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Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Ice Storm

Winter can be majestic. The city has been blanketed under layers of ice for the past few days. The trees, the streets, the power lines, street lights, road signs; everything has icicles hanging from it. Look out the window and the world has turned an errie silvery grey.

I have never seen so much beauty or so much devastation in Toronto. Great beauty comes at great expense. Downed power lines, trees bent under the weight of the ice, many with their spines broken, defeated and thousands without electricity. The city is slowly recovering, licking it's wounds. Our neighborhood just had power restored after three days.

 Now, back to the joys of heating, the comfort of one's own bed and a new found appreciation for all things taken for granted like hydro, running water, garbage collection, postal delivery and best of all, the open doors of a parent's home. Thank you.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013


Many of us born to families who migrated across borders during Partition grew up hearing whispers of events from that time. The end of the British Raj in India saw the subcontinent dissected into two; Pakistan and India, split along arbitrary lines into majority Muslim and majority Hindu countries. This lead to the largest known migration in history with Muslims crossing over to Pakistan and Hindus and Sikhs to India. The bifurcation lead to widespread communal violence. A madness raged the land without adequate police or troops to maintain law and order, the beast was free to ravage. My Nani recounted tragedies.

One of my Nani's friends narrated how her father had told all the women in their family that should the train they were on, be stopped and boarded by rioting mobs, they should commit suicide. She was proud that they had agreed to the group suicide, although luckily the need did not present itself. I was shocked. Why did they agree to it? I was told that it was better to die than be dishonoured.

Reading about Partition, I am overwhelmed by the intensity of the violence but I am even more astounded by how much of it was directed towards women. Thousands of women were abducted, raped, mutilated, enslaved and discarded. Considering the extend of the violence, what is truly dumbfounding is how little has been written about it. It is as if the women did not matter enough for people to even bear witness to the cruelty they suffered and suffer they did; Hindu, Muslim and Sikh women, they all suffered.

The women themselves do not like to talk of what they experienced. Truth is that most of those who were abducted were also later abandoned by their families. A woman's rape means dishonour to her kin. Her presence a reminder of their shame. Easier to shun her and pretend she never existed.

Most of these women never had the chance to tell their stories but even the ones who did, filled their words with silences.

"Even when women survivors told Partition stories to their families, there were pauses in the narrative. As they began sharing their stories with scholars, women did not reveal any sexual violence they personally experienced."

 The governments of the two countries came to an agreement that abducted persons should be recovered. India's Abducted Persons Act of 1949 stated that:

" 'Abducted person' means a male child of under the age of sixteen years or a female of whatever age who is, or immediately before the first day of March, 1947, was a Muslim [ Pakistan's Law stated Hindu or Sikh] and who, on or after that day or before the first day of January, 1949, has become separated from his or her family and is found to be living with or in control of any other individual or family, and in the latter case includes a child born to any such female after the said date."

Where men over the age of sixteen were given the option to choose whether they wanted to remain where they were, the women had the decision forced upon them by the state. They had to leave any children they may have had and if they were pregnant, even though abortions were illegal in both countries, their pregnancies were aborted.

In many instances, the families who these women were being returned to, did not want them. Gandhi even felt the need to give a speech addressing this problem.

"Thousands of Hindu and Sikh girls have been abducted by the Muslims, and Muslim women have been abducted by the Hindu and Sikh. Where are these women at present? We have no clue as to where they are at the moment. Those who met in Lahore have decided that all abducted women - Hindu, Sikh and Muslims, should be recovered. I have received a long list of Muslim women who have been abducted from Kashmir and the State of Patiala. Many of them belong to wealthy, good families. If these women are recovered, there should be no problem in their being accepted by their families. However, it is doubtful that our Hindus and Sikhs will accept their abducted women and treat them with respect. They may have been forced to marry someone, and may have even converted to Islam, despite this, in my opinion they should not be considered as Muslims at all. I would be happy to keep these women with me and treat them with respect. At heart they are pure. However, because they fell into the hands of evil men, I would only have compassion for them, and would have no reason to despise them. Society must gracefully accept them."

It is interesting that Gandhi felt that Muslim families would treat these women better in comparison to their Hindu and Sikh counterparts but I am sure that Gandhi was largely mistaken in his assumption. Societies do not always behave with grace.


Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Narnian Wardrobes

A link is "a single element in a chain". A hyperlink is "a reference in an electronic document that lets a user display or activate another document or program". Hyperlinks are fascinating. The word itself is so beautifully coined; hyperlink, a link on steroids. The wikipedia definition does not even begin to cover it. A hyperlink is a portal, one magical click and you are transported to another world.

 Hyperlinks can be confusing as well. Personally, I prefer to complete reading whatever I happen to be reading, before returning to explore the links in the text. I find that if I click on that first interesting link, I often forget to return to my point of origin. In entering the other world, I tend to lose sight of my jumping off point. Still, I find links to be the stuff of magic. I am reminded of the wardrobe in one of my favourite childhood books, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe 

One of my chachas (uncles) told me about the internet when I was a young girl. I remember that moment vividly. I could not wrap my head around the idea of so many books, documents, magazines being available to anyone with an internet access. I came from a place where library books were kept under lock and key. ( Ahem, reminds of all the websites that I am too cheap to pay for but like to read.) I love words. I collect words, the way other people collect objects. To me, the internet allows access to an entire universe of words and all at my fingertips. It is still a source of great wonder to me.

The internet is also a shared consciousness; people from all over the planet posting tweets, selfies, other pictures, thoughts, and stories. Since it is a reflection of who we are, it is both wondrous and ugly.  Cyber bullying, porn and stalkers make me feel afraid for children growing into this world. At the same time, I also feel that the internet is a part of the world today and therefore ridiculous to attempt to keep it at bay. Akin to discussing how to best avoid puberty when your child is already past the stage. Some things can not be avoided. Best to teach our kids that Narnian Wardrobes  have to be treated with caution; they can lead to lands of wonder or terror.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Flight Attendants

Someone posted this on Facebook the other day and reading it, touched a nerve - many nerves. Where I can not relate to the eating disorder, being a woman I can relate to the pressure imposed on all of us to look good.

What really resonated with me was the inherited habit of silence. While sons are taught to speak up, daughters are taught to listen. The difference between a good daughter and a bad daughter determined by the quality of the silence; bad daughters have the unfortunate habit of speaking up from time to time. Good girls know how to say what others want to hear but no one teaches them to say what they want. Most girls are brought up to be like flight attendants, pleasant in conversation, mindful of other people's needs and easy on the eye.

Oh, yes, I almost forgot to say "sorry!"

      Shrinking Women

Across from me at the kitchen table, 
My mother smiles over red wine
That she drinks out of a measuring cup

She says that she doesn't deprive herself,
but I've learned to find nuance in every movement of her fork
In every crinkle in her brow as she offers me the uneaten pieces on her plate
I've realized that she only eats dinner when I suggest it
I wonder what she does when I am not there to do so

Maybe this is why my house feels bigger each time I return; it's proportional
As she shrinks the space around her seems increasingly vast
She wanes while my father waxes
His stomach has grown round with wine, late nights, oysters, poetry
A new girlfriend who was overweight as a teenager, but my dad reports that now she's "crazy about fruit"

It was the same with his parents;
as my grandmother became frail and angular her husband swelled
to red round cheeks, round stomach,
And I wonder if my lineage is one of women shrinking,
making space for the entrance of men into their lives,
Not knowing how to fill it back once they leave.

I was taught accommodation.
My brother never thinks before he speaks.
I have been taught to filter.
"How can anyone have a relationship with food?" he asks,
Laughing as I eat the black bean soup I chose for it's lack of carbs
I want to say: we come from difference, Jonas,
You have been taught to grow out,
I have been taught to grow in.
You learned from our father how to emit, how to produce, to roll
Each thought off your tongue with confidence, you used to lose
your voice every other week from shouting so much
I learned to absorb
I took lessons from our mother in creating space around myself.
I learned to read the knots in her forehead while the guys went out for oysters,
And I never meant to replicate her, but
Spend enough time sitting across from someone and you pick up their habits
That's why women in my family have been shrinking for decades
Each generation taught the next how to knit,
Weaving silence in between the threads
Which I can still feel as I walk through this ever-growing house,
Skin itching
Picking up all the habits my mother has unwittingly dropped like
Bits if crumpled paper from her pocket on her countless trips from bedroom to kitchen to bedroom again.
Nights I hear her creep down to eat plain yogurt in the dark
A fugitive stealing calories to which she does not feel entitled.
Deciding how many bites is too many.
How much space she deserves to occupy.
Watching her struggle I either mimic or hate her,
And I don't want to do either anymore,
But the burden of this house has followed me across the country.
I asked five questions in genetics class today and all of them started with the words "sorry".
I don't know the requirements for the sociology major because I
spent the entire meeting deciding if I could have another slice of pizza
A circular obsession I never wanted, but
Inheritance is accidental,
Still staring at me with wine-stained lips from across the kitchen table.

Lily Myers

Sunday, 1 December 2013


The different hues of colour changing; gold melting into orange, red, pink and then darkening into the night sky has always filled me with wonder at the earth's beauty but it's a wonder accompanied with sadness. I can't explain the sadness.  Perhaps, it's because the time marks the end of each day. Each new day, a birth and each sunset, a death.

Sunsets in Pakistan were always marked by the sound of the azan. A well sung azan is a soulful sound. A beckoning; answered by some, ignored by others. The sunset is also a beckoning, a time to stop, take stock of the day. For a few moments, the sky lights up, a call - hey look at me and then it's gone. Like life itself, different colours, different shades, a few moments of grace and then, darkness.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

My Addiction

Reading has always been a passion. Books a doorway to so many different worlds, a way into other peoples' lives allowing an intimacy, you are not allowed in real life because we all erect barriers to protect our most precious selves. My favourite books are the ones inhabited by characters who capture my imagination. Those books I draw out, trying to delay the end when I would have to say goodbye to the people whose lives feel entwined with mine. Sometimes, when a book ends I feel sad; knowing I will miss the characters who inhabited my mind during the reading. It's that lump you feel when saying bye to a friend, knowing you may not meet again.

With age, I have also learned to self-medicate with books. They are my refuge, my escape when I need it. Books can be the place you go to, to get away from where you are. I have never done drugs. I have tried alcohol but it's not for me. There are too few people whom I trust enough to drink with and even with them, once a year is more then enough for me. Books are where I turn to when I need a break but books are also where I am, when I don't need anything.

As with all addictions; the more I read, the more I want to read. The list of books on my bucket list keeps growing and one fear is that I may never get the time to read them all.

What I like best about reading though, is the assurance of not being alone. Once in a precious while, you feel the writer reach out from the pages and hold your hand; it's that moment when you read your thoughts written in someone else's words upon the page and you expel that breath, you hadn't even realized you were holding, and feel sated knowing that at least one other being on the planet felt and thought like you, even if only for a moment.

"Books help us know other people, know how the world works, and, in the process, know ourselves more deeply in a way that has nothing to do with what you read them on and everything to do with the curiosity, integrity and creative readiness you bring to them.

Books build bridges to the lives of others, both the characters in them and your countless fellow readers across the lands and other eras, and in doing so elevate you and achor you more solidly into your own life. They give you a telescope into the minds of others, through which you begin to see with ever greater clarity, the starscape of your own mind.

And though the body and form of the book will continue to evolve, it's heart and soul never will. Though the telescope might change, the cosmic truths it invites you to peer into remain eternal like the universe.

In many ways, books are the original internet - each fact, each story, each new new bit  of information can be a hyperlink to another book, another idea, another gateway into the endlessly whimsical rabbit hole of the written word. Just like the web pages you visit most regularly, your physical bookmarks take you back to those book pages you want to return to again and again, to reabsorb and relive, finding new meaning on each visit - because the landscape of your life is different, new, "reloaded" by the very act of living."

Maria Papova, "Does My Goldfish Know Who I Am? Scientists and Writers Answer Little Kids Big uestions About How Life Works",

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Ford Nation

I confess that I am unable to stop watching the Rob Ford saga unfold on the screen. Each time, I open the papers, turn on the news, watch a talk show; he is there, centre stage and larger than life. Yesterday, I watched the clip of him running full speed in the city council, into an elderly lady whom he knocked down, in order to help his brother out in an "altercation". Kindergarteners are taught not to run in the classroom, just to avoid such incidents. Our Mayor apparently also missed out on the class on "indoor voice" vs "outdoor voice".

I sat transfixed as Peter Mansbridge interviewed the two Ford brothers on CBC. My twelve- year-old was interested and watched as well. I was horrified to hear the Mayor trying to make the case that everyone drinks and drives. His statement was,"All of us have done this - whoever has a licence." What kind of message does this send to our kids and the people in general across our city? Should we all drink and drive? Perhaps, the police this holiday season should use this, as their posted advice to all drivers, "Go ahead, drink and drive. After all, you have a licence!" He was making the case that it is okay to have a few drinks and drive but we all know that Mr. Ford used to have more than just a few drinks. Yes, we all know drinkers who insist that they are not drunk and can drive even after more than just a few but is this behaviour that we should be encouraging or dismissing as normal?

Actually, it might shock Rob Ford but I haven't ever had a drink and put myself behind the steering wheel and I am sure, I am not the only one in this city who has not (I hope!). I also haven't ever been inebriated to the point that I "black out", nor have I ever smoked pot or cocaine. It seemed Mr.Ford was trying to suggest that these are relatively normal behaviours that people indulge in while letting down their hair "on the weekend". His exact words were, "there's a lot of people who have done what I have done." He implied that other people on the council also behave this way. Really, is this a criterion for getting elected?

What shocked me even more, was the two brothers suggesting that Rob Ford's biggest problem is his weight! Obesity is the real problem it seems, the drinking, the drugs, the lack of judgement, the resulting obnoxious behaviour, all take a back seat to the weight issue. Ford promised that in five months, he will be thirty pounds lighter and only when pressed by Mansbridge about the drinking, did he state that he will lay off the bottle as well.  In which world, does weight take precedence over all these behavioural issues? Perhaps, that's just the way they roll in the "Ford Nation!"

Saturday, 16 November 2013


"Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always explaining things to them."

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I work part-time with kindergarteners or rather I spend part of my day with them so that they can work on me. They try to teach me new things everyday. I am a slow learner but the children are patient. They persist. "Mrs Khan, look my paper plane!" as it zooms across the class. I am gifted beautiful pictures and lovely smiles. I get hugs. I am shown new bags and the toys hidden in there. The hugs sometimes, result in strange, greenish mucous patterns on my clothes but it's the love that counts!

I watch as the children move to higher grades. I pass them in the hallways and am awarded enthusiastic smiles and hand-waves. I am amazed at how quickly they grow and at their unself-conscious beauty. I would be lying if I left out the days when I feel like pulling out my hair. There are moments when the thirty four to six-year-olds seem like monsters gathered together for the sole purpose of raising havoc but those are the days that remind me to take a deep breath and calm down. Ask them why they are throwing sand all over the classroom and I am told,"But Mrs. Khan, we're just having fun!"

Sometimes Mrs. Khan does need a reminder to allow some fun.


Last night, our family watched "Blackfish". Afterwards, my son insisted that it's a movie everyone should watch. He is right, everyone should. Most of us, humans grow up with the assumption that while nature is wonderful, we are the centrepiece. We assume that we are the most intelligent of all the creatures on the planet. We present our dexterity with tools and our ability to use language to communicate as evidence of our higher status. This conviction of our superiority leads to entitlement. In our arrogance, we have been plundering the planet: taking more than we give back and all too soon there will not be much left to leave our children. "Pride comes before a fall", and that seems to be the direction humanity is headed towards if we don't change our thinking.

"I say that humans are the only ones in the world that need everything within it but there is nothing that needs us for it's survival. We aren't the masters of the earth. We're the servants."

Orenda by Joseph Boyden

Blackfish Official Film Site

Blackfish: Orca documentary lacks scope, but delivers strong message

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

A Mind Not My Own

Throughout my life, I have repeatedly heard said about me that I have a mind of my own. Some people say it while beaming proudly (my father) while others pass the judgement with a sad shake of the head like a terminal illness diagnosis that can not be altered. I always accepted this verdict with a certain amount of pride after all why would anyone want a mind- not their own?

Last night however, while desperately trying to fall back to sleep at three in the morning (my method is lying in bed with my eyes firmly shut pretending to be fast asleep; the assumption being that the pretence will hopefully turn into reality at some point!), I realized that everyone has been wrong about me including myself. I do not have a mind of my own, in fact my mind is not my own. It lodges inside my skull scorning all my attempts at mind over matter. It persistently delves into melancholy despite my repeatedly lecturing it on my determination to be happy. It insists on working overtime in the middle of the night, when I'd rather be asleep and insists on shutting down at nine at night when I'd rather be awake. It shudders at the cold even though I have told it that all seasons must be enjoyed. It seeks out negativity when I am trying to stay positive. I have told it that I am lucky to have so many people around me who make me feel loved and yet it secretly hopes to win the approval of the ones who don't give it; like a dog looking for crumbs from the table while ignoring the meal on it's plate. It makes me feel tired when I would love to embrace the image of myself as a bouncy, energetic thirty-eight year-old. It brings me down when I would prefer always being up.

I have heard that while in solitary confinement, your mind is either your salvation or your damnation. I have no wish to test this theory since I have a feeling that in my case, my mind will fall into the category of "with friends like these who needs enemies."

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Respect vs Subseviance

Growing up in Pakistan, I was taught to respect my elders. I was firmly told not to question or answer back because one must listen to one's elders and do as told. It was very important to show respect. Being a "badtamiz" who questions, answers back, or uses his/her own brain in the presence of an elder, was the worst sort of a heathen. I learnt that I should never be a "badtamiz" or all the generations who came before me, and passed down this legacy of "tamiz", would shudder in their graves.

Men who spoke up, were oddballs but women who spoke up, were harlots. We were taught to be respectful children, grand-children, students, and most importantly respectful daughter-in-laws. In school, we did not question or challenge our teachers, at home as we grew older with patriarchal attitudes around us, we figured that we could challenge mom but father had to be treated with deference; after marriage, we had to please our in-laws, though they in turn owed us nothing. In religion, we were told repeatedly, do not question what you do not understand. In other words, close your minds. Now, we gawk at the religious fanatics masquerading as Muslims and wonder how they came to existence. How is it that we are unable to join the dots and follow that blind, unquestioning minds are easy to manipulate?

Our country, our society is headed in a direction that allows for little hope. There are millions of things going wrong and just a few going right. We all wonder how did we arrive at this state? We took many wrong turns but one of them is this culture of mindless subservience. We find ourselves at this juncture in history, by blindly following the people in power whether they be our elders, our teachers, our bosses or our rulers.

My husband always points out how in the West, politicians in their speeches speak of "serving" the people while in Pakistan, politicians talk of "ruling". This difference in lexicon gives us an insight into the difference in thought. In Pakistan, we give complete power to those in authority, allowing them to believe they rule us. Unchecked power leads to corruption of all kinds. It corrupts the soul of the person wielding it. We are human, all prone to make mistakes. We all need to be checked from time to time. Unchecked, us humans turn into egotistical monsters even in the guise of sweet grannies and grand-dads.

There is a difference between respect and subservience. Turning yourself into a fawning, unquestioning minion is not respectful to yourself or to the person whose feet you are grovelling at. If I respect myself and the person before me, I will be forthright and honest; both in my praise and my criticism. Only the morally weak, when in a position of power, demand subservience and only the weak give it unquestioningly.

"It only stands to reason that where there's sacrifice, there's someone collecting the sacrificial offerings. Where there's service, there is someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice is speaking of slaves and masters, and intends to be the master." - Ayn Rand

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Rob Ford, Our Elected Mayor

Rob Ford, our Toronto mayor seems to have a problem with alcohol and other substances. He appears to be man of poor judgement but what does it say about us, the people of this city, that we elected him mayor? Even before he was elected, the few times I heard him speak on the media, he came across as a belligerent fool.

But now the deed is done and our elected mayor refuses to step down and ride off into the sunset because he "likes his job too much". I would love to have the opportunity to explain to him that there are a lot of things in life I like too much as well but I understand that I can't always have them. It is actually better for me to not always get what I want. It is a concept I often find myself explaining to the kindergarten children at work. Some of them understand, others don't. I have a suspicion that Mr. Ford is probably one of those who will never get it.

On the other hand, I also think that it is time the media and all of us stopped hounding him. It is not constructive. Hopefully, the man has enough sense to get help but one thing is for sure that reporters pounding him is not helpful. Time to leave him alone to get on with his life and hopefully, his work and time for all of us, to get on with ours.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

What's Decent?

Every once in while, there is a book that opens your eyes. Annabel  by Kathleen Winter made me consider things I had never thought of earlier. It is a book about a gender-variant child. Through our teenage years, most of us struggle with our identities, discovering who we are and our place in the world. It is difficult enough coming to grips with our gender identities and our sexuality when we fall within the accepted norm but for a child growing up outside of that safe space, life can be appallingly cruel. This book opened a door for me. It placed me in the life of a gender-variant child; a world of uncertainties and rejections.

As a child in Pakistan, I was taught to avoid “hijras” but like all children, I was curious. Hijras dressed like women but looked like men. In my teens, I was told that when a child is born who is different, hijras come to the family and claim the baby. It was never specified what the difference was but I did understand that hijras lived on the periphery of society. They were ridiculed and feared. Isn't that the most common reaction to people we don't understand? Decent people did not even discuss the topic because it was and is considered dirty and inappropriate.

Most of us, do not even know what a hijra is. Terms like “gender-variant”, “trans-gender”, “cross- dresser” confuse us. I found these definitions from the Gender Equity Resource Centre.  


A person appearing and/or identifying as neither man nor woman, presenting a gender either mixed or neutral.


Someone who wears clothes associated with another gender part of the time.  This term has replaced "transvestite," which is now considered outdated and offensive.


Intersex is a set of medical conditions that feature congenital anomaly of the reproductive and sexual system. That is, intersex people are born with "sex chromosomes," external genitalia, or internal reproductive systems that are not considered "standard" for either male or female. The existence of intersexuals shows that there are not just two sexes and that our ways of thinking about sex (trying to force everyone to fit into either the male box or the female box) is socially constructed.


Transgender (sometimes shortened to trans or TG) people are those whose psychological self ("gender identity") differs from the social expectations for the physical sex they were born with. To understand this, one must understand the difference between biological sex, which is one's body (genitals, chromosomes, ect.), and social gender, which refers to levels of masculinity and femininity. Often, society conflates sex and gender, viewing them as the same thing. But, gender and sex are not the same thing.Transgender people are those whose psychological self ("gender identity") differs from the social expectations for the physical sex they were born with. For example, a female with a masculine gender identity or who identifies as a man.
An umbrella term for transsexuals, cross-dressers (transvestites), transgenderists, gender queers, and people who identify as neither female nor male and/or as neither a man or as a woman. Transgender is not a sexual orientation;transgender people may have any sexual orientation. It is important to acknowledge that while some people may fit under this definition of transgender, they may not identify as such.


A complicated, multi-step process that can take years as transgender people align their anatomy with their sex identity and/or their gender expression with their gender identity.  


Transsexual refers to a person who experiences a mismatch of the sex they were born as and the sex they identify as. A transsexual sometimes undergoes medical treatment to change his/her physical sex to match his/her sex identity through hormone treatments and/or surgically. Not all transsexuals can have or desire surgery.


Individuals who regularly or occasionally wear the clothing socially assigned to a gender not their own, but are usually comfortable with their anatomy and do not wish to change it (i.e. they are not transsexuals). Cross-dresser is the preferred term for men who enjoy or prefer women's clothing and social roles. Contrary to popular belief, the overwhelming majority of male cross-dressers identify as straight and often are married. Very few women call themselves crossdressers.

The term hijra itself, is derogatory. The way we treat these individuals shameful. I consider myself a feminist and often find myself indignant about the way women are treated but it's only recently that I have come to realize that there is a group who is treated even worse. People who are transgender are generally shunned. Most of us, don't know enough to understand but it's about time we educated ourselves and opened our minds.

Transgender people are not a dirty secret to be swept under the rug. Everyone deserves respect and equal opportunities in life. A person's gender should be of no consequence when it comes to their right to human dignity.

Most of us grew up in a world where we are lead to believe that there are just two genders; male and female. In this world, little girls like pink and little boys, blue. Girls play with dolls and enjoy crafts. They are good at language. Boys play with cars and enjoy sports. They are good at math. Girls grow into women who have babies, stay home, cook and clean while looking beautiful and singing songs. Boys grow into men with big muscles, deep voices and brilliant careers.

Yet, each of us is something different. Each of us an unique mixture of so called male and female characteristics. I am physiologically female but hate shopping, enjoy the outdoors including activities that get my hands dirty like digging in the dirt. I enjoy dressing up but only six times a year. I do not like pink but love red. My younger brother is the more aesthetic of the two of us . His tastes in clothes, home decor and food are far more disparaging than mine but his body taller, his muscles bigger and his voice deeper. We are both a mixture of masculine and feminine.

The world does not like to acknowledge this blending of masculine and feminine. Anyone who pushes against the boundaries of what is the accepted average is labelled. Girls who are boyish, we term tom-boys and boys who are girlish, sissies. (Interestingly, it is deemed a bigger insult to be a sissy than a tom-boy. The implication being that while it's not too bad for a girl to be boyish; it's terrible for a boy to be girlish.)  All the while ignoring the glaring truth that none of us fit neatly in the box. All boys have girlish qualities and all girls some boyish ones. There aren't just two distinct genders. There is a gender continuum.

If we teach our children that sex and gender are a continuum rather than just two fixed points of reference, perhaps there would be less stereotyping and discrimination as well. Perhaps, we might be able to rear future generations who are more open minded and accepting of differences.

The terms 'sex' and 'gender are closely related but not to be confused. " 'Sex' refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women.
'Gender' refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women.
To put it another way:
'Male' and 'female' are sex categories, while 'masculine' and 'feminine' are gender categories.
So while "sex" is decided by physiological characteristics, gender is a social construct. Gender roles therefore vary from culture to culture. But "sex" isn't always so clearly distinguishable either. It is not always just a simple case of being either male or female. Some babies are intersex. It is extremely rare but since this does happen, why just have male and female? Perhaps both sex and gender should be regarded as continuums thus allowing for more inclusiveness.

"Two intersex babies are born each week in the United Kingdom. This compares with other developmental problems such as cleft palate, or genetic problems such as Downs Syndrome. Yet health professionals and parents find it very difficult to find information about it, and those who specialize in this area are seen as a rather bizarre group of fringe psychiatrists."

Germany recently changed laws to allow for indiscriminate gender at birth to accommodate intersex children. Australians have had the option of selecting "x" as their gender - meaning indeterminate, unspecified or intersex - on passport applications since 2011. A similar option was introduced for New Zealanders in 2012.In South Asia, Bangladesh has offered an "other" gender category on passport applications since 2011.Nepal began recognising a third gender on its census forms in 2007 while Pakistan made it an option on national identity cards in 2011.
India added a third gender category to voter lists in 2009."
In 2011, a Toronto couple decided to raise their child as genderless in an attempt to avoid gender stereotyping. The Toronto Star ran a piece on the topic and the couple received a lot of negative feedback from readers. While in the long term, it might not be practically possible to avoid gender identification; it is noble all the same to avoid gender stereotyping as much as possible. If we teach our children that sex and gender are a continuum rather than just two fixed points of reference, perhaps there would be less stereotyping and discrimination as well. Perhaps, we might be able to rear future generations who are more open minded and accepting of differences.


World Health Organization "What do we Mean by Sex and Gender", Nov 5 '2013.

About Gender, Nov 5' 2003.

BBC Europe News   "Germany Allows Indeterminate Gender at Birth" , Nov 6 '2013.

Jayme Poisson, "Parents Keep Child's Gender Secret", Toronto Star,  Published on May 21, 2011.

What's "decent"? - Canada Reads: Stories of Change - CBC

Thursday, 31 October 2013


I have been wondering about this for a while now, trying to figure out why housekeeping tasks like cleaning, doing laundry, gardening or caring for young kids and the elderly are considered menial labour and if given a choice, why most of us prefer to pay someone else to do it. Cooking for some reason has a higher prestige value than cleaning but even then, it is still more praiseworthy it seems, to go earn money then cook a decent meal for your family.

It is also interesting to note that all of these responsibilities usually fall under the umbrella of "women's work". Going out and earning has more status because that is traditionally the male domain.  I am all for women studying and working, what I have a problem with is the assumption that the work which women traditionally did is less valuable. I would make the argument that housework, rearing children, caring for the old, and the sick is extremely valuable but under-appreciated work. Instead of looking down at mothers and grandmothers as simply "housewives", perhaps society needs to acknowledge the role these women play in holding society together.

I also take beef with how this work is "outsourced" to other women. Nannies, day care workers and maids are generally women with less options. The wealthier woman gets to go out and work somewhere else while other women step in to do what she would have to do. Housework is never ending and at times tedious but so is most work. After a while, even a dream job starts weighing down as monotonous. So why is house work seen as unfulfilling drudgery? Most people work at jobs they don't like most of the time, how is that any different? Oh, yes I remember now; other work comes with pay, leave and benefits. People keep talking about "leaning in", well lean in everyone whether man, woman or dog and take pride in working around the home. It's where you live after all!

Bills have to be paid and food put on the table but respect should be paid, not just to the one paying the bills but also to the one actually putting food on the table. In many situations, both partners have to earn in order to make ends meet. There is no choice other than getting help but please treat the help with respect. The work they do is invaluable.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Health and Happiness to All

Our neighbors were the poster kids for aging well. Both well into their eighties and self-sufficient and vital in a manner that would put people half their age to shame. They had lived in this neighbourhood for over forty years. They raised their children here. He mowed the lawn and ploughed the snow. She was a bird enthusiast and would walk in the ravine twice a day with her binoculars. Rain, snow, hail or sunshine, she would be out there, defying the elements soaking in nature.
Early one spring morning, the kids and I saw an ambulance parked outside their home. A few days after, I met her outside her home. She told me that he had a stroke. I hate drama but could not help my eyes welling up. To my horror, she was the one patting me on the back, reassuring me that these things happen. I offered help if she ever needed it.
He was in the hospital for a few months. By the time, he came home it was summer already. I was delighted to hear his hearty laugh through my open windows. A few days later, we were returning from a bike ride and saw a police cruiser and an ambulance outside their home. Another neighbour was sitting with the lady on their porch.
I later learned that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's while in rehab. He had become violent. Three days at home and he hit his wife. He was placed at a facility close by. She could not manage alone. They sold the home. Last I heard, she was in rehab after knee surgery. He passed away two months back. I hope they made up before he died. They were married forty years. They looked happy together. I hope it did not end badly.
Old age gets even the best of us; the ones with a great attitude, the positive ones. It doesn't discriminate. My great-grand mother lived into her nineties. She was a lady with spirit and a great attitude. She lived in her own place in Lahore till well into her late eighties. She was easy with her laughs. She kept all of us kids entertained with card games; losing to us on purpose to give us money for ice cream but in the end, even she was not herself.
Life is a great journey as long as you have your health. This summer, I heard Dr. Donald Low's appeal for a dignified end. Canadian laws do not grant such liberties. The debate continues. God gave us the gift of life, who are we to end it at our own whim? Well, humans are given many gifts, one of the best being our ability to make decisions. If a person is of sound mind but suffering terribly physically with no near end in sight, should they not have the right to decide their own fate?
I don't have the answer but I do believe that we all should have the right to make our own choices. The one thing I do know is that you never know how you will feel till it happens to you. If you live long enough, you will grow old and if you grow old enough at some point, your health will give.
"Live long and prosper", they say but the "live long" part never sits easy with me. I wish people good health and happiness, instead.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

An Education

There was a young boy in line ahead of me at a store today. He looked around five-years old and had brought along his mother. His mom was holding a white shirt in her hand and I heard her say to him, "This is a very strange looking shirt. Are you sure you want to keep it?"
"Yes," came the prompt reply. "I want to keep it till I don't want it anymore."
Of course they are both in line to pay for this unique-looking shirt which he only wants till he doesn't want it anymore. Can't get more logical than that!
Just as logically, big chain stores always have items in bins placed strategically around the area where customers line up to pay. The child picked up a circular sponge- type thing from one of the bins.
"What is this?", he asked rotating the circular sponge thingy. He took the words right out of my mouth. To be honest, it looked like a contraceptive device to me.
"It's a bun.", his mom responded.
"A bun?, he repeated incredulously. It didn't look very appetizing.
"You know the kind Aunt Charlotte makes on her head," the mom explained. "Women make it on their head to dress up."
"Oh," responded the little boy, clearly understanding now. "Like for Halloween."
"No, no, not Halloween. Just for dressing up when you have long hair." Mom continued.
"But when will I have long hair?, he asked.
When, indeed! He wasn't the only one leaving the store having learned something new; all circular sponge thingies are not contraceptive devices, some can be used for makings buns on your head when your hair grows long enough.

Friday, 18 October 2013

My Love Story

I wrote a love story the other night. Like all the best stories, it was a tragedy. I intended submitting it to a writing competition and with just a week to go for the submission deadline, I reeled in all my editors for a review. I was hoping for some constructive criticism and badly needed, editing.

My first response was from my sister. I called and asked her what she was up to. I wanted to show concern for her, before jumping into her thoughts on my masterpiece. "Oh, nothing much", she answered. "Just reading your story and laughing my head off!"

"What?", I responded. "Why are you laughing? It's a tragedy!"

"Oh, no no!", she continued, not one for being putting out. "It's Nasir and you; you have written about. You just changed the names and turned him into your neighbour. Also you forgot to mention your older sister but that's okay. You turned Aamer (my brother-in-law) into Zehra (a girl), your best friend. It's all very funny."

I tried explaining that it is a work of fiction and yes, I did borrow from personal experience in order to write but it is fiction.

My next response, was from my husband. You would think that since most of the story is really an account of my feelings for him, he might have had a more favourable opinion. Yes, I know, I just gave a spiel about it being fiction writing but what the hell would I have known about love if it hadn't been for this man. Anyway, the review came in, by way of e-mail. He had two-words to say in response to my twelve hundred word ode to him. "Very nice."

Things were not going well. Time to call in the troops. I rang my father. He came through with flying colours, emailing me back with corrected spelling mistakes and suggesting a few changes. He told me that it was excellent. I was thrilled. Couldn't be sweeter music to my ears! But than he asked how I came up with the story and of course, I had to be honest. It's how he brought me up. I wrote it for a competition I explained. My other stories are too long and would fail the 1500 word restriction. I wrote it on my Nexus while lying in bed at two in the morning. I couldn't sleep. I was very happy with the story, I further explained; it ended when she finds out about the girlfriend but that only got me to 800 words. 400 words short of the minimum 1200 needed for submission and so I decided to kill the love of her life. Blow him  up - to be exact! And then I imagined how I would feel if something happened to Nasir and typed it up. 1200 words and story done!

P.S: Older sisters are the best. This statement also holds true for childhood sweethearts, best friends, fathers and ice cream.

Sunday, 13 October 2013


Home. A four-letter word that means so much. A place to rest, a place of comfort, a place your mind knows, recognizes. You weave memories into the bricks and furniture that house your home. It's a place that offers security. You know what to expect when you walk in the door.

My childhood was a nomadic one, moving from place to place, changing countries, continents, schools, houses and friends. The first day of school in each new place was always scary. I never knew what to expect but us, humans are creatures of habit and change can become a habit too.

I married a man who does not like change. Having chosen Toronto, Canada as his place to be, he refused to budge. Initially, I was irritated by his lack of adventure but now after nearly seventeen years of living in this city; I am glad. I am glad because his obstinacy gave me a feeling of home, I had never known before. I have come to appreciate the permanence that is his gift to my kids and me. I know this city. I know it's streets, it's shops, it's customs. When I walk down the street, I invariably run into someone I know. I am on a first name basis with the people at all the local stores. I know the staff at my kids' school. This is my street, my neighbourhood, my community. This is my home and my children's home. Both my kids walk to school and back. I don't worry about their safety because there is no need.

"It's the heavenly, joyful spring and summer that lull you, Seema told me once- explaining herself, her immigrant life- that keep you here until you are suddenly trapped by the winter months and anxiously await the next spring and summer- which have never failed so far, let me tell you; and so the years pass and before you know it you've lived here decades and unwillingly, unwittingly belong."

"The In-Between World of Vikram Lall" by M.G. Vassanji

I know, I am lucky I married a stubborn man. I know not everyone has this feeling of home. For me, for the longest time, home was me. I was my home.

Sounds strange, doesn't it? But when you move around a lot, you devise ways of coping. My way, was to live within me. Perhaps because of it, even now I find change easy. I don't miss people much either. I am happy when I am with someone but just as happy when there are not around. Heartless, perhaps! But life should be about enjoying the moment, rather than crying about what you don't have.

I started this out, as an answer to a friend whose life is still about constant move. I wanted to tell her that her kids will learn what I did. They will learn to weather change. They will learn flexibility and they will learn us, humans, are the same no matter where we live. Living in different places will open their eyes to how alike we all really are.

The will also learn home. It might not be that permanent neighbourhood, she would have liked for them but it will be home; their home tailored to their individual personalities. It might be family to one of them; or he, himself, to the other but what ever their idea of home is, it will answer their personal need.

"I carry the world within me. You see, Salim, in this world beggars are the only people who can be choosers. Everyone else has his side chosen for him. I can choose."

"A Bend in the River" by V.S. Naipaul

Ultimately, home is whatever you want it to be. It may be the house you've lived in for so long that you've even forgotten how long, or it may be the knapsack on your back, or it may be the love and company of the people dearest to you, or it may be all of those, or none of these things but something else altogether but whatever it is, the word's significance is in the meaning you give to it. 

"Home was not necessarily where you were born, or even where you grew up, but something else entirely, something fragile that could exist anywhere in the world."

"Map of the Invisible World" by Tash Aw

Friday, 11 October 2013

Full Circle

"Your new principal is young." I informed my kids.

"So how old is she?" Zara asked.

"I don't know. She looks around my age." I responded.

"But that makes her old!", my child informed me.

Well, I am 38 going onto 100 apparently. I consider myself fairly young. In my mind's eye, I still look the way I looked at 18. The mirror is not my best friend.  It tells me things I don't want to hear. Sometimes, when I catch a glimpse of my love handles protruding over my jeans, I am shocked.  When did this happen? Whatever happened to that flat belly, the skinny girl ribs that jutted just above it?

But all clouds have silver linings. The cushion of fat does make me more huggable. Also, I read somewhere that a little fat is a good thing. It comes in handy in times of need. Should calamity ever strike, I will outlive my skinny friends!

My daughter is the skinny girl now. A term I know she hates, the same way I did all those years back. I am the cushy lap she likes placing herself on.

Their father doesn't escape unscathed either. (Thank goodness!) We are the old people who listen to old music that apparently nobody likes! My phone is a source of complete ridicule at home. My lack of technical skills a thing of wonder.

Where, perhaps, all of this should leave me feeling bruised; I find myself enjoying their amusement. It's funny laughing with them over myself.

There is nothing like your children's honesty to bring you resounding back to earth if there ever was a chance that you might start thinking too much of yourself.

The reason all this amuses me is because it takes me back to how I used to feel about my parents and still do at times! I remember chuckling with my sister over my father's music cassettes labelled "latest hits" - the songs were only thirty years old. My mother never was any good at negotiating anything even remotely technical and it always made us kids feel so superior simply because we knew how to use the remote. I remember the time my mother washed down my father's newest acquisition, a cordless phone bought on a trip to Japan, with soap and water. She was quite shocked that the phone would not work after the through washing. As I listen to my kids' laughter, it's with a feeling of deja vu.

Our parents always laughed along with us three kids at our attempts at wit at their expense and their generosity of spirit taught us three offsprings, to laugh at ourselves as well. After all, wasn't it Shakespeare who said something about life being a stage and all of us comedians! May as well laugh as much as you can before the final curtain call.

In the end, life is a full circle even if our kids have us pegged as squares.

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

My Free Lunch

We've all been there - the phone rings, you answer only to have someone poor guy try and sell you duct cleaning services, better phone rates or specifically in our household, online Quran lessons.

Two months back, someone called with a offer for free Globe and Mail delivery for two months. I agreed. The Globe and Mail refuses to let me read more than a few articles a month for free online and since I enjoy this particular paper, I was happy to have to have it delivered at my doorstep free of any cost to me.

For two months, I relished being able to spread the paper out flat and read through it page by page. The smell of freshly printed paper and the feel of it crisply turning at my finger tips was a long forgotten pleasure. It had been almost a decade, may be more, since I last read the paper daily in print form. Usually I skip from site to site, reading snatches of news from various sources. To be perfectly honest, this interest in the news is also new for me. I have spent years avoiding the news because I used to find it depressing. The news is still depressing; I've developed thicker skin. Aging has it's benefits!

My two months of free delivery ended yesterday. I miss having the paper to study at length. I know it would be better for the environment to just revert back to reading the news online but I miss the paper. The online papers don't spread out for me. I can't smell or feel them. I can't thumb  through the websites. I only click on items that interest me whereas in the print version, I often glance over pieces that don't necessarily interest me but I'll skim through anyway simply because the piece falls within my line of vision. In this way, I often discover viewpoints I wouldn't otherwise.

My mother is fond of saying that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Well, I got the paper for free for a while but now I have an addiction and one, for which I am willing to pay. I guess, she is right; the bait is always attached to a hook.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013


Privacy is a fluid word- it's meaning, flowing, altering slightly with each user. Most dictionaries would define it along the lines of being free from intrusion, outside observation or disturbance.

Of course, all of this is very subjective. Who and what I consider disturbing or intrusive, might be very different from what you consider disturbing. To tell the truth, it's a word I never gave much thought to, other than using it for myself. I know I am a private person. I enjoy other peoples' company but in short doses. Overly gregarious, happy people give me a headache.

I value my personal space tremendously and do not appreciate other people encroaching it. I am equally possessive of my body. I don't care who looks at my arms, legs or face but the rest of me is mine alone.

Or so I thought. Medical staff don't care for such high notions of privacy. A day at the hospital and what started out feeling like sacrilege, quickly becomes the norm. Other people take over caring for your bodily functions and all aspirations of dignity are quickly discarded along with your clothes.

Privacy is a privilege that not everyone enjoys. People who are unwell, prison inmates, and the very, very poor do not have the same privacy, the rest of us assume as a right.

What we consider private, varies from person to person as well. I am comfortable in sleeveless shirts and shorts but another woman might not be. I do not cover my hair while some women would not dream of stepping out of the house with their hair uncovered.

To have nurses poke and prod in areas, I consider private, filled me with shame. Perhaps, asking a woman who is accustomed to covering her hair, to remove her hijab might be as demeaning?

A person should have a right to be comfortable in their own space and person; without making other people uncomfortable. Something as simple as being "free" from disturbance and intrusion sometimes feels like a slice of heaven.

And if you doubt me, please have yourself booked for a colonoscopy!

Thursday, 26 September 2013

All Things Great and Small

The wonderful thing about elder siblings is that no matter how old you get, they will always be older and wiser.

My elder sister threw away my pacifier when I was four. She, for some odd reason, thought I was too old to walk around sucking on a pacifier. I still have not forgiven her or recovered from the emotional scars.

She also decided soon after that I was too old for training wheels so she taught me how to ride without. All I remember of my biking lessons is, my sister helping me onto her bike and promising to never let go. (Her bike was too big for me, with my feet just reaching the pedals.) She did keep her word most of time, even helping me climb down which I couldn't do on my own. There were however times when I pedalled too fast for her and she could not keep up. (At least that's what I like to imagine!) One such biking lesson ended with me ramming into our neighbour's car just as she was opening the door to step out. Our neighbour was furious. My parents made me visit her apartment to apologize which I hated because she was a big lady and I was terrified of her.

I did eventually learn how to bike. My father removed the training wheels from my bike and hey, presto, I had a two-wheeler that I could mount and dismount on my own.

My bike was tiny but then at four-years of age, I was tiny. We lived in an diplomatic enclave in Beijing, China and I would ride around independently. My pride knew no bounds. I was riding to visit a friend (an elderly lady who allowed me to believe that I was teaching her how to read) when a tiny toy poodle decided to chase me. Have you ever noticed how tiny dogs have the loudest barks? I was terrified and started riding in circles screaming hysterically. The dog was as smart as me, and kept running in circles after me. A tiny dog barking furiously, chasing a tiny girl, screaming hysterically; must have been very entertaining because soon there was a large group of people gathered around. Diplomats from different countries; of different colours, sizes, and religions all found me equally hilarious. Not one stepped forward to rescue me.

If it hadn't been for my big sister I would still be pedalling that tiny bike in circles screaming wildly while everyone laughed. Also, I miss my pacifier - it would have stopped the hysterical screaming!

In our convent school, we were taught a hymn thanking God for all things; big and small. But I only thank Him for my big sister; small, barking dogs do not feature in my thanks.

All things bright and beautiful
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The great God made them all.

Cecil Frances, 1848