On this independence day, let us not celebrate, but speak up!

There is a lot that Pakistanis are known for. Hospitality. Simplicity. Big Hearts. Narrow minds. Hearty appetites. Superfluous emotions. Vengeance. Betrayal. Loyalty. Indifference. Empathy. Naivety. Shrewdness. Let’s just say we have a touch of everything in our colorful palate of vice and virtue.

But there is something I wish we didn’t have.

Fear of evil. So much so that we can accept it in all its repugnant forms. We can curse it within our hearts, but we can’t openly talk about it. We know it’s there, right beneath our feet, in front of our eyes but it’s always simpler to feign indifference. God forbid, what if an open acknowledgement awakens a well-kept secret, our dust-laden conscience?

It took us a good stretch of decades to come out and speak on certain pressing issues like women’s rights, dowry, poverty, illiteracy, injustice, child labour. But it will take us a lot more to talk about a few other, more dark, even more rotten matters. Social evils that make our stomaches churn with disgust, and our souls twinge with abhorrence. Signs that point towards the end of the world. One of the most vile occurences of evil, rampant across the globe and our country – Child Sexual Abuse.

This is a topic that we can’t even talk about to ourselves, let alone among our families and friends. We love talking about religion. We accept corruption, terrorism and bribery; All much coveted conversations in our smug and mighty drawing rooms. We love pulling at each other’s collars and pointing our nosy fingers into everyone’s business. Why someone got married, why someone didn’t. Why someone had a baby, why someone didn’t. Why someone went abroad for a higher education, or how they got all that money. We love talking about things that don’t concern us. And when it comes to matters that are most important, we lock them all up and throw away the key. For the love of all things pure, we can’t accept evil in its raw, unadulterated form. Our legs quiver when incidents of  rape or adultery spew up. And of course sexual abuse of children is our very own Grimm’s tale. A fairy tale. Until now.

As Pakistan turns 68 in just a few days (14th of August), we are all gifted with a sickening incident involving grave physical and mental abuse of more than 200 children in a certain part of the country. An inconceivable story that surprises us to the core, maybe hoping to wake us up and smell the putrid humanity that lives within us. Begging us to see things for what they are. But did it?

No one talked to us about these things when we were children. Before us. And even before them. It was too inappropriate, too much of a taboo to grace our self-righteous tongues. We read about similar incidents happening in other countries,watched real-life horrendous depictions in the movies and uttered our much-loved word, ‘Tauba’, while grasping and releasing both ears in a criss-cross motion (an action showing our utmost shock and contempt over something).

Our habit of denial and ignorance is the result of a long, deep-rooted process, where we are lauded for burying our faeces in the ground, but slandered for pointing out the putrid smell. As a self-professed aware mother of the 21st century, even I can’t bring myself to read the details of the barbarity. Only because it is in my backyard. My own soil. It’s like reading the morbid facts might set forth a string of bad luck. I can’t even talk about it with loves ones or friends. It weighs so heavily on the heart. Thinking that it might break the superficial pact we’ve signed and sealed as citizens of Pakistan; with the opening and closing lines being – “Oh how ridiculous, these things can’t happen in our country!” But something’s got to give. Enough is enough.

I see a considerable amount of outrage in the social media. But it still only amounts to a negligible percentage of the society. Most homes, towns, and villages where such horrendous actions take place stay off the grid. It’s our responsibility, as parents, as teachers, as guardians of children to stay wary of heinous culprits. To keep an eye on suspicious activities. To make children understand the different between kind and malicious people. To give children enough support and confidence to enable them to speak out against any wrongdoing that is brought upon them, irrespective of what useless spectators might say or do.

This time it happened among us, not too far from our own, apparently infallible lives. But what if there is a next time? Can we afford to stay deaf and dumb again?

On this independence day, let’s not swim in useless rhetoric. It’s our duty to breathe life into our garden. Let us vow to bring down anyone who even dares to pluck our budding flowers. It’s our responsibility to break away from senseless taboos and realize the severity, so this never happens again.

Let’s not sing songs of a land that has never been pure, no matter what name we give it. But instead, let’s speak up for what really matters. The future. Our children.

See, that’s the thing about Plans.

That’s the thing about plans. As fickle a plan may be, like a dew drop it doesn’t die before giving you that tiny hint of hope. It doesn’t melt away before showing you the way. It doesn’t matter if it’s the right way, as long as it pokes you into action, or gives you an ”aha” moment, all is good!

I have never been a planner. I always joke about how plans and I don’t get along. Remember those clichéd quotations about not planning because then when they don’t materialize, our itsy-bitsy hearts crumple? As if an unfinished plan ever killed anyone. Well, I don’t know if that really makes sense any more. Our existence is based on a plan. As elaborate and as vague as it may be, but it’s there, written somewhere within invisible maps. That’s how we are programmed. We need some nuance of a direction to get through the day. We need some subtle hint of objectivity to feel sane in a world that’s all about uncertainty. So why not plan?

I plan to plan. I plan to write. I plan to publish a book some day. I plan to get back to my pre-baby weight (don’t we all!?). I plan to be a better mother. I plan to be a person who matters, not just to her family and loved ones, but to people who aren’t. I plan to move back home some day. I plan to stay close to my parents. I plan to give my children some of the glorious days I lived as a child. I plan to smile more again. I plan to stay more hopeful. I plan not to become cynical and grumpy, but a happy-go-lucky, adventurous old, wrinkly woman. I plan to take care of myself by looking and feeling better.  I plan to sit straight, stand tall and look within. I plan to cry when I’m happy. I plan to smile when I’m sad. I plan to scream less, speak more, and listen the most. I plan to breathe. I plan to see. I plan to touch. I plan to taste. I plan feel. I plan to treat my heart like the infinitely flexible rubber that it is; stretch, stretch, stretch. Oh, and I plan to plan.

This is where plans are different from dreams. Plans are more believable and seem to have more substance. If it’s a dream, then sadly, it may remain as such. Dreams often take the guise of magical fairies living in enchanted distant lands. You imagine them, but you can’t rummage the courage to touch them, or to go look for them. They are also different from wants. We want a lot of things, but without a practical roadmap, they just shrivel up and die, like leaves without water. But if it’s a plan, you are compelled to replace its imaginary existence with something tangible. You are required to breathe life into it in order for it to exist. A noticeable connecting dot. A tingle of light. A checklist. Day 1. Strike!

Sure, it’s not all about the choice of words. It never is. Plans, dreams, hopes, aspirations, desires, wants. At the end of it, they are just combinations of letters we use to give meaning to our lives. Without them, what’s the point? But even with them, is there a point? There is meaning as long as you’re alive. And as long as you’re alive, there has to be a reason. And plans just might give us all that.

My mind’s just spitting up randomness that, in all honesty, might not make any sense. But I’ll always include these words in my vocabulary. I don’t think I want to flee from planning anymore. I will stumble and my toes might bump into some of life’s heavy furniture. And it may hurt as hell. But if I don’t plan to be a better than I was before, there really is no point. Period.


To the kid at the park, I owe you a hug.


I can’t seem to get his face out of my mind. That lost, indifferent look. That look that wanted to be understood. That day at the park.

Summers are finally here in Toronto, and I’d be an outright cruel mom if I didn’t take my children to the park often. So this is exactly what I was doing that day. Sitting back on a bench while my wee ones played around. Now as a parent I don’t hover. I let the munchkins run about and make friends on their own. An occasional interference is called for when my toddler decides to run towards the street.

So my son was playing with a boy he hadn’t met at the park before. He must have been a year or two older than my daughter but definitely younger than my son. He seemed like a good kid and was enjoying trying out my son’s bike. My daughter decided to join the two and somehow she got the little dude all curious. He started running after her and then blocked her way towards the slide and anywhere else she wanted to go. I watched for a while then decided to head over. I could tell that he wanted to play with her but he was doing it all wrong. I casually told him to take turns with the slide. He let her through. I backed off and it started again. I could tell my daughter was getting a bit bothered. So I told him, ” Hey buddy, please share and don’t block her way.” He just looked at me. By now my paranoid-hovering-mom syndrome had completely taken over. I waited a bit longer to see if he would stop. I had seen a middle-aged man telling him to stay inside the confines of the park a while ago. So when he didn’t stop, I decided the oldest threat in the book would work. Of course I had no plans to but I still said, “I think I should talk to your dad.” To which he replied,

“I have no dad.”

Now this is the moment where all the blood drained from my face, an unnerving string of music began playing in the background, and I felt absolutely distraught. I leaned forward to hug the little kid and somehow vowed to help him. If it were a movie of course.

Unfortunately this was real life, and I was totally unprepared to handle such a response. I asked,

“Who do you live with?”

” I don’t know.”

“Where do you live?”

” Oh somewhere there”, he pointed across from the park.

And that was that. It was unbearably windy that day and with all the sand in my eyes and maybe even my brain, I couldn’t think straight. It was time to head home.

I thought about him all evening. I felt bad about threatening him like a tattle tale preschooler. I felt even worse about him going back to a home that he didn’t even know about , and a father he had no idea of. I wondered what his story was. Whatever it was, one of the main characters was missing. Possibly even the other protagonist too, the mom.

Isn’t this how it all starts? An unruly child that no one understands. A boy or a girl who acts out and gets rude stares and comments in return? An unknown dad, a missing mom, or neither?! A broken family where most pieces are beyond recovery. Do we stop to think why a child is acting this way? What’s eating him inside? What’s missing in his or her life? No. We don’t. We just pounce at the chance to show our superiority because we may have oh-so well-behaved children, and that gives us the right to judge another child. Just like that.

Isn’t this how bullies are formed? Instead of empathizing, the society reacts negatively and with intolerance. Sure this doesn’t mean that out of undue sympathy we should let kids get away with bullying or misbehaviour. But it does mean that we should not label them with that one belittling word or action. It does mean that there are other ways to handle a disturbed child besides hate. How can we expect children to understand their wrong actions where all we give them in return is harsh rebuke and lack of faith?

We don’t like giving others second chances. It’s always easier to label a person, even a child, for what he or she does, and not for what he or she is. That’s where the messed up cycle begins. One doesn’t understand the other. And inevitably, ‘that kid’ becomes the outcast; a lost cause; all are names we use to satisfy our egos. Because this somehow excuses us from the responsibility that we might have towards such children. It makes us pack our bags, shrug our shoulders and run back to our homes  pretending that none of it is our concern. Exactly like I what I did that day. I judged him in my head without thinking things through, I acted all self-righteous and then ran away like a scared mouse.

I know that it’s not all this simple. There are always a zillion other factors involved. I am no expert, but I know that it all starts from home. No child is born a bully or a miscreant. It’s life and people like you and me who push the wrong buttons.

I hope I see that kid again though I am not sure what I’ll do. I’ll always jump to protect my children, that bit will never change. But at least I’ll know better than to play a presumptuous role.

Maybe if I see him acting up again, I’ll stop him and just give him a hug.

And maybe, just maybe, he’d understand why it was important to listen to what I was saying. Not because he had to. But because I cared enough.

I discovered that I am my Mother’s Daughter


The Purple Fig

The Purple Fig

Read the original feature on : The Purple Fig


“You look just like Munnoo!”said my grandma several years ago. She always called my mom using her childhood nickname. I was standing in my mom’s kitchen, with my back facing her. “Really?” I laughed in surprise. It was probably the way my hair was done that day; tied up on my head, showing off a meek looking neck that begged for respite from the raging Lahore summers. I never thought I resembled my mama much. Her beauty and ability to look good in anything, her grace and skill, her judgement and critique, her determination and confidence, her kindness and wrath. Who was to know?My grandmother’s statement would often make me wonder in the future.

I was an insufferable part of the corporate sector before I got married. Whenever I got back from work, I’d melt into the living room couch like an overzealous ice cream cone working hard under the sun. House work? Yeah, right. That was never my thing. My mama worked too. Almost all of her life really. But my brother and I never felt her absence. Nor do I remember many times where she was preoccupied more with her work than her family.My little ones sometimes miss me even when I’m sitting right in front of them. Because well, when I write, I forget everything else. Strange, now that I think of it. It seems almost unreal to be present fully in both demanding worlds. But that’s what mama has been always known to do. The impossible. A cliché for many, but one of my biggest truths.

There’s no way to explain her overpowering and protective presence throughout my life. Wiping away my tears and telling me to chin up on my failed cupid adventures. Giving me freedom but always hovering at the background, making sure I didn’t mess up diabolically.  Serving me delicious food at my study table during my final exams in high school. Peeking in often, caressing my hair and face lovingly, telling me I’d do great in the exams. She made a huge deal out of it all. It was serious business. I was to study undisturbed, in the comfort of an air-conditioned room, while the rest of the house had to endure the heat. She understood where she had to let go, though. So I was allowed to watch ‘The X-files’ that was aired on the satellite dish every Wednesday night. Even this timid teenager would have lashed out on account of a missed date with David Duchovny. Fortunately, we understood each other. Well, mostly.

When I got married, the entire process passed by like a storm. Leaving us all exhilarated, tired, angry and relieved, all at the same time. This was one time when mama and I didn’t see eye to eye on certain matters. I even disagreed with my dad on a few things. That’s when I realized how parents are not always right or sure of what they are doing. But they do it anyway. They don’t have the luxury to sit back or procrastinate. That’s when I realized how parents too are humans who err and lose their way sometimes. And that no matter what happens, I  know that they’ve got my back.

I moved across town from my parents. I secretly yearned to find similarities between my new kitchen and my mama’s. The way all her kitchen counters would sparkle and shine within minutes of cooking up a delicious storm. If it were the cook in charge, he’d be forced to do just as mama pleased, or he’d never hear the end of it. Everything was always in its rightful place. From the oft-used rolling pin to the coriander powder spice jar. And why wouldn’t it be? It was my mama’s kitchen. All this time, I wondered if I’d ever be able to keep it all together like mama. I wondered when some of her magic would trickle down the hereditary ladder. I still do.

A year later, I had a baby boy. The first month I felt like a child lost in the jungle. Forever on the verge of tears, and always choking with delight when mama came to the rescue. She fed me healthy and strange concoctions that were apparently a necessity for a new mother’s ravaged body. Turmeric and almonds with hot milk. And a few spoonfuls of ‘Panjeeri’, a medley of delicious nuts and fancy things(I can barely pronounce) cooked with clarified butter to ease my bones. I never thought she was truly conventional or dated in her beliefs. But she knew the important things to pluck from the ancestral tree. Setting up a warm bath to sooth my stinging stitches. Putting an anxious baby to bed, while I snored away. In those few weeks staying with my mama, I felt like a queen.  By the time my daughter was born, I didn’t feel as Alice-in-wonderlandish lost as before.

Years later, I moved to Canada with my husband and two children. When it was time to set up my kitchen, I thought I’d be clueless. But then I felt myself moving about my kitchen as she might have. She gave me a hand-written a small cook. I  wanted to preserve some of her taste in my cooking. I had my entire life ahead to fall back on Google for recipes. Though I’m still struggling and nothing’s perfect, I just hope I’ve not fallen too far from the tree.

Mama used to tell me how she was as emotional, trusting and vulnerable in her younger years as I was. But then real life happened to her. And that’s how a person hardens with time. Something that she hinted would happen with me too. I don’t think I’m there yet or ever will be. Because of her I have lived a beautiful life, and continue to do so. Because of her, I continue to revel in my safe bubble, where in my head no harm can come. It’s all because of her. And you know what? I don’t agree with her here. Sure life can deal you a hard blow now and then. Yet it can’t change your soul. Because all it takes is an injured bird at the doorstep and voila, you see the little girl that my mama once was.

My parents are visiting us this June. I am pregnant with my third child. I am hormonal and already hyperventilating. I have to clean, scrub, organize and arrange. But you know what my mama will say when she enters my home for the first time? “You didn’t have to tire yourself in this condition, beta ( loving name for son or daughter). Relax! House work can always be done later.”

I may not be like you, but I am my mama’s daughter.