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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.