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Monday, 29 June 2015

Stories Never Told

This is not a book review, because I hate most book reviews. Books are meant to be read and enjoyed, not analysed to death. So why bother talking about these books at all? I enjoyed them and hope that others may too and god knows, writers need all the publicity they can get.

Her Mother's Ashes is a collection of short stories by South Asian women. Perhaps, because I could relate so easily to these stories, or perhaps, because the stories are so well written, I read each story with the eagerness of a young child unwrapping a surprise gift.
The story I liked the best, however, was "Love in an Election Year" by Tahira Naqvi.
It is sad that, other than Bapsi Sidhwa, none of writers are vastly read or acknowledged.

This week, I read The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. The book is a harrowing tale of POW's used as slaves to build train tracks through the Burmese rain forests during the Second World War. It is a love story, a tragedy, beautifully told. It repeatedly made me think back to The Railway Man by Eric Lomax which I read last year. Same time. Same space. And the heart wrenching reality that both books touch upon, fleetingly, that only the white soldiers and officers who died serving the Allied forces have their stories told, tributes paid, and their memories kept alive. To heck with tributes, Eric Lomax speaks of how when after the war, the British searched for, dug up, and properly buried their fallen soldiers and officers, it was only white men who were dug up and buried, all the rest of darker skin tones who served the Empire were left in their unmarked graves.
My paternal grandfather served in Burma and my maternal grandfather served in North Africa during World War II, but no one knows their stories, not even their own families.
History is the telling of stories, but there so many stories that are never told, so many voices never heard, so many writers never read, and eventually, we all just turn to ash and dust underfoot. But before we go, we must make the effort to tell our stories and take the time to listen to the ones being told.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Dragons at the Great Wall

I was born in Pakistan, but my earliest memories are of China - clutching my father's trousers, hiding behind his legs from the people who had come to welcome us at the airport, a long drive in a big, black car in the dark, and our first few days there at a hotel where our parents practised what little Chinese they had spent months learning back in Islamabad - we were served 12 fried eggs for the four of us (my elder sister and I amazed, at what was to us, reckless abandon), cold water instead of black tea with milk, and my mother upon failing at all communication with the server, trying to explain that she wants lukewarm water for her daughters. And the most precious memory of all - my mother at a big public park crouching, then straightening, then crouching, and again straightening, while making rowing motions with her arms in an attempt to ask a pedestrian where we could find row boats.
I loved China, the hikes on the Great Wall where I thought dragons lived, listening to the ground in the Forbidden City, the white marble boat in the Summer Palace, the large animal statues that my sister and I would climb which I now see replicas of, at the Royal Ontario Museum, but which no one is allowed to touch, let alone sit on. Oh, yes, the rows upon rows of terracotta warriors in an underground tomb, that's where I learned that silence isn't just the absence of sound, but the presence of tranquility.
I had my first crush in China- an American boy named Edward- who I called Eggward because I thought he didn't know his own name.
It was where I learned racism, my own. Edward's elder sister and mine were friends and we were invited to their home for Christmas. They had a Christmas tree, all lit up, and a nativity scene on a table next to it, complete with a barn, farm animals, and the three kings. It was only upon being dropped to their apartment that I realized that my Egg-ward was American, until then I had thought him Nigerian because of his beautiful skin. 
Once our parents left my sister and I, in our silver Toyota station wagon, while they went to visit a shop, soon the car was surrounded by people peering at us two girls, their faces plastered to the car windows. They had never seen brown people before.
China is also where I learned that I can always trust my elder sister. Sometimes, she and I would sneak out of our apartment, and wander around Beijing, taking buses back and forth, but she would always, somehow, get us home. It's only now with the passage of time that I realize what a feat that was considering my elder sister was only eight or nine at the time, and neither of us knew more than a handful of words in Chinese - greeting, thank you, and some curses which we were rather proud of.
Many years ago, when my younger brother was just four, someone (a retired naval chief of staff who most people seemed scared of) asked him where he was born and he responded, I was born in Pakistan, but made in China. Ditto, baby brother, I was made in China too.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Facebook: A Keepsake Box

It is Father's  Day and my Facebook feed is brimming with posts for fathers - both dead and alive - touching tributes of love that I being a sentimental sort, like. It goes with my belief that love should be expressed openly, often, and with abandon, but I also can not help wondering how Facebook managed to evolve into this keepsake box for our emotions - heart wrenching posts to people lost, birthday messages to babes not old enough to read, declarations of unwavering love on anniversaries - the list is endless.

It's great, the more love expressed, the better. Sure, beats the heck out of nasty exchanges and displays of pettiness, but again, why Facebook? Why do we trust this public platform with so much that is dearest to us?

Perhaps, many of us need someone to bear witness to our emotions. Perhaps, I am one of those people too, despite my selective and jealous guarding of my private space.