I got cat-called while I was walking the Freedom Trail in Boston with a gal pal. Typically, I'd ignore the behavior, but I was surrounded by history, excited to visit the state archives to see one of the original copies of the Bill of Rights, and was just supremely irritated. I spouted, "you're a pawn of the patriarchy!" and kept walking. It felt good. It might be my default from now on. It'd also make a fun hashtag. Let's try it in a sentence: This rando #pawnofthepatriarchy told me to smile more. Yes, that'll do nicely. Keep on keeping on, SRD.
Taking a moment to acknowledge my privilege: high school for me was awkward, as it is for most, but it didn't suck. I was fortunate to attend a small, private college-prep. The intimate
classes were a welcome change from my previous existence (crowded public schools and overworked/overwhelmed teachers, charged with cranking
students through the floundering education system as best they could).I'd had a decent enough experience in public education up until that point, but the high schools in my area were struggling--significant overcrowding, high teen pregnancy rates, low college acceptances. So, I ended up at a Catholic school for girls. I'll take a stab at the usual questions before moving to topic:
1. No, I didn't mind that there weren't any boys. Exceptingtwo particularly good childhood friends, I found that pubescent boys were largely shitheads. And I was sure I'd meet the good ones in my new extra-curricular, multi-school theatre program. Even if some turned out to be gay, at least they weren't the slightest bit date rapey!
2. No, my parents weren't particularly worried about me being indoctrinated into Catholicism. In fact, there is quite an ingrained respect for religious-private education within the South Asian community (thanks, British Imperialists!).
3. No, I didn't mind the uniforms. I had my morning regimen down to 15minutes flat. I like my sleep. And without the constant worry of presenting myself as a suitable mate to opposite sex, my brain could focus on, you know, my education.
The school was actually pretty progressive, as far as Catholic high schools go. As an independent school that wasn't part of the diocese, educators were granted a certain level of autonomy in creating their curriculum. As a result, we had some fantastic classes that I thought I wouldn't encounter until college--World Religions, Oceanography, British Lit, Philosophy of Personal Morality.
As forward-thinking as the school was, I still remember feeling pegged as the token Muslim (and I was until a couple more gals enrolled). I think it came out of a well-intended effort to acknowledge diversity. Excessive recognition can come off as labeling. But being on the liberal end of the spectrum let me share a version of Islam that perhaps my peers would not have otherwise ever encountered. I find profanity to be cathartic, had no plans for an arranged marriage, and don't wear a hijab. Keep in mind that 9/11 happened my junior year. Anything I could do to normalize my family and our way of life during that time, I would do. I'm not a spokesperson for a diverse religion of 1.6 billion people, but I hope I made a halfway decent impression. Maybe even one that stuck with them at the polls this last cycle.
For years, I struggled with what it meant to be
both Muslim and myself. Then sometime between 28 and 30, I thought, fuck it.
Full disclosure: I'm on the agnostic end of the spectrum and I suppose the
sociologist in me has always thought religion was largely a matter of family,
upbringing, and your birth spot on the planet. But, even at a young age, I had
interest in theology. First, it was the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks who piqued
my interest with their numerous gods and fantastical underworlds. Who doesn’t
love Pegasus?! Later, it was the Druids and Pagans. I was drawn to their
expressions of nature worship—it seemed more hardcore than the basic
Jewish/Christian/Muslim principle of stewardship that I grew up with. I ended
up going to a Catholic high school and learned a lot there. Then in college, it
was Buddhism that sparked my curiosity. But in every case, my interest was on
the intellectual plane. Islam was the only faith that felt like home. It is so
entwined with my identity as part Pakistani that it doesn’t feel right to have
one without the other.
There are also a number aspects of my faith that I truly connect with. Like most
sane humans, I think religious texts aren’t meant to be taken verbatim, but are
intended to teach more general life lessons. Subtext for the win, ya’ll. I love
that Islam was truly a religion ahead of its time, particularly concerning the
treatment of women and the poor. Its focus on inclusivity and diversity also
stikes a chord with me. Go to any mosque (masjid) in the world and you
will see every race represented. It’s beautiful and feels extremely welcoming. When
I was really little, I remember not grasping the concept of a Korean or Black
church—our masjid just had everyone.
I also like that Islam kind of keeps to itself. It is not a
proselytizing faith, so there hasn’t been a history of missionaries bulldozing
the local culture of far off lands. Island culture in Hawaii and Polynesia, for
example, changed substantially to acclimate to Christian life. (Side note: Fiji
didn’t go that route and many of the unfortunate souls who ventured there to
change the locals were simply eaten. Point taken.) And let's not get into the
contemporary extremists, because true Muslims denounce their radical actions and
resent being lumped in with what amounts to a handful of crazies. If you're
going to hold over a billion and a half Muslims accountable for abhorrent
actions of a select few, then I guess you can be held accountable for the
atrocities of the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, and Holocaust. Cool?
Having been born and raised in California and having attended UC Berkeley,
you might surmise that I have more liberal leanings. But even by Pakistani
standards, my family is pretty progressive. Most of the women folk don’t wear a
headscarf (hijab), no one’s had an arranged marriage, and in many
respects, I was given a fair amount of autonomy growing up. I didn’t have a
curfew. I could wear shorts and tank tops. I went to prom. I had male friends. Though,
many turned out to be gay. (I did a lot of theatre.)
So, I will try to be Muslim enough for you. But I am not speaking on behalf of
all Muslims, which is as silly as it is narcissistic. And really, I’m like any
other Pacific Northwesterner. I drink a lot of coffee, burst into flames if it
gets to be over 75°, and love hiking, star gazing, layers, flannel, and yes,
A one-sentence history: The burkini was developed way back
in 2004by Aheda Zanetti, a Lebaneze-born Australian designer,
specifically with the goal of giving more conservative Muslim women a swimwear
option they'd actually feel comfortable wearing.
Having had friends and relatives that would never go swimming because of the
lack of fabric associated with contemporary swimwear, I was ecstatic to learn of the
burkini. I have always loved the water--ocean, lake, river, pool, hot springs,
hot tub--I'm there. Growing up, it broke my heart that women I cared deeply
about would never share in the peace and refreshing freedom I felt in the
water. And as someone who would, given the option, opt for baggy striped 1920s
swimwear, I get the appeal.
So, back in September, when a woman in Nice was made to
remove her burkini by armed authorities, I was pissed. In the
aftermath of yet another atrocious terrorist attack, the French government reacted out of
fear and a ban was passed on this particular piece of beachwear (it looks funny and scares white people, would be a sufficient synopsis of their logic). This is a matter of
personal choice and an individual's comfort, not national security. Given that
the state typically does a decent job of protecting individual liberties, French countrymen
and women of all backgrounds were also livid. Being topless is fine, but
covering up is a crime? (That wasn't supposed to rhyme...Anybody want a
Then, a few weeks ago, I read something that gave me
hope. Halima Aden is a Somaliese teen who was born in a Kenyan
refugee camp and came to America when she was six-years-old. While
participating in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant, she wore a burkini in the
swimwear segment. Plus, a hijab for the whole thing. Mic drop. These moments
where we are nothing other than ourselves humanize us in the eyes of the scared
and uninformed. We must follow Halima's lead over and over again. Until we're
all just your friendly neighborhood Muslim.
It occurred to me this morning, that I'm right back to the first
career I ever dreamed of as a kid.
It's a frosty 37° Pacific Northwest morning andI'm bundled up with a blanket daringly
draped over my legs and the rolling heater. I’m sitting at my Pottery-Barn-by-way-of-Craigslist
desk. The pup is in her rightful place, on her bed to my left. The cat isat my right andhuddled up against the heater. Out one
window I can see Lake Washington, and out the other (on a clearer day) I can
see Mount Rainier.
Coffee's in a
deep blue, clay mug--a remnant from my past life in Monterey. It rests on a tin
coaster featuring a vintage Corona beer girl, a souvenir from my backpacking
trip through the Yucatan. They’re accompanied by a pair of plum knit
finger-less gloves,my pocket
knife,phone, and all the usual
office accouterments. In front of me is an antique globe of the moon that
belonged to my grandfather, that for whatever reason, I can’t bring myself to
dust. Beside it sits a jar containing a colorful collection of sea glass from
my travels,a ceramic armadillo
lamp,and a petite glass full of
sand stolen from Australia. If I look up, I see my maiden name. A cubicle
nameplate from my years as an education program writer hangs on the wall, reminding
me of my roots and first content gig. Around it, there’s a black-and-white picture
with the hubs, and some of favorite artists: a painting of a vampire squid by
my college best friend who is also a scientific illustrator, an abstract
tropical fish painted by my sister in middle school, and a bright watercolor
unicorn painted by my husband years before we met. There is also a large comic
featuring a girl and her sea monster by a Portland artist, a vibrant low-brow
painting of a woman and narwhals gifted by myhigh
schoolbest friend, and a framed
scarf featuring a number of Australian butterflies.
I am surrounded by nature, artistic inspiration, and furry, unconditional
love. Some of my most treasured keepsakes energize and focus me. It
is the best possible workspace. I am in the middle of a script for work,
but stopped to write this because maybe I'm not as focused as I just claimed.
I first wanted
to be a writer circa second grade. Mrs. Nicholas, a tall, tan white woman with
braces and the most perfect side-part, fostered my love of reading. She gave me
special assignments to take with me to Pakistan during a month-long visit with
my family, where we traveled for my favorite uncle's wedding. I felt so honored
that his beautiful bride let me have a sleepover party with her the night
before the festivities, had my hands covered in mehndi, ran around my grandparents' palatial estate with all my
cousins, and attended the glamorous affair covered in mosquito bites. When we
returned, I wrote my first book, lovingly bound in a red report folder by my
mom. Itwas a traveloguecalledThe Trip to Pakistan. Staring
cats. Just cats. They made for far more interesting characters and were
less daunting to illustrate than people. I stand by my choice.
I remember writing it and thinking: None of the kids in my class are going to
get this, but I don't care...I can’t say that my ideology has changed much.
been eating a lot of comfort carbs since the election and thought I'd write
about the bread of my people. Because it is so good, in its multitude of forms.
In fact, there are so many varieties that we'll just stick with my faves. In no
Chapati/Roti | Our basic tortilla.
Chapatis are made with atta
(a hard Indian wheat, or durum) flour, salt, and water. Lots-o-gluten makes the
dough pliable and soft. Rolled out dough is cooked on both sides in a dry
frying pan or tava. In some places,
like my auntie’s house, chapatis are
cooked over an open flame that will create big, fun bubbles.
Paratha | Layered and buttery, like a flat croissant.
The paratha’s trademark thick, flaky
goodness is made possible by spreading the dough with ghee, folding it, and rolling it out again. Ghee is clarified butter, but a different spin on the process that
involves simmering the butter gives the product a distinctly nutty aroma.
Moving on, paratha usually made with
all-purpose flour instead of whole wheat. And to make it that much more
delightful, it’s commonly filled with such tasties as palak (spinach), daal
(lentils), or aloo (potato).
Papadam | That free app that just always shows up.
Papadam is thin and extra crispy. The kneaded mixture of
black gram flour, pepper, and salt is flattened into thin rounds. Sometimes it
appears shiny (when fried) and other times it looks matte (cooked using dry
heat). Papadam usually served with a
couple chutneys including a spicy, green (coriander/mint) and a sweet, brown
Puri | Poofy little balloons of happiness.
Puri is usually made with wheat flour and sometimes has
cumin seed tossed in. It’s deep-fried in either vegetable oil or ghee and puffs up when cooked because
the moisture in the dough becomes steam that expands. Puri is typically served as a light snack, or tapas-style with an
assortment of potato based curries, lentils, and garbanzo beans.
Dosa | A lighter and more monstrous crepe.
Seriously, if your dosa fits on the plate, they did it wrong. I’m a fan of tearing off
chunks and scooping up all the accompaniments (see: puri), but it can also be served stuffed with said tasties. Dosa has no added sugars or saturated
fats and its main ingredients, rice and black gram, make it a solid source of
protein. Interestingly enough, the fermentation process also increases the
vitamin B and vitamin C content.
Naan | A soft, chewy, magnificent beast.
involves mixing white flour with salt, yeast, and yogurt to make a smooth,
pliable dough. The dough is kneaded, set aside to rise, and
then divided into balls, which are flattened and cooked. Naan is made in a tandoor
(a cylindrical clay or metal oven) and served brushed with butter, or you
guessed it, glorious ghee!