The Storyteller's Daughter

Isn't it strange how certain actions or habits start to mean so much to you despite the unlikeliest of origins? For instance, I started to drink coffee back in college because it made me feel grown-up. Gradually, I came to depend on it on the eve of a big test. Now, I am unabashedly addicted. How odd that something so natural to my everyday existence as daily cup(s) of joe originated from a desire to feel older, more mature, experienced. 

I wonder sometimes why I started to write. Do I honestly believe, as my parents insist, that it's in my blood, it's something I inherited? Or do I believe the other reason that I often give to myself and others: I write because it's a defense mechanism. I process everything by writing: hurts, slights, grief, joy, wonder, aches and pains even. But what if the real reason is neither of the two? What if the real reason is hidden so far into the crevasses of memory that there is no way to tell what it is? 

I have a theory. When I was a little girl, my greatest accomplishment as I saw it was being my father's daughter -- it was no accomplishment, I know that now. It was pure chance or pure fate. But that is how I saw it then. I was so infallibly proud to be his child, to be his firstborn, to belong to him that it began to feel like an achievement. I would look at the thick binders of scripts he wrote long-hand and marvel at them. My father writes stories, I would think. What a wonderful thing to be -- a writer -- whose stories will live on and on. When I am grown, these binders will still be here, neatly placed on the mahogany shelves in his study, and I will come in casually carrying a handbag and wearing makeup and breezily pick up a binder, settle in his armchair, and begin to read. And I will find my father and his words on these pages. I will forever find him here. That's what I would think as a child. For some reason, I didn't associate the act of searching with finding him. Why would I be trying to search for him? Why would I be drawn to his work? But such sophistication was beyond me at that time. 

Every year until fourth grade, I won the class prize in "Urdu Reading." Oral recitation prizes were discontinued after fourth grade, or I am sure I would have continued to win. I don't speak from arrogance -- this is the simple truth and it has its roots in my reading habits. Even at that young age, I would creep into our drawing room where my father liked to write in those early days. I would pick up stacks of pages as he finished writing on them and I would read his neat penmanship, tight loops, slanting accents. If I didn't understand a word, I would catalog it to ask my mother later. I never disturbed my father during his fertile spells of writing. It never occurred to me to do so. Even back then, I recognized the act of creating stories on paper as sacred, like a form of worship. I miss those days with the clarity of retrospection -- it is a time capsule -- that man by the window, one leg crossed over the other, a sheaf of papers in front of him, a Uniball pen flying across the page, and that little girl next to him, silent but occupied, hanging on to the rise and fall of his Urdu script. In a moment, he will look up, he will stretch, he will ask, "Do you want to go get barbecue for dinner?" She will leap from the sofa. They will gather the rest of the family and drive off. And soon after, she will grow up, there will be vast distances between them, some surmountable, some not. I want to tap that girl on the shoulder with this new insight of adulthood. I want to beg her to know how special that time really is because of its sheer simplicity. She loves her father. He loves his child. In this instant, there is nothing between them but a few pages of a much longer story. I want to whisper into the man's ear, too, who is much closer to my age now than the little girl's. It won't remain so simple forever, I want to say. Time and people will slip from your grasp, hold on tight for as long as you can. He will shirk me away. He will tell me I am mad. How is it possible, he will say, for his family to scatter. Why, that's insane. Here's his little girl. His smart little girl who will go places, and her Papa will always be with her. 

I digress as usual -- like my father, I am partial to story-telling. Back to my theory. What if I wasn't born with this strong inclination to write? What if this became a defense mechanism out of a strong wish rather than natural aptitude? My theory goes like this: Remember that little girl who would retreat into the drawing room with her father and admire his work? Maybe that girl loved her father so deeply and admired his vocation so strongly that she molded herself to be like him. She told herself, I must be like my father who is the very best father in the world. I look like him, everyone says as much. I may as well be like him. And so one day, she picked up a pen and paper and went to her father and said, Papa, I want to write something. Tell me what I should write. And the man said, my darling girl, you could write anything and you would do it marvelously. But Papa, she said, what should I write? And the man said, my darling girl, your smile is like the sun, write about the sun then. And so the little girl sat next to her father, and started to write in English instead of Urdu:

I am eating a bun
under the sun.
The sun shines brightly 
I can't sit quietly. 
After some hours
the sun is very large. 
The sun is very hot, 
I touch it not. 
-From the archives of Noorulain Noor

And how the man laughed and laughed with joy and pride when the girl read out the poem to him. He ran to his wife with the piece of paper in his hand and read it to her. She looked at her daughter with wide eyes and a huge smile. Frame the poem, the man boomed to his wife. We shall frame it and put it in the drawing room. That same afternoon, the man drove his three girls to a bookstore and bought them as many books as they wanted. He bought a special notebook for his elder daughter. For the writer, he said, as he presented it to her. The poet, his wife corrected him. And that is how she came to be known forever after. 

Photos by Rebecca McCue

Love Saves The Day

me:  hello

usman:  was just gonna msg you
                  nice timing

me:  so gchat was showing you as blue,   meaning you were sending me messages, but it was not letting me open your chat window

usman:  oh
                 that's crazy
                 it's trying to keep us apart
                 i need to have a chat with google

Photo by Rebecca McCue

When a Poet Marries an Engineer - A Found Poem

me:  I'm extremely upset with you.

usman:  i apologize

me:  apology not accepted
          in fact
          apology trampled over mercilessly as if apology were a spider - now mangled and 
          killed by my high heel
usman:  that's a poem
Sent at 12:00 PM on Thursday

me:  what do you know or care about poetry
Sent at 12:01 PM on Thursday

usman:  my wife is a poem writer

me:  whatever
Sent at 12:14 PM on Thursday

usman:  when u coming
 Sent at 12:16 PM on Thursday
me:  3 30

usman:  Ok Luv
Sent at 12:24 PM on Thursday

Photo by Rebecca McCue

I Can Only Be My Best Self

These days I find myself wishing to be the woman who writes this blog, not just when I sit in front of my computer but all the time. Her life is pretty good. She is a poet and a clinical researcher. She has an adorable toddler. She has a lovely house on a hill and the ability to watch sunrise caressing the winding trails and roads sprawled below her. She has the luxury to write about things lost and forgotten from a safe distance. There are a few people who like what she writes. Every day, she is able to get at least two uninterrupted hours of listening to audiobooks. She is poised to do bigger and better things. She is so positive in her writing. She talks about seizing the day and bottling up happiness and loving her naughty toddler. She talks about cooking and loving. Her life is pretty good from this vantage point. Pretty damn good. And I want to have her life all the time rather than  during the single hour it takes me to write and proofread a blog post. 

 Yesterday, in a small group of smart and sensitive women that constitute the Desi Writers' Lounge Bay Area Readers' Club, we talked about The Goldfinch. I insisted that several characters in the book probably had personality disorders. Sahar Ghazi, an extremely perceptive member of the group and a dear friend, challenged me on this notion. "Why do you think they have personality disorders," Sahar asked. "We are learning about them only through the main character's perspective. Maybe they are completely normal and going through life on a pretense. Maybe they are not opening up their true selves in front of him. People live their life pretending sometimes," I am paraphrasing, but that is the general arc of Sahar's view. I think I presented a different  and opposing argument, something feeble and completely petulant like, "But I don't pretend. And who pretends? How can they do that?" Puerile - to say the least. 

The fact is, everyone pretends to some degree. Yes, this is the space where I come to be honest with myself, call myself on things that I did wrong, and talk about how wronged I have felt in the past due to other people's insensitivity. But honesty has degrees, too. It has layers and components. Often people reveal part of a fact and it is up to the reader to brush off the sand occluding their vision from this partial truth, and like an archeologist, try to determine what the whole story is. Think about it. We do it all the time. The missing pieces are sometimes inherently present in what is revealed - the tone of voice, the choice of words, the tangent of the neck, the slope of shoulders, the audible sighs, the wistful eyes. The bright smile that is plastered on one's face as a confirmation of happiness has nothing on all these other overbearing signs, and some poor folks are just completely transparent - I am beginning to think I may be one of them. 

I guess what I am trying to get at in a very roundabout way is that we often think our best self is our happiest self. That is not necessarily true. I am a poet - my writing is dependent upon being miserable. The poems I write when I am happy do not resonate with me and probably not with my readers. I need superficial tragedies, arguments, disagreements, hurt feelings, a sense of being wronged in order to create work that has even a whisper of being placed at a lit mag. And though most of the time I bring my cheerful positive self to this blog (and I will not be surprised if you all stand up and say, "But Noor, you are a morose writer and you don't bring your cheerful self to this blog"), that is not my "normal" self. When I write in this space, I emulate the woman I want to be - the one who stands in her balcony every morning watching the sun bleed into the sky, the one who feels a sense of utter and profound contentment, the one who writes about life's little matters because, after all, those are the matters that matter. I wouldn't say that it is an entirely inaccurate depiction of myself, but it is certainly an extension of my character. 

You'll forgive me, of course, for this pretense, won't you? I am a poet who likes to experiment with identity and belonging. This is a natural result of that, you see. In any case, I wrote very honestly just now, and so I must extend my hand towards you in salutation. Hi! Good to meet you today!

Photos by Rebecca McCue

Telling Our Stories

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life
I drive the same way home every day. When I emerge from a bend on the freeway, circling on I-280 South past Page Mill, I see a breathtaking view ahead of me. On my left there are the domes of three hills, lush with small blades of grass today, a forlorn deeper green tomorrow, turning brown and patchy another day. On my right there is a towering house hidden behind trees. On an afternoon that blooms as an afterthought to rain, clear and clean, tufts of cottony clouds seem to be hovering above this house. On stormy days, the trees are swaying in front of the topmost tower's topmost windows. In winter, thickets of fog seem to leech on to the ocher exterior of the house and the naked tree limbs. In summer, the house looks bright, the trees full and fat, the sky glitters in the background. It's the same road, the same house, the same age-old trees, but they look different every day. As I merge on to the freeway, I wonder how the house past the bend in the road will look like and how it will make me feel, because it does evoke something different in me every time I see it. These feelings are colored by the successes and set-backs of the day, tinged by the bitterness of failure sometimes, flavored by the aftertaste of disappointment. Sometimes, I am able to find absolute beauty when I look at this house in the heart of the hills, because I bring my happiness with me. It may look like it is crumbling in a winter storm and I may still find it to be a metaphor for resilience, because despite the stony rain and the whipping winds, it stands like it always has, sand-colored with red trimmings around the window glass, peeking through the shivering trees. I find a new story during my drive home this way, and the image of the house makes me bookmark them.

There are so many stories I haven't told. Messy stories. Stories of fear and heartbreak and failure and disillusionment and strength and grit and joy. I don't even know where to begin to tell them. It's odd that I feel so full of these stories, but at the same time, I am so distant from writing one down on paper. To talk about just one, I want to shape a poem around an afternoon during my childhood that taught me a hard and menacing lesson about this world. I want to transport myself to that nine-year-old's body with the two pigtails and the new frock, the hammering heart, the small feet running past the iron gates, into the heart of the house, the trembling hands not knowing what to hold on to, the trimmed fingernails finding a sagging wax candle on a pillar near the stairs, scratching it, clawing at it, breaking it down. The mother looking at that nine-year-old girl curiously, pausing on her way downstairs, "What's wrong?" "Nothing," a croak from the child's parched throat, and all the while her soft nails cracking while shredding the candle to pieces.

How much does a writer choose not to tell in her story? How much should she tell? Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird, suggests telling everything, but she also doesn't pretend that it is easy to do so. I can see how telling some stories that I have chosen not to share yet will be therapeutic, but I am afraid of the walls that I will run into over and over. I have built concrete mazes around these stories over the course of many years. How do I start breaking them down, how do I start peeling away the paint that is supposed to hide the ugliness of truth? How do I make myself remember...

Every day, when I come upon that house on the freeway, it makes its way into my story for that day. I package it into memory and put it away. I imagine different people living in it, caring for it, I embellish it in my mind, and sometimes I deface it. Today, having decided to write about the house and about the fear of sharing the other more sinister stories, I kept my eye trained on the hills, but I couldn't find it. One bend after another I searched the landscape, but I could not locate that house or the mounds across from it. I must have simply missed it as I was trying to merge with the oncoming traffic. However, this meant that I had to reach into the recesses of my memory and dig out the images I had filed away, unconsciously, for many days. I closed my eyes and I saw that house again when I began to write this post. I saw it as I had seen it on those wintry days, on rainy evenings, during high summer. I saw it and I wrote about it from memory. I must reach back to that nine-year-old girl. I must touch her bleeding fingers. I must hold her and tell her, It's alright. I can't make her say to her bemused mother, "I am so scared," but I can convince her to breathe, to close her eyes, to remember. I can look into her terrified face and say, Let me tell our story, and then somehow muster the courage to live up to this promise. 

Photos by Rebecca McCue

The Art of Losing Your Mind

Wednesday is my least favorite day of the week. You have successfully traversed two days of the workweek, but there are still two whole days looming ahead. Like most Wednesdays, today was marked by a normal headache exacerbated by virtue of starting work really early in the morning on poor-quality sleep for the third day in a row. Effectively, I function on half the normal brain power I usually have on this wretched day in the middle of the week. I have demonstrated this spectacularly in the past, like telling a co-worker about her surprise farewell cake in front of the whole lab. Revealing which central character died in a popular show when a co-worker had explicitly told me he had not seen that particular episode - this happened without any provocation, or even the slightest inquisition from said co-worker. I just couldn't contain all my slippery thoughts and they tumbled out in a really careless manner, after which I had to cover my face to hide the embarrassment and horror at what I had done. Other elaborate displays of a case of "Wednesday Mindlessness" include graceless tumbles in the office, talking with a guest in the lab and preternaturally losing my grip on a cup of lukewarm tea, which proceeded to splash all over the carpet in an elaborate display of mud-colored fountains, calling a male coworker (Baggy) by a female coworker's (Gabi) name multiple times in the same meeting, and others...

What unfolded today was worse than my usual Wednesday Mindlessness, however. It was several rungs above (or should I say below, hmm...see I  can't think straight today) my pregnancy brain mishaps, and following that, the mommy brain incidents. Now you might think after you're done with reading this blog post that this wasn't so dramatic. It wasn't even that funny. But you have to understand, in the two moments I am going to relate here, I felt like: 
a. In Moment 1 - like I had been put under the Imperius curse
b. In Moment 2 - like I had used Hermione's time-turner and come face-to-face with myself, and as you know, even the most powerful wizards can lose their mind if they meddle with time. 
(If you don't know what I am talking about, tsk, tsk, I am SO disappointed in you. Please do yourself a favor and start reading Harry Potter RIGHT NOW!)

Moment 1: I have arrived in the office and not immediately gone for my customary cup of coffee. My head feels like it had a forceful impact with something cold and metallic and has been wrapped in an ice-pack. It feels full, heavy, and like something's sloshing in there sickeningly. My nose feels similarly under the weather. This is not a cold - it is a case of allergies. This is a bad day. Around 8 AM, I drag myself to the break room and start brewing my coffee. Rebecca, my best friend (and manager) follows me and starts brewing her tea. A coworker walks in and starts talking to me about a project we are working on. I try to articulate a response, which sounds very clear and straight-forward as I am thinking about it (albeit a bit bumpy due to the choppy tide in my head). I open my mouth and say "Usman." Rebecca snickers. My co-worker looks at me like I have gone crazy. "What?" I have the following realizations in this order: my husband has put me under the Imperius curse; no, he probably hasn't because I wouldn't be cognizant of this if he had; dammit, Harry Potter isn't real; I really meant to say my boss Sean's name; how do I get out of this situation, will it sound weird if I follow-up now with my original train of thought; oh, screw it, I am doing it. This took maybe 5 or 6 seconds, during which time my co-worker was staring at me with a mixture of concern and surprise. Here's how I salvaged the situation: "Excuse me, but I haven't had my first cup of coffee yet and my allergies are killing me, I am really not even present, part of me thinks I am still sleeping." Awkward laughter. "What I meant to say is, Sean asked us to do such and such by such and such date." Whatever. Life goes on. 

Moment 2:  Around 2 PM, my body is once again screaming for caffeine. The 3 cups of coffee all day have not been enough, but my head feels much better because Rebecca gave me an anti-histamine to take in the morning. I walk to my co-worker (who is also an awesome poet) Sara's desk and we chat for 10 minutes about an upcoming talk we have to give to a guest. Ironically, our conversation circles around not being able to recall exactly what we're supposed to tell this guest. Neither of us remembers the details because we didn't write them down, which clearly was a mistake. We try to retrace our steps to the time when the meeting was first set up and draw up a rough plan to tackle the topics we will be covering. Easy breezy - I am so glad I have Sara to do imaginary things with, like retracing my steps to three weeks ago when we first talked about this particular guest's visit. "I really need a cup of coffee now," I say and go to the break room. I brew a cup of Newman's Own and add my usual cream and two packets of fake sugar (I know, it's not even coffee by the time I am done with it), take a huge gulp, and jauntily walk back to my desk to prepare for my next meeting. I walk into the office with my coffee cup and see a full steaming cup of coffee already on my desk. What the what? I stare at the cup in my hand and back at the cup on the desk. What in the world is going on? I taste the cup on the desk. Yep, it's mine. An inch of cream and two packets of fake sugar. I have no memory of making that cup. Fleetingly, I think of time travel in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, but am too awake to actually dwell on it. I take both cups to Sara's desk. In a stricken voice, I say to her, "I have to share something with you. I think I am losing my mind." I tell her what I have just done - made two cups of coffee, not having any memory of making the first cup. She bursts out laughing. Correction. She cackles delightfully. It is too funny for her. She says, "Yes, you are really losing your mind, but I can relate to it!" And then follows up with, "Are you getting enough sleep?" As I am lamenting the loss of my senses, I suddenly remember making the first cup. I went to the break room, came back to my office, had a few sips of my coffee, and even told Rebecca about a conversation I had with someone while making coffee. I then went to Sara's desk to talk about the upcoming talk I had on my to-do list. Then, forgetting all about the cup on my desk, I went to the break room again and brewed another cup of coffee, after which I felt for a moment like I had made bad use of Professor McGonagall's time turner, and subsequently like I was headed for a psychotic break. Yes, I don't dramatize and exaggerate a situation at all. 

It is almost 9 PM now and I have recounted this bad case of Wednesday Mindlessness for you so that I can look back to this on future Wednesdays and pacify myself, "See, so what if you fell on your face, or told someone their favorite character in a book will die at the end, you are still having a better day than that accursed Wednesday." But I also find myself wishing that I had been under the Imperius curse, or I had meddled with time using the time turner, because that would mean Hogwarts is real! I really should get some sleep now, not because I am afraid that you will think I am not a serious writer if I have silly wishes of being at Hogwarts, but because of this: If I am wishing to be under the Imperius curse, then I really must be very tired indeed. Good night, folks. 

Photos by Rebecca McCue

Good Coffee, Good Company, Good Collections

I discovered coffee, real coffee, in college: The rich smell of a hot cup warming my senses in the UC Davis Coffee House as the heat emanating from it rejuvenated my frozen, aching fingers after a solitary walk from my off-campus housing to an early morning class; the thick layer of cream I added to it and two packets of Splenda; such joy in the first sip, such satisfaction, every single time.

I am proudly and unabashedly addicted to coffee. And I take my coffee with cream and Splenda - no black intense business for me, thank you very much. While coffee is a pleasure to be enjoyed in solitude for me, it is also the perfect accent when I have company. It makes bad company tolerable, allows me to slug through the endless conversations that often have a circular nature, refreshes me so I can keep the pointless and inane small talk going, going, going until I can mercifully extricate myself from the situation without being enervated. It enhances pleasant company, too, highlights the easy flow of stimulating conversation, adds to the element of savoring the moment.

I am surprised to realize just now that I have never mentioned my collection of coffee mugs in this space. I started collecting them in college. I suppose the timing coincided perfectly with my morning brimming with the promise of a steaming cup of coffee at the destination. I have about 50 mugs now - not a grand collection by any stretch of the imagination. They are beautiful, each one having its own significance. I remember exactly where I bought each piece. I also have a pristine recollection of who gave me which mug if it happens to be a gift. I would love to display them in large glass cases arranged neatly in rows, the character of each mug visible, the vibrant and muted colors lined side by side. Unfortunately, they are gathering dust in a kitchen cabinet, but I do try to use some of them from time to time.

While I still adore coffee mugs, I am shifting my focus slightly to bone china. I have two fine porcelain sets, which I have loved dearly for the last few years and used with care. I was satisfied with them until recently when my sister introduced me to Royal Albert bone china. I am sure it was polite and casual interest at first on my part, but as I have looked at it more on eBay, and especially after buying a few pieces, it has become a sort of scaled-down obsession, much like the coffee mugs were when I first started collecting them. Each one of the pieces I have bought is beautifully crafted, and I can already tell that if this transitions into a collection, it's going to be a burden on my wallet. This is not a humble coffee mug with a clever message. This is vintage fine china. The Big Leagues.

My love for coffee and coffee mugs is still flourishing. I will always reach for a tall sturdy mug to pour perfectly brewed coffee. But this new interest in vibrant pieces of china manufactured many years ago, this has a different feel to it. It's like grown up love as opposed to young love. While it may not have the same degree of passion, it's sure to have endurance. I am looking forward to being swept away.

Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn

My middle sister, who lives in Tokyo, sent me a curious message yesterday on g-chat. Before I tell you what the message was and why I am writing this post, I must tell you something about how my sister and I have become friends as adults - we were not grandfathered into friendship because we played house together as children. Our friendship came about because we actually chose to make a very targeted effort towards understanding and listening and becoming friends. There was no compulsion involved. We had decided that we would always be sisters, but we could choose, without crticism, whether or not we wanted to become friends.

My sister, Qurat, is a much kinder person than I am. I am not an unkind person, but I have a very low threshold for bullshit. Consequently, I am much more impatient (and fast) at weeding out negative people and influences from my life. I have no patience for forgiveness, and definitely none for politely keeping up appearances for people. These are not virtues - simply a set of values I have come to live by. My life is too busy, too short, too full to accommodate, to put it quite bluntly, other people's bullshit. Simple philosophy: Love fiercely those who deserve your love, weed out everyone else from the perimeter of everyday thought - they will exist in the fringes, of course, but they are not important enough or interesting enough for active screen time. It took me years to get to this place of contentment, and a lot of my strength behind consistently implementing this life-lesson comes from having a very cohesive and protective circle of family and friends, my insulation from all the aforementioned bullshit. My sister is a more open person than I am. She lets people in. People, in general, are really fond of her, because she is just a genuinely pure and nice person, someone who makes you feel important when she talks to you. She has this way - it's hard to explain, but it's like having Miss Honey from Matilda by your side all the time when you're with her.

So, I think I have very well established that we are quite, quite different. Even as less as two years ago, we would invariably end our conversations with arguments and judgments (more from me than her), because we would each say something (most of the time, inadvertently) to tick the other off. Then we had a series of conversations. We decided to really give each other a few minutes of listening without question or judgment when we talked. And I think we both helped each other - she made me more compassionate, and I would like to think that I contributed something, too, although what it is exactly, I don't know.

In light of all this, Qurat's message yesterday surprised me. "I think today's blog post was too personal, something not meant for public view." I was partly taken aback because Qurat never offers any kind of criticism (so this comment was good, she is not loving her sister's writing blindly), and partly because I have written other posts that are much more personal, intensely so. What was different about this one? Aha! It was the "I met a boy, left Pakistan for him, married him" story. The admission of leaving home for love is definitely still more than a little scandalous back home. I can imagine people asking questions like, "How did her parents let her leave?" "How shameless of her to write about this as if it's something to be praised." "What kind of message is this?" "Would she be OK if her own daughter decided to follow someone in the name of love?" My little sister was feeling protective of me. I am so full of love for her right now, which is why I do have to address this here, in this space where the original story appeared. Chin up, little sister.

The fact is, I have so systematically removed myself from the mouths that spew such nuggets of wisdom - err, excuse me, I meant nuggets of bullshit - that I don't even take such things into account. It wasn't until I had thought a fair bit about what Qurat said and talked to her on Skype afterwards that I truly realized the implications of such an admission. Pervasive judgment. So, let's get something straight. All due respect to people who still care about this mentality, but frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn. And that makes me abrasively honest. That may not be a universally good thing, but it works for me. There are things I haven't written about here, because like any other person, I have matters I struggle with in the privacy of my own thoughts, but I am actively working towards conquering them and maybe penning them one day.

Remedy for a Broken Heart

Human beings are flawed at best and wicked at worst. This means that one expected outcome of even the most well-intended interactions is the potential of causing injury to the sensibilities of at least one party involved. More often than not, however, relationships that begin with promises of love and friendship morph dismally into purposefully malicious and hurtful interactions, orchestrated by at least one person in the relationship, and often both. This results in some hearts that are - for a time, at least - proverbially broken.

The best remedy for a broken heart, I find, is a strange amalgamation if things. The company of friends who know when to let you cry and when to ask you to pull yourself together, long solitary walks, books that make you think, movies that don't, comfort food in a warm, familiar kitchen, cooking and baking - I find that the kitchen becomes a place of solace, acceptance, and catharsis when I am nursing my broken heart. And so, I end up spending a lot of time polishing the glassware and silverware, baking elaborate cakes, cooking delicacies that take several hours to prepare, and somehow with the help of friends and filler activities mentioned above, I find that the heart, broken but resilient, mends itself.

It is definitely easier to realize as you grow older that no matter how impossible it may seem, the broken heart will, in fact, heal . First of all, you cry less at 28 as opposed to 18. Whereas 10 years ago, I would have cried dramatically for several days, now I only cry for a few minutes and get on with my life. Maybe this control over my faculties comes from knowing that no one thing or person deserves the kind of effort that is expended in crying, the brutal force of it, the headache that follows, the overwhelming self-pity and sadness. The other thing to realize also - and I know this may not apply in all cases, but is common enough that it deserves to be mentioned - is that more often than not, the person who breaks your heart is being cruel for the sake of being cruel. The person who breaks your heart is actually trying to make you hurt, unravel you, peel you back like layers of an onion, expose you, bring you to your knees, make you weak, weep, wail, react.

Once you gain this perspective, it is remarkably easy to not let anyone exercise that kind of influence over your heart. It gives you the strength to allow your heart to break in a resolute silence - you know, after all, that there will be plenty of time to pick up the pieces later. Whereas love, by way of its colloquial definition, makes you strong, the act of inflicting someone with heartbreak is the opposite: It is (not always, but most of the time) a deliberate and arguably cold-blooded initiative to strip you (the victim) of every last reserve of strength you have worked so hard to build.

I, in my exquisite stubbornness and intricate melancholy, do not give people the satisfaction of having wronged me. Contrary to what I have read about heartbreak, I maintain that pride is probably the easiest entity to salvage in the carnage of such a situation. As I have mentioned above, there are certain steps you can take, like not reacting, maintaining an icy silence, et cetera, to preserve your pride. What is entirely unsalvageable in matters of the heart that end badly, is trust. I would argue that you are not necessarily reeling from the shock of hurtful words and actions that have made your heart implode, but from the underlying betrayal, which brings the bulk of negativity back to the self: "How could I be so stupid?" "How did I not realize this?" "How did I let this happen?" "Why did I make myself go through this?" Et cetera. It's the betrayal, cold and sharp as a blade, that delivers the final blow, that annihilates any last remnant or semblance of being whole.

And now what? The heart is, as established, unfortunately and decidedly broken. You have agonized over the culprit behind the heinous act, you have recognized your strengths, and harbored your weaknesses. Now begins the long but finite journey of putting the pieces back together. It's time to heal and mend and laugh again. So, for me, this part involves comfort and writing and cuddling with my baby girl. Lots of cooking and baking. Reading. Doing good things with good people.

What does the road to a mended heart look like for you?

Photos by Rebecca McCue

Comfort Food

Weekends used to be sacred in my mother's household when I was a little girl. My sisters and I were too young to have plans of our own, and we were allowed to sleep in.  My parents were in the "steady" stage of their careers; they were satisfied, but had not yet reached the point of working long days, having a demanding schedule, and occupied weekends. That time still remains one of the happiest of my life. 

Some weekends we used to wake up to my father clanging pots and pans in the kitchen. He would plan to cook for all of us to give my mother a break and to remind us of a very important detail. "I taught your mother how to cook, after all," he'd say, surrounded by mason jars of spices, jars of lentils and Basmati rice, flour rising in plumes from a stainless steel bowl as he banged spatulas and ladles on the counter. After many hours in the kitchen, my mother hovering on the edges, the maid's nerves overwrought with the anxiety of getting my father everything he needed while not getting in his way, my father would call out our (nick)names, "Ainee, Renu, Munnuuuuuuu!" We'd rush downstairs, starving, only to be greeted by a giant serving bowl of daal (lentils) on the table with a side of plain white rice, mint and cilantro chutney, and a chopped cucumber and red onion salad. "Daal!" We would crumple our little noses and roll our eyes at the food. "Don't you make faces now," my father would wag a finger at us. "You'll love it."

We always ended up loving the simple meal of lentils and white rice, eating expertly with our fingers, laughing at jokes my father told us as my mother admonished him for this or that with the overbearing task of cleaning the kitchen looming large. I can't eat as deftly with my fingers anymore. I have to use silverware now, but daal chawal is a dish that still looks great on the dining table and is satisfying despite its simplicity. I probably don't make daal as good as my father used to, but it's my go-to meal on busy days when I can't be bothered to plan a menu or cook an elaborate meal. I pair it with chappali kebabs to appease the meat-eaters in my household. It is a well-loved combination now - the light, creamy texture of daal with the rich, smoky flavor of kebabs.

Photos by Rebecca McCue