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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