This miracle is mine

So my older two.. R & R are both quite amused with my routine here in Lahore at my parents’ place. During breakfast Daughter remarked:

“mama you’re really enjoying your break!”

me: from what beta?

“from the kitchen!” (Cue: surge of joy)

Then later on son noticed how I was sitting relaxed reading a book and drinking tea, which I didn’t have to make. He noticed from the other room, grinned and said:

“mama… Maujen!!!!” (Cue: pinching myself to make sure it’s real)

Spending time with parents, friends, and focusing on myself. Please excuse this bout of narcissism quite unbecoming of a mother… but mauj indeed!

Nearing 40 and at times feeling like the Wicked Witch of the West crumpled under the woes of the indignant modern life…. this carefree/short-lived spurt of life while visiting my parents, is uncanny. Magical. And this urgency, this feeling that if I close my eyes, the bubble will burst. It’s nothing I’ve experienced before. A few years ago if you’d have asked me, I might have put it differently. But now. I know enough of life’s fickle abandonment. And I choose to be entranced in this spell for as long as I can. To hold on to every speck of the fairy dust.

As mothers we always want our little ones to learn from experiences. It’s good if they realize certain things in life sooner, right? That these little pleasures you get at your parents’ home are a big deal. The real deal. Especially after you’ve officially graduated on to real life. And also happen to live continents away. It strikes you like lightening. But I know. This is an abundance of life-text for them at this point. And it’d be unfair to want them to turn into little know-it-all Socrates. Let them savour these years of ‘taking it all for granted’, I say. Though I never leave the chance to shake my finger at them whilst lecturing about ‘being grateful.’ But who am I kidding? Let them celebrate life’s blissful ignorance. Some things, if they are fortunate enough, will come in their due time.

Though years from now… I suspect(replace at your discretion : secretly pray) I may ask them to visit. I may ask them to take a break and unwind at their parents’ home. I hope they’ll look forward to coming. As much as I always do. And when they visit, I hope I do justice. And make them feel safe and happy. No matter how old, or whichever way their lives unfold.

So maybe that’s when they will understand these little pleasures. Luxury that is almost a God given right at your parents’ home. No matter how rich or poor, the comfort found behind those closed doors, between a mother’s embrace and a father’s doting gaze, is a miracle.

In an era where feelings, emotions, care and regard are sidelined. Where material worth outweighs all other measures of humanity. Where we doubt everything we do and want to do it another way. The better way. The way they show us online or on TV. Because doubt sells, doubt makes money. Where purity is outdated. And selflessness is archaic. It is important to remember there is a home. Filled with people who would go to ends of the Earth for you. People who will love you with all your cracks and potholes (no pun intended). Who will love you even if you’re a full grown woman who seems to know it all. But she never does. Definitely not at her parents’ home.

I feel like an old Windows Desktop. The one we’d smack on the head to get it to reboot, with dust flying off. That’s me. Rebooted ‘n Revived. So I don’t know about other people. And what they say about miracles and magic. But this safe haven is about me. And where I came from. Tucked between childhood pictures. In furniture as old as I am. In countless hazy memories. In old faces. In familiar places. This life away from life. This miracle is mine.

My Journey: From Desi ‘Ghee(butter)’ to a Desi ‘Me’

‘Ewee what’s that smell?!’ A familiar outrage when our mothers or grandmothers cooked in Desi ghee (clarified butter). Those were fleeting interactions with the word ‘desi’ in my childhood. As I grew older, doctors began piping the benefits of eating pure and unadulterated food, so Desi (organic) chickens and eggs were now the rave.

After moving to Canada, I realized that Desi wasn’t just about food. Desi could have as many interpretations as the fight against terrorism. Chickens were not the only ones upholding the prestigious title. I was a desi too.

Desi (Brown-skinned) – anthesis of the word Gora (white-skinned)

When you look up Desi in the dictionary it says: South Asian, esp. Indian. People from the Pakistani, Indian, Sri-Lankan and Bangladeshi descent have simultaneously been whipped into a multi-layer Desi cake. Our accents and languages, skin color, food, clothes,culture and beliefs are conveniently defined under the word, Desi. This is sort of like how we call all white-skinned folk of the world as ‘Goras’ – natives of US, UK, Australia etc.

If you are from South Asia/subcontinent region, the confusion is paramount. Especially since Pakistan and India originated from the same womb and separated at birth. Like how people of Hong-Kong or China can get mixed up.

Mississauga – The city oozing with ‘Desi’s’

I live in Mississauga-Toronto where Desis ooze out like maple syrup. Pakistanis represent a large part of the desi pie-chart. There are plenty of Pakistani stores that have everything laden from Tibet snow(ancient beauty cream) to Chawnsa Mangoes. So Pakistani culture is not akin to an alien controversy of Area 59. It is seen tiptoeing between latest trends of shalwar kameez, naashta (breakfast) joints with halwa puri and channay, Pakistan day events at the Celebration Square, Pakistani weddings, smell of our masalas wafting in the hallways of condos and Mosques bustling with activity on EID – you get the picture. It is all quite welcoming.

Contempt associated with Desis

A strange thing I’ve noticed here is the not-so subtle contempt associated with the word desi. And strangely enough, the disdain doesn’t come from ‘others’. It comes from us. It’s like we want to prove a point here. But what exactly? Perhaps nothing more than a hasty generalization.

If we catch a traditionally dressed ‘desi’ woman at the grocery store, we think to ourselves, ‘Uff, look at her dressing sense!’ Or if some driver breaks a traffic rule, our knee-jerk reaction is, “That must be a desi!” Almost like how back home every traffic violation was the doing of a woman (another topic for another time). Litter found on the road usually means that some desi did it. I once wore shalwar kameez to school to pick up my son and he said, “Mama! Why are you all desi today?” Imagine my embarrassment. First at my clothes. And then at what my son just said. It suddenly dawned on me.

My son was gradually becoming ‘anti-desi.’ I did not like it one bit.

The confusion

My tenant told me how she loved our Indian food. I kept saying, ‘Yes, you mean Pakistani food.’ She didn’t notice the difference because of similar ingredients and method. The end-product is still different. Indian food is delicious in its own place, but for many like me, Pakistani food is like mom’s cooking, closer to home and the heart. It’s like asking for Chinese food and getting Japanese in return. It’s not just the food. Our identity is a complete hodgepodge.

Despite our thriving representation in places like Toronto etc., why isn’t our Pakistani identity more comprehensible? This is not as much of a complaint as it is a confused query.

It. Is. Our. Fault. Period. 

Sometimes it’s like we are built that way – inherently confused desis, embarrassed Pakistanis and bewildered Canadians. Everything about us appears less worthy once we move to a foreign land. Many of us think that we have to let go of everything old to submerge into a new culture. The unending sequel to East meets West continues.

In my short time here, I’ve seen young Pakistani-Canadians feeling embarrassed for wearing their desi garb in public or in speaking their native languages. I don’t give my son kebab sandwiches in school because he’d smell like Pakistani food. Some people here don’t take the day off from work or school for Eid (religious holiday).

These trivial examples are relative to the priorities we hold dear. But what never changes is our desire for others to respect us.

Irony is, whatever roots we cut off, we are always DESI and BROWN in other people’s eyes. In our minds, we are not even that. So who are we really?

Finding my way

I am a confused-desi-immigrant trying to become a focused-proud-desi-Pakistani-Canadian. How hard can that be?

I love pancakes, but desi Parathas on a sunday morning are luxury. I love the contagious joy of christmas, but EID will always be my holiday. I love jeans but dressing up in shalwar kameez for a Pakistani wedding is precious. I love latte but a daily cup of bubbling hot Chaye (tea) will always calm my frenzied nerves. I love pasta and pizza, but the scintillating aroma of chicken karahi always means that much more. I enjoy Ellen Degeneres and Madam Secretary, but once in a while, some lighthearted ramblings of a Pakistani morning show or family quibbles in a drama are just what I need. I love the high quality of life here, but sometimes I miss not having a horde of people at arm’s length back home who’d need our help.

I love the big hearts of people here in Canada, and that is why I need to show a Pakistani’s simple heart to the world.

Rock the desi in you

I am no traditionalist. But this need to mummify my origin seems more important now than ever. I can’t expect my children to feel the way I do about Pakistan, but I can keep their association and interest alive.

More than anything else, this is a reminder to myself and my family. Be it a Pakistani desi, an Indian desi or a desi chicken, to us Desi should be the new Black, or Pink, or whatever is in fashion. How do you become a loyal and responsible Canadian citizen without understanding your complex and colorful origin. We will always be different here no matter how much we mingle. Why not put that to good use by balancing the best of both worlds? Not easy, but doable. I’m definitely up for the challenge.

Two generations from now, even if my children’s children are  immersed in their new environment, their parents and grandparents were still Desi’s. How do you ignore what’s in your blood? You don’t.

You accept it and let your roots give comfort when needed, like an old song you once loved, lost and then rediscovered.

And now you just can’t stop humming its tune.

O Canada, We immigrants stand on guard for thee!

If you are from Pakistan, a random suicide attack or a senseless bout of bloodshed are normal in all abnormal ways possible. Usually a few selected cities and areas are targeted and most part of the country goes on with life. However innocent blood is always shed and Pakistan is made out to be a no-go-zone in the international news. This is a tragic reality that Pakistan has to crawl its way through every day. As a new immigrant in Canada, I imagine a life of peace and harmony because let’s face it, that’s a given. Until it’s not. Terrorists attack Montreal and Ottawa and you get served with a vaguely familiar entrée’ on your plate. Smells of disbelief and deja vu jolt your nerves.

The terrorist debate is an endless one. The reasons and causes have been regurgitated and coughed up time and again because admittedly, this issue is not as passive and conspiracy-free as global warming. I am no political analyst and I don’t sip on bubbling hot conspiracies all day long. So I can’t possibly ooze out wisdom here on the why’s and how’s of Terrorism. Nor do I intend to toot Canada’s righteous horn. Canada is not perfect and history of the aboriginals and their ill-treatment is a sad fact. Canada’s history of fighting in Afghanistan and now the decision to fight in Iraq is also debatable. But from a layman’s  perspective,  as a new immigrant who loves her new home, I can’t help but write my concerns.

I have met an overwhelming level of warmth in Canada, not usually in the temperature but in people’s hearts. Specifically in my city where people roam around in beards and Hijabs as casually as do people with western attire. The same applies to people practising their religions. I see mosques, churches, temples. I see people speaking English, Urdu, Hindi, Chinese. I see all the colours of the world painting Canada’s skies with harmony. I never see any heads turning when a seemingly different person enters the bus. Many people will have different versions of this story. But this is my experience and so far it is downright awesome.

When I hear of attacks in Canada, I feel disgusted, angry and then I feel a tinge of fear. Fear of a life that could be different and more rigid than the one I have grown to love. Nagging thoughts of how Canada might make drastic changes in their governance policies cling on. Canada already understands many important facts. I hope this mutual understanding and cooperation continues. Every Muslim is not a rabid animal out to attack humanity. Every non-muslim who converts to Islam is not a cause for a moral and ethical dissection. ISIS and Taliban are not an epitome of Islam. I wouldn’t even brand them as humans. Muslims in Canada need to play an integral role here. To come out and speak against these attacks. To let the world know of their love for Canada, a country that has given them plenty to be thankful for.

The Canadian Prime Minister worries me a tad bit. Stephen Harper talks about strengthening the country’s security laws and regulations. Conservatives now divulge plans to give Canada’s security Intelligence Service (CSIS) more powers to detain “would-be” terrorists. A whole new wave of paranoia promises to crush us. Should students from Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan be wary of applying to Canadian Universities? Should family back home think twice before applying for the Canadian visa? Will feelings of anger and resentment seep into those affected by changed policies? The sick feeling in my stomach returns.

In retrospect, Liberal party leader Justin Trudeau stands firm in the belief that attackers, “will not make the rules about this land we share and they will not get to change us” – the guardian. New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair urges the ruling Conservative party to think before rushing into a rigid security legislation that could permanently damage the inherent openness and flexibility of the Canadian way of living.

The Canada I love is all about freedom and acceptance. It would be devastating to see Canada surrender its existing stance because of the Ottawa shootings, because that is precisely the attackers’ aim – to inhibit normal life and imbue seeds of fear in common people. Even in Pakistan, there is a limit to the fear we show to the world. In fact we rarely ever show it. And that’s where our greatness lies.  Controlled anger and the will to fight on is always a better replacement. Attacks or no attacks, normal life carries on back home with increased vigor and determination. And so it should in Canada too.

Canada, in the end all I can say is I have faith in you. I haven’t been here long, but my love for you is pure and ever-growing. I understand the impossible situation you find yourself in. This is why I believe you will do what is right for YOUR people. Your people who are Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists, etc. Your people who practice their faiths with abandon and live with joy and freedom. You have the right to strengthen and mould your Security and Intelligence capabilities according to the circumstances. But while doing so, I hope you will continue to look out for your people because they will surely stand with you all the way.

God keep our land, glorious and free.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee!

(Canada’s National Anthem)


*** follow-up**** In light of the shootings, a social experiment was conducted to determine the Canadian response to Muslims and racism.

“ : “Omar Albach — an 18-year-old student at York University — and two friends — tested Canada’s racial tolerance by staging a charade involving an actor dressed head-to-toe in traditional Islamic garb and another Caucasian actor who accosts him in public.”

This was the end result: ”

I’ve learned that Canada is very tolerant — it’s proven that Canadians have become more tolerant and knowledgeable about who is a terrorist (and who is not) — and just because there is one radicalized person in a sect or religion does not make every person in that religion a radicalized person,” he told CTV News Channel.”

Read more:


7 kinds of Pakistani immigrants you’ll most likely come across in Canada

It’s been a little over a year since my immigrant status in Canada and I have met some interesting fellow Pakistanis. Immigrants who tend to fall in a certain ‘type’. Even I fit in there somewhere. This is based solely on my observation and interaction. At the risk of over-generalization, here goes:

1. Perpetual Complainers Inc. (PWI’s): I complained in Pakistan. I complain here. Stop me if you can!

In Pakistan they complained about the skin-sizzling heat. In Canada they complain about the mind-numbing cold. Back home the hoard of house helpers was too much to handle. Now, they whine about doing all the work themselves. Back home it was the terrorists. Around here it’s the serial killers and sociopaths. Trust them to come up with the worst possible scenario in the worst possible situation.

2. The un-settlers:Oh we are leaving as soon as we get our passports!
They never fully unpack, be it their material assets or minds They never buy a house. If it were up to them they’d live in a motel until their passport mission finished. They don’t travel. They don’t spend unnecessary money. Immigrant gypsies – they just won’t settle. All this trouble for what?  For starters, they understand the power of their blue passports. Their children may come back to Canada for a higher education. Or they may even use the passports for better employment opportunities back home. Like a troop on a mission, they make little to none human connection.

3. East of West Canada is the best, but Pakistan….: There’s no place like Canada. Back home we never…..

Oh they are true lovers of Canada. Everything from the weather, to the people, to the infrastructure and welfare, their hearts sing for their new home. But they never stop comparing everything with Pakistan. Standing at a bank, they can be caught thinking: ‘Oh if this were Pakistan, I’d have high blood pressure by now, considering the lack of queues and a proper system’. Or when a police car passes by: ‘Look at those responsible, honest policemen. Back home police is the most despised profession.’ They’d be discussing Canadian Politics at someone’s dinner party and suddenly talks about corrupt Pakistani politicians would pop up. Canada is their utopia, so they wouldn’t be caught dead saying anything bad about the country. Like an over-competitive parent, maybe it is their inborn love for Pakistan that compels this insane criticism. Or maybe they just love finding faults. For them, it’s never greener on the other side.

4.The opportunistic clan: I will never mingle with these ‘goras’ but I will eat up their welfare:

These are people who might look at their surroundings with contempt. From their clothes to their actions, they make sure everyone knows how serious they are about their identity and more specifically, religion. They won’t let their children mingle with the locals. Nor will they enroll them in any activities that could lead to too much exposure of the new culture. They will hardly ever be seen in Parks, or theaters, or cultural events. Oh but they will find all possible methods to show eligibility for benefit options – unemployment, health, children, education, old age etc.

5. The forgetful: Pakistani? No no, I am Canadian! See I love Tim Horton’s and I have an accent and all

They buried their Pakistani passports the minute they landed. Or if they were born and bred here, they didn’t have much to forget in the first place. From their clothes to their beliefs, everything is Canadian. Their children have as much knowledge of their country, as Arabs may have about poverty. But that doesn’t change the reality. Once a Pakistani, always a Pakistani. Oh but they forget so easily.

6.The Homesick: Converting the price of a $5 toothbrush and saying: Oh 500 Rupees for a tooth-brush?!

These immigrants are stuck in a time warp. They can’t make peace with the fact that they are no longer in Pakistan. Grocery with them can be excruciating. Mental math conversions, fantasies of Pakistani tailors and Lawn designer exhibitions, hand-made roti (flat bread) are only some of their homesick remedies that make them feel better.

7.  The assimilators: I will make the most of it. No matter what.

These people understand that they chose to immigrate. For a better future, for better education or whatever their reasons may be. No one forced them to come. So they try to make the most of it. A stark opposite of the ‘un-settlers’, these immigrants tend to assimilate in their environment without much trouble. They hold on to some important values they grew up with but are always open to new customs and ideas. They make new friends, travel and encourage relatives and friends back home to immigrate too! Yet their love for Pakistan doesn’t die. If anything it gets stronger. “Distance makes the hard grow fonder?”