Back Again in That Place

Lahore, New Year's Eve, 2002. A few of us piled into my mother's minivan and went to Food Street. It staggers me to realize that this was 11 years ago. I don't remember the evening, but I can feel those 3o minutes we spent in the heart of the city. I wore a thick polyester blend shalwar kameez, navy blue. The fashion was drastically different at the time. The slim-fitting shirt reached my knees and the pants were bell-bottoms. I can still feel the cold metal chairs, the unsteady table, my breath coming out in warm puffs, the heat of the barbecue pit, the smoke from the grill, the easy laughter between us. Was it really over a decade ago? Two drunk men on the table next to ours. Their argument. My best friend's panic-stricken murmur: "They've got a gun." All of us backing away, breaking into a run, reaching the van and laughing in a mixture of fear and exhilaration from cutting through the winter air, the cold slapping our faces, our noses beginning to run, our eyes watering. Deciding itt was probably just a prank, but wanting to get out of there anyway. Did we actually eat something, I wonder now...

It was a bare street back then compared to the beautiful gazebo-lined haven it has become now. The palm trees dotting the sophisticated roadside eatery stalls shocked me today when I saw this picture. I remember the bitter cold, the asphalt underneath my chappals, uneven and cracked in places, a gutter running along some parts of the street, uncovered cooking stations, crude grills, plastic outdoor furniture, delicious food. My memory has become insufficient, I realize, and unreliable.

My city, if I can still call it that, has changed in the last decade - like me. Every morning I see the two gray hairs I have acquired, one on each side of my forehead. The makeup I have been wearing for years is beginning to settle into the finest of laugh lines around my mouth, noticeable only to me for now. Two fingers of my left hand are arthritic. I cannot bend them comfortably until early afternoon every day. My wrists crackle like corn popping on an open flame. The inflection in my voice changes, depending on who I am talking to. "Do you realize your accent transforms when you talk to someone from home," my American friends ask me, which is a sharp contrast to my family's playful taunts, "'Nor' is just soooooo American." I don't try to speak one way or another. It just happens because I have lived here for 11 years. And there are certain words I accentuate differently that illuminate this fact for both Americans and Pakistanis, but the focus of this reality changes based on who is observing it. To Americans, my shifting accent confirms that I have only lived here for 11 years rather than my whole life; to Pakistanis, the variance in intonation is a testament to the 11 whole years I have been away from home. It is the same fact, but the interpretations are vastly different, though equally significant. The fact is simple. In a space of a decade, change simply happens. It's not something you do consciously, "Today, I am going to work on pronouncing 'schedule' the American way." You just wake up one day and stop saying it the British/Pakistani way. You've been saying it for months before you realize you've made the switch, and when you do, you observe a private moment of both triumph (for acculturation) and mourning (for leaving the past behind). Change just cocoons you in such a space of years.

Then why is it such a visceral shock for me when I see pictures of Lahore and its streets look nothing like I remember them? It feels scandalous, this change, improper, like a wine stain spreading on a starched white lace doily - the result of over-indulgence or incapacity. It also unsettles me that even after so many years of living in California, I cannot write about its sounds and smells and sights with the familiarity and ease I experience upon describing Lahore. I have made this place my home, but what is home, really? Is it the 25 miles of scenic freeway between the door of my house and that of my office? What about the vastness beyond - the breathtaking landscape that stretches before me in every direction, which I recognize only from a distance. 

I wonder then, will I always dream of the narrow alleys of Old Lahore, always write about a certain river drying up in the heat and swelling with the monsoons, always return in my thoughts to the places that no longer look like I left them? 

Photo by Rebecca McCue

Chicken with Cilantro Pesto and Striking a Balance

All weekend I had this nagging feeling that I was forgetting something. I was relaxed, cuddling with Jahan all day, shopping with the family, cooking and cleaning the kitchen. The sudden calm was strange because I have been so wound up lately. I have had a mental list of things that are overdue, trying desperately to cross items off, and this weekend, quite surprisingly, the list disappeared, and I didn't know what to do with myself. Have you ever felt this way? You become so used to completing tasks that you forget how to live in their absence.

I have struggled for a long time to balance the different "categories" of my life. It's more than work-life balance - it's an effort to stand on a narrow platform that perches precariously between sanity and insanity. It is impossible to function entirely in the Sanity Meadow and a nightmare to imagine doing so in the Insanity Jungle. People like me, therefore, who are often zigzagging into and out of each realm prefer to strike a balance and exist in the narrow border between the two. I am not always successful at this endeavor, but it is worth striving for.

Having a temporary reprieve from the pestering task list that is bound to multiply its contents rapidly, I felt a pull towards the kitchen. I wore my mother's clothes that she had left in my closet, because I was missing her. Wearing them, I felt closer to her and told her so over Skype. I regretted the days I wasted when she was here in my house, and I was too busy crossing off items on my task list to sit down with her over hot cups of chai and talk about whatever was on her mind. There were too many "should-haves" on the tip of my tongue and dwelling over them in any detail would disintegrate my composure, so I strayed away from that topic altogether. I was talking to her after a long time. Calling my mother, I am ashamed to admit, had not been checked off on my to-do list, but mothers have superhuman abilities to forgive.

I promised myself to consciously make an effort to strike a balance. I want to never let the things that matter to me lapse again because there is too much to do. The fact is, there will always be too much to do. I don't want these days, months, and years to pass me by because I was too busy looking the other way. I want to live, really live. To me, that translates into doing things I love with the people I love. I will love more, give more, and write more. I will call my mother and tell her, you know what, Mom? You're pretty damn cool, and I am proud to be your little girl. I hope one day you can be proud of me, too. I will cook and bake and write and tell the whole world about the things that matter to me

Happily fueled by my resolutions, I was all set to get back into the kitchen and resume my collaboration with Rebecca, in which I cook and she photographs. I adapted a Bon Appetit recipe for this occasion. I used pine nuts instead of pistachio, added more garlic, used dark meat instead of chicken breast, and added red chili flakes to the chicken in addition to salt and pepper. It was fitting, then, that I chose this recipe for my inaugural day in the kitchen after a long hiatus. It was like I had created a dish to seal my promise of striking a balance in my life. The nuttiness in the pesto was perfectly complemented by the garlic. The red chili flakes gave the chicken a slight dimension in flavor while not taking away from the mildness in the sauce. Perfectly balanced, I thought. The dish turned out to be terrific. I made a small salad on the side with Ceasar dressing. For dessert, we watched Jahan devour a chocolate chip cookie.

Photos by Rebecca McCue

A Handful of Memories

I often tend to liken memory to a mosaic, small pieces of the past haphazardly joined together to create a pattern. A mosaic that I hold in my hands, which ripples over my skin, one specific incident of the past catching light, jogging some deep-rooted recognition I held of it that I have long since buried underneath the mundanities of the present. It takes me by surprise sometimes. I am jolted awake right before drifting off to sleep when an odd image makes its appearance just when consciousness is slipping away, beckoning me. Something new, or something from my childhood. Something wholly ordinary that should have no meaning and no place here, now, after a long day when all I want to do is close my eyes and be lost to the world. Just the complete peculiarity of a memory asserting its presence when I have made no effort to conjure it is enough to unnerve me and wake me up.

I was thinking about the workbook I have been meaning to start working through - Story-Starters - and the first exercise, which is to write about where you come from. Lahore, I was thinking. Ravi. Jasmines. Cliches, all of these. Kalima Chowk. Liberty Market. Convent of Jesus and Mary. The images were coming slowly now. Street food. My father's farmhouse. Earthworms after a monsoon downpour...Pigeons! What?! Pigeons? All of a sudden I felt very awake as if someone had called my name inside the darkened room to rouse me.

For many years during my childhood, my uncle raised pigeons. He built a roomy cage for them on our rooftop, filled with moss and leaves and bird feeders. I remember the birds pecking on grains that he used to scatter on the concrete floor of the roof, their funny little necks bobbing backward and forward. They would fly off in groups, in white and gray rings, swooping and rising, disappearing, but always coming back, always finding their way home. I wonder what happened to them. I distinctly remember a time when my uncle had them and a time when he didn't. Perhaps he sold them, or found them another home. I felt an odd pang of longing for those birds I had no particular feelings for during my childhood. Where did they go?

There have been memories in the past that have startled me awake from the shallows of slumber. The way my grandmother used to keep a small linen pouch pinned to the inside of her shirt holding a round cylinder of small bills. The smell of new notebooks and the brown paper we used as sleeves for them right before the school year began. A walk on the Mall Road in Murree more than two decades ago when I bought a fur hat that was too big for a 7-year-old head. The time my sister and I were sent to school on a holiday by mistake and spent the whole day with Sister Grace, having tea and scones, visiting the chapel, playing in the kindergarten play room. The sound of water rushing out of the tube-well's spigot at my family's farmhouse. The smell of a large bouquet of tube-roses my father always arranged in a crystal vase in the drawing room. Knitting a scarf that was destined to stay incomplete in front of the gas heater while my mother shelled pine nuts and handed them to me. The roasted and salted almonds served as an appetizer at Mei Kong restaurant in Barkat Market. The way the canal was dressed up like a bride to celebrate the spring festival with beautiful hand-crafted floats dotting its calm waters. Turning towards the airplane window, away from other passengers on my journey here, a weight in the pit of my stomach, sobs heaving my shoulders, rubbing my throat raw as I saw Lahore receding underneath me...

I could write a thousand or more words on each of these fragments, and I might just do that in the coming days, so strong are the recollections I encounter when my defenses are diminished. It is like I am cupping hundreds of these tiny memories in my hands, treasuring them, and if I move just the right way, one slips trough my fingers and lands on the floor. I am compelled, then, to bend down, examine, retrieve, and restore it. Back into the pile it goes just to resurface another day. Some of them tighten ther grip on my heart, give me a dull ache where once a stronger sensation used to be, like my memory of the journey away from Lahore, towards my life as it is now. Others leave me with a warm happiness; I see it spreading through me thick and golden and sweet like honey, like the memories I have of the day my sister and I spent in a deserted school building with Sister Grace. Yet more leave me wondering, or with a sense of longing and regret and confusion. 

Why was I startled awake by the image of those pigeons that appeared behind my eyes and swiftly vanished like a picture in a book whose pages I am rolling between my thumb and forefinger? I am only left with meaningless questions about some memories that are not salient in and of themselves, but lead to other strings of events, people, milestones. The pigeons got me to think of my uncle, the love he has given me unconditionally and liberally my whole life. I started to recall other details I observed about my uncle during my childhood. The brand of cigarettes he used to smoke, the small golden pack, the contents of which I used to break into tiny pieces in an effort to make him quit, for instance. Or the huge kites that he used to store in his room. For months he collected kites and rolls of string in every color and size for the annual spring festival called basant. And this is the spark that lights the fire under all the basants I remember, the tiny kites dotting the azure sky, the little girls dressed in yellow dresses symbolic of new beginnings and growth...

It's a spiral, really, and the pigeons are the place to start. Round and round and round it goes, it burrows through the handful of memories to a deeper place - the place I go to so I can write this.

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.

Broken Promises & A Birthday Party

I know, I know, what was I thinking? A post a day? Every day? For a whole month? I must have been half asleep when I bound myself in that promise. But I had a pretty good run. 9 days. That's not bad, right?

Somewhere along the one-post-per-day discipline that I tried so hard to inculcate in myself, I realized that I definitely don't want to post for the sake of posting. Who am I to think that my anxieties matter to my readers. I can almost feel people rolling their eyes, cringing even, "Who does she think she is, anyway? Hey, you, yes, you, no one cares about your panic attacks. Get a hold of yourself and write a real post!" Oh, alright. Not every day then, because I can't possibly explore little matters that matter every single day and articulate them well enough to share with all of you. Every other day, then. Or as often as I am able to. I will do my daily writing exercises every night, though, once I get started on Story-Starters

So, that was a very round-about, self-involved (in the disguise of self-deprecating humor) way of making my apologies. Shall we move on?

I have a habit of setting myself up for failure. Spinning this positively, I can say that I am habitually ambitious to the point of exhausting myself. Yes, I will post every day. Of course I will exercise every afternoon. Sure, doing an hour of Zumba is a piece of cake. Yes, I will bake a 2-tier cake for my baby's second birthday and do the decorations and work on the favors and be the perfect hostess. Whew! Unrealistic expectations result in the realization of only one of two possibilities: Making a Herculean effort to do the things I have committed to doing, or failing spectacularly in the process, resulting in - yep, you guessed it - broken promises. 

So, no more forced posts (or impulsive promises). I will try to make meaningful and thoughtful appearances in this space, rather than hurried and dutiful ones. 

But while we're on the subject of my two-year-old's birthday, it was quite a success if I do say so myself (only because I had a HUGE amount of help and support from friends and family). It took me weeks to envision and plan it so I had everything matching my imagination with exactitude. The weather was perfect; Balmy and bright after a cold spell in mid-October, the colors of Fall already peeking in through the foliage, a slight breeze cooling off the guests as they enjoyed the barbecue and ran after their toddlers. The birthday girl had a wonderful time, which was only part of the goal, of course. If I am to be entirely honest, I planned the day because I wanted to throw a damn good party. I hate celebrating my own birthday with pizazz, but love putting together celebrations for other people. And this is the little love of my life we're talking about. She will get her mother's tireless efforts thrown into creating memorable birthday parties for her every year. Little baby girl - already two years old. Who knows how much longer I will be able to exercise my vision and plans for her parties. Pretty soon she's going to want a trip to Disney on Ice with her friends for her birthday rather than an elaborate barbecue in the park that her mother agonizes over for weeks. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it, however. For now, pictures of the beautiful day.

Photos by Rebecca McCue

Controlled Substance - The Practice of Love

One Goll Gappay reader pointed out the importance of "understanding" in a relationship that I highlighted in two of my posts. When I think or write about love, I immediately weigh the understanding that is inherent in all of my relationships. And what exactly do I mean by this word - understanding? To me, it is simply the non-judgmental comprehension of the intentions of the person I love. For instance, even if I disagree with my sister over a fundamental difference in opinion, if I can understand her motivations and beliefs, we can meet halfway. There is a secondary definition as well, and that has to do with having patience and respect for our differences.

I marvel at the depiction of love, regardless of whether it is romantic or not, that is thrust upon us by the world. It is considered passive and external, like something that just happens to you without your control or consent. I emphatically disagree. To continue to love someone, even your family, is a conscious choice, and seeing it through takes a lot of effort. It demands the ability to listen to your loved one, and even if your values differ from them, it requires that you give them an assurance of understanding where they are coming from. Because wouldn't it be easy if our loved ones shared our value systems, our ambitions, our drive, our struggles, our fears, and our triumphs; Wouldn't it be easy to love them then, indefinitely, exponentially, forevermore?

I abhor the notion of passive love, an everlasting spring bubbling inside you, dotted with tiger lilies and surrounded by lush blades of evergreen grasses. Real love, I'm-in-this-for-the-long-haul kind of love is more like an arduous hike in the mountains. It is treacherous. It takes a lot of skill and hard labor to put one foot ahead of the other sometimes, the climb so steep, the distance endless, but you keep on going because there is a breathtaking view at the summit, and it is worth the trek. Sometimes, the climb becomes too costly - your supplies run out, your ankle twists when you step on a rock the wrong way, you encounter a rattlesnake or a mountain lion, or you simply get lost in the wilderness. That's to be expected with such an undertaking. After tackling your adversary, be it a wild animal or a dearth of drinking water, you evaluate your choices. Go downhill where a new course awaits you leading away from your original destination. Or, keep going up the trail, despite the scarcity of comfort, against every muscle in your legs, because getting to the apex is still worthwhile, it is still important. No matter which way you go, your journey is formidable. You must encounter new challenges and overcome them. But the course you choose should make you stay true to yourself, because that summit, this trek, it is all about you.

The objects of my love
Love requires you to give everything you have to give because you choose to, because you think the object of your love is worth it, because this act of giving matters to you, because it is rewarding for you. It is your resolve to give something of yourself to another person, your affection, your attention, your time, and your understanding. It is hard, grueling, back-breaking work. It involves altruism and sacrifice and forgiveness. And you should acknowledge that all of these virtues have limits. You, yourself, have limitations. You should also realize that loving someone is a choice. Your choice. You choose to do it, and you can choose not to.

Love isn't passive. It isn't something that takes hold of you in a moment of weakness. It is what you decide to give consciously. It is in your power to take back. It doesn't make you weak. On the contrary, it is empowering. That's the only kind of love I have in me to give - one that bows to my will, not one I submit to.

Photo by Rebecca McCue

Indiegogo Campaign to Take Papercuts to Print!

My Dear Reader, 

I have not told you much about my involvement with a bi-annual online literary magazine called Papercuts. Papercuts is a publication of Desi Writers' Lounge, an online writing community for emerging South Asian writers run entirely on a voluntary basis. Desi Writers' Lounge was recently represented at literary festivals in both India and Pakistan (Jaipur, Karachi, and Lahore).

I have been editing poetry for Papercuts and Desi Writers' Lounge since 2007. With the recent development of South Asian literature, there is more need than ever before to have communities like Desi Writers' Lounge to support, nurture, and hone nascent talent. There are some very polished voices in South Asian literature, but even more more raw talent that needs such platforms to lose the rough edges. We are excited to be showcasing new writers. The countless hours our team has put into producing the last few issues of Papercuts has been well worth the effort to see our work recognized and advancing the literary industry of South Asia. 

The purpose of this long-winded introduction is to tell you about our recently launched Indiegogo campaign for taking Papercuts to print! This effort is focused on sustaining the growth of our magazine and is entirely non-profit.  I am wondering if you'd take a moment to view our campaign video and share it with your contacts and friends. I cannot describe what a rich, heartfelt, and unparalleled effort our team has made to bring our publication so close to going into print. We are spreading this campaign far and wide to those supportive of literature, emerging writers, this community, and the arts in general to ask for help in achieving our goal of taking this beautiful representation of new writers emerging from South Asia and the diaspora to the world.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and for your consideration. 

Photo by Rebecca McCue

Holiday House

Holiday House

She traced circles on her palm as she told
us the stories of her youth and the fold
in the fabric of history that broke
a nation, birthed two, and many a folk-
tale of love and triumph, battle and loss,
and back to the time she walked across
an intangible border in the land,
the signature of a powerful hand.
The gas heater blazed on those winter eves,
in its labored warmth we watched her weave
long narratives of happiness and grief,
with a side of peanuts and hunter beef.
Her heavy velvet quilt smelled of mothballs
and rosewater. Her plush pashmina shawls
rested thickly folded on her oak bureau -
she tapped it with her nails, a staccato
rhythm, rising and waning with her stories.
The room with its oily glow, and the breeze
stealing through the bamboo shutters, hissing,
running through our cold fingers, carrying
the rich scent of jasmines and wood polish,
gliding over us, and the wainscoting
that creaked in chorus when she stopped speaking,
told us that she had left something unsaid -
was it about life? Was it about death?

Disquietude at half past 11

This afternoon, in the quiet space that stretches as a token of peace between two meetings, I slumped in my chair, rested my head against my hands, and wondered why, on impulse, I promised to write a blog post every day. Even though I have enjoyed writing my last three posts, and they have flowed relatively effortlessly, I was at a loss today.

Just a few days ago, I was complaining to Rebecca. "Why do I sign up for things in the hope that I will somehow magically transform into a different person and actually do them?" For context, I signed up for weekly Zumba and Yoga classes that I have not attended because of a busy schedule at  work and laziness. In addition, I signed up for a Tuesday night poetry class and was unable to attend more than one session because of a very cute two-year-old girl waiting for me at home.

It is very difficult to start these new activities that I so desperately hope to make a part of my life. I want to be the active working mother who also furthers her knowledge of poetry and fiction by taking classes. So far, I've had very little success, but I have resolved to keep on trying. Transformation is not necessary, but something I desire, moving forward, making good changes, growing, because how unfortunate is the alternative?

So today's post is an exercise in making good on a promise intended to foster the good habit of writing in me. It is a small effort to work towards that transformation I am trying to achieve. A more interesting post tomorrow, I hope, but for today, a glimpse into the daily rumination of someone who's not only trying her best, but also striving to make the best of situational limitations.

Until tomorrow, then.

Photo by Rebecca McCue

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.