“I’d never send my daughter to a Convent School…”

“Never! I would never send my daughter to a Convent School! I’ve heard they teach them English prayers there and force them to recite them every morning. My poor Muslim daughter will become a Christian before my eyes and it will be too late to fix the mess then,” protested my educated and ‘liberal’ aunt from ‘abroad’. “Your father is a damn fool for sending you to a Catholic school. I would have stopped him if I had known what he was planning inside that crazy little head of his.”

“But Aunty, I am still a practicing Muslim and I pray my Namaz daily, in Arabic, mind you. The Prayers we recited in the morning assembly were simply a ‘thank you’ to God for His bounties,” I reasoned, but it fell on deaf ears.

We live in an Islamic country. Maybe it’s because our ancestors had to fight and sacrifice lives for this piece of land, or maybe it’s just some inherent insecurity that makes us so possessive of our religion, but us Pakistanis are very touchy about Islam. When it comes to handing over the reins to a non Muslim, it rarely ever works out! Take my aunt for example; she lives in London, a country run by non Muslims for non Muslims, and she still believes that her daughter will be negatively influenced if she goes to a Convent school in Pakistan. It doesn’t make any sense! Her daughter has studied in London all her life and she’s still a Muslim, but going to a Convent will change her!

I am glad my parents thought differently. They were so excited when I got my admission in a Convent school that they distributed sweets to the entire neighborhood! Were they not ‘good’ Muslims? They most definitely were! It was just that they saw the Convent for what it really was. A great educational institute where they not only impart knowledge, but also shape us to become fine young ladies. At my school where I spent 13 years of my life with the same bunch of 70 girls, I was moulded into someone I am proud to be today.

My school taught me discipline, my teachers stressed on perfection, we were taught the importance of keeping clean, smelling nice and even looking presentable, we always walked in a straight line, no one dared to forget their homework, we tried to remain silent during class, and we found some very incredible friends. The 13 years I spent in my Convent were the best years of my life! I focused on things that actually mattered back then. People mattered, relationships mattered, parents and teachers were our idols, and the rest of the crap did not matter! Had I been in a co-ed run by anyone other than a nun, I would probably not have had such a happy, un-biased childhood.

I say unbiased because from day one we were taught tolerance for other religions. Being Catholic, the nuns never disrespected Islam, instead they made sure we knew more about our own religions. Parsis, Catholics, Muslims, Hindus; we were all part of one team in school. It was here that I formed friendships that will last me a lifetime. I know that we are all dispersed over the globe now, and we barely meet each other, but when we do, it’s like we were never apart! Those are the kind of friends you can always count on because they have been moulded by the same principles as you! Differences in religion, caste, color, or wealth, never mattered. These were all things we learned about once we left school.

Being an all girls’ school we enjoyed things that kids in other schools could not. We went out of town, out of city and even out of country for our school trips. I don’t think my parents would have been too comfortable sending me for these week long trips had I been in a co-ed school. But I was in a Convent where the girls were more like sisters and it was almost like a crazy family vacation!

We had Special Canteens which were like huge bake sales with brownies, games, lasagne, and mini burgers for sale. We would collect money in these bake sales and give them to charity. Every Thursday was Social Service Day which meant we would put in a percentage of our weekly pocket money in a box for charity. Helping others, sacrificing your wants for the need of others was something that was emphasized on since kindergarten. Concerts, Farewell parties, Plays, Speech Competitions, dance practices, Throwball and Netball practicies were a few other things that kept us entertained and connected.

For those parents who think Convent schools are overrated and they will brainwash their daughters into becoming snobby little liberal-thinking crack pots, think about what these new private schools are teaching your kids. Teachers are afraid of parents, kids are customers and customer is king, school excursions revolve around trips to the cinema or flower shows or a factory, kids are taught only to get straight A’s and compete to be the best! But what about character building lessons? What about singing classes where they teach you harmony and the value of teamwork? What about Activity lessons where they teach you how to fold napkins and pack a suitcase? No one teaches them this anymore. Except an all-girls’ school, or a Convent!

So, aunty, think about what kind of future you want for your daughter. You come from a very different generation where parents and teachers were  respected and idolized. But kids today are independent, with more access to information than we ever had. There are many schools in Karachi and they all guarantee their students excellent grades, but you need to ask yourself if good grades trump good character. Religious differences are not a major issue if you’re living in an Islamic country, because even a Convent school teaches its students Islamiyat!

So what’s it going to be? Good grades and a spoilt brat or good grades and a refined young lady?

 

 

“Don’t marry a Muslim”

Sumedh Natu

My grandmother slit her wrists today.

To assure the inquisitive, prying world it had nothing to do with the inner politics of the family, I was asked to stick to the discussed story that she found out she had an incurable injury. The truth is she couldn’t handle the apparent shame my actions in the past two months had brought our prestigious family name.

Everyone in India barks about tradition. They say our country stands tall on an intellectual platform because we’ve been following a social structure that’s been untouched for centuries. One of the core ideas behind this structure is absolute obedience towards elders. The logic is easy enough to understand. They have more experience. The possibility of them making the right decision in a dilemma is higher. Tradition, I have been told is the platform for a good family life.

Except that I flouted this rule.

I fell…

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Colleague morphed into friend…

We oftentimes take things for granted.

Let’s take our colleagues for instance. Even though they aren’t ‘things’ per se, we do take them for granted. When do we realize this? Usually when it’s too late.

I admit we all have our fair share of weird colleagues to deal with, but there are always a few or sometimes even just one, you can connect with and fall back on. Ever wonder what you would do without that one person who you vent out to when your boss snubs at you? Or who you would go to when the evil colleague says something nasty about your new handbag? Or even who you would share lunch with? We often don’t realize it, but we create some very strong bonds with our colleagues. How does that happen, and more importantly when does that happen?

When you start a new job, you often enter an environment where you feel vulnerable. You feel like you’ve entered a place where people have already formed bonds with each other and there is no room for you. But, almost 99% of the times this changes. You begin to realize that the environment that seemed so intimidating once, is actually divided into sub groups and each group has certain insecurities or differences to deal with. With each passing day, you make space for yourself and become part of one of those sub groups. If you’re lucky, one or two people who are similar to you may leave their comfort zones and adopt you. You then become part of a new group and feel confident, loved and stronger than ever before.

So, if you look back and think over the transition, who do you have to thank for helping you fit in? Would you be as comfortable as you are today without that one colleague who’s been your punching bag, your gossip girl, your confidante, your adviser, supporter, and friend?

I have always filed people into neat little boxes; friends in one box, cousins in another box, colleagues in another, etc. When one of us is finally leaving, I’ve realized that over the years my colleague has become more than just a person I spent my office hours with. She no longer fits in the colleagues’ box, but eases right into the friends category. All the times I’ve confided in her, shared “OMG I’m totally judging SYZ colleague” moments with her, gossiped about other people with her, shared family troubles, and even gone out on shopping sprees with her, have morphed into unforgettable memories.

I’m just glad that I had a friend in the workplace all this time, because she made my experience colorful and left never a dull moment! I know that I took her for granted all this time, but I do realize now how much she helped me deal with my successes and failures, and with other difficult colleagues.

So, Miss Colleague, I am not taking you for granted anymore. 🙂

 

 

The fate of a chosen many…

My mother in law and I went for a facial cleansing last night to a lady who runs a small salon in the garage of her home. My experience there was as relaxing as it was depressing. 

The cleansing started off as it usually does- moisturizer on the face and small chit chat- but the casual chit chat came to an abrupt halt when my mother in law asked the lady a simple question; “How are things at home?”

The sudden pause in the lady’s movements, and the sigh with which she replied, “worse” was enough to make my mil feel instant remorse. Since this was the first time I was meeting this lady, I had no idea what this was about but as the conversation progressed, I started to understand where she was coming from. 

Before I begin the story of Mrs. Khan, the facial lady, let me give you a brief background about her family situation; Mrs. Khan is married and lives with her husband, two daughters and a mother in law. Her husband hasn’t been quite lucky with jobs and has been on and off work for a while, consequently being unable to support his family as a man in Pakistani society should. In order to meet the needs of the household, Mrs. Khan runs a salon in her garage after six pm and her afternoons are spent running a gym and giving Yoga lessons at home. Mrs. Khan’s mil, too, happens to support the family financially, by running a Montessori on the Ground floor of the house. So far, so good?

So what makes things at home “worse” for Mrs. Khan? 

Her mother in law.

It is true that the principal of a Montessori, an educator, a woman children look up to and parents have high expectations from, is actually an old school  monster at home. Who would have thought? And all because her daughter in law failed to produce a son! It’s been over twenty years since Mrs. Khan got married and moved in with her husband, and her mil’s been after her life ever since. “I don’t understand why women get their sons married if they can’t stand sharing them with another woman! Is it just so somebody can do the housework and be at their son’s beck and call? Why are we reduced to becoming faceless slaves if we fail to produce a boy?” cried Mrs. Khan angrily. 

 Mrs. Khan’s mother in law makes it a point to verbally abuse her on a daily basis, not helping out with any of the house chores and making life impossible for servants, ensuring their immediate departure from the house. So Mrs. Khan has to shoulder the burden of two of her businesses along with the demanding chores of the household. Even her daughters are not spared! They too have to suffer the consequences of simply having been born. Mr. Khan does not join his mother in verbally assaulting his wife, but his lack of support in defending her feels like a physical blow to his wife. With constant bickering and a lack of social life, Mrs. Khan’s world is dark, depressing and forever ruined.

But this was not as shocking to hear as the story that Mrs. Khan narrated next. One of Mrs. Khan’s Yoga students recently got a divorce. She was married for a total of four months in which her husband would beat her up occasionally, her mother in law would time her showers, meals, chores, calls and everything else she did, physically reprimanding her if she exceeded the allotted time. Together, they made her life a nightmare with verbal and physical abuses that could easily damage a girl’s soul. Finally, four months into the marriage when the girl was pregnant, she was sent to her mother’s house and a divorce notice followed a week later. The girl lost her baby from shock. 

There are so many such cases that Mrs. Khan comes across on a regular basis and she feels that it has become a common problem in most households. Mothers in law are treating their newly wed daughters in law as competition, trying to show them who’s boss by repressing them every chance they get. These repression tactics often get out of control and result in physical abuse and a destroyed marriage. Husbands do not stop this constant battle because they usually feel more loyal towards their mothers and believe the wife must deserve whatever comes her way. Sometimes, husbands may take part in the joys of beating up the helpless woman, while at other times, he may feel benevolent and ignore her. What I fail to understand is why educated men, coming from apparently respectable families, do not find this violence shocking or even unjust? Why do young girls, who have an MBA degree and a certain level of independence that comes with it, not stand up to such violence and walk out?

Why are so many women going through this today? This is not something that happens in illiterate families because, if the principal of a Montessori can enjoy being a monster in law, then why not any ordinary educated housewife? Can these atrocities be stopped by limiting arranged marriages? Or are these problems a result of living in large joint families? Why do these things happen in this day and age? When did these older women lose their consciences?

Once the cleansing was complete, my mother in law and I exchanged a look that probably conveyed a million thoughts in a second. I left the small salon with many questions and several concerns, but with certainty regarding one thing; I have the best in laws ever and I am a very very lucky girl. 

 

5 reasons why e books trump paper books…

Ever since I learned about the hidden world of e books online, I have not been the same! Who would have thought there could be a whole library of the latest books that could be all yours, free of cost, at a click of a button!? Not I, that’s for sure!

So, one fine day, I was bored at work (my workload was as heavy as an ant’s eye lash back then) and I decided to read up on the latest books. I was searching for a review on Hunger Games, when I came across the option of downloading the e book. FOR FREE! And then what do you know, I downloaded the book and the remaining two books in the trilogy, and I have never looked back since!

Over the years I figured out the easiest ways of downloading and storing my e books, and I can safely call myself the queen of e book downloading (rule-I’ll always be queen in my world!) Anyway, so I downloaded books from torrent and 4shared and stored them on my 4shared account, which I could easily access from my phone as well as my e reader. I went window shopping for books on goodreads.com, an amazing website which has every possible book that was ever published on this green planet! Life was-is great!

But my life before I discovered e books was filled with real paper books, with crisp pages, a nice cover that I could look at every time I picked the book up to read, subtle smell of good quality paper, and dog ears! (how i miss those dog ears!)

So why did I end up switching completely to lifeless electronic books? What made me come to this life-changing turn of events? Fret not my friend, I shall reveal the secret to you below… *drumroll* 

  1. Ease of acces- If you have ever tried searching for an e book online, you can bear witness to this statement; ‘E books are easily available and accessible’. I agree that it is also easy to go to a book shop and tell the sales guy there to give you book XYZ, pay for it and leave! However, downloading an e book is far less work because you don’t have to move the lower half of your body (unless you need to plug your e reader to a charger) and you do not have to use your hard earned savings to purchase a new book. Now how can it get any better than that?
  2. Reader friendliness- You know what you cannot do with a paper book? You cannot carry it around in your tiny hand bag to work, or the supermarket, or to University because the book just doen’t fit sometimes! And if you’re reading a trilogy and Book Two is about to end and you might need to start Book Three immediately because of a cliff hanger ending, God help you carrying around two books in one ladylike handbag! An e book, however, lives happily in your phone (you don’t even need to carry your e reader around everywhere). So if you’re at work and you can’t control the urge to know what Jessica said to Bill that made him kill Brandon, all you have to do is take your cellphone to the toilet and pretend you’re pooping your heart out, while reading the intense scenes you could not resist! No one will ever guess what you were actually up to 🙂 If you have to wait for your class to begin, or you are stuck in a traffic jam, all you need to do is open your e book on your phone and read away!
  3. Still not convinced? Here is the third reason why e books are awesomer than paper books… You cannot carry a paperback novel to a boring family wedding. What you can carry, however, is your cellphone. And on your cellphone you can read really important official business type super long emails that have several pages and look like e books because they are just so long *wink wink*
  4. Independent of electricity- Don’t we all know what it’s like to share a room with someone who cannot sleep with the lights on at night because he/she has see-through eye lids and all the light in the room just insists on falling on his/her face? (God forbid they cover their faces with a blanket to let their roommates read in peace!) Paper books usually require some form of light in order to be read. An e book, on the other hand, can be read on night-mode with the lights off. Phones and e readers have their own lights, remember? Oh, the marvels of latest technology!
  5. And last but not least, e books are easy to hold. When you are lying down in bed and you have to hold a thick novel over your face, it can give your wrist a strain and your face a squished nose if the book were to fall on your face! But an e reader can be placed on a cushion on your tummy (you can use the stand it has at the back to support it on the cushion) and use your finger to tap the screen when it’s time to flip the page! Why, how incredible is that!?

If you’re still a fan of paperback books and think I’m blind to the beauty of life’s true bounties, then it’s okay too! We’re all entitled to our own opinions. But having said that, I think you need to wake up to the benefits that technology is presenting to us and do what’s more practical! Unless you’re a gazillionaire and can afford to purchase whole libraries of books! Then, I am not arguing!

wedding sheddings and crazy!

 

I attended a wedding last night. Expecting the same old details of the decor, the beautiful bride, the okay-ish looking groom, the hyper mother and the composed father…? tiiiing..  Wrong!

This was an interesting wedding with two brides, two grooms, and lots of family. 

Ever wondered what it must be like for brides who suffer from stage fright?? Sitting on the stage for more than three hours, under the scrutiny of in laws and hundreds of guests, how do they manage to not faint from anxiety? It’s simple really… The make up, the hairdo, the intricately designed clothes, they all give the bride enough confidence that she can actually be on stage without puking her guts out. 

And then, sharing the stage with another bride… That should be a whole different story, but that actually helps appease the nervousness that a bride might feel on stage. So if you were wondering why the two brides were not pulling each other’s hair out, trying to look better than the other, you should know that they were actually probably really glad that they were not alone on stage, under the very bright spotlight of the family torch!

So once the guests started coming in last night, the ceremonies began… There were some really strange things being done to the Brides but I bet they enjoyed them because if its your wedding, why wouldn’t you enjoy everything that makes you the center of attention? They were lifted by their brothers onto a chair, in the middle of the stage, and made to wear a beautiful garland each, and then brought down by their brothers again. During this ceremony four bowls of sweet meats were placed at the four corners of their chair. 

No one ate those bowls of mithaai I can assure you… 

The two brides were also made to wear new shoes by their mothers in law to signify their new roles as wives. You remember how we say “why don’t you step into his/her shoes and then think of the situation from his/her point of view?” The new shoe ceremony kind of reminds me of that…

Then there was the ceremony where the bride and groom feed a spoon of rice and sugar to each of their unmarried friends so that they get married soon too. Single cousins and friends of friends of friends are also included in this little activity. And let’s not forget the Brides’ fathers or married uncles, who would also rush towards the stage for a spoonful of the magic marriage maker, just to get a verbal lashing from their wives, who by the way, could not successfully hide their smiles at their husbands’ crazy antics! Do these people really get married soon as a result? Nope… But we still follow traditions!

Another ceremony involved offering a sip of the traditional saffron and dry fruits drink to the friends and very close relatives of the bride and groom. Yes, just a sip! Along with the one sip of this really delicious drink, the special guests also received a small gift as a token of gratitude…Gratitude for attending the wedding, I think.

Anyway, there were a couple more of such ceremonies that were funny to watch and interesting to experience. But they all made my wedding experience insanely fun!

Pictures, selfies, pretty clothes, heavy make up, funny old people, and crazy cousins, they all ended up making the wedding loud and happy and an event worth placing in the not so far recesses of my brain. All this also made me realise that I actually enjoy weddings. Specially if the wedding is of my husband’s best friend and his sister! 🙂

 

The Space Between Us…

I finished reading “The Space Between Us” by Thrity Umrigar last night. It had been a while since I last read a South Asian book and I can’t help but wonder why it took me so long to read one.

The book was about Bhima, a maid working for her Parsi mistress, Serabai. The story moves back and forth between present and past, Bhima’s as well as Serabai’s. The story goes back to when Bhima is accosted by Gopal, the man who she is going to marry and be very happy with, until an unfortunate event turns her entire life upside down. Bhima’s life after that is a series of blow after blow to her strength and determination. After the death of her daughter, Bhima must live for her only grand daughter and the story moves forward from there.

Meanwhile, Serabai has her own set of troubles to deal with. A happy person by nature, Sera is wooed over by Feroz Dubash who later marries her. Sera, whose life is supposed to be carefree, full of life and laughter- like her own mother’s- turns out to take a completely opposite path. Things that she imagined happened to illiterate women belonging to poor families, start happening to her. She realises in the process, the strength of her own loyalty towards her husband and her weakness when it comes to speaking up against him.

The lives of both women are a reflection of the women in India and Pakistan. Happiness to us comes from family, loyalty, love, our pride and relations. Take one of them away, and we start feeling lost and lacking. But our sorrows also come from the same sources; Family, loyalty, love, our pride and our relations. It is how each woman bends and moulds each source to her benefit that makes her a queen in her own home.

The book makes you wonder how the lives of these two women are any different from each other when they have both had more tragedies to deal with than an ordinary person can handle, and they have both managed to move through those tragedies with a determination and will power that you only read about in books. Did they draw strength from one another while Bhima worked for Serabai? Or was it just something in their nature that brought them closer and helped them see the silver lining behind each dark cloud?

There was a smooth flow to the story, making it very easy to read and hard to put down. The descriptions, the comparisons, the family life were all described in such fine detail that it was impossible not to be able to imagine exactly what everything looked and felt like. It was like watching a movie- a well made movie-with the thoughts and emotions of characters being spelled out.