There are no words

I have lost my words. I have tried to come here and say something, but the words are gone. I have tried to look for them in old photographs, in my daughter's laughter, in the aisles of grocery stores. I have looked for them at work, under my desk, and at home, in the china cabinet. I even played an old Kishore song, thinking they would tumble out in the notes of the sitar. I moved my daughter into the guest bedroom, fluffed up her pillows, arranged her books in neat rows on the nightstand. I gave her a warm bath, massaged her with lavender lotion, and we sat in her new room together, reading books. Then we cuddled in the bed until she fell asleep. I covered her with her Pooh blanket, turned the night light on, and turned the volume of the baby monitor up. I tossed and turned in my bed, thinking of the words I had lost and was awash with anxiety and grief. Giving up on my search for words, I padded into my daughter's room and fell asleep next to her. I woke up several times and gave her kisses, felt her warm forehead next to mine, breathed in the lavender scent, saw her content face. This happened on multiple nights. I gave up my half-hearted efforts to find my words and found comfort, instead, in my daughter. 

There are no words. I am too full of this world. It spills out of me when I try to examine the little matters that matter to me. It hinders me. It tells me there is no little matter that matters. Not really. Life matters. Children matter. But it seems a child of mine matters more... What a lark to have been born to me in this superior and free part of the world. Such good luck for this girl who has seen so little of life and yet is brimming with it. I don't know how to reconcile that in words. I don't know how to keep on reading "Little Monkey" every night when there are so many mothers who are trying to puzzle out this very phenomenon - how is the world still living when my baby is not? Children matter. Life matters. Children matter. Not just our own - every mother's child matters, each life is sacred. Is anyone listening? Because we sure as hell are watching. And it seems we have lost our words. 

Photo by Rebecca McCue

A Poem for Peshawar

Peshawar 2013

let me show you the cost of worship:

a man, with his eyes closed, arms splayed
as if embracing the carnage around him,
another man's hand on his back,
mayhem, comfort

five rescue workers carrying a girl on a charpoy,
rubber flip-flops, one dangling from her foot,
about to fall off,
her bright yellow shalwar with a floral print,
basant, kites                                       dead? alive?
a woman sitting on the ground,
hands clasped, head bent low,
meditative, almost,
a crimson stain on her shoulder, blooming,
a full-mouthed lily, an inkblot
another woman wailing, walking toward the first,
her reaching palm, an effigy in midair,
grief immortalized in the contortion of her face,
kith? kin?
a row of five plain oak coffins,
mercifully closed,
a hand resting on the lid,
precious cargo,
78 dead, over a hundred injured,
death toll climbing, climbing, they say,
like a vine it grows,
no photos of children, yet
no children, please, god, please,
no more, no more

Identity: Sunni, Shia, Pakistani

Read my piece for Desi Writers Lounge's (DWL) Write for Justice - Creative Responses to the Hazara Conflict here.

A sickness is consuming Pakistan from the inside out. Every day, the country bleeds afresh. 

Edited March 5, 2013: The article I wrote for DWL is posted below. 

Identity: Sunni, Shia, Pakistani

My grandmother, a Shia, migrated to Lahore from Amritsar in 1947. At a refugee camp in the newly created Pakistan, she met my grandfather, a Sunni man, broken after the death of his first wife. He married her against the wishes of his family and brought her to his ancestral home in Old City Lahore.

I would like to think that when my grandparents met, they did not ask each other whether they were Sunni or Shia. I would like to think that it simply did not matter. But it did. It mattered to the point that when my grandmother died after 15 years of marriage, my grandfather was forbidden from burying her in the family plot. Since my grandfather’s family was influential in the city, every graveyard in the immediate vicinity refused to accommodate a Shia immigrant’s dead body. Her children cried next to her corpse on a charpoy for hours until a kindly neighbor offered a burial spot in his cellar. And so a neighbor’s house became my grandmother’s final resting place.

My father was raised Sunni by my grandfather, but a son is always partial to what his mother teaches him. A few years ago he put up the Alam on the rooftop of his office building. A report of this recent development reached my husband, who asked me about it. His extended family began to wonder whether I was Shia. I found out that at one point, I was scrutinized by someone who will go unnamed while offering my prayer to glean more information about my religious inclination. The fact that my father wore black all the time and had displayed the Alam openly made some people in my family uneasy.

I decided to have a chat with my father about this. I was furious with him because of several other things that a father and daughter are bound to disagree on, and so I introduced this topic as a way to fuel the raging fire.

“So, are you going around as Shia now?” I barked.

“What? Where is this coming from?” He asked.

“Well, I am told you have the Alam at your office now.”

“I do. And what I practice is none of your damn business.”

He slammed the phone down. I deserved that and more. I cannot believe that I had the audacity to ask him this question just to hurt him, even though I have always identified myself as both Shia and Sunni because of my grandparents, technicalities and subdivisions and religious decrees be damned.

This is the extent to which sectarian discrimination is ingrained into the hearts and minds of Muslims in Pakistan. I am admitting my weakness in that moment. I am deeply, nay, horrifically ashamed of the question I asked my father and the way in which it came out – accusatory – as if he had committed a sin.

Today, I am proud of my heritage as I have always been. I am both Sunni and Shia. I am Muslim. I am human. For god’s sake we are all human. And I am afraid for my friends and family in Pakistan. I am afraid for my father who still has the Alam perched on his office building. I am afraid for my friends whose names identify them as Shias, easy targets for a fanatic’s bullet.
But I will not let my fear silence me. I am Shia and Sunni and Pakistani. And I am standing alongside the families of all those who were massacred. The demands of the nation are simple: The culprits must be punished; they must be brought to justice; sectarian violence must have serious consequences; Shia murders must be stopped. Now.  

Genocide in Pakistan

What is a human life really worth? Maybe I should specify the human - that will make it easier. How much is the life of a Pakistani Shia child worth?

"Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- A series of blasts in the city of Quetta in southwest Pakistan killed 93 people and wounded 169 Thursday, police said.
Children were among the dead, officials said."

Why don't these numbers shake the sensibilities of everyone who matters in Pakistan? Why doesn't the world grieve? Why is there no voice given to these massacred people, many of them children? Just because the world does not see them, is their life worth only a headline? How long will minorities be trampled in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and how long will it be tolerated?

Pakistan is burning. The countrymen watch, throw a few twigs into the fire, someone brings a few bucketfuls of fuel and feeds the flames. Those people who are burning are invisible. No one can see them. And that's why if they turn to char, it doesn't matter at all.