not be following you downstairs. If you need help in the bathroom, your grandmother will come, ok?”

Boy says ok, leaves for downstairs. 

Girl: “why couldn’t Ba host him in his own room?” 

Mother [ slightly apologetic]: well, where were they going to sit? On the bed? There’s no real space anywhere else in the house for Ba to host him …. 

They both turn towards their dinner. 

End scene