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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!