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A lonely future

Credits: Painting by Simi N

Its only 3rd February 2022 and it feels like this year has been around forever. I spent the most crazy and uncomfortable 10 days of my life on a trip where I learnt that my parents are the root cause of all my anxiety and pain. And that without them, I am mostly capable of being chill and fun.

Then I got covid and when I had nothing but the four walls of my room to accompany me and nobody called to check up on me and make sure that I was not going crazy……. I had another epiphany. For the first time it dawned on me that adulthood is extremely lonely. It suddenly made sense why the prospect of being a spinster was so terrifying for other women. It was not easy. I could die in here in these seven days and unless the smell of my body percolated the house, nobody would know that I died. Maybe if I had a cat to talk to and play with, it would not be this bad.

Is that why people sought romantic relationships so avidly? Because somehow this relationship is supposed to supersede every other relationship in your life. Because people are always there for their beloved. I wouldnt know…..I have never been in love. But isnt this what monogamy and marriage is about? Exclusion. Preference. Eternity. It all made sense suddenly. And a panic seeped into me for the first time in my life. The panic that I was unlovable and lonely and am always gonna be this way. I remember my highschool vividly. I never worried about getting into a relationship at that point. But at 23 years old, it suddenly dawned that this was not normal……. I was growing far too old to not have experienced love.

As I write this on my birthday, I can feel my age rising up to my throat like a nauseating vomit. I feel exhausted at being 24. People are confusing and stressful and calculated yet I need social connection and people to thrive in this world. This realization is too heavy for me to bear. All my life I had thought that if I was honest and nice and a good person, good things will happen to me eventually. But now I am realizing that if I know how to connect with the right people and learn to blend in with social norms, I will be successful in life. And the thought that my ability to maintain and form relationships with people is at the heart of my happiness is a daunting concept. Because so far I have failed at it.


Living my childhood finally………

Shogran Valley in KPK, Pakistan captured by yours truly

For the first time in my life, I did what I had always wanted. At the age of 23, with my own hard earned money I went for a vacation for the first time in my life. Yes, people might laugh at me or find it funny that a 23 year old is so excited about a local trip to the mountains. But I was. And it was truly magical.

My parents had never ever ever taken me anywhere. Not even outside of the city. For the first time I travelled outside my city when I was 19. That also for a university day trip. And to a rural area. I had never seen any other city other than the one I was born in. And that also only specific parts of it. Not because I am poor or anything but because my parents never thought about taking their children for a holiday. It was never seen as a valid need. Not even for my poor mother who slaved in the kitchen all day. I remember how every summer, my Mother would tell me that we will go to Murree and I would look forward to every single June-July. I have always loved winter. I would fantasize about wearing hoodies and playing with snowfall and making snowmen just like the ones in my school book. And I would tease and coax my father. He would laugh about it and say next time but it would never happen.

I remember specifically how once my brother snapped and me and told me how I should stop hoping for things. Nothing is actually gonna come out of your plans. Thats when I realized that maybe he was right. And I stopped planning.

All my brothers first travelled with their respective universities. I also vowed to travel with my highschool. When my Dean told us about a school-making mission for 45 days in Gilgit Baltistan I knew I had to go. But my father flat out refused, laughing at my face in his casual manner. As a 17 year old, thats when I first pledged to save enough myself to travel.

And I did. Even though it was winter and half the routes were blocked and the trip organizers made every effort to ruin the trip for me, I travelled on my own for the first time. I checked in a hotel for the first time, discovered what room service actually is. Got the chance to stroll a city at night all on my own. Trekked a mountain. Almost froze to death in -5 degree without a heater. Survived on 4 hours of sleep everyday because my friends would not let me sleep otherwise. Got covid at the end of it lol because of which I am quarantined at the moment. But I did all that. And I am very happy and proud of myself. The child in me wept with joy when I saw my very first snowfall. It was indeed as magical as I had fantasized about it in my childhood. And I cant wait to do it all over again. I will go to Hunza next. And then to other countries. Yes.


Performativity and Exhaustion

I love theatre. I love acting. I want to be a director some day. I like to believe I am a good actress. But I hate social performativity. I detest the idea of dating. I have never been on a date and cant imagine myself going on a conventional one. I cannot sit like a sexy lady and pretend to be interested in a boring LUMSU guy while he pays for my bland food at a posh restaurant. I cannot pretend to laugh at his jokes-I cant most of the times without social cues anyways. I cannot put up with appearances. I just cannot, since forever.

And thats why I have barely any friends. I have failed to network with people even I dont like them or respect just because they might have “contacts” which can help me. Or just because they might have some social capital. I dont think I am cool edgy person for not doing that-it is just that I cannot. I have tried to socialize and stuff. But it is mostly very exhausting and painful for me. I can feel the fakeness in my smile and my gestures.

And I have never had patience for people I donot like. I have a list of red flags in my mind: People who treat subordinates (like their servants or workers) like shit, people who flaunt their money and social capital in every sentence, people whose eyes travel at a woman’s boobs in their very first interaction. I hate such people. And it is extremely hard for me to like them or interact with them in a pleasant way. I am okay with no interaction, but please dont expect me to come to your party and greet you and tell you how amazing of a host you are. Because that just…………..feels too fake for me.

I know I am impractical. I will go nowhere in life with this approach. And I should learn to be diplomatic. I am trying to be. But then something happened a few weeks ago which almost reduced me to tears. Which made me want to run away. And scream and disappear. When I complained about the misconduct by the Creepy Dude last week *Check The Tragedy of Sex for context*, my ED and Boss were apalled and told us to file a complaint with the Chairman since he was the one who rented out this office. We were thus, both chaperoned to a meeting in his glass-walled expensive, fancy af office. Made to sit in his reception for a good 30 minutes. And then chaperoned to his office.

Being the keen observant that I am , I X-rayed his office. He had a Black cloth saying “Ya Hussain”- a brazen display of his Shia identity. He had awards-several of them, of Best Designer and Best Project etc etc. He had a picture of his younger self in a frame on the top shelf- he was weird looking even then. There were numerous mantelpieces on his table.

He was busy patronizing his female employee. His accountant and female colleague were standing upright- I could tell by their body language that he was God here, he was not some democratic, chill Boss like mine was. I was even more irritated. What will I say? And how?

And then he suddenly turned to us and said, “We tried very hard to get that man off, but you both are so beautiful, he couldnt resist himself”. My mind had suddenly gone blank-Wtf did he just say. Wtf did this white haired man who is my fathers age just say? It was so gross and victim blamish that I wanted to lash out at him. He was the bloody chairman though-my brain shot back. I clenched my fists. He was smiling at us as if he had just created an A-class meme. Then he asked me what I wanted as a solution

“I just want him out, I dont want to share space with that man” I blurted out immediately. I clearly sounded angry and aggressive but I could not help it, this man was getting on my nerves. I wanted to scream how dare you at him for saying what he had said before.

There was a look of great annoyance on that man’s face. He started telling me how we could make a wall to save that place. Or that we could shift to his office. “I cant afford to travel this far all of a sudden” I blurted out immediately. He was looking very annoyed now, he lectured me on how things like this happen and might happen in future too and I should possess a “solution mindset”. I wanted to pull out my hair. Or his. I wanted to run away from there. I did not want to stay in my seat. I could feel everyone’s gaze on me-the problem child. The tantrum thrower. The hot tempered. I wanted to say a thousand angry things which were coming to my mind, but I couldnt. I was helpless. Here was a powerful person far above me in stature and position, men that I had read about, heard about, berated in my head- sitting in front of me and I was helpless. I really wanted to run away at that moment. I felt so helpless and humiliated. I did not respect that man by one inch-yet I was supposed to perform the role of an obedient employee. I really wanted to scream and cry at that point. It took all my social skills and self control to smile at him. To watch as he belittled me, wagged the phone in my face, acted as if he was doing me a fucking magnificent favour instead of doing his bloody job. At that moment I thought I would resign from this organization.

He kept on going on about his stupid maginificent ideas and vetoing decisions. I wanted to scream. It was pure agony for me. I Came back and put my head down for an hour. Avoided all conversation with everyone. I was so exhausted that day. I don’t think I have ever experienced this much exhaustion in my life.


What am I?

Picture by Ihor from Pintrest

I hate labels. And I hate the modern obsession with identities. I remember when I was diagnosed as “asexual” by a friend of mine in tenth grade. And I had just stared open mouthed at her. I was asexual? What was that? I went home and researched and decided to adopt the label. But then when I went to highschool and actually spent time in co-ed settings I realized that being asexual wasnt cool like being bisexual was. It just made you look like a sad,ugly virgin. And then I read about other labels-demi sexual, pan sexual etc etc. And it got even more mind boggling.

It was then that it was already dawning on me how meaningless these identities felt to me. What the fuck is an identity anyway? I am not just asexual. I am also a kind person with the cutest handwritten notes. I am also an empathetic person. I am also a woman and a muhajir and a Qureshi and etc etc etc. Why does my entire being has to be encapsulated in my sexuality which then has to be catapulted in an English word.

And so I rejected affiliating asexuality with myself. Especially when I am not sure whether I am asexual or not. And then I was diagnosed with OCD, something I have suspected since long. And then I wondered if my asexuality had something to do with OCD. This label upon label upon label was annoying me to the fucking core.

And as if this was not enough, I am suspecting I am autistic now. Ever since I started working, socializing with new people is unavoidable. And that is when I started truly realizing how challenging social situations are for me. When first thrown into a meeting with a potential donor, I persevered. Gave my top notch presentation and sat in the corner pleased with my public speaking skills. But then we ended up having dinner with them??? How was I supposed to have dinner with these people. I remember sitting there and trying to figure them out. Was this girl awami? She was after all having desi food in a village in Pakistan (albeit at a posh restaurant) and that was brave considering the diarrhea cases many Pakistani immigrants develop. But then she screamed “Village food” when the platters arrived. And in my prejudiced mind she was no longer awami!

What to talk to her about? I kept thinking and thinking. I couldnt think much. They talked about Bangladesh and the perils of being a Pakistani there. The father and daughter duo joked about her settling in Pakistan. I mimicked laughter with everyone else even though it didn’t feel funny for me. She finally asked me my plans for the future. I was confused. What and how to respond? I mumbled film school. And plastered a smile on my face. She was fucking gorgeous. Her tragus was pierced, she was wearing thick eyeliner on her big eyes and her petite body made her look 10 times younger than me (Even though she was apparently in her 30s). Apart from my social awkwardness; my double chin, my bare face and my ugly georgette dupatta made me feel even more inept at having an impressive conversation with her. I had left in a hurry and in a severe bout of anxiety. Before this in the 1.5 hr car ride, I had already flustered myself with forced conversation with one of the Board directors.

On the way back, I retained my social awkwardness but I had some sense of the man sitting next to me and driving (The board member). He loved food and liked talking about practical things like the weather in Karachi or the roads. He liked speaking and giving his opinion on things. He liked to guide people using his business experience. After 1 hr, I finally was ready to converse with him. It took me 3 hrs almost but I had managed to crack the ice.

On the way back I reflected on how I blew up my meeting with the producer because of my inability to communicate. I reflected over my inability to talk to the donor. And for the first time, I considered the possibility of being autistic. After weeks of research and some discussion with my therapist, I decided to take some professional tests online and guess what I score autistic on all of them. Cant gauge how accurate/reliable it is. But now theres another label on my armour for me to wear. And possibly reclaim. Just the thought of it is exhausting me. Much like the thought of socializing exhausts me.

If I am autistic-a lot of things will start making sense. They have already. But I am still in a bit of shock. And trying to remember my childhood. I do remember having only one friend. Of always being the friendless child until much later. I remember being hurt at the slightest of things. I withdraw from people when I am hurt and say awful things to them or at least want to. I want to cut them off completely because no other action makes sense. I have been listening to the same songs since 10th grade and I stuck to them throughout A levels. I never tried to converse with anyone but just jammed my handsfree in my ears and sang loudly and that was perfectly alright. I never felt the need to socialize. My vivid imagination was enough for me. I get anxious by groups. I hate group friendships. Even conversing with two different friends together becomes anxiety inducing for me. I hate sleepovers because I hate changing my sleeping schedule. I hate spontaneous plans. I need the correct ritual and the correct frame of mind for everything. I am the most clumsiest person I know. My body does not feel mine when I try to dance. I cannot cycle or do any sports without making an ass of myself.

I dont understand social conventions. Apparently people think I am quite rude on text. I didnt say,”Hello! Hope you are doing well!” until recently. I learnt it. Not adding fullstops to my sentences on whatsapp gives me anxiety. I do tap my feet and leg unconsciously but doesn’t everyone?I can never place my legs on the ground, I need to sit with my legs crossed and I often shake them. I hate being hugged except by my niece or kittens. I hate when people expect me to hug them or forcefully hug me at social gatherings. I can only shake hands. I hate small talk. I dont fucking understand the point of it. I am not interested in your life, why should I pretend to? Its like a rehearsal for me now. I have learnt the appropriate gestures and words.

So am I really autistic? I just thought I was channeling Aqua energy or something when I was being phobic to social interactions. But apparently not. I feel liberated and confined at the same time. Label upon label upon label upon label……………….what am i?



I hate the constancy of portraits.

They carry the sin of immortalising souls.

Just like the walls of my pretty house

are guilty

of not echoing the cacophony of abuses

I command the carriage of my diasporic self

to different places; craving for a home.

And wonder.

If my lover will ever discover my strength

in the hollowness between my clavicle?

Desperate to pounce at any ounce of affection.

Desperate to find a home in his arms.

I wonder

if he will ever comprehend the flash of my eyes

as they coalesce scattered flashbacks into a cobweb of paranoia?

And abandon his embrace

for the cloak of my insecurities.

I look at my little sister

and wonder.

if she will ever understand why the chronicles of our family

lambasted my existence.

I wonder if her head will bow down

to the burden of their honor-laden chaddar?

Or wreak havoc?

Stifling her soul with the burden of a greater vengeance.

I want to save and preserve

her present self

before she resembles the caricature in my mirror.

(picture by Laura Gomez)

On Pakistan

On Pakistan

Sometimes I wonder what it is like to not hate the place you were born in

To have a home that’s homely

With black and white walls.

To devour the warm soup that your mother made for you

Without worrying when she will throw the plate at you next.

To discover a safe spot in the city where you can smoke

Without worrying about a catcall.

A city where I roam around with my eyes looking for a lover

And not in search of a potential rapist.

A place whose love is not escorted by Guilt.

A place where I can clean the floor without feeling filthy.

Sometimes I feel like my heart has so much to give.

So much capacity to Love.

But this place like a nasty witch just sucks it out of me.

Mixes it with all its ghastly potions and shows me the Blackest side of my love.

Throws my love back at my face in the name of resilience.

I am sick of this place.

I don’t want to survive, I want to live.

I don’t want to gasp for breathe and exclaim relief at my survival, I want to inhale.

The tragedy of sex

It was a slow day in office. It was Friday. Normally I would have looked forward to the weekend, but because I dont have any plans nowadays-it seemed bland. I was in a workaholic mode ever since my boss had come back from the USA. So much of the work which had been lying around since a week needed to be finalized now. And on top of that I was sleep deprived and frustrated.

Anyways, after getting a back massage from the spa nearby in the break hour-I happily nibbled on my salad. My colleague and I had a normal chat. She complained how dead and unsociable the office was and I smiled and said that this was the factor which made me like it in the first place. After lunch, we had a short brainstorming session with our boss who had to leave for a meeting. The creepy dude who acted and looked like a Tamil Bollywood villain was back. He was the brother of the owners office(which we were renting for free as a non profit), wore jet-black sunglasses indoors. Smoked the strongest nicotine cigarettes I had ever smelled and ordered people around. Our first dislike with this dude started when he paid for my lunch without asking me. It was not a courteous move or a display of chivalry. He had said in the most sexist, demeaning voice, “Aap Kahan upna lunch dengi?Main dedeta hoon(How will you pay your lunch?I will do it). I was pissed and elated at the same time. Not paying for lunch meant less money spent but then what the fuck was this tone? Anyways, my colleague insisted it was not okay, and we immediately complained to our ED and Boss on the office group (our boss was abroad because of a family emergency). They said they have told that person to not have any further interaction with us, although he couldn’t be kicked out because the reception was co-owned by both the parties and he was the brother of the owner’s office after all. We were like okay, and other than being bothered by his strong cigarettes’ smell-he didnt rankle us.

Yesterday he came back again. This time our Boss was in the office but had to leave for a meeting. This time the Creepy Dude (lets just call him that) was not alone. He was here with a younger man who looked quite young( must be in his late 20’s). As soon as our Boss left, I had the doors of the reception closed for privacy. Through the crack in the glass door I saw how he noticed that. I ignored his hideous face and went back to work. I had to work on a report for our donors. But suddenly his voice had magnified to a 3x volume. He was demanding the price of a van for a trip up North and bragging about being able to afford it even though it was very pricey.

Then the younger guy started bragging about having vodka at Marriot Hotel and losing his senses. I smirked at my colleague, I had never heard a more attention seeking display of testosterone- money and cars. Their entire past conversation had been about this. At some point I phased out but something caught my attention. They were using the feminine noun but not for cars-for people. “Once you are done with them, you should not really bother to take them somewhere. Just get rid of them”. My first reaction was to snort. Were they talking about their girlfriends. Who would date these ugly assholes? But then I started realizing the conversation was about sex workers. They were talking about hiring them, how to not impregnate them and get rid of them easily. How women were just sex objects who should be disposed once you are done with them. My eyes had widened at this point, why were they talking about fucking women in this crass manner knowing fully well that two young women were sitting right next to them. I know the locker room talk exists. I know most men talk about women as sex objects behind their back-but at least not in front of them???What was this shameless and blatant assertion of masculinity by a middle aged man towards two young women?

At some point my colleague could not take it anymore. She had goosebumps on her arm. She wanted to leave immediately. Our cars weren’t here but I thought of going to the mart instead. We peeked into our male colleague’s cubicle. He was ensconced safely in the chaardeewari (four walls) with his headphones in his ears. Either he was too busy in his music to notice or he did not care or he did not know what to do. He was quite a sheltered person in my opinion and I had no clue what I would expect from him in this situation.

We walked outside the office. The Creepy Dude had gotten up. He gazed at me from his jet back glasses and I felt myself squirm. His glasses were so dark, I would never know if he X rayed my body every time he saw me.

As we walked out, I realized I was not as affected by it as my friend seemed to be. She said how she cannot discuss this with friends or family because they might freak out. She also said that she had never encountered such crass talk before. I was slightly nonplussed. Of course you dont discuss such things with your family as a brown girl, but why not with friends? What sort of friendship has takalluf in it? I told her that I will definitely discuss this with my sister and my friend. Although I have only one or two friends, I am comfortable discussing whatever comes to my mind with them. And I was not shocked or surprised like she was. I had heard my van driver talk about the girls he dropped on a daily basis like he considered them hookers or something-just because they had boyfriends. I had heard my cousins explain to my brother on the night of his wedding, “How he was the King and had to deflower his wife”. It was a disgusting sight. Was that all marriage meant to men? A sexual conquest. As if this is not enough, we have surely heard dear Trump talking about grabbing women by the pussy. I was not at all shocked by the demeanor of the Creepy dude. Infact, it was still less crass than what I had heard at a local podcast which played a voice recording from an incel group. But the audacity of talking like this right next to women seemed deliberate and too disgusting to digest.

We concluded that we will complain about it to our Boss. And also to our ED-who was a woman. He had to stop interacting with us and sharing any space with us. Amidst all of this, it dawned on me that the greatest tragedy of the gender binary was exactly this. One had sex and the other received sex. One was the reproducer while the other discarded their seed into them. One was commodity while the other colonized. At the end of the day, this is the whole point of masculinity and femininity. And this is why any relationship or person who wanted to defy this dichotomy was punished. My gender studies professors had tried to drill this into me but it was only now that it made sense in my brain.

And the greatest tragedy was that they have reduced sex to a conquest. Taken out all spirituality from it. And it is the white man who did it. And now after coming up with floofy terms and terminologies of inclusion, they are trying to tell us how barbaric and conservative we are yet again. Khair, that is a conversation for another day.

Sleep-the balm of hurt minds

Vincent Van Gogh, “Noon: Rest from Work” (after Jean-François Millet), 1890

I have not slept properly since the past four days. I sleep like a baby but then around 4/5 am-I wake up with a jolt. I dont exactly know if I wake up with an anxiety attack or just an overactive mind. But when I wake up, my mind is so clouded and hyperactive that it does not feel like I slept at all. And then I am barely able to sleep again, and hence the sleeplessness.

This first happened in my second year of university. I did not sleep for four weeks properly. I was overworked, burnt out and trying to do something I had never fathomed doing-trying to ask out my crush. For four weeks, I stalked him obsessively. Tried to stay awake at night just to be able to chat with him. Made elaborate plans of courting him, flirted with him in innuendos. I felt like I was back in high school. My OCD mind would not let me stop thinking about him. My therapist said I had an unconscious stress which was waking me up. I shrugged. As if there werent enough conscious stresses-now I have to find this invisible demon too. Khair, once I asked my crush out and he rejected me-I got my sleep back and it stopped.

But I had an even worse phase of insomnia months before my graduation. So much so that I was prescribed mild sleeping pills by a doctor. It was then that my therapist got me in the habit of doing yoga before bed, meditating, not using my phone and taking a hot shower before bed. I promised to stick to that. I promised to work on meditation and emptying my mind but I gave up eventually-out of tiredness and sick of what feels like an artificiality to me.

And well, its back. And now I have to pledge to stick to my therapists advice. I am tired and angry. There is nothing more comforting than sleep. As Shakespeare said, “The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath, Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, Chief nourisher in life’s feast.” He got it right. I love sleeping. I have been sleeping at the exact same time and waking up at the exact same time since childhood. Now I am suspecting its because of autism, but I love sleeping. I will skip sleepovers and overnight concerts for sleeping. The only thing which freaks me out about my dream job-film director-is the sleep aspect. And I hate how my mental health interferes with the one thing which is dear to me. Fuck you OCD.

Anyways, here’s to better mental health and better sleep.

Picture: Vincent Van Gogh, “Noon: Rest from Work” (after Jean-François Millet), 1890

On Death

My grandfather had a lung infection two days ago. My mother hurriedly asked me if I have some savings which I can give for his oxygen supply. I quietly transferred the money. She promised me she will return it. I remember thinking if she asked my father for money or since he is not her safe space, she couldn’t muster the courage. Anyways, with little thought I continued my office job while my mother scuttled off in Uber to visit my Nana who was now in a hospital.

Yesterday morning was no different, I had the most amazing dream. A horror thriller unfolded in my sleep. I had plans with my best friend to go for shopping, and to get my nose pierced. But before those plans could materialize, I was forced to come back to the reality at home. My mother went off hurriedly to the hospital in the morning since she had received a call about her father’s dire condition. She then called my number at 9 am and told me in the calmest way possible, “Nana has passed away, please prepare to come here. We have to do the tadfin at home”. I was too shocked for a moment to utter anything so I screamed “KIA?”. She responded in a calm voice, “Nana ka intiqal hogaya hai”. I did not know what to say. So I quietly ran upstairs to my brother and told him. I had just cooked chai for myself with toast fried in butter. But when I tried to gulp the tea down my throat, it felt like it was getting stuck somewhere. I did not know what to feel. Was I supposed to cry? I tried to remember something about my Nana, and suddenly the horrific realization sunk in. I did not know anything about the man who had died today, it was like hearing news about someone at television. I had a faint memory of him giving money to me to buy ice lollies and khopra kulfis when I visited his house in childhood. But that was far far away. I didn’t even remember the last time I had visited him. I tried to rack my brains, I did visit his house after Covid, I am positive. At Eid maybe? Or Bakra Eid? It was there- possibly a year ago. He was sick and in his room upstairs and I had only said salam to him. And suddenly I started crying. I quietly wept and wiped my tears. I did not know why I was crying. I wasn’t crying for the man who had died. I was crying for the man I had never known. For the granddaughter I could never be. I was full of regret, why didn’t I visit him in his last days? Even when I knew he was sick from the past two years? Why did I never try to garner a closer relationship with him? I had always wanted a wholesome elder in my life. And maybe he could have been that, with his North Indian aap jinaabs and his principled gracefulness. I did not like my grandmother. My Daadi who is now an ailing, bedridden dementia patient was not a wholesome presence even before she was bedridden. She was the family matriarch who watched with a silent approval as my father verbally abused my mother in front of him. Who egged for my Chacha to divorce my Chachi on a mere plate crash.

But I could have had a wholesome relationship with my nanihal. Even if they were becoming increasingly tableeghi , my Naani had died when my mom was 21 and long before I was conceived so I never had any interaction with her. Apparently she was the most gentle woman ever and spoiled my mother incessantly. I had lost her but I did have my Naana, why didn’t I try harder to have a closer relationship with him! And now he was gone. I cried for a good fifteen minutes, I have never felt so much regret in any moment as I felt in that moment when I first heard of my Naana’s death.

Then my rational side took over. Even if you had visited him Aiesha, things would not have been different. It was too late for you to have a relationship with him. If you lost all contact with your maternal cousins because of the stark class divide between us, what ensures you , that you could have had a close relationship with him? Even your mother didn’t visit him a lot. So how could you have?

After a short breakdown, my mind started to wonder how to behave at a funeral. What needed to be done atm? The house needed to be cleaned, the clothes for funeral needed to be picked out and others needed to be informed. I had no white clothes so I guess I had to go with the black ones? At least that’s all I knew about funerals from the Pakistani dramas I had watched. Was Mom going to break down at the funeral? Was I supposed to stop her and help her? There was a certain tension in me. Any social event required performativity and I absolutely had no patience for any kind of performativity especially at a time of death.

Anyways, we finally left for the funeral. There were a lot of women. Most of them looked quite chill. As chill as people look at weddings. People were saying hi to each other. They were dressed in colored clothes. Most women just turned up in their black burqas which they didn’t take off. There were toddlers screaming like every at other wedding. Being a fluent reader, I completed two paras in no time. Most people were not doing that, they were just sitting or chatting with each other. Occasionally some people cried, an elderly woman wept while my Khala and her daughters cried silently. Another woman whose face I couldn’t see from inside my cramped room had to be escorted and given water to stop her from wailing. My mother and most of her siblings were perfectly fine though, they even wandered around to tell people about how the death took place. I heard phrases of ventilator and oxygen and tried to concentrate on my tasbeeh- what was this morbid fascination with the moment of death and how exactly it had happened?.After two hours of hearing all sorts of gossip ranging from how Shias were polluting Pakistan to how 40 days of mourning is an impure form of Islam, my head was buzzing. I messaged my brother and asked him when we are leaving. The funeral was turning disrespectful and gossipy now. My mother’s cousin who I think is now an Al-Huda certified dars aunty started talking about the economics of  going to Jannah. “If you donate a parah and another person reads it, the ajar to you will keep coming every time someone reads it, it is one of the easiest ways to get sawab”. Who quantified Islam this way and who discovered the maths of going to Jannah? I really wished to ask her that but I did not want a controversy at my Nana’s funeral.

My brother finally arrived from the graveyard and my sister and I prepared to leave. Just like every occasion, we came to our Nana’s house as guests and were leaving with the same takalluf and lack of intimacy. But it was very relieving, I wanted to go before the dars started. I just wanted to be in my home and take a hot shower and change my clothes because no one was observing SOPs. My mother was still there and would come late at night. It felt perfectly normal as I left with my brother. Everything felt normal and uneventful. I just felt very old suddenly. I had witnessed my first funeral.

Credits: Edward Okuń, Four Strings of a Violin, 1914, The University of Arizona Museum of Art, Arizona

Pitching my first script

I called the producer, I was in a pretty flat but there was nothing in my vicinity which resembled a production house even remotely. I went towards the apartment gates, like most DHA flats, the gates left no space and the houses inside appeared very shady. Amidst all of this I got a call and saw a woman waving from a balcony. Oh. There it was! I went towards the production house, it was not shady. It smelled heavily of smoke and was congested and confined inside. A person told me to wait in a room. I walked inside the room and it was quite lavish, there were film books lying around. The AC was extremely cool and the interior of the office was very pretty. I noticed an extremely antique and sophisticated wall clock. There was a cool TV plaza situated on the wall. It was kind of antique. There was a glass water jug on the table. Rooba had the urge to drink water and I had one to instantly grab one of the books and read them. I felt so excited all of a sudden, this was nothing like SO’s office. It looked like it was occupied by intellectual people. The woman came in and told us she needs to eat and that she will be back soon, she was constantly smiling.

And then out of nowhere, four five people walked in. And they all sat around me. I was non plussed for a moment. I thought I was only talking to that woman? But here was an entire bunch of middle aged people who looked ready to be impressed by me. And what about the NDA? How do I fish it out in the middle of this chill mahol when they were being so enthusiastic and treating me like their child. The old uncle sat next to me and the woman said, “Chalo. Tell me about yourself Aiesha!”

I started with my background. I was an SSLA student and I loved history but now I wanted to venture into film. She laughed and congratulated me on having such clarity. I smiled. And then she was like “Acha story sunao!”. And I suddenly found myself surrounded with a group of people who wanted to hear my story. I was suddenly blank. My mind was racing. Was this a trap to steal my idea? Did they want to rip me off? I just kept on wondering about all of this and suddenly I started talking about my protagonists. And they kept on pausing me to explain to me how happened what? And when happened when? And sometimes I blurted out unclear answers because the story wasn’t linear in my head. It was in the form of a graph and I really wanted to explain it through that. But I couldn’t. There was no whiteboard or paper. I was possibly the most horrible story teller who had entered that room because I felt so unprepared and overwhelmed. My mind was racing constantly. I didn’t prepare for this. And then the man next to me said something about my male protagonist being a prop, and I took a huge breathe. I wanted to explain to him how his character arc connects with the girl’s but then the other man started telling me about how this man was one of the greatest in the industry currently and suddenly I felt a huge sense of imposter syndrome kicking in. I just listened quietly to him. And then we walked out and they told me to write the script and send it in. I wanted to say so much more, explain to them that I was smart and knew my shit about Acts and character arcs and meetcutes but I just shrugged and came out. There was an old woman who was supposedly the CEO. She walked in and I suddenly froze. What was I supposed to say. They introduced me and I haphazardly said Assaulumaikum. She smiled at me, she had read my proposal too. Everyone had….What was I supposed to say? Aadab?I think I almost crouched down but then stopped myself. I felt extremely stupid. God. The producers had another important meeting so they told me to make myself comfortable in the lounge and I waited for my Uber. My mind was still not entirely sure. Was this for real? Were these people fake? Were they actually nice? Did they like me or were they pretending? I thought I will figure it out later and hopped into my rickshaw.