My internal politics of dress

Of the many good qualities imbued in me by my father, one of my favorite ones is the love for fashion he inspired in me. I loved fashion even before my appearance reflected it, to the point that I seriously considered studying Political Science at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, because, “Can you imagine how perfect studying politics surrounding by fashion designers would be?!”

It behooves me to mention here that at this aforementioned point in my life, I also dreamt of being married and pregnant by  grad school. 1) I was so, so wrong, and 2) if any one tells my paternal grandmother this, I’m not above committing an imprisonable offense. She’s already waiting for me to get married as is, and I refuse to add fuel to the fire (read: her co-opting of my brother’s marriage in order to orchestrate mine).

Anyway. My father has always been an impeccably well-dressed man, for as long as I can remember. Most profoundly for me, my father dressed well even when circumstances allowed him – or at least excused him – to dress down. His father’s death, family problems, personal health: he was immaculate in every carefully ironed pleat. And this is not to say my mother isn’t beautiful herself. Each day begins with carefully choosing lipstick and applying the eyeliner-kajal combo that always rims her eyes. She too is immaculate in her signature sunglasses and every perfect wave of her hair.

We are not wealthy. The stereotype associated with how my family presents itself begets the image of a privileged international student from a privileged international family with no conception of financial troubles or the weight of loans. I beg your suspension of disbelief, and remind you that this is part and parcel of my love of and appreciation for my parents’ image.

I think I was in a crappy mood one day, sulking in that uniquely teenage way, when my mother told me to get up, take a shower, and put on my favorite clothes. She said it’s what she does when she wants to feel better than she is. So  I tried it. I never stopped.

Puberty took me for a wild ride and I hid it all under absurd ponchos I re-wore way too much. Needless to say, it took me a few years to figure out my style, but I did, and now unless I’m really, really, horrendously late for something, I need to have a full face of make up on. Sure, there’s a lot there to unpack regarding my own well-documented struggles with self-loathing, but dressing up is my time as much as reading, writing, drawing are.

As long as I’m dressed the part, I can play the part I need to play – I can be the human being I need to be. No matter the internal state of my mind, I know I can at least look put together, and if I can look it, I can feel it. Is it superficial? Well, yes and no. But I put a lot of myself in every outfit I wear. Every day I try to wear something from Pakistan, or an outfit that has a history; maybe I’ll remember that my father told me I looked beautiful in a specific dress; maybe someone will compliment me on my jewelry and I’ll say “It was my mother’s;” maybe I’ll wear bright blues and pinks and know I’m representing Pakistan in every stitch of my koti or kameez.

And, as ever with my blog posts, here’s where the self-critique comes in: am I misrepresenting who I am?

I’m an international student, and that’s reflected most keenly in the 100% tuition I have to pay to stay in college. Thing is, that tuition is carefully and nervously spaced out in a way that doesn’t bankrupt my family. Loans have been taken out – very painful, very large loans I will add – co-ops have been strategically placed, part-time jobs have been taken on, just so I can get a degree. That I’ll have to strengthen with another degree.

It’s hard not to be despondent and wonder if this was all worth it. Retrospect is 20/20: no one could have seen the sudden financial hardship that befell my family, least of all an 18-year-old that was as giddy and excited as I was to go to Boston and (without exaggeration) follow my dreams. My education is as much an opportunity as it is my cross to bear, and I bear it every single day as surely as I have a lick of concealer under my eyes on any given day. And it’s hard to admit this to myself because I feel like I’m breaking a taboo by doing it.

I fidget uncomfortably in my heavy, Pakistani earrings and bright lipstick. What do people think when they see me? More importantly, what do they think when they hear me speak and the soft but evident accept slips out, some days more than others?

Do I look like just another rich international student?

And that bothers me more than it should. It doesn’t matter, it shouldn’t matter, because I know what I am and what I’m not. I’m the sum of my parents’ faith in me and their endless, hard work. I’m the sum of my stubbornness and my own hard work.

But what do I look like? Who do I look like?

I suppose the reason this is bothering me more than it usually does is because I’ve had to deal with a lot of ups and downs on my way to my dream co-op. The first one, unavoidable, was the visa issue – I had every thing in the bag, minus the bit where I couldn’t get a visa in time. So, I took out a loan to stay in school, readjusted my co-op cycle to the Fall instead of the Spring, and took a deep breath. In that order. And then I decided, you know what? I’m going to fund this co-op myself. Yeah, I’ll pay for the flights, the rent, everything! So I got a job on campus (which is not necessarily as reliable as I thought, but at least it’ll take care of grocery money?) and put my heart into applying for a scholarship to fund my co-op. I was guaranteed some money, up to $6000, and I was going to get that! Or at least $4000!

For a little while, I felt good. The whole Trump thing tripped me up quite a bit, and I didn’t (and don’t) know what the future holds regarding the Muslim ban, but at least co-op was certain?

So imagine my feelings when I got my scholarship back and realized I had been awarded a generous $2000 for my pain.

The worst part is, I was so resigned to being tripped up that I didn’t even have it in me to cry all that much. I set about emailing who I could to try and appeal it. It took me 3 weeks to see if I could appeal this, and I hid the fact from my mom for as long as I could. I know my parents, and I know their love for me, and I was assured that it would work out if they had any say in it.

I’m going to fund this co-op myself.

I started looking for another job. I talked to my future co-op employers about worst case scenarios. I started working on research proposals that I could use to supplement my living expenses while in the Netherlands. And I finally, finally got some kind of an answer about why my scholarship was so low despite the fact that I literally begged for enough money to keep me self-sufficient.

Remember that loan I took out? I got enough money so that I could fund this current Spring semester and the subsequent Summer semester, which I needed in order to graduate on time. The Spring loan was disbursed to Northeastern while the latter stayed in my account until it too needed to be disbursed. So, I have a tantalizing amount sitting in my student account that will go untouched until the Summer semester.

The person working on disbursing the loans assumed that very substantial amount was for my own recreation, and that clearly, my request for more money than the 2k I’d gotten was perplexing. Clearly, I could fund my co-op with a sum of money that is literally, cent for cent, the tuition cost for a Summer semester.

I can’t begin to describe my anger.

If I was an American student, that assumption would have never been made. I’m an international student, and therefore, it’s a 9/10 chance that I’m probably really wealthy. At the very least, wealthy enough to have multiple digits in my Northeastern University student account just sitting there for my recreation.

Take a look at my actual bank account and you’ll know that’s very clearly not the case.

My family has given an unjust amount of money to Northeastern, most of the time money that I’m still not sure how they managed to come up with. There were never any questions asked, but this time, I’m adamant about asking questions and I don’t like the kinds of answers I’ve been getting. I also really don’t like that it’s making me double-guess how I present myself. The person allocating scholarship money does not know what I look like, so why do my earrings feel heavier?

I think I’ve been tripped up so much over the past couple of years that I’m double, triple, quadruple-guessing who I am and who I’ve become as a person. It feels melodramatic, and maybe it is. But I’m tired of feeling like I’m constantly short-changed through little to no fault of my own, and I’ll have you know that I am very, very good at admitting when something is actually my fault.

This was hard to write, which means it’s important that I write it for some reason. All I know is, I’m working hard to remedy what seems to be a string of bad luck. I hope that will be enough to make me feel comfortable in my own clothes again.

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The day of and those after

The thing about bombings and terrorist attacks is that, after a little while, it’s too easy to divorce an atrocity from the monotony of the day. The horror sits heavy on your skin like a too-thick cocoa-butter moisturizer, and it’s hard to let it sink in. But, with enough time and distraction, you get used to the weight.

That happened to me just this past weekend at the International Model NATO Conference where I was representing my university. After an overnight, nine-hour train ride from Boston to DC, I found myself sleepless and exhausted in a hotel room. I heard the news right as I lay down to take a power nap.

The power nap was my first mistake. I’ve never taken a good, worthwhile power nap in my life and certainly, this one was doomed the second I decided to scroll down my Twitter timeline. I follow a lot of Pakistani political and social commentators, and what was marked about that day was the despondency and profound sadness and exhaustion writ bare in those 140 or however many characters.

I’m not unused to being able to interpret that language. It usually means something Bad happened.

Heart-pounding, I went to Dawn, and sure enough, a massive explosion had torn through the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine. The number of lives taken and the name of the shrine took a second to hit me.

O lal meri pat rakhio bhala Jhulelalan

Sindhri da

Sehwan da

Sakhi Shahbaz Qalandar

Ah. Right.

Here’s the thing about Pakistanis. You can tack any Muslim label on us that you want but in our hearts, our absolute heart of hearts, we are all undeniably Sufis. We tear up listening to qawwaliyaan, we have a ferocious love for our musicians and artists, we revere poetry and dance and love itself. No matter what front the Fundos try to show you, their hearts will melt like everyone else’s over Sabri and Abida Parveen and Nusrat and Rahat.

This was a betrayal of the deepest kind. This was a betrayal of our culture, our history, our loves and lives throughout centuries of existence; more than that, it was a betrayal of 75 lives, men-women-children, who came to revel in our culture, our histories, our loves and lives throughout centuries of existence. It’s the kind of betrayal that can’t be forgiven.

We’ve all grown up listening to Dama Dam Mast Qalandar. Before I even knew all the lyrics I had an emotional connection to the qawwali. There was a visceral joy in its singing, the clapping that came along it, the family concerts that would surround the words, the often-subsequent marriage that it was contextualized in. It was important and it was necessary.

Pakistanis are used to being betrayed. Sometimes by our government, sometimes by ourselves, sometimes by the world. Music is almost a coping mechanism to that end. In troubled times, our music and art industries blossom angrily. Defiant international literary festivals, antagonistic and triumphant rock bands, scathing indie, the fusion genre that has become part and parcel of what it means to be a musician in early 21st Century South Asia, performing arts festivals – but you take that away from us and you get the wrath of a country that is simmering with rage and years’ worth of inconsolable sadness.

Our wrath is in coming back to the Lal Shahbaz Qalandar shrine the very next day and ringing the morning bells. It’s in devotees arriving proudly to carry out their prayers. It’s in the dhamaals that continued despite the bombing. Daesh in Khorasan would not have this cultural victory over us.

**

Despite this tumult of emotion, I went about my day. Embassy visits, opening ceremonies, falling asleep on my own feet, I went about my day. A friend asked me if I was okay. A single friend. But that’s neither here nor there.

Eventually, thoughts of the massacre were shipped off to the backburner of my mind, unaddressed and unprocessed. A weekend followed where I pretended to be an official from a country that did not belong to me; a conference where the organizers take gleeful joy in faking crises that are often as absurd as they are horrendous; a conference where I spent more time thinking about fake dead people than I did about my very real, very dead fellow countrymen.

I trucked on. I did my best. I pushed away the creeping horror and self-awareness because I was there as part of a team. Eventually, once the bulk of my responsibility was carried out with skill and maybe some degree of reckless bravado, I found myself sitting on the floor of our hotel bathroom, crying. My roommates eventually found me and I said what I didn’t have it in me to say before: “75 people died in my country, 13 in my hometown, and I’m here, pretending I don’t give a shit about that.”

As terrible as it sounds, I needed the breakdown. I couldn’t process my grief without it. The day-to-day compartmentalization catches up to you at some point and I’m honestly lucky it happened sooner rather than later. Grief, bottled up, is more destructive than any display of anger. I was able to process the pain without too much collateral (see also: yelling at people who may or may not have deserved it) and I’m glad for that. Of course I was – I am – still sad, but I’m sad in the way that is tucked in your heart along with all the warmth and love you hold for your people. It’s the sadness that has lived like a constant ode to Pakistan from the day I realized I was one of 180 million people and a then-some diaspora. It’s the sadness that is inherent in our national anthem. It’s what makes me Pakistani for more than just my overseas citizen ID and passport.

**

I’ve been afraid of waking up lately, for fear of news that will hurt me. It’s the curse of living in Trump’s America as a non-resident alien (the fear of being put on a travel ban, namely) as well as the general sense of malaise I’ve had since this awful year began.

Evidently, I woke up this morning. I should have put it off.

I’m never prepared to see Lahore in the news. I was even less prepared to see Defence in the news, the neighborhood I was raised in. My family and I moved to Lahore when I was about two-years-old, and my earliest memories are of my beautiful house, my mamma’s marigolds, and the jaamun tree I was too afraid and bookish to climb. The bombing happened in the popular commercial area I had basically all my birthdays in and around. Not a week went by where we didn’t go shopping there, whether for groceries, or clothes, or pirated CDs. All my eid money was spent in those bookstores and toy-shops. My brother is in Lahore right now and the area is one of his haunts – I haven’t felt that sense of panicked “where-is-he-where-was-he” in years. The rush of nostalgia felt like bile in my throat.

And look – it’s 10:30am. I’ve been awake, in bed, trying to process for the past hour. I have an exam I’ve given up caring about in another hour, and a class after that. Invariably, I will forget about Lahore – about Y-block and Defence – and wonder why I’m so sad. Invariably, it will hit me when I least expect it and I’ll probably end up crying on someone’s couch or in a bathroom somewhere. Invariably, it will happen again.

This isn’t my first rodeo. But somewhere in the stubborn dancing, showing up to class despite my better judgment, and even in my forgetful laughter, there is resistance.

At least, I hope there is.

O lal meri, o lal meri

On discipline, or how I’m learning to stop self-flagellating

Processed with VSCO

I started bullet journaling over winter break. It has been one of the better decisions I have made in the past few years, and I’ve seen the direct results of embarking on this organizational journey in my day-to-day life. I’m less anxious, more organized, I remember both short-term and long-term goals; the act of putting together my bullet journal spreads is something that soothes me immensely. I use my bullet journal to track my habits (badly), my spending (mostly retroactively), the books I read (which is awesome!), my research ideas (also incredibly useful) and to chart my goals for the coming year and how far I’ve gotten in attaining them. Part and parcel of this was deciding what I wanted the defining theme of this year to be – not a resolution (I would most definitely break that out of sheer defiance) but a broad theme under which I would operate myself.

I chose discipline and creation. Creation because that has always been a part of who I am, and discipline because I need it in order to keep at my creations. I was proud of this. I felt like “discipline” would capitalize on the momentum I had garnered the semester before – my long-awaited 4.0 semester where everything would finally fall into place and where I wouldn’t let set-backs hurt my grades. Neiha today is a far-cry from the girl who loudly proclaimed in high school that grades aren’t more important than extra-curricular activities and what you do (or the girl who wanted to be pregnant and married by the time she got to grad school, which now makes me feel crippling terror but that’s neither here nor there).

…I mean, I still believe that. I just don’t really have the luxury of functioning under that one-sided dichotomy.

I have always tried to be a good daughter. I never gave my parents any trouble, I never fought them on things, I accepted the curfews and the modi operandi of the Lasharie household knowing that once I went to college, I would need to nurture my responsibility. And I did. I stayed out late, but I always got home safe or made sure I had a couch to sleep on somewhere I was comfortable. I traveled, knowing I was responsible for my own well-being and itineraries. My parents were always okay with this, with only the occasional “Be safe!”

I did my laundry, I minimized eating out, I budgeted my spending, I filed my taxes, I looked into my credit, I applied for loans when I had to, looked at scholarships without much of a result, funded my own therapy, applied for jobs – both co-op and part-time – just so that the end result was that I could be less of a burden on my parents.

The unopened monthly billing statements are why.

My parents have told me they don’t care about my grades. They want me to be successful and happy in my ambition. But my grades are a way to prove something – “Look! Your investment is paying off!”

It wasn’t that my 4.0 was why my parents were so proud of me this past semester. It was because that 4.0 included an A in math, a subject I’ve struggled with so much that it became a family joke. We measure my success by looking at the things I struggle with and seeing to what extent I can overcome them.

We.

I, on the other hand, being the loathsome and self-minimizing person that I am, measure my failure by looking at everything I have wanted to do but haven’t done. I have so many personal projects that I want to do, ideas I have conceived, research I want to undertake, plans I want to execute – but there’s always, always something stopping that. And yes, I know that rationally, I can’t do everything I want. And that rationally, not a big deal. I just need to discipline myself and then I can assess the extent to which all my projects can come into fruition.

But it feels like everything I want to do is being done better, faster, by other people; my peers at that. Or it feels like I’m not qualified to do the things I want to, and pretending otherwise is irresponsible. This blog is an example of the former. I’ve had this WordPress since – god, tenth grade? It’s been 7 years or so, and I still don’t have a format set up; I don’t have a reliable uploading schedule, and I don’t really have a theme apart from occasionally off-loading my opinions or existential crises. Hell, I’ve been playing with the idea of buying the domain name since Freshman year of college and I haven’t gotten around to doing that.

As ever, my conclusion is that I’m too hard on myself. But for every excuse, no matter how reasonable and justified, I have to wonder – will there ever be a perfect time where I can give justice to all my projects?

Probably not.

So I guess here’s a second conclusion: there is a time for everything. It will suck, and I will most definitely get bogged down by my own deficiencies, but if my goals right now are to a) give my parents a return on their investment, b) be financially independent, c) keep my mental state from fraying (again) and keep my PTSD at bay (yikes); and d) pave a way to an actionable future, then I guess I need to give this current zeitgeist of my life its due.

I’m always bitching about how it is part of the postmodern condition to reflect back on all of humanity and wonder why we don’t have a defining array of characteristics for our time, but isn’t that exactly what I’m doing? I’m experiencing the postmodern condition in the microcosm of my own life.

That’s dumb. Instead, well, I guess I’m going to try and celebrate what I am able to do by doing it to the best of my ability. Here’s to another 4.0 semester, good mental health, financial stability, and continued poems and research endeavors. The Speakeasy Symposium, personal branding and such will have to wait until I’m ready. And that’s okay.

I have an ambition complex 

I love people. I really do. For better or for worse, I’m friends with a lot of incredible human beings who do wonderful things and I love delighting in their accomplishments. I don’t think I would ever wish anyone ill in regards to their careers or hopes and dreams. 

But I need to confront the fact that I let other people’s accomplishments make me think that I’m not doing enough in my own life. 

I have an ambition complex. I have too many things I want to do, and not enough hours of the day. And that list of ambitions has literally no end, because every time I see someone else doing something cool, some weird switch gets turned on in my head and I go, “I can do that too.”

Maybe it isn’t an ambition complex, maybe it’s ambition envy. And maybe I’m a terrible person for internalizing other people’s capacities for brilliance and comparing them to what seems to be a meager little list of my own accomplishments. But somewhere between starry eyed, 11 year old Neiha deciding she was going to be the UN Secretary General and being the high-strung, constantly anxious overachieving 21 year old I am now, I started hating myself. And as I’m sure I’ve mentioned several times before on this blog, self-loathing and ambition do not a healthy smoothie make. 

I want to blame something for this. A week or so ago, talking to my roommate about this very issue, I used the term “commodifying success.” It was a good term. Very clinical. Très académique. Mais, it completely ignored my own insecurities in favor of coming up with a metanarrative to explain away my issues. 

Why am I never satisfied with myself? 

If you’ve seen or listened to Hamilton, you know that iconic moment in Aaron Burr, Sir, where Hamilton describing the Princeton bursor says, “He looked at me like I was stupid, I’m not stupid”? 

That’s been my issue my entire life. I will never be content until I stop believing people think I’m stupid. Every time I feel like I deserve to feel intelligent, I immediately lambast myself for my arrogance. I’ve been arrogant before, I refuse to be arrogant again, and in my very PTSD-addled mind the best way to fight arrogance is to viciously hate yourself. 

I had a breakdown in the middle of the library quad last week because I felt like I was the most unintelligent human in the world. Because somehow, needing to take on student loans made me a failure. Because not being able to complete two majors, two concentrations and a minor within 8 semesters means I’m an idiot. Because there are people who are much better than I am, so who am I to think I’m smart when I play a couple hours of Civ 5 sometimes to relax? 

I can’t just be good, I need to be fucking brilliant. And that wouldn’t be an issue if I knew where brilliance lay. Is brilliance burning out by 23 because you nearly killed yourself with anxiety over whether or not you were enough? 

I don’t know. It sounds romantic enough to be brilliant. 

 I’m not sure if I’ll ever be enough for myself. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to look around a room and think “Wow, I’m one of these really smart, cool people.” I don’t know if my to-do list will ever end. There is so much I want to do. There are so many people I want to be. And my life is so short and bookended with mental strife that a day of calm like today feels a betrayal to my parents when it was every thing I needed. 

I have an ambition complex. I also have a self-loathing complex. 

At least I fit the tragic poet bill really well. 

Note: this is not proof read yet. 

Dormant anger in the postmodern era and a music review

There are days – more realistically, nights – where I’m so overcome by my own sudden, built-up anger that I don’t know what to do with myself. It’ll come entirely out of left-field, usually while I’m working, maybe triggered by a lyric in a song or something I read. Right now I’m reading about the Security Council’s action after the Syrian Civil War began and how its major weapon – language, in the form of resolutions – began to encompass addressing radicalization as a global concern. This coincided nicely with a closer listening of Everything Everything’s 2015 album Get to Heaven and this song in particular.

The entire album is a “love” letter to the general alienation the postmodern world perpetuates, especially with an eye to British politics (note that this album dropped before Brexit was a thing; very prescient), radicalization and the rise of ISIS, and just general daily disenfranchisement juxtaposed with the notion of being humans that have inexplicably set their own trajectory for a perverse evolution.

**

I found out one of my oldest and most loved friends has cancer. The last time I found out a friend had cancer was two weeks after she died.

**

I’m trying hard to get a co-op in the Hague with a bureau that works with human trafficking and sexual violence against children. It feels fitting recompense for all the bullshit I’ve had to stomach and read about over my life. Besides, it’s the Hague and it has to do with international law and global governance. It’s everything I’ve ever wanted.

**

My friend starts chemo the same day I have my second and final interview with the above bureau.

**

I have been trying to work through a lot of the anger I’ve felt especially as a byproduct of learning too much and not being able to do enough. Writing poetry helps. Working on research for my Speakeasy Symposium helps. Actually studying and being organized helps.

But somewhere in the cockles of my otherwise warm heart is a too-hot coal that suddenly cracks violently. And when that coal cracks, I become cognizant that there is an angry, angry Pakistani that aches to rail against the system and scream her discontent. And I’m relatively privileged and lucky, so what does that say about the rest of my 180 million-odd compatriots? What does that say about the millions of Americans living under the thumb of an institution that hates them? What does that say about people being, on the one hand, constantly bombarded, and on the other, constantly instrumentalized by the same people bombarding them for liberal humanitarian points?

And where does that put my good-will and desire to be a diplomat/arbitrator if I’m still pretending that I’m not always really fucking angry (sorry mamma and dadda)?

When I  was studying sociology in high school I didn’t understand postmodernists all that much. All that talk of meta-narratives while painting their own meta-narrative seemed absolutely absurd to me, and I really enjoyed taking that “redundancy” down in my essays. But now? Actually living the postmodern? I think I get it.

Humanity has a long and storied and sometimes really shitty history. We have been through a lot to get to the point we’re at right now. But here’s what’s different about then and now:

We can actually look back at a good chunk of our past. We have painstakingly categorized and subcategorized the movements, zeitgeists, music, politics, craftsmanship, technology, literature, art of our past and after we got to the modern, we were stumped.

What does knowing what’s come before make us now? What does it mean when we have access to more information than we have ever had access to in the history of mankind?

It means a great deal of disillusionment. It means a lot of arguments about whether or not we have any freewill. It means a lot of nights being crippled by how much the world is. We have applied so much theory to our past that we start seeing ourselves within a framework and the effect is terrifying. We cope by meme-ification. By taking the mundane and making it absurd, we give something a universal yet temporary meaning; we make it our momentary zeitgeist, but what happens when your zeitgeist are fickle and somewhat superficial?

What happens when your zeitgeist is situated in the theatre of the absurd and someone else’s is steeped in tragedy and exploitation?

I don’t have an answer for this. All these questions aside, we’re still flawed and humans and in a hundred years they’ll have a category for us too. That’s comforting. We still make beautiful art and music and literature. We still have fascinating and infuriating politics. We still fight wars and make love, sometimes with the same hand. But to contemplate us is to stoke the anger.

Is this an anger that characterizes our time? Is this the anger of someone from a country that has Seen Some Shit?

Whose anger do I nurse in my breast, and why does she erupt when I am at my most desperate and helpless?

I am afraid.

The old Lie

I imagine the hardest part of living through a war is not being able to see the enemy as anything but just that; an enemy. I imagine the other hardest part of living through a war is realizing you had no stake in it until your way of living was turned into a small pile of chips to wager.

What they don’t tell you about war in history books (that aren’t doused in Wilfred Owen) is that war turns people pathetic. It turns people into schoolyard bullies trying to prove to the other that their prepubescent chin hairs are longer. Dignity lies in the barrel of a gun…and how far you can threaten the mass annihilation of a people in a Facebook comment.

War turns people small. Not small in a cute, cuddly way. Small like a shitty chihuahua who yelps and growls and bites really irritatingly hard. You suddenly become a groupie after a government that was the bane of your existence, and forget every single valid qualm you had against it because it gave you a distraction.

War turns people short-sighted. They say retrospect is 20/20, but not during wartime! There’s a reason history repeats itself time and time and time again because the fog of war makes it really hard to actually see what’s staring back at you in the mirror unless you have the presence of mind to air out the bathroom. Everyone loves a good nuclear war.

War turns people geographically illiterate. No, really, everyone loves a good nuclear war – especially if the targets are right next door. That won’t go over badly at all.

War turns people heartless.

Everyone loves a good nuclear war.

That won’t go over badly at all.

War turns people impractical. You know how it’s really irritating to have to go through a visa process because some jerk from your country did a really horrible thing and now you have to deal with the consequences of a country that went full War on Terror?

Yeah. That really shouldn’t be relatable.

And honestly? War turns people selfish. On the scale of the effect of war being an inconvenience <-> being disastrous skews more and more towards the latter when you start tossing poverty into the mix. You know what’s hard to do when you’re homeless, internally displaced, and living day to day – sometimes hour to hour?

Changing the filter on your Facebook profile picture to your country flag.

No, but really though, that’ll show ’em!

My parents raised me too well to let my ego dictate personal foreign policy. They also raised me to not share controversial opinions but that one is a bit harder to follow.

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

A post written in poem

​as a child i listened to The Cranberries

singing anthems i could not grasp 

for Salvation & for Zombies, 

as Odes to my Family & to Saving Grace;

i am 21 & my heart aches as it connects

the dots a five year old in her father’s car

could not.

i cry for the Warchild, 

for Ridiculous Thoughts,

& sing my Daffodil Laments

(my anthem for Zombies is much the same). 

as a child my mother found me

watching the news with the grimness of 

a newly minted tween.  

i had tears in my eyes & what felt like 

a noose in my fists  

& an anger so new to my 4 foot 5 frame. 

“how do i fix it?” “you don’t.” “why?”

“you talk to others about fixing it. you trust 

others to help you do what you can’t do 

alone.”

mamma bade me speak with the softness 

of water & watch the ripples flow from me. 

with their tanks 

and their bombs  

and their bombs  

and their guns,  

watch them die in a treacherous mind’s eye. 

& spill forth water from open arms.

In defense of the fantastic

I will be the first to admit that I read fiction far more than I read non-fiction*. In her fairly successful attempt to make sure her children turned out to be fluent in English, my mother filled every bookshelf I ever had with books either bought firsthand, secondhand, or passed down from her own childhood. After a while, I took excursions away from my own bookshelves to secretly raid hers during afternoon naps or days she ended up staying at her school late.

I’m sure if she knew the kinds of books I was sneakily reading at the time, she would have made sure I stuck to my British schoolgirl books. Alas, for better or for worse, I got to read about Alexander the Great’s various and plentiful and certainly embellished indiscretions. And Cleopatra’s. And various other historical figures whose lives were probably not quite as exciting and scandalous as Valerio Massimo Manfredi would have you think.

One of the genres I found myself gravitating to were fantasy novels. I’ve mentioned before of my great, undying love for Tamora Pierce and how her heroines taught me to be independent and strong, but beyond just that it was the candid exploration of socio-political issues set against the backdrop of a world not quite but similar enough to my own. I was forced to put aside my own reality and consider the author’s presented universe, and to put my prejudices aside meant questioning my predispositions. No matter how young my thought process, it was a necessary experiment. As I revisited the same books over the years (or, hell, sometimes in the same year) the knowledge I’d acquired in the meantime found more nuance in the books, in the characters, picked out subplots that I hadn’t even seen before. I was able to then see the similarities between my world and that of the protagonist’s. Fantasy became a little less fantastic and a little more allegorical. Even the highest of fantasies (and, it must be said, probably the highest of authors) forced me to confront political truths in my own life. I might even go as far as to say that fantasy and fiction helped influence my politics.

As absurd as that sounds, why wouldn’t that be the case? We become so invested in fiction that the experiences of the characters we read about elicit visceral reactions from us: hatred, love, empathy, sadness, grief, thoughtfulness, sometimes even horror and a sense of overwhelmedness that requires us to physically remove ourselves from the experience.

Two words to this point: Red. Wedding. If you thought the show was bad…

Another thought to the same point. A Song of Ice and Fire/A Game of Thrones: Whether you watch the tv show, read the books, or both, we all know by the now the profound cultural impact George R. R. Martin has had on us. The New Yorker publishes think pieces about the series. We debate redemption arcs, commiserate over usually gory deaths, confront the stark reality that justice is not always served and the world doesn’t owe even the most honorable people anything and what even is honor? Moreover, the universe forces you to politick in your own mind in an attempt to keep up with the characters and mechanisms presented to you. People hypothesize, argue, posit theories in a way that political scientists should be awed and probably a little annoyed by. In fact, people have managed to apply this universe’s politicking to that of the real world. This isn’t just limited to the US, although that is the example that comes most readily to mind. I’ve seen Pakistanis identify major political actors in our own realm as Cerseis and Margaerys. As mundane and even vapid as it may seem, that is a disservice to humanity. We have seen and manifested reflections of our politics in various art forms for as long as we have had said art forms. If mass deliberation by virtue of social media is somehow less meritous (is this a word? It should be), then I’m happy to be vapid.

I watched 12 Angry Men with my parents earlier this evening. Originally, I had intended to only passively watch while tending to my farm in Stardew Valley, but somewhere between catching my largest eel yet and realizing how little hay I had to feed my chickens through the winter I realized this movie deserved my full attention. I was rapt, as were my parents, and it stood to make an emotive audience of us. We gasped, laughed incredulously, and when the movie ended we just sat in amazement. It didn’t matter that the movie was almost 60 years old, the black and white seemed a trivial thing to note; we had suspended our own notion of reality in favor of the one presented to us, and by the time we snapped back to our living room chasing the tail end of 2016 we had absorbed and harmonized the truths in 12 Angry Men with our own truths.

Or, as the case may be, our reasonable doubts.

After the movie I went and did some cursory research. As it turns out, it was the movie that influenced US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer’s decision to study law. Good call.

The beauty of being human is that we can find inspiration, motivation, drive, hope, outrage in so much. Fantasy for me, though, became a means of productive dissociation before I even knew what that meant. It forced me to confront difficult questions while maintaining the comfort of distance. When it did become a little too much for me, I could put down the book and mull everything over until I was ready to plunge myself back into the problems of my foster universe. And for a Pakistani kid – for a deeply traumatized 20-something year old college student – that kind of control is a savior.

And then when I’m ready, I can save entire worlds again.

*this does not make me better than anyone

At some point I’ll make a list of my favorite/most influential fantasy/fiction series 🙂 Currently reading the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson.

Edhi

I don’t know when I became aware of Abdul Sattar Edhi. I guess that’s the thing about “givens” – they have no origin, there is no place in time to which they belong, they simply are and Edhi simply was in a way we could only hope to be. Edhi was a fixture for every Pakistani. Not a day went by where you wouldn’t see an Edhi ambulance weaving its way through dusty, dangerous Pakistani traffic presumably to save a life. The stout little vans with Edhi’s name in red emblazoned across them were a sign of hope and life in a country where the former was in short supply and the latter could be construed as a lottery or a game of roulette. If anyone ever asked what they could do to change anything in Pakistan, why, donate to the Edhi Foundation of course. Whenever there was a crisis, a disaster, Edhi was one of the first to respond, casting the widest net with the least fanfare. Edhi was a reflection of the best of Pakistan.

Someone on Twitter said that Edhi was one of the few who has left behind a working institution, and not only that, but he left behind one of the few institutions anyone could trust, and so wholly at that. He created his foundation, his network of ambulances from the ground up, with hands that wanted nothing more than to service humanity for the sake of humanity. It’s no coincidence that his humanist institution was oiled better than any other institution sanctioned by the Islamic Republic; the oil he used to make the cogs turn wasn’t cut with corruption, brick dust and tribalism.

But then, this is not the time to be cynical. Using Edhi’s death to criticize inaction is not what he would have wanted. He was critical of religion as it manifested itself in Pakistan, critical of the kind of education that blew rose and jade tinted glasses for the wealthy, but he never let that criticism defeat him. He was not an exception; he was only exceptional because we chose to defer all action to people like him. He merely showed himself to be the kind of person we could all be. He showed that he could be the rule.

Past tense is unique in its ability to make one despondent. Edhi was, yes, but he will always be. He created the foundation – literally – for something beautiful.

The world has been truly horrible lately. Edhi’s passing is too much to bear in the wake of all that has happened. But maybe his death, his life, were meant to cauterize the wound. He was a beacon of hope, and even in his passing he is magnificent and benevolent in his reminder that we can be BETTER than we are.

We have not lost him. He saw to that. We can mourn his passing but he’d want us to pick ourselves up and affirm life. There is so much more we can do if only we stopped deferring to the Edhis of the world and internalized what it was that actually set him apart for ourselves.

Thank you, Edhi. May your spirit live on in the actions of the country you nurtured.

Long note: honest despair

I realize my last few blog posts have been a little more depressing than I usually put out. I try and imbue optimism in everything I write, because there’s enough sadness going around without me adding to it. And yet, here I am.

I forced myself to take a social media hiatus after some encouragement from friends. There is such a thing as too much engagement, and I had overextended my capacity to that end. That…was a sucky realization to say the least. I always thought of myself – forced the view of myself – as being impervious to emotional exhaustion. I feel, therefore I am, and I am lucky to be around so why ever stop feeling? If I want to give my life to some sort of public service, then I need to be able to power through the fatigue, muster every ounce of energy and positivity in me and somehow add to humanity’s global reserves of drive and perseverance.

Perseverance. Fortitude. Resilience.

Resilience.

Is there such a thing as being too resilient? is a question I’ve asked of Pakistan as a whole many times before. I look at when this debate first began – the night of the APS massacre – and wonder why it took that long for me to begin considering that question. As was at my emotional worst – and also at my angriest. The emotional wreckage felt welcome because of my physical distance from Pakistan. It felt like I was doing something if I was in so much pain – that there was a connection that mattered so much that it bruised no matter how far I was from home. It was comforting and despite the despair that still itched at my heart, it helped me heal.

At some point, we need to break down our shell and allow ourselves to feel the heft of lives lost and lives scattered, of normalcy shattered and routine decimated. We risk losing our humanity and capacity to empathize and mourn if we don’t let our walls down; we risk losing the opportunity to recharge.

I think I have let myself feel too much. I think I pushed myself to take in so much sorrow that I burnt myself out. Sometimes when I’m alone and I let myself be vulnerable, I cry for myself, for my family, for families I do not know, for people who have cried like I have. I cry for my own little microcosmic problems, and I cry at the sheer scale of the chaos I cannot even begin to comprehend.

And when I’m not crying, I try to fight a battle I’m not sure I picked wisely. We are all guilty of that. We pick fights out of self-righteousness in an attempt to feel vindicated, to feel any sort of productivity in the face of helplessness. We try to educate and inform, when we are the ones who want so desperately to be sat down and educated and informed. We project our own confusion, hurt, chaos of mind and heart onto others and I’m not sure if that heals anything.

And what we all need right now is to heal. Whether the wounds are global, local, personal, we need healing and kindness. Taking part in the “right” discourse can only help so much.

I suppose that’s what I’m tired of. I used to think that argument was the basis of all knowledge, and I still do believe that, but an argument requires some desire to find understanding. The dialogue I attempted to engage in was for the wrong reasons. And so I never truly let myself heal. I just held myself together with spit and gum and pretended I had recharged.

None of us really let ourselves recharge. We have forced ourself to always be “on” and ready to engage.

Screw engaging.

We have outsourced interaction unto words that are cold and impersonal.

I turned the pursuit of kindness into a game of skirmishes that I decided to ascribe intellectual properties unto.

We are – I am – so busy talking that we forget how to really feel, when our guard is down, we are broken and raw. That’s no way to recharge. You do not heal a wound by exposing it to the elements when it needs to be tended to overtime.

I’m tired, and that’s okay, but I need to do something about the fact that I exhausted all of my facilities in self-destructive perseverance.

Being too resilient is a bad thing.

At the time of writing this, I feel smaller and more helpless than I ever have. I don’t think that’s an uncommon sentiment lately, regardless of where you’re from. I find myself turning to art, music, writing but at the time of finishing this draft, an artistic Giant has been assassinated in Pakistan, and rather than taking the time to mourn him, I see my countrymen sharing videos and pictures of his ruined body. There is nothing sacred left about the horrors we as a world are facing. We have monotonized what should be held as unusual and unwelcome, for whatever reason (I have my own theories as to that).

I don’t really have a solution to my own despair, but maybe that’s the point.

Maybe there is no point, but maybe the point is loving fearlessly, whether that’s yourself or others.

There is some comfort in platitude.