Of Dreams and Songs Yet Unsung

“Four daughters?” the woman said, her eyes wide with a mix of horror, pity and fascination. Then, “Mashallah (May Allah protect them).” A sympathetic smile, “They are beautiful. May Allah bless them with good kismet.”

I can’t count how many times I heard that sentence being said to my mother in my life. Different women,same words, same connotations. For most of my life it did not bother me. I took it in stride. After all, it IS a burden to have four daughters in Pakistani society. To find an educated husband for them, to painstakingly accumulate their dowry, to train them in the art of keeping house; above all to ensure their “good kismet”- a herculean task- which can only be achieved by Allah’s blessing, good looks and money.

Growing up I did not feel any particular prejudice against myself for being a girl. I simply believed that a girl’s place was in the home; from an early age she was to be domesticated, beauty and poise considered her biggest asset, domestic skills her most important achievement. Of course attending a respected school and college was always a plus.

I was groomed to marry from a young age. I was loud and boisterous, I walked fast, I talked fast, I had opinions- I was told over and over and over again-to zip it. Because who would want to bring home a daughter-in-law who was not soft spoken and timid and shy and moldable? Despite being an over achiever in my academic career, I was never expected, nor encouraged to pursue higher education. It was not that my parents did not consider educating their daughters to be important; they did. But, like many Pakistani parents, they believed every Pakistani girl had a shelf life, so they could not afford to encourage their daughter to pass that shelf life in the pursuit of higher education. Their dream for me always remained the same; a good marriage. And perhaps that was my dream too, for I didn’t know I had the freedom to choose a different dream. Much to their relief and delight, I got married at 21 and moved to California. I was at the precipice of living my “happily ever after”.

But then slowly, I changed. No, I think I changed the day I had my own daughter. For that was the day I realized she deserved anything and everything the world had to offer. She deserved the best education in the world, she deserved to sing and dance on the top of a mountain, she deserved to frolic in the sun. She deserved to not be beautiful. She deserved to be ordinary or wild or plain or strong. She deserved to be stubborn and opinionated and hold her ground for something she believed in. She deserved to be ANYTHING she wanted to be without fear of being rejected for who she was. Because if she became that-if she became her true self, she would be extra ordinary.

Her birth marked my transition from a young sheltered girl to a sometimes-unsure-of -herself woman, and eventually, to a Tigress. Because of her I was finally coming into my own; learning to be unapologetic for my opinions, intelligence, strength and fierce desire to be independent. I had loved to write for as long as I could remember, but I never fully realized the power my pen wielded until I had begun this journey of self-discovery, choking on my own words thirsting to gush out.

A year ago I started writing for different publications in America and Pakistan. Soon after, I was approached to write a short novella about romance in the sub-continent; I signed a contract with an e-publishing house. All I had had to do was make the decision to take action, and then the universe aligned itself, things started to fall into place for me. My pen became my power; my voice. And…it made me want to fight for my dreams.

Then couple of weeks before my birthday, I watched Malala Yousafzai with teary eyes as she spoke about the power of education on her 16th birthday at the United Nations Youth Assembly. This girl half my age, from rural Swat, a faraway magical place I had visited many summers in my youth and where I had seen many little girls like Malala, in their blue and white uniforms, marching to school across actual mountains, stood in front of the entire world and declared; “Even if they put a bullet in my head I will pursue my education.”

But, I realized, I had never been stopped by bullets or force or fear… I had simply been stopped by expectations and traditions, duties and obligations…and guilt.

That was it. That was the day I threw out the last remnants of fear and doubt; it was time to pursue ALL of my dreams- the dreams I did not know I was allowed to dream in my yesteryears- the dreams I wanted my daughter to know she could dream.

So here I am, back in college at 32, for my sake, and the sake of the song my daughter will one day sing on top of a mountain.


My heart has been aching for the last 7 days.

As I unpack my suitcases on day 1. As I put the laundry away on day 3. As I pack lunch for my kids on day 5.It’s always there, that hollow throbbing ache, in the exact spot where I think my heart is supposed to be.

My 7 yr old daughter has asked me at least two dozen times in the last seven days, as she often does at least once a month since she started talking, “Why don’t we live in Pakistan?” Today my three-year old son told me; “Your house is boring Mama, I want to go to Pakistan.”

The questions don’t help, they only make me realize their little hearts ache too, for the country they were not born in but I guess the love for which runs through their veins.

The silence in my house reminds me of the constant sounds that my home in Lahore is abuzz with. The silence only makes the ache grow stronger. I decide to go to the mall to get away from the silence after sending the kids off to school. I turn on the CD player as I settle behind the steering wheel in my car. The song that starts blaring reminds me of my sister’s wedding, the endless dance practices, the clothes, the colors….I turn it off and force myself to concentrate on my driving. The ache is still there. I look around and try to be grateful for the big clean roads, the stop signs, and the fact that no one is driving towards me on a one way road. But I miss the frenzied state of panic that all the drivers seem to be consumed by on all the roads in Lahore. I miss blaring horns. I miss the elated feeling of having defied death simply by changing a lane without being hit by a car.

At the mall I just walk around purposelessly.Nothing catches my eye. I miss the obsessive trips to the mall in the weeks before leaving for Pakistan, in the quest to hunt good deals on gifts. I walk into an expensive store, deciding I will treat myself to a statement necklace that I had my eyes on before my trip,it surely must be on sale by now. I inquire with the sales lady about the necklace and she brings it to me, I got lucky she informs me in a chirpy voice, it is 30 percent off bringing the price down to around $150. I look at it and suddenly I feel a tug at my heart, the ache is there again, only stronger. I tell the lady I changed my mind and walk out of the store feeling miserable. I miss the 20 minute haggling session with the “choorion wala” in Liberty over Rs 300 bangles. I miss the random aunties who would strike up a conversation in bazaars and doctor’s offices and beauty salons, making you reveal your entire family history in a matter of 4 minutes. I miss the beggars praying for my happy married life in return for a few coins. I miss the fact that most “bazaars” don’t open till noon and everything is closed on Fridays for prayer.

I miss I miss I miss…

I miss the all night chat sessions with my sisters, I miss the halwa poori breakfasts, I miss the tea time which occurred every two hours, I miss the constant chaos and craziness at home which would sometimes make me fantasize about checking into a hotel for a few days just so I could hear myself think. I miss the non-stop parenting advice from everyone who has ever had a child; I miss never EVER being alone. I miss the phone ringing after every three minutes and the door bell ringing at least 60 times a day. I miss the un-announced family visits and hugging my aunts and uncles tight, as if I had not seen them in years even though they had been over the night before and left well after midnight.

I miss squeezing into one car with all the siblings and their kids and making the long drive to Upper Mall just for a “cup” of Chaman ice cream. I miss acting unbelievably silly, the way you can only be around your family, totally and completely free. I miss constantly bickering with my siblings. I miss screaming at all our kids for making so much noise but only adding to the noise by screaming so loud.I miss the uncontrollable fits of laughter even at the most serious of moments. I miss lugging my camera around everywhere. I miss the stray cats at my husband’s home who would not even blink as my son pulled their tails. I miss having to clean my kids’ hands 15 times a day. I miss driving through half of Lahore when I had to get from my kids’ “dadu’s” house to “nano’s”house, joyfully inhaling the sights and sounds of Lahore with my eyes every single time. I miss the sound of Azaan. I miss the joy rain brought to everyone. I miss wearing my sisters’ clothes every day. I miss having so many opinionated people to ask how I look or what I should wear. I miss complaining about the load shedding. I miss being annoyed there is not enough hot water to take a shower. I miss speaking Urdu with everyone.

I miss the aura of hope in the air, sometimes so palpable I could taste it.

I miss the impossible amount of love and attention my kids receive until they are spoilt rotten by the time I come back, how everyone believes they care for them the “mostest”, even more than I do, how the whole household will gather around like a flock of hens, three people will volunteer to go to the hospital with you at 5 in the morning if you or your child is sick. I miss the utter lack of privacy and independence. I miss the cheekiness of family listening in to your phone calls and then discussing your entire conversation over tea afterwards as if they were invited to listen in to an important conference call! I miss everyone that I managed to meet and those I could not…

I miss the things that drive me up the wall and I miss the things that I have never stopped missing in 10 years. My heart keeps on aching…

The thing about leaving home is; you never get over it. You make a new life, you make new friends, you live happily ever after… until you go back home again. And every time you say your goodbyes and turn your back as you walk through those glass doors at the airport, the ache starts all over again. And then from time to time, you feel it, at the most unexpected of moments. It’s almost like how an amputee must feel; as if your hand was torn off your arm and even though it is no longer on your body and you have embraced life without it, you still feel your phantom fingers press into your phantom palm every once in a while and the reality of what’s been torn away hits you all over again. And the heart aches, all over again.

I don’t know why exactly we leave our homes. To find a better life I guess. A life where our kids are safer, our roads are cleaner, our bank balances; higher. I can’t quite remember just this second. Because right now, still in the throes of nostalgia seven days after walking away from my family through those glass doors, all I know is, there is no place like home. And in my heart of hearts, “home” will always mean Pakistan.

Unspoken Words

He watched her from the corner of his eyes as she tried to contain her long, impossibly curly hair into a bun on top of her head.His 5 year old son was running in circles making it impossible for her to put his shoes on him.

As she finally grabbed him and started to briskly slide the shoes on his feet, a few wild curls escaped from the bun she had managed to make on her head and she muttered under her breath as she pushed them out of her eyes.

He smiled to himself.

As she was done getting their son ready, almost on cue, there was a piercing cry from their bedroom. The baby was up, wailing frantically, for her bottle.

She turned quickly, causing those untamed curls to break free from the confines of the bun, looking like black waves cascading gloriously down to her waist as she ran to the kitchen in her rush to get the baby’s bottle.

He smiled to himself again as he pulled on his socks, reveling in the chaos around him.

This was his world; noisy, messy and completely complete.

‘Are you ready buddy?’ he asked his son.

‘Baba tell Mama I don’t want to go to school today! I want to go to work with you!’ his son looked at him, with his mother’s eyes, imploring him to save him from school.

He laughed as he picked his son up in a swift motion and walked towards the bedroom.

She sat there on their bed, in her pajamas and a navy blue kameez, their nine month old baby daughter cradled in her arms.

He did not know exactly what words could best describe the emotions that played across her smooth golden face. He just knew that those emotions were possibly the purest form of love there ever was. Every time she held their baby, he felt like a light went on inside her, radiating the sort of love that could light up the sky, illuminating her face and everything around her. To him, as always, she looked most beautiful then, in her worn out pajamas and her wild black curls, her eyes still carrying traces of sleep in them, not an ounce of makeup on her face. Simply glowing with love for their children

‘Suniya we are off’ he said, as he plopped his son down from his arms so he could go give his mother a hug goodbye.

‘But Baba! I told you I want to go to work with you today!’

Mikaal’s eyes…her eyes,started to brim with forced tears as he looked up at him.

‘Meri  Jaan’, she said, as she bent forward and pulled him to her.

‘I will pick you from school early today. Then we will go meet Baba for lunch. What do you think about that?’

‘Okay! McDonald’s?’ the tears were gone as he started to bounce up and down with excitement. She placed the baby on the bed and hugged him tight, her face lighting up again, with that glow he was so familiar with now.

‘Yes Meri Jaan, we’ll go to McDonalds.’ she said with a smile.

‘Yes!’ Mikaal pumped his fist in the air and bounced out of their bedroom calling behind him, ’Let’s go Baba we will be late for school!’

They looked at each other and laughed at the joy that was their son.

She got off the bed and walked up to him.

‘I will come around noon and we can take him to lunch then. I will leave baby Eisha with Ami; she said she will come today. ’ she put her arms around him.

‘Are you going to hug me goodbye?’ She teased. This was their joke; he was not big on hugs or words…on any displays of emotions for that matter. ‘But words are all we have in the end’, she would tell him often.

‘Chalo ok, we are off.’ he said,peeling her arms away from him while trying not to let her see how happy that gesture made him.

He tugged a tight spring curl as she frowned at him for not hugging her goodbye.

‘You will never change.’ She sighed, ‘Khuda hafiz. I love you.’

He kissed the baby and started to walk out of the room.

‘Hello? At least ‘I love you too’ would be nice!’ he heard her call out after him in annoyance and laughed as he closed the door behind him, his heart brimming with tenderness for the woman he loved.

That same day, late at night, he held her soft hand in both his hands and for the first time, words spilled out, like a dam had been broken.

‘I love you Suniya, I love you more than you will ever know.

From the first time I saw you, I knew in my bones you were made for me.

And from that day on, nothing and no one could complete me the way being with you did.

You are the love of my life. If I live a thousand lives; in every lifetime, you and I will be together, you will be the love of all my lifetimes until the end of time.’

‘Are you listening Suniya?’ he gently kissed her hand and then bent forward to touch her beautiful wild hair.

‘I love your hair. I could lose myself in your hair. I know I know I never told you that before, but tonight I want to tell you everything.’

You always tell me, I don’t express myself. You always say; ”Use your words Asad. Words are all we have.’’  ”Nothing should be left unsaid”, you once said to me, especially not words of love or joy. You were right Suniya; today I want to say everything.

But you must have known all these years, my love, that I love you more than words could ever express. Some things are so precious, so dear to us that we want to keep them inside us, not just close to our heart, but seeped in the essence of our soul, and my love for you is such a thing, that I felt it in my soul and I knew always, that my soul reaches out to your soul and whispers what you are to me, even as the words don’t come out of my mouth. Even as your ears never heard these words before, how could your soul not have known? Am I right Suniya? Tell me I am right.

But I know you always have pined for sweeping gestures of love.

I love that about you too; your desire for romance and passion and all those things that I always thought only happened in books and movies. You believe they happen in real life and I know I have always teased you and made fun of you but you are right, the things that people say in books, I feel them for you, always have, and always will. I just did not have the courage to say them. I don’t know why.

All I know now is this;

If you just open your eyes Suniya, I promise, I will spend the rest of my life making it up to you. I will express a million times over, all the unspoken words, the promises that I never made but always kept, I will do it all. If you just open your eyes Suniya.’

Tears started to fall from his eyes and he felt like his world was ending. She lay there; white as a ghost, all life, all light, sucked out of her. Tubes and machines connected to her body, a giant gash on her chest that had been covered with bandages. Then he looked up, above her head and saw her heart’s chords beat a little faster on the monitor.

‘Suniya! Suniya! Can you hear me? Suniya! Say something!’ He became frantic, hope rising with in him, losing all control as he started to scream her name and squeeze her hand, willing her to open her eyes, willing her to allow him to say what she always wanted to hear.

But then, just as it happens in movies and books, the line went flat, and with that line his world ended.

He had lost her to a freak accident,a bus had hit her as she was walking across the road towards their son’s school.

And now, words were all he would have.

Words left unheard , words left  unsaid…

Paradise Lost ?

Even after all these years, sometimes, in my dreams I find myself in Swat Valley.

I see waterfalls that look like diamonds falling from the peaks of mountains into emerald lakes. I see myself and my cousins, walking on a flimsy bridge as it sways perilously, over the river Swat, not daring to look down at the mighty river flowing with the rage and power of an army of a hundred thousand white horses stampeding un-reined.

I see apple orchards and walnut trees. I see children so beautiful, they could be angels.

I see beauty. Only beauty.  And serenity.

When my daughter asks me what paradise is like, I close my eyes for a second and conjure up images of Swat from my memories and I tell her paradise is more beautiful than any place she can ever imagine.

Sometimes in my dreams I still find myself in Swat valley…

But yesterday, I saw images of Swat that will now forever haunt me. For the last few years the stories of terror and bloodshed from this Paradise I visited as a child reached me, and I even believed those stories and ranted against the invaders to anyone who would listen. But in my dreams, my mind refused to forgo those images of virgin beauty. And when we were told the paradise was won over by the army and the barbarians were run out, I chose to believe that would be the end of those tales of horror.

Then, yesterday I saw a man’s dead body lying in the middle of a main street in Mingora as a lesson for all to see, with his decapitated head on his chest. I saw another man’s body hanging from a tree. I saw men wielding guns, daring to blare Allah’s name from speakers in their vans, invoking terror on the faces of an angel-child that passed the street. I saw a blind folded man being shot in the head and falling to the ground as bearded men wearing turbans cheered and raised their guns in celebration.

I saw a woman being held down by two men as the third one gave her a lashing on her back.

Her screams will now haunt me. Her screams will now echo in the Swat valley of my dreams.

And then I remembered, I have seen those images before. I just chose to forget them.

I don’t know why we choose to be in denial. People in my country will tell me from time to time, things are not as bad as you think.People will tell me the media likes to stir up the facts to make them more appealing storylines.  They will even tell me the videos are fake. They will tell me all is well in the land of the pure and that I should not be afraid. And best yet, they will tell me it is not our war, that our people are being punished because we are fighting someone else’s war.

I am not sure how much more blood needs to be shed for us to realize things are as bad as they should ever get.

All I know is that rounds of gun shots being fired in the air alongside screams of Allah-o-Akbar as a celebration to a murder in the guise of justice served in broad day light is the paradox that tells me that things are as bad as they could ever get. And yet those celebrations are becoming far too frequent.

Paradise lost.

Sometimes I fear that is what Swat is. That is what Pakistan is.

My Paradise, lost.

Where Allah’s decree is exploited by barbarians to shoot a child in the face with the warning that if she survives,’we will strike again.’

As people like you and I sit on our comfy couches and pat ourselves on the back for our activism on Facebook and blogs and for our heated discussions in air conditioned drawing rooms, there are real life heroes around us, living and dying every day for their cause.

There are children, much like ours, who have seen and experienced horrors we will not know in our entire lifetimes. As we move on yet again, after another story, after another rampage, and try to erase the images of blood stained streets from our heads and force ourselves to dream again of a land untouched, the land that we are losing in our lifetime even as we sit and worry about the rape of our paradise, there are fathers like Ziauddin who are standing unarmed in front of the barbarians fighting for their children’s right to live.

Makes me feel ashamed to be living in the comforts and safety of U.S far from the country I claim to love. I don’t want to move back to MY country, only because of the safety of my own children. But then whose children are these…the children of My Pakistan?

Malala Yousufzai, You are My Pakistan.God speed young child. For only you and your likeness can save my paradise.

I am but a hypocrite, wishing you well from the safety of my impenetrable fort while you fight for our land in the middle of the battlefield.

Longings of a wanderer’s soul…

Sometimes I wonder if I was a gypsy in another life, in another time.

Every so often I get this indescribable urge in my soul to get up and go away somewhere. Not to relax. But to go see something new. Discover something amazing. To explore the world. Meet new people. To find the extraordinary in the ordinary.

This huge, limitless world which is beyond my grasp and which contains things beyond my imagination is possibly the biggest boldest proof to me of God’s existence and I wonder if in a time many lifetimes from now, there will be a religion which will preach traveling God’s earth, meeting his people, being in awe of what he is capable of creating is a form of ibadat. Because to me it is.

As a child I remember my father being excited like a kid at the thought of taking us to Pakistan’s stunning northern areas. I spent all my summers growing up, absorbing the grandeur and beauty of extraordinary natural wonders like Saif-ul-malook, Kaghan, Naran, Nathiagali, Swat….and just being spellbound by the magnificence of God’s creation.

I remember listening to tales of his own travels as a young man to India, Afghanistan, Turkey, London and beyond.

My father has never been a very religious man. Yet in him I saw what a man of God should be like. He is a man who is kind to God’s people. And from him I learnt what it means to be a ‘good’ human being. Perhaps his ibadat is also, to explore God’s earth. Because I know he has, like his father before him, the soul of a gypsy.

There is nothing more exhilarating than packing your bags, sitting in a plane or even a car and being plopped in a place where no one knows you. And if no one understands your language…even better. It is freeing. It is like a cleansing of the mind and soul.

From the unfathomable Grand Canyons to the emerald waters of Switzerland. From the slanting eyes of oriental people to the gorgeous, dark-as-night skin of Africans, there is so much to see, so much to learn and so much to understand. It makes you truly recognize how insignificant you are, how small.

Yet it makes you feel strangely powerful, as a human being. To know and understand as you walk through the ruins of ancient Rome or the skyscrapers of New York…what humans are capable of achieving and what humans are capable of destroying.

But more than anything else, I believe we all need to see God’s earth in order to understand each other. To discover that in the end we are all people. No better. No lesser. We are all the same. We all cry for the same reasons. We all rejoice for the same reasons. We all fight for the same reasons. We all Live and Die for exactly the same reasons. As different and diverse as we may be, in our essence,we are all simply, one.

The day we begin to understand this as the human race, all the wars, all the bloodshed and all the pain will start to diminish and perhaps heal.

As gory tales of renewed bloodshed and war from this glorious land of God’s people surrounds me, yet again, the gypsy in me is craving to pack her bags and take off.

Oh to have the dust of another land on my feet and the winds of another shore pulling my soul…

Fear Not

The moment you recognize that you will always stand alone in a battlefield is the most terrifying moment of your life.

For it is the death of expectation.

That is the moment you stop looking behind your shoulder with that glimmer of hope that someone will be there to fight beside you. Or rescue you.

So fear not.

Allow it, instead, to be the most exalting moment of your life. Because that is the moment when you recognize, finally and irrevocably, your own strength.

And then when you look back again, you understand. You stood alone, always.

YOU fought all your battles.

And you survived. You may have lost a limb or two. You may have been trampled on. You may even have been defeated. But in the end, you always survived. Because you did not lose your will.

So next time you find yourself standing in the middle of this battlefield called life,do not look behind you.

For remember?

There is no one there.

Stand tall.

Hold your head high.

Raise your weapon.

And fight.


For YOU are all you ever needed.


Today my kids ran up to me, their eyes dancing with excitement.

“Mama” my daughter spluttered, “I found an acorn! We are going to dig the mud and grow an acorn tree!” she announced,pointing at her baby brother.

With every word, her tongue made an ‘ssssssssss’ sound at the end as the air swished out from the gap where her two front teeth used to be.

She gave me a huge toothless smile.

I laughed and hugged her tight and said ‘You are so beautiful’. She smiled wider, ”Mama you always think that” and then bounced out to grow the acorn tree, with my two year old son bouncing in tow.

It’s funny, ever since she has lost her teeth, whenever I see her smile, my heart melts.

I have truly not seen a more beautiful smile, as one with gaps in it.

When she lost her first tooth, she asked me ”Do you think I look weird?”

“NO!” I said, “Why?”

“I don’t know” she responded, “but tell me, do you think I look weird?”

I told her she looked even more beautiful than before. And she believed me with the unflinching faith that only a child has in his mother’s words.

I have told her every single day of her life, even before she understood words; she is beautiful.

Someone told me once that I should not tell her that. That it will put ideas in her head. That girls should not have any ideas in their heads about how good they are, because God knows what kind of husband and in-laws they will find.

So according to that lady, girls should be brought up without self-worth? So that if their future family does not give them respect or praise they don’t know any better and therefore live in ignorant bliss?

It is strange but even in this day and age, people are more than happy to lavish their sons with praise but it is not okay to tell your daughter she is beautiful. We are still raising daughters with this thought in the back of our heads that they exist to please and praise others. And that they don’t deserve the same in return.

I passionately believe we all need to tell our daughters that they are beautiful. Not better. Not lesser. Just beautiful in their own way, exactly the way they are.

I grew up thinking I am ugly.

I hated my nose. I hated my teeth. I hated the two lumps on the sides of my cheeks which later became cheekbones. As I grew older, I hated my figure. I hated my lips. I even hated my index finger. I think all my life there has been one body part at least which I obsessed over and hated until I found fault with another one. I pretty much spent the years growing up wishing I looked like Cinderella. Once I realized I would never turn blonde I started to pray, not wish, but pray to God, that I would start looking like Belle from Beauty and the Beast. Or at least Jasmine from Aladdin because come on, that should be easier for God,because of my dark hair and olive complexion. I honestly don’t remember when I eventually gave up on that prayer but thankfully at some point, I accepted what I looked like and made peace with it.

The first time I believed I was beautiful was when I married my husband. That was, really, a long time coming. I do not want my daughter to wait 20 something years to believe she is beautiful exactly how she is.

My daughter is growing up amongst real life Cinderellas. She is 1 of 4 brunettes in a class of 15 girls. The rest of them are all blondes. With blue eyes. And white skin.

She has asked me a few times why her hair is dark and her arms are brown, but her friends are white and their hair is yellow. I told her because God has made her that way and that she is different. And different is beautiful. I told her we all want to be different because if we all looked the same, that would not be fun. That seemed to satisfy her. Being six, she usually believes whatever I tell her. Perhaps at 16 it will not be so easy to placate her.

That is why I started early. For I wish I had been told all my life that I was beautiful.

Because I am.

Not because of how I look, but because this is who I am and everyone is beautiful in their own way. Everyone has the right to feel beautiful and to know it.

So go ahead, tell your daughter. She is the most beautiful creature you ever saw. She will believe you. And while you are at it, tell your son that too, I started when mine was a day old.

As I went to see the acorn tree which had apparently already started to grow tiny branches in the mud where my kids had buried it 20 minutes ago, my son brought a rolly polly to me. His face streaked with mud and his hair sticking up with sweat, the last rays of sun lighting up his excited face, he squealed ”Wook Mama!Wolly polly! ”

”Mama” my daughter breathed, looking at him, “Isn’t he the ‘most’ cutest son you ever had!””Yes he is sweetie…yes he is.”

Growing Up

Today my daughter graduated from kindergarten.

The emotions I feel are hard to describe.

As clichéd as it sounds I still remember the first time I held her in my arms. I remember being mesmerized by her dark eyes. As if they still held secrets of the world they had come from. Wide awake and looking right into my soul.

I remember the feeling that took over me, the feeling which is more powerful than love, more powerful than any other emotion I had felt before that. I don’t have a name for that emotion. Only a mother knows that emotion and understands it. It was like no one and nothing else mattered anymore.

I remember waiting for an eternity before that moment when I held her. In reality, the first time I held her was an hour after I gave birth to her. The one hour I was forced to wait to go to the NICU to hold my daughter, who had to be admitted because of the unbearably long delivery, was the longest I suffered and cried through. That one hour was longer than the few days of labor and delivery.

And then, when finally my legs could feel again and the doctors allowed me to go to see her, that moment changed my life. My dad had told me; “Life will never be the same again.” Little did I know.

I spent my days and my nights worshipping and bowing down to this little creature that was a part of me. Was and always will be.

I remember losing my mind any time she would cry. And she cried a lot. I remember rushing to the doctor if she would only but sneeze. I remember hitting my head on the window in the car because she hit her head and cried and I wanted to know exactly how much pain she felt. I remember tasting her medicines before giving them to her, to know exactly how much her mouth would suffer. I remember feeding her with my hands till she was 5. Most of my friends, who knew me at that time, and my family, thought I was crazy. And I was.

Letting go of her, when she started kindergarten, was a tumultuous process for me. It felt like I was going to let my child go out into the big bad world and I could no longer protect her and watch her every move. But then I found out, the kindergarten classes were separate from the rest of the school, their play grounds were separate, their bathrooms were inside the class. They were still treated like ‘babies’. I felt relieved and ready for it.

I don’t think she understands or will ever understand my love for her. She is my first born. She will hold, forever, a place in my heart that no one else can take. Even though, since the birth of her baby brother, I have scolded her more times than I would like to admit. I have been annoyed with her, impatient with her, screamed at her. She will remember this. For she will not know of the guilt that would take over me every single night for the first 18 months of her baby brother’s life, for being so hard on her during the day. Every night I would promise myself tomorrow I will not lose my patience with her. But in the morning, after a night of endless nursing sessions and diapers changes with the baby, all promises would be forgotten, until night would come again and I would feel the guilt all over again.

Firstborns are a strange breed; I am one and have had a love-hate relationship with this title. They are smothered and protected, yet they are expected to understand and do things beyond the limited scope of their over sheltered experiences.

With the immeasurable love that they are showered upon comes this expectation that they need to suddenly stop being babies as soon as a second one comes. She knows now she is the big ‘Appa’ who has to act like a big girl. She has lovingly accepted this title. But the truth is,she will always be my baby. Always.

With my second one, my ‘farishta’, I realized he did pretty much everything in his 21/2 year old life sooner than his sister. He weaned off sooner. He learnt to eat sooner. He crawled sooner. He climbed stairs sooner. He zoomed off slides in parks sooner. Because I let him. Because I knew it was okay to let him fall and then get up and try again. His birth helped me come out of the spell that had held me paralyzed with fear of the unknown since my daughter’s birth. I finally realized everything was going to be okay. I had to let them grow and learn and make mistakes and cry. And grow more. It was a grueling process but one which I am eternally grateful for.

Now in 1st grade, she is finally going to be part of the big bad world that I had been so afraid of till last year. As much as I want to hold on to the baby in my 61/2 year old big girl, I am ready to let go,inch by inch.

And I am proud. Of myself. For finally, growing up too and being able to understand that all I have to do is remember to breathe. Because, everything will be okay.

Only My Mother…

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This mother’s day, I forgot my mother’s birthday.

My mother, who remembers all of her five children’s birthdays. Who remembers her children’s childrens’ birthdays. If she was ever to forget, I don’t think any of us would let her forget about that for a while!

If my kids cough too hard I know I can call my mom at 3 in her morning and she will tell me 10 things I can do to soothe my child. She will call back, again and again to check up on us, forgetting about her own sleep, and telling me to get some rest even though it will be afternoon at my end.

If I have to vent about how someone wronged me, I know I can call my mother and she will tell me exactly what I need to hear. She will make me see the other person’s perspective; I learnt how to put myself in another person’s shoes from my mom. She taught us never to judge people or look down on anyone. She always said you have to understand that there must have been a reason for that person’s actions. You have to understand the circumstances. You have to take responsibility for your own actions and your reaction to that person’s act.

After most such talks, I hang up the phone feeling sheepish and light hearted… and a little bit sympathetic for the person I was ready to choke just an hour ago. That is the magic that my mom’s words have.

For the birth of my children, my mom traveled all the way from Pakistan both times,to be by my side. I didn’t want to stay awake all night, I didn’t want to clean poopy diapers or soothe a crying baby. But I did it because I had to. But my mother, who has already dealt with more than her share of poopy diapers and sleepless nights, did everything with me and more.

From staying at the hospital every night to taking over my house hold. She did it all.

I could go on for days recounting the amazing things my mother has done for me in the last thirty years. And yet I would still not remember half of her precious acts of love, kindness and sacrifice

Becoming a mother has taught me this; there is no love, like the love a mother has for her child. Her love sees no reason or limits. She sees her child as the most beautiful creature that ever walked the earth. She worships her child yet protects him and nurtures him. I have only just begun to understand my mother’s love for me as my own children grow. I cannot thank her enough, for her unconditional love. Her grace. Her courage.

How do you repay all of this? Where do you begin?How do you repay your mother for loving you like no one will ever love you?

I don’t think it is even possible. But this is what I have learnt; a simple thankyou would be enough for a mother. Simply showing you care would send only a mother’s heart soaring over the moon. Yet, those simplest acts of gratitude are hard for most of us.

My daughter is six, after her first day in this world, I already knew, she will never be able to repay me for what I have done for her. After thirty years? Not in this lifetime!

For only a mother, my mother, calls her daughter on her own birthday, tells her daughter to be safe as she leaves for a vacation. And sends off her daughter,son-in-law and grandchildren sheltered in her prayers and love.Never once saying;

”It is my birthday today and you forgot.”

Only my mother….

My Child

I am a Mother.

My child stands at the corner of the street, in tattered clothes, smelling of rotten fish, selling fragrant flowers to you.  You scrunch up your nose; throw the money at him and grab the flowers, making sure your hands don’t touch his. That filthy, smelly child is my child.

My child, in the chill of December, cleans your car with his calloused hands. His hands look older than your 70 year old father’s, cracked and hard from the lifetime they have suffered in such a short period. You pay him a few cents and tell him to get lost as you zoom off. That shivering child, counting how many pennies he made, that is my child.

My child is that girl, only 7, who works for you; she feeds your children, cleans their shoes and washes their clothes. She watches your children, with longing, as they play. That hungry girl whom you scream at, when she forgets to bring your morning tea in bed, that is my child.

My child is that boy, rocking back and forth in a trance, reciting the Quran. I know he will get a lashing if he forgets a verse, if he looks up or if he even speaks on his own accord. I left him there; I cannot afford to send him to school. But he is still my child. Those bewildered, unblinking eyes, those are my child’s eyes.

My child is that two year old, who coughs up blood, for days. But I don’t have the money to take her to a doctor. My child, lifeless and exhausted, holds on to my shirt, and tries to summon the energy to cry. She manages to whimper as she looks at me with utter trust; she thinks I am her savior. I look away. My heart breaks for my child. But I, her mother, cannot protect her. The world does not work that way for a child born in poverty

And yes, even that child u caught sifting through your garbage, outside your sprawling house, that is my child. You shouted at him;

“Run away you filthy little dog, don’t you have anything better to do than go through people’s garbage!”

No. my child has nothing better to do.

My child has nothing to eat. No milk. No bread. No medicine.

My child has no shoes on his feet. No books to read. No toys. No mattress to lie down on at night, no blanket to keep him warm.

My child does not even have hope. Hope is a luxury my child cannot afford.

Is that your child too?