VERSE | GRIT

For all the women and the men supporting them; for all those who get up every morning and despite all odds make it through the day surviving, shining, rising. For the friends and families of Sara, Mahsa, Noor, Qurat Ul Ain and of the countless nameless others like them: your grit is everything.

When it’s been tormenting
Day after day. With no respite
And I just don’t have it in me to fight
To battle on
When I’m war-weary
When there is no end in sight
And all I want to do
Is sit in a dark room
And let its coolness shroud me
Until I can feel the hair
Stand on my skin. There
Is suddenly more to the day
Than the heaviness in my heart
And the endlessness of the grey
That has been flowing, gripping choking me
Keeping me doubled on my knees
There’s more beyond that malevolent mein
Images, memories driving me insane

Now -

Now there is also something
On the outside of me
A little chill
A little photo on the window sill
Both pull at me in different ways
One makes icicles
To sear through
The magma that has congealed
Inside of me
The other makes my blood flow warm
Streaming, coursing through my veins
Reminding me that I am home
My spirit and my fortitude
Still cloak my shoulders
Strong and true
I sit up straight
As they reverberate
Through every atom of my being
And they chant
An age old song
Of others like me
Who’ve fought on
Their hearts fused forever
With the loved ones they’ve lost
And I know
That I’m not wielding my sword alone

VERSE | ALONE

I’m alone … but I’m not really alone
In all the ways that don’t matter
That shouldn’t matter, I’m never alone
In all the ways that I need someone
In all the ways of being human
I’m alone. There is no one.

It wasn’t always like this, this lonesomeness
It came on slowly as time went by
As I transitioned, nay devolved
Dislodged from the blessed marital fold
From a wife to a wretched divorcee
From a daughter to a social deportee

I couldn’t be the woman he’d conceptualised
His wife to be. Already fantasizing
He was in heaven itself, spoilt for choice
By the virgins lined up in waiting
For him to pick one or four to be his own
I got picked first, then I got disowned.

I’ve been alone these twenty five years
Fading ever more into the background
As time trudges on with heavy treads
My aura fades, my voice has no sound
I tried to talk louder at first to be heard
But the booming voices of the world
Were louder still, my voice was drowned

Now I sit alone marking time
For when the cosmos sees fit to smile
In a new welcome; in a final decline
I see people but they see me not
They saw me only when I came out
Of the box, against the tide of tradition
Then there was outrage, there was derision

I don’t go out anymore nor do I
Try to be bigger than the box fitted for me
I sit in it quietly, patiently
Lonely oh so lonely … but not really
In all the ways that shouldn’t matter
Im not alone. They all watch me
In all the ways that would make my heart sing
I’m alone, waiting for the final curtain.

VERSE | WHY?

Why? She asks me why do I
Not get to do the things that he
Does so freely, so independently
Cavorting with opportunities
Expanding his experience of the world
That we both live in; why just he?

Why? She asks me why am I
Held back by you and the others
The elders of the family
The uncles and the brothers
For my own good I’m told
Walled in like Rapunzel, from the world?

Why? She asks me why can’t I
Go out on my own. Why can’t I
Even stay alone at home?
Why have I been singled out
Among my siblings as the burdensome one
The ill-fated sister among the men?

Why? She asks me have you built
These rules to limit my existence
Holding me back, making me doubt
Myself, my being, my purpose in life
Strangling my dreams to always stand
Centuries behind a boy or a man?

Why? She asks me why are you
Complicit in this chauvinistic ruse?
Why did you learn to become small
To deliberately set yourself up for a fall?
You were better than everyone
A hero …. No a heroine!

You my mother, the architect
Of dreams, of hopes and even homes
Why did you let it all go?
Why are you expecting me to do
The same, be a wraith of myself
A fragile decoration on the shelf

Until I become someone’s wife
Until you can pass on the keys of my life
To someone else … to some man else
Why? She asks me as the tears well
In eyes that see the truth of the world
That see the expanse of her wretched road

That is why they killed them all off
The babies, the girls born centuries ago
There was divine justice in that
Saving them from a world that sat
In Judgement, in anger, in self pride
Over girls that survived the infanticide

Tell me mother, why was I
Born a woman into this life?
Why was I born into this home
My dignity defaced, my wings shorn?
Why do I feel like to get a fair try
At life, another life, I first must die?

NOW AVAILABLE IN PAKISTAN! “The Girl with the Paisley Dupatta and Other Stories”

Dear friends and family,

“The Girl with the Paisley Dupatta and other Stories” and “Curious Animals…” are NOW AVAILABLE IN PAKISTAN at the following locations:

LIBERTY BOOKS at all their locations in KARACHI and LAHORE

PARAMOUNT BOOKS in KARACHI (Main bookstore at PECHS and the Agha Khan bookstore)
Paramount Books in FAISALABAD and in ISLAMABAD

ORDER YOUR BOOKS ONLINE AT:

http://libertybooks.com and

https://paramountbooks.com.pk/

Do get your copies; and do let me know what you think 🤓

Here’s to Reading, Dreaming and Becoming 🌸

https://vm.tiktok.com/ZSdSbbFuA/

VERSE | THE FAIRYTALE

A little disclaimer: This particular piece is not a critique of the ideology of marriage itself, but the warped manner in which it is used to keep young women in check. To prevent them from breaking through the heavily-manned barriers created for them by society.

LISTEN TO THE POEM BEING READ AT: https://vm.tiktok.com/ZSddAaCSr/?k=1
Yes, I waited a great big while 
For my knight in shining armour to arrive
To sweep me off my impatient feet
To finally enable me to start living my life.

He came to our door, not on a steed -
That’s the whimsical stuff of fairytales
Not really rigged for the 21st century.
The rest of the story I was sure prevailed.

And so he came to our house in a car
His mother and his sisters too
I dutifully served them tea and samosas
His eyes were fixed on me like glue

I tried to think of what I felt
Did he stir something in my heart
Did I feel a like-mindedness
Was he the catalyst to my big, bright start!

The only thing rolling around in my head
The only thing that I could really see
Was the freedom to do all that I couldn’t before
That sunlit pathway stretched ahead of me

I remember I smiled a little too avidly
He grinned like a loon right back
And so it was decided auspiciously
That we’d be married in three months stat!

The wedding was done, it was T-plus six months
And I sat at my dressing table
I looked at the face of the woman in front
Was she the euphoric lass of fables?

She looked back at me confusedly
I pretended I didn’t quite read
What her eyes were so desperately telling me -
That rabbit hole was just too deep.

I looked away, this wasn’t the first time
Of my inability to face the ghosts
Of broken hearts and shattered dreams
Of being deluded, of feeling lost

I had grown up believing with all my being
That my best life lay ahead
When I took on the mantle of someone’s wife
That’s what age-old tradition said

But that’s not true, I now know
When I can’t look at myself in the mirror
There are shackles anew, I’m so confused
My dreams couldn’t have been frailer

And so I wait yet again, but now
Free of archaic norms and guiles
For when I can find the courage to be
Who I really am, who I have been all this while.

VERSE | THE GIRL WHO NOW SLEEPS

Dedicated to the memory of all those young people who struggled to fit into the norms dictated by their communities and who lost that battle. May the second wind in your sails be glorious and joyful.

LISTEN TO THE POEM BEING READ AT: https://vm.tiktok.com/ZSde5UerP/?k=1
I’m going to tell you a little story
Of a girl who loved too much,
Lived too much, hoped too much.
They said, she was too much!
She was a queen, a young one
But she had that zest for life
That is so rare and beautiful
That is also so ominous and direful

The story goes that she was born
In the wrong place at the wrong time
Nothing seemed to feel right in fact.
She was told to be someone that
She wasn’t. She was taught, against her will
To be the clone of a fantasy
That had persisted for centuries

And so the queen crumbled
Atom by atom, bit by bit, little by little
She fell apart like a young sapling
That has been buffeted and knocked about
By righteous winds whipped up
By those who were afraid of her
Of our queen getting out of the box
That they had so faithfully built for her

She finally broke into a million pieces
And she plummeted
She had once known how to fly like an eagle
To soar up to the top of the world.
But that memory was gone; pounded out
And so she fell
Hitting the ground six feet deep
And that is where she now sleeps.

VERSE | THE CARPING JUDICIARY

LISTEN TO THE POEM BEING READ AT:  https://vm.tiktok.com/ZSeopaVK6/
She’s probably flown in on her witch’s broom 
As her sullen starchiness sweeps the room
She looks around her and she spies
Young women having a good time
She glowers at the girls
No dupattas covering their shirts!
The lines between her brows grow grim
Huddling together like dowager twins
Then they rise up in stark rebuke
Clamouring, hammering “I’m judging you!”

He sits in the cafe looking around
A smoking gun dangling from his mouth
As he peers over the smoke
It’s gnarled fingers like a cloak
Hide the vileness in his eyes
He stares at the woman who sits alone
She ignores his lecherous stare
He taps his gun, his yellow teeth bared
Smoke-grey lips curl into an ugly “U”
Leering, sneering “I’m judging you!”

This judiciary are the insidious dregs
Of a society that has no legs
No kind eyes. Their hearts are still
Yet they sit there determined to fill
Precious spaces in our lives
With their hats and their beehives.
They hold on to crass old ways
As their own insecurities play
Out an age old tune
Croaking, choking “I’m judging you!”

Give not a hoot nor a call
To them sitting in their Halls
Of Judgement. They are not fit
Not a thimble, not a whit!
Stand your ground with those that will
Force upon you their own bitter pills
Calmly cut them down to size
Look them in their jaundiced eyes
When you spy their mottled souls
Their power fades to judge you at all

Live your life how you will
Reach for the stars, ride the wind
May you always find your spark
Even when all around you is dark
Move away when you feel dragged
Down, down; making you feel bad.
Build within you your own compass
Of dignity, courage and kindness
So that the only one ever judging you
Is YOU dear one, only ever you.

BOOK LAUNCH! THE GIRL WITH THE PAISLEY DUPATTA

Dear all,

It is with a mixture of joy, some pride and truckloads of excitement that I announce the publishing of my second book – my book of short stories. This enterprise of the heart has been in the making for the past two years and has finally culminated into an anthology of tales.

It is said that shame dies when stories are told in safe places. THE GIRL WITH THE PAISLEY DUPATTA AND OTHER STORIES forges within its pages the sanctity and dignity that allow fragile stories to become powerful, purposeful, healing and exhilarating epics of personal courage and enterprise.

Many of the stories within this book are from outside the bell curve of our lives, and come straight from the truth-telling corners of the heart: from the brutal vigilante justice dispensed in the name of religion in “The Gods of Fury”; to the harrowing custom of honour revenge in the “Sins of our Fathers”; to the patriarchal ruthlessness that so many young women are subjected to in the title story “The Girl with the Paisley Dupatta”.

Others are stories of women and men negotiating life, love, friendship, careers and tradition in the sometimes tumultuous and many times limiting folds of their families and their communities: from the love affair of the enterprising 61 year old Nighat in “Love in Rawalpindi”; to the shenanigans of a dancing queen in “Riotous Love”; to the complicated friendship between two society girls in “Days of Purgatory”.

The last three stories in the book are a tribute to that most ingenious art form, political satire.

These tales will make you laugh, cry and ruminate in equal measure while niggling at the peripheries of conventional value systems.

The book is currently available at the Jam Fruit Tree bookstore on Galle Road in Colombo. I will try and make it available for friends and family in Pakistan and Dubai soon.
To pre-order your copy of the book, please contact me here. It may take me some time, but I will try and get it to you 🤓

VERSE | PARADISE LOST

I see a woman standing at the traffic light
Even in her shabbiness, she’s neat and clean
She stands on the wayside wondering
For the hundredth time what she is doing on the street.
People look at her from their car windows
A nonchalant glance up and then away
Their psycho-social barriers
Comfortingly coming down to save their day
From unpleasant pangs of conscience
As they niggle at the edges of their minds
The world is troubled, their impact small
Sometimes it’s just better to be blind.


She looks at the faces in the cars
Indifferent, unseeing; wishing her away
She clutches the hem of her tattered shirt
Picks up the gumption to still walk their way
She looks at a lady who hasn’t averted her eyes
The shame is too much and she swallows hard
Even so, she manages a faint little smile
Hoping for kindness, compassion, regard
The lady looks up, seeing her for the first time
She’s irritated, she’s irked for letting her guard down
Beggars, pleaders of various requests
Destroy her peace of mind
, she frowns.

She waves a dismissive hand at the sight
And looks away, she will not lock eyes
Maybe the beggar will go to the next car
With her chafing, imploring enterprise
The woman feels the withering blow
As she hurriedly backs away from the car
The wounds in her heart are bleeding anew
Everyday there are fewer healing scars
She stumbles back onto the foot path
Eyes stinging with hopelessness and fatigue
This world seems done with the likes of her
She too is done with her destiny.

VERSE | STRANGE-HEARTED

It’s Strange
How some people call all the shots
For you and me; on what’s right and what’s not
On how we should all live our lives
On what we should want to grow and to thrive.
And we follow them like so many mice
The Pied Piper surely leaves us no choice

It’s Strange
How some nations are on top of their game
And others continually parry insults and blame
Some swirl around in their blood, sweat and tears
While others race on winds of good cheer
And yet we stand by like so many sheep
The First World Dream will not let us be

It’s Strange
How the spirit of our humanity
Has gone into permanent servitude
For the battle of egos of the few
Losing our grip on what’s right and true
And we circle around like so many moths
Burning our wings in the flames of their wrath

It’s Strange
How hard it has become of late
To step out of the comfort of the bell curve
Created to kill off the being that’s you
Teaching you how you must hate and love
And we fight on like so many soldiers sore
Thinking one more battle will win us the war

It’s Strange
Even as I write these lines
A question skips on the edge of my mind
No, there are two for misery loves company
Who’ll tell me the answers that I seek to find -
When did the glow inside you cease to exist?
When did Instinct and Courage let go of my wrists?

VERSE | PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

“What is your name my dear
Where do you come from?”
(IN HER MIND)
I like the basic look of you
But what place do you call home?

I look at her expectant face
It’s so brimful of hope
I wonder if I should in fact
Play to her embedded tropes

I smile a little smile and then
I look her in the eye
“I’m from _____, my friend”.
I see her excitement wilt and die

She rallies as best she can
She goes to a lot of trouble
But I’ve put a big fat pin into
Her socio-cultural bubble

Her smile, it slowly wanes and then
It falters to a grim
Look of being unsure, like she’s
Invited the enemy in

I look into her eyes and see
Hesitancy, disappointment
I smile a bigger smile now
To appease, to be an ointment

A chance I give to those who seem
Caught in a state of flux
Their hearts and minds, in a grind
That confusion surely sucks!

But She doesn’t warm up to me
Her face is now quite set
The name and the person
Are no longer relevant

(IN HER MIND)
You’ve told me where you come from
That’s enough for me, thank you.
My steadfast biases have
Second-guessed the rest of you.

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