Browsing "Humour"
Dec 23, 2014 - Humour, Pakistan    No Comments

Fighting terrorism, one naan bread at a time

tandoor choi nisar

People who criticize Pakistan’s counter terrorism policy were in for a shock when, in a bold move, the interior minister of the country announced the very innovative Tandoor Surveillance Counter Terrorism Strategy.

Yes, Choi Nisar wants his countrymen to keep an eye on anyone buying more than 50 naans. The strategy was not as well received as it was expected. However, it was later revealed that according to some intelligence reports that the home ministry was privy to, the terrorists buy naans in bulk and the figure of 50 naans as a bench mark was put forth after much analyses.

Following this news, it is reported that there has been a bit of excitement around the country’s many thousands of tandoors and people are either altering their eating habits or they are altering their naan buying ways in order to accommodate the ruling.

One worried looking customer at Indus Biryani was found arguing with the proprietor over the rates. When asked, he said that he had a going away party for his mother in law at his residence, after finding out about the Naan limit of under fifty, he changed the menu from salan and naan combo to pulao and biryani dishes, but Biryani proprietors are now asking twice the price if someone is looking to buy a Deg without prior order. “I just wanted to celebrate the fact that my mother in law is finally leaving, but I never wanted to shell out this much money.” He added and then eventually paid the inflated biryani prices to avoid Choi Nisar’s tandoori wrath.

Another family living in Bhati Gate area had to come up with innovative ways to buy naan. With 27 family members, getting 50 naans or above was an everyday occurrence for them, but now they cannot do it without alerting the authorities. Since the announcement, they either send two kids with separate orders or send the same kid twice. The mothers in that large joint family are not happy with the situation and believe that all the teen age boys tasked with buying naans at the local tandoor may boycott because of increased trips to the naan shop.

Another family living in Model Town was just as annoyed with this new tandoor surveillance system. “It looks like Choi Sahab has never been to a dawat hosted by Butts, otherwise he would never put the cap on just 50 naans.”

The Police has also been active with the flurry of activity around the tandoors. Several people have reported that their neighbours or relatives have bought more than 50 naans. While some cases were authentic, quite a few were false. In one case, counting revealed that only 49 naans were bought, however a neighbour told the police that the boy who brought the naans did buy 50 naans, he just ate one on the way home. Some social science researchers now want to probe that what it is about the number 50 that makes people buying 50 naans unsafe and people buying 49 naans a non-threatening okay.

Some people are considering launching a naan related civil disobedience. Even though they have small families and not that many naan eaters at home, they are going to tandoors en masse and order 100 or more naans to rebel against the executive order of the interior minister.

All Pakistan Tandoor federation is considering filing a constitutional petition against the Interior minister. The federation believes that this attack on tandoor business has nothing to do with fighting terrorism but it is to support the newly launched Biryani chain owned by the relatives of the interior minister.

There are some forces in the country who hailed this announcement. “Have you ever waited in line to buy 2 naans when all the four men in front of you have the order of 30 naans or above?” asked an agitated customer at in front of a Tandoor in Tariq Road Karachi. “No one used to pay heed to customers buying less than 10 naans before, but after this decree, single men who only buy two naans have become valued customers,” he responded with glee.

If Tandoori counter terrorism techniques are successful in Pakistan, chances are that other countries may replicate the same model and Pakistani government would be able to drum up some serious business in fighting terrorism, one naan bread at a time.

tandoor

Naans and tandoors dominated the social media trends in Pakistan after the announcement

Commuter chronicles

There are people who have used public transport all their lives and then there are those who drive to work come rain or hail. As someone who drove the length of Shahrah-e-Faisal for most of her professional life, the idea of sitting in a subway, reading a paper and getting to work without hurling curse words at fellow drivers was quite fascinating for me. So when I moved to Toronto, I decided that I wouldn’t buy a car and very happily got in the queue to buy my first monthly pass, blissfully unsuspecting of the jungle that is the underground.

I was expecting the usual suspects when I first started commuting through the subway: loud snorers, pesky cell phone talkers (only on the buses and not in the subway for obvious reasons), people with multiple kids who have no control over their own offspring, and loud gossipers. Well, I encountered them all and then some more.

There is a whole new category of commuters I opened up my eyes to once I started commuting regularly by the subway: the expert make-up appliers. These are women who whip out their lipsticks and apply them without mirrors. Sometimes you see some painting their nails while balancing their morning cups of coffee, others decide to moisturize major parts of their body in front of an audience. Once a woman asked me to hold a small mirror for her because she needed both her hands to apply mascara perfectly. While I was holding the mirror – because how can one refuse a sister some vanity – she told me how this seriously loaded single guy was coming in for a deposition at her office and how she wanted her lashes be in mint condition to ensnare him with her womanly wiles. I should point out that that the phrase ‘womanly wiles’ is not really a part of my vocabulary, it was the woman with the mascara who used that term. I was suitably impressed – both with her make-up skills and her repertoire of womanly wiles.

Some people catch up on their TV viewing on the commute back from work. You would spot people watching new episodes of Mad Men, True Detective, Agents of Shield or one of those many vampire/zombie shows on their tablets. It is like an unwritten rule of subway commuting, for the morning commute, you either read the newspaper or hold on to the caffeine of your choice like your life is depending on it. You gossip, watch TV, look bored, play cross word puzzle or just randomly stare at people during the evening commute. However, one day, I spotted a woman watching ‘How to lose a guy in 10 days’ on the way to work – in the morning! Watching Kate Hudson is generally painful but watching her before 8.00 am is masochism of next level.

The other day I was sitting in the subway when a woman complimented me on my earrings. I thanked her and checked which ones I was wearing. Turned out, I was wearing a pair of golf club earrings that my sister got me when I was in high school. She then asked me if I was a golfer. When I told her that I’ve never played golf, she was offended and said that I should not be allowed to wear something that beautiful if I was not an avid golfer. I did not know how to respond to that. She then asked me if I would sell her those earrings. By this time she had started scaring me a bit so I just took them off and told her she could take them for free (they are quite old anyways). Genuinely offended at that she told me she could not take off things off a person (though she had no qualms in harassing a perfect stranger for wearing a golf club in her ears despite not being a golfer). I then put my earrings in my pocket and told her that if it was any consolation, I have earrings with daggers but that does not mean I am an international assassin. That weirded her out enough to leave me alone. I bet she tells people during lulls in dinner parties that she met a brown international assassin in the subway once.

My trend of attracting old ladies of all kinds at airports and airplanes has followed me to the underground train world. I have met my fair share of old ladies who have asked me about ways to use phone apps, download songs on one’s phone and its effect on the data plan, complain about their grandkids who do not talk on phone like normal people but just text. I wanted to tell them that they should count their lucky stars that their grandkids still talk to them and do not insist on snapchat but held myself back because that would require a fresh round of explanations.

There are some other people who would love to tell others how open-minded they are, at times embarrassingly so. Apparently the best way to tell perfect strangers how you are not a narrow minded wasp (White Anglo Saxon Person) is to whip your phone out and show them highly inappropriate photographs of you canoodling with your boyfriend of colour. I mean why are Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian judged for doing it in front of the camera! I think half the world’s population would like the other half to know that they are getting some.

There are some of those nosey types who shamelessly read whatever you are reading on your phone. At times, you want to scream at them, “Take your own phone out asshole!”

 

Last week, a very cheerful guy sat next to me in the bus. He smiled and said hi, I responded with a smile and a hi. He then commented on the good weather and told me how glad he was that I was in Canada and not in my country. Now, I know Pakistan is not really a choice tourist destination but it stung a little, so I asked him why he was particularly glad that I was not in my country.

“Oh they raped and killed and then hung two girls in your country, right?  At least you are safe here,” said he waving a copy of Metro (the free newspaper that is available at every subway station and bus terminal in Toronto) in my face. I agreed with him that it was indeed a tragic incident but not one that happens to all the women in India. I mean it’s a country of 1.2 billion people and more than half of them are women who are obviously not dead. I then told him I am not an Indian. “Oh so what country are you from?” he asked, and when I told him Pakistan (should’ve known better) he smiled even more and said, “Ah you are from the country where they killed the pregnant lady with bricks. That’s tragic too.” The man’s cheery tone as he rattled off this latest piece of tidbit to emerge from my country forced me to get off earlier than I had to, quickly trying to put as much distance as I could between me and his joyfully morbid fascination with tragic deaths in South Asia.

One day, I just happened to pick up Foucault for light summer reading and I swear I was not trying to be a pretentious shmuck. I always had to read him under duress and I believe that one ends up hating the best of writers if they become part of the syllabus, so I picked his ‘The Order of Things’ and was reading it in the bus when a really old man sat down next to me. He started off with no preamble.

“You look like someone who has been to a college, right?”

“Yes, far too many if you ask me,” I replied.

“Yeah, like you have some kind of masters degree?”

“I actually have two masters degrees,” I grimaced.

“So you must be one of those people who do nothing but make quarter of a million for going to college for many years,” he looked at me as if I am responsible for shrinking his retirement investment or something.

I have a lot of patience for older folks but if someone overestimates my finances, it does get my goat. I mean If I was making that kind of money, wouldn’t I be driving a BMW convertible and not listening to his crap!

I hate driving and I realize I hate public transport with the same gusto. I now want Harry Potter’s broom to take me places. A flying carpet would do as well.

First published in The Friday Times 

Why my instagram account sucks?

I was at work when this kid  – at my age all fresh faced recent graduates seem like kids – asks, “Is anybody on Facebook these days?” Before any of us uncool (read old) people could’ve confessed to having an active FB account, he went, “Only women in their fifties are using Facebook, and Twitter is for attention seeking celebrities and bitter politicians; people who matter are on Instagram and snapchat.”

Now I don’t even want to know what snapchat is (okay I know what it is but I never ever want to go there, like ever!) but I do have an Instagram so I reassured myself that I may not yet be a relic from days past. I must confess that I only made an account because my phone was acting weird and every picture I took came out with a bluish hue, and unless I filtered the hell outta all the pictures they looked like they belonged in smurf world. That is how my Instagram account was born. But one look at my follower count and you would know it hasn’t seen much success since its arrival into the world. Even people who are my FB friends do not follow me on Instagram. For a while I was hurt by this cyber neglect from friends but then realized there are reasons why my Instagram sucks:

ins

No panoramic views with positive gyan

No kidding, but there are people out there who wake up in the morning, take amazing panoramic shots from their windows, perhaps a selfie while contorting their bodies into some yoga asana and spread a positive message about winning the day, capturing the moment or something equally cheesy. I, on the other hand, wake up with just enough time to make myself presentable before I hop on the subway to get to work. I also do not live in a posh building overlooking a lake or an idyllic park. How many photographs can a person take of their backyard? Hence no early morning images to make my fellow Instagrammers hit that follow button.

No brunching with ‘my girls’

I work from 8.00 am to 5.00 pm. It is humanly impossible for me to do brunch. I eat granola bars or random bananas and yogurt on the subway and grab my caffeine of choice on my way to work. Secondly, a lack of ‘my girls’ in Toronto (where I live these days) is a bit of a hindrance in taking glam shots over a meal that didn’t even exist when I was young. My girls with whom I would love to brunch (yes, brunch is so cool, it is practically a verb now) live in places far far away, like Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Mumbai, Chennai, London, The Hague, Los Angeles and New York (okay New York is not that far away, I concede).

My office is not cool (neither am I)

Yes, offices in chic post-industrial loft style buildings with brick walls, exposed beams, high ceilings and cute cacti on desks where hipsters and cool people work do exist outside Indie films. I have been to at least three to know it’s true, but I do not work in a place like that. My workplace is a windowless, doorless cubicle and I am a human drone barley existing in that corporate environment. All I can do is post photos of a whiteboard where someone has written something illegible. The most excitement I can do is post a picture of the coffee machine. Plus, I work on an old-fashioned Dell desktop, not the latest gizmo from the Apple stable. In all honestly, even if I had a Macbook Air, I could not post a selfie with a line like “Getting my workaholic on.” I mean, seriously?!

No selfies!

Selfie might have been the word of 2013 and everyone from Kim Kardashain to Barak Obama is taking one – or one thousand – but I have never taken a selfie. Yes, not even a single one. Nor do I plan to start now, unless someone is offering me money to do it. I mean I can only embarrass myself for money, as one should, but so far, no one is biting, so I am living with my ‘no selfie’ rule. When you do not take a selfie every third hour of the day, what are you gonna post on Instagram? Your food?

No exotic meals

For Cybergods, the only meals worth Instagramming are Kale salads and Kiwi cleanse juice, with captions that go: “Rushing to Whole Foods before it closes for the night”. Unfortunately, I do not eat alluring exotic food because I am poor, and pretty food costs a lot of money. I also feel quite out of place at Whole Foods because I am always the only brown person there. No matter how creative I try to be, I know I will never get followers if I post my food that consists of frozen pizza, dal chawal and aloo gosht. I also do not understand why people hashtag their food with #FoodPorn. I mean why?

I do not hashtag my life

#FoodPorn brings us to the fact that I do not hashtag my life. I do not post a selfie with a pout and a million hashtags that go something like #bored #WhatToDoWithMyLife #TwentiesAreFunk #SomebodyGetMeOutOfMyOffice #MissMyBoo among others. I also do not post photos of funky shoes and hashtag them #ShoePorn. I also wonder about the lack of profundity that comes with various hashtags that use the word porn which makes me decidedly uncool, hence not follow worthy.

No famous friends

I have no famous friends. No one will follow me to get glimpses of my life with my cool celeb ‘hangs’. My friends are like me – ordinary folks – who eat non-fancy food, take non-exotic vacations, pick twitter fights with people professing love for Tasleema Nasreen (no substance, just nuisance value) or Jennifer Lawrence (forced adult cutesiness makes me throw up in my mouth) or Paulo Coelho (because sane people do not quote Paulo Coelho). Lack of overtly cutesy friends with no nuisance value and no pop philosophy are just another reason for my shameful number of Instagram followers.

Last but not the least, I am not a millionaire poker player

Yes, there is a guy out there with millions of followers because he is rich, posts photos of guns, really fancy cars and not so fancy women. Sometimes he kills it by posting photos of bundles of $100 bills. As I have no access to fancy cars (I use public transport), guns or scantily clad women, my Instagram account shall remain forever unpopular.

Hmm…I think I can live with that. Hey look, Facebook just revamped its interface again!

 

 

First published in The Friday Times

Photo credit: _minabelle_ and this particular photo

Mar 25, 2014 - Books, Humour, published work    1 Comment

Little pleasures in little failures

I have never been an ardent fan of memoirs. I find most of them to be either ostentatious tales of a grandiosity that look suspiciously unreal; or very depressing accounts of a miserable life. I’m even less fond of memoirs about an immigrant family adjusting to life in a Western country because they tend to be both fantastical tales of overcoming adversity and depressing accounts of a miserable life. But then, every reader is fickle and so am I. Picking up Gary Shteyngart’s Little Failure was a no-brainer because I really liked all his previous work and thought if he could inject some of that levity in his memoir, it would not be half bad. I am glad to say that I was right.

Little Failure is everything I wanted it to be and more. It was insightful; at times funny, at times sad, at times poignant and nostalgic, and at times all of that. Yes, it has both the elements that I don’t like in memoirs – the overcoming adversity and the fantastical – but Shteyngart make them work with his self deprecating humor and honesty. So while you want to wonder about how many crazy girl friends a man can have in one lifetime, the absurdity of it all and his perfect prose would not let you wonder for long and you stay immersed in the story unfolding on the pages.

The book is not just an account of Gary Shteyngart’s life; it is also an ode to his relationship with Russia, his motherland. Most immigrants have this strange relationship with their home countries where nostalgia plays a great part in coloring the memories in certain — at times unrealistic — ways. Shteyngart the writer seems very conscious of that nostalgia and has managed to be both detached and engaged when he writes about Russia. For instance, he writes about his seven-year-old self who was obsessed with Stalin and the Red Army with the indulgent tone that an adult reserves for a child. But when he writes about the Russia that he visited as an adult or the Russia his parents remembered, his connection with his roots cannot be severed, despite his affection for his adopted country.

Though the book is about Shteyngart’s life, his parents feature rather heavily in it and he writes them as multi-layered characters; another rarity, I feel, among memoirs. Yes, they are Gary’s parents but they are also people, with their own sets of qualities and flaws. The distinction that Shteyngart makes in the book between his mother’s and grand mother’s love — one was conditional and the other was unconditional — also indicates his honesty as a writer. If Shteyngart had been more conscious about his public persona — he teaches at Columbia — a lot of things in this book would not have made the final cut. He is either not really concerned about preserving the façade of a serious writer and teacher, or perhaps he is too concerned with creating the image of an unconcerned writer who is not concerned with his image at all. Whatever the case may be, it works for him and this book.

The book is honest and there was no self censor at work, probably because he is a satire writer and for a true satirist, nothing is off limits, not even his own life, especially his own life. Reading his biography would make it abundantly clear how heavily he borrowed from his own life when he wrote his earlier novels.

A particularly beautiful and poignant account is his first visit to a psychiatrist. Shteyngart is certain that therapy does not work. His utter resistance to getting help, despite knowing that he needed that help, is rather magnificent and oh-so-human.

Other memorable vignettes include his struggle with the new languages he had to learn as a kid (English to survive in USA and Hebrew to survive Jewish school), his relationship with his religion, and his substance abuse problems. His parents make a few misguided attempts to make him sophisticated — once it involved a trip to a local theatre to watch a French film, because his father thought it would make him cultured; as it turned out, the film was a pornographic one. His mother has nagging doubts about his career choice; her exact words are: “But what kind of profession is this, writer?” Shteyngart is careful not to overwhelm the reader with details, letting her take the journey along with him, employing prose laced with humility.

Another striking quality of Shteyngart was his detachment with his life. He is an insider to both the countries and cultures after having lived there but he writes about both with a certain degree of detachment – as if he was looking at his life from some vantage point and knew where he was going even though we – the readers know he was floundering and confused at that stage of his life. I guess that comes with having lived that part of life and becoming successful afterwards but not many develop that at any stage of their life and Shteyngart deserves all the kudos for that.

Little Failure is also the story of how U.S.A has moved forward as a country, from the McCarthy era, where expressing left-leaning views could land a person in jail, to 2014 where a Russian Jew immigrant is one of the most celebrated writers in the country; despite having professed his childhood love for Lenin, the Red Army and all things Soviet.

Even though the first half could do with some serious editing, the book is highly recommended for readers who must have their sentences crisp and perfectly formed; anything else that you take from the book — the humour, the poignancy, the nostalgia, the issues with identity and self- actualisation — is a bonus.

PS: His book trailer — yes that is a thing in publishing world these days — was hilarious. It featured James Franco, Rashida Jones, and Jonathan Franzen and mocked everything; the publishing industry – including his own publisher, hipsters in New York, free trade coffee and the judgment that comes with ordering non-free trade coffee in a hipster café, the angst of a college-educated white man, the use or abuse of the word zeitgeist in literary criticism, Canadians and of course James Franco. I am impressed that he managed to get hold of Jonathan Franzen to play his therapist. I mean, Franco would do anything, but to get Franzen on board was rather impressive — almost as impressive as writing this book.

First published in Sunday Guardian 

The amazing escapades of a “dreadful human being”

Marketed as “a deeply unworthy book about a dreadful human being”, Worst.Person.Ever. is actually not that unworthy. Written by Douglas Coupland, a very prolific Canadian writer and visual artist, this is a book that is written in the Biji style; a genre of classical Chinese literature that reads like a notebook of a person recording incidents of the believe-it-or-not variety.

Raymond Gunt, our protagonist (who, for the most part, acts like an antagonist) has enough incidents of the believe-it-or-not kind around him. He is an unemployed, middle-aged, B-unit cameraman who is about to be kicked out of his apartment when he is offered a job; to shoot a Survivor-styled reality show in Kiribati. Not only is he offered a job, he is given the option to bring in his own minions. As none of his acquaintances would have agreed to play his minions, he chooses a homeless person with whom he was in an altercation a few days earlier. Here enters Neal, a homeless man who lives in a Samsung cardboard — he is impressed with the quality of Samsung TV boxes and considers them the best form of shelter for homeless — on the streets outside a Russian massage parlour. He always carries a valid passport, though, for a chance like this. Despite being dirty and homeless, Neal is a bit of a ladies’ man and a diehard The Clash fan. Together, they board the flight from London to L.A. and then on to Honolulu and Kiribati for a journey filled with one spectacular misadventure after another.

Gunt is quite horrid; he kills a man — albeit accidently — by calling him fat multiple times and offering him his share of food, causing his blood pressure to hike during a flight. He is also the only literate man on the planet who misspells Harry Potter’s name and writes it with an ‘e’. He is not too big on tipping waitresses either. Though he does not seem like a godly creature, he writes letters to “The Gods” in his head, often complaining about the things that are happening to him.

It is evident from the very first chapter that in addition to being the “worst person ever” Gunt is also the most politically incorrect person and mocks everything from Duran Duran to reality TV to Billy Elliot to vitamin supplements and airline food. In addition, he hates hybrid cutlery and would rather stay hungry than use a sporf (sporf = spoon + fork + knife), a knork (knorf = knife + fork) or a spork (spork = spoon + fork ).

cutlery

yups, the book came with illustrations and captions

For a presumably polite Canadian, Coupland has written Raymond Gunt, a potty-mouthed Brit with enough mastery. Critics may say that this brand of irreverence is not new; after all we are living in the age of Seth McFarlane’s Family Guy and The Hangover’s many child-like men. I find this book and its characters a lot more endearing, however. Despite being a jerk, Raymond Gunt suffers from healthy doses of self-doubt, which make him more real and relatable. Neal has absolutely nothing but his confidence makes him almost fantastical.

The novel comes with neat little boxes throughout the text, explaining people, things, countries and music bands to the uninitiated, in a mix of Wikipedia-style language with a touch of sarcasm. There is really not much to the plot. The novel is more about the narrative, the dialogue and Raymond and Neal’s escapades along the way. Those who liked the British film Withnail & I and would understand this kind of storytelling, though it is a lot more lewd than Withnail & I.

Though the book is a fun read, it is a little too packed. There is so much happening at such an alarming speed that if you put the book away for a couple of days, going back to it and recalling everything that has happened before would be a tad difficult for some readers. Perhaps I am easily entertained or partial to typically profane British witticisms (I have spent far too much time admiring Malcolm Tucker and his inventive insults in TV serial Thick of It and the film In the Loop), but I find this book funny. I believe most readers will find it funny if they can disregard the gratuitously vulgar language. Funnily, I am not the type who normally overlooks linguistic vulgarity but everything that Raymond and Neal said did sound funny enough to ignore the expletive-laden language. In any case, flawed characters with their own sets of peculiarities — though Gunt has more peculiarities than Sachin Tendulkar has centuries — are a lot of fun to read.

Most of us, though familiar with our idiosyncrasies and nasty habits, make excuses for ourselves and think that we’re not all that bad. We always blame our road rage on other incompetent drivers. We blame laxity at work on bad bosses or unimaginative work (surely one must not seek creativity in a profession like accounting; creative accounting can land one in jail) and justify reciprocating with cheap gifts because that particular aunt was stingy when she bought our wedding gift 15 years ago. Raymond Gunt, the protagonist of Worst.Person.Ever, is genuinely unaware of any such flaws and firmly believes that he is a nice person. A massively flawed person so honestly unaware of those flaws is actually quite refreshing.

You will either love it or hate it; a middle ground is unlikely here. The book will probably not win any awards, but it will make you laugh out loud if dark comedy is your thing. As a pop culture enthusiast with an appreciation for English absurdity, I loved this book. The text is hilarious, wicked and oh-so-terribly English. What else can you ask from an unworthy book?worst-person

PS: If you wanted something more, there is a nuclear explosion in the mix to get rid of a Pacific Trash Vortex in the middle of that ocean. Yes, that is the American way of dealing with garbage.

PPS: When the book came out last year, someone (probably or a marketing staff minion) came up with a twitter handle of Raymond Gunt but it died an early death when they forgot about its existence after 16 measly tweets.

PPPS: Pacific Trash Vortex is actually a thing. It exists. It is about the size of Texas and some of the plastics in the trash vortex are so sturdy, they will not break down in the lifetimes of the grandchildren of the people who threw that trash.

First published in Sunday Guardian

Jan 10, 2014 - Humour, Personal, published work    2 Comments

19 reasons why you should NOT become besties with your BFF’s girlfriend

You met her because your BFF was dating her. You end up liking her – partly because she was the love of your BFF’s life and because she was so much fun to bitch with while your BFF was busy doing other stuff – like playing the latest version of Grand Theft Auto and discussing the finer points of La Liga points table with his mates.

You bond over your love of achaar, your hatred for work in development sector and your sartorial choices which range from standard Levi’s to Khaadi, to colorful shoes and eclectic Sunday Bazaar picks. You both think that chai paratha is the best breakfast ever. You both secretly hate the fact that you are adult women who not only listen to Taylor Swift songs but sing them along when appropriate – which is like always. You both agree that no matter how fashionable it is to eat frozen yogurt instead of regular dessert, you will never give in to the fad. You bond over the fact that New Girl is a stupid show and that you loath Zooey Deschanel and her fake lashes with unmitigated gusto and no, her rejection of Jospeh Gordon-Levitt in 500 Days of Summer has nothing to do with that hatred, you just hate her for being so overly cutesy and quirky with her bobby collar dresses and hipster eye wear. Real successful adult women cannot be that cutesy and survive to tell the tale. You both agree that while Ryan Gosling is hot, there is something about Bradley Cooper (probably his voice and the fact that he can rock black bin liners) that tilts the scale in his favour.

You both like overpriced coffee and read obscure books that other people have not heard of. In fact you take immense pleasure in introducing such hidden gems to the world and then preen when the world falls in love with those books and writers. You both take immense pride in being the snarkiest girls around and practice your jabs on your BFF for shit and giggles. You help your BFF plan perfect dates and help him buy the most thoughtful gifts because you do not want her to ever leave your BFF.

You love your BFF even more for falling in love with this perfect girl and you are planning their wedding in your head because you know that you will eventually end up alone and you will ask them to let you stay in their guest bedroom when you are all old and frail and need each other to remind which pills to take with your breakfast and which pills to take before you go to bed.

One day, BFF’s girlfriend brought another dude along – some family friend’s son who is living it up in Dubai – and tries to set you up with him. You look at your BFF’s girl and ask if she has lost her mind? It’s not like you have anything in common with the Dubai dude who is a gold trader and wears more jewelry that you would ever wear – and you do wear jewelry. Next thing you know, BFF’s girlfriend got engaged to the gold trader from Dubai and dumped your BFF with a photo of her engagement ring that she sent via MMS. Like all good things, this too was too good to last and your dreams of a blissful old age died before any of you reached the retirement age.

You are in a dilemma – who do you stay friends with and who do you dump? Your BFF is your BFF but he is basically a man child who is keener on gaming than settling down so you do get why your BFF’s girl did what she did. But then you also judged her for not breaking off with your BFF before she decided to let the richie rich from Dubai court her and you judged her for that. You also hated that because you never judged her before; it was always the two of you judging other people, never each other. Luckily, you all dispersed into three different corners of the globe after that and your friendship shrunk to Facebook likes and whatsapp messaging. This breakup happened quite a few months back but it was only recently that she tied the knot with the richie rich from Dubai and posted the photos on facebook which made you relive your pain.

You know it for a fact that your lives are gonna go on divergent paths – you make presentations in Prezi for a living, shovel snow every morning to get to work and use public transport, while BFF’s former girlfriend will probably live in a palatial house, procreate soon and will have Filipino maids raise her brood while Richie rich gets richer in Dubai.

To paraphrase Adele, you could have had it all but then you didn’t. You think this break up was harder on you than your BFF. He has football and Xbox to console him, what do you have? Absolutely nothing. Not even sad songs because Adele has found new love and is blissfully happy.

You realize that you either need a new girlfriend or you should ask your BFF to move near you and start dating another perfect girl but with his track record, chances are that he will lose her to Zelda or GTA IV or some other video game that will leave you just as heartbroken as you are right now. You realize that you should start acting like an adult and invest for your future because obviously, moving in with BFF and his future wife is not the best retirement plan.

 PS: As you can see, there is no listing or actual 19 reasons. I only wanted to sound like a Buzzfeed article. People at  Buzzfeed, please hire me so I can fulfill my dreams of writing about things like – 16 reasons why Harvey Specter’s suits are better tailored that Don Draper’s.

First published in The Friday Times

 

Mother tongue and the other tongues

speak

Human beings are designed to either want things or to want to do things. Most have a list of things they would like to do or get or achieve before they hit the bucket. It can range from wanting to walk the Appalachian Trail to wanting to become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company to having 17 wives and over 100 kids. (I’m not joking: there is actually a person in the UAE who is doing this, and that too with government funding.)

My own wishes are a bit more prosaic and don’t require me to walk through a country or hike to a mountain peak or procreate like crazy. One of them is to become multilingual.

There is merit in learning languages other than the one you grew up speaking. (This applies especially to speakers of English, which almost everyone speaks these days.) I don’t want to learn a new language because it would look cool on my college application – been there, done that, multiple times – without ever knowing a third language. In fact, I already have three degrees and if I even think about going back to school (which I secretly do), my sisters will commit me to a mental institution. The doctors at the mental institution will have to coin a new term for my disease which would sound something like “addicted to being a student so she can do all the peculiar stuff she wants to and stay unemployed while pretend to pursue academic excellence”… but I digress. I also don’t want to learn a new language just so I can be known as that “crackpot who can speak Ukrainian”; there are enough reasons already for me to be classified as a crackpot (Ukranian or no Ukranian). I don’t even want to be called a well-rounded person because I am a well-rounded person. As a matter of fact, I need to turn some of that roundedness into muscle, but I digress again. My problem is this: every time I decide to learn a new language, something happens that puts me off it. It is either a series of unfortunate events or a horrid person or my lack of perseverance or a combination of it all, but I am yet to master a third language – I have checked, sarcasm doesn’t count as a language, although it should, given that it is the Esperanto of our time – and I am digressing yet again.

Anyone who knows me knows my love for Ghalib. When people land in Delhi for the first time, they want to eat food at Dilli Haat or see Qutub Minaar or have their pictures taken at Laal Qila. I went to pay respect to Mirza Ghalib at his mazaar. Abba (not the Mama Mia fame 70s pop act – I call my father Abba) used to say that in order to fully appreciate Ghalib one must know Farsi. And so I always wanted to learn it to understand Ghalib better.

But my 45-day trip to Iran – I was working on a travelogue for a TV channel – stripped me of all the love and affection I had for the language. All I can now remember is the haggling I did in grammatically incorrect Farsi at the Grand Bazaar of Tehran and how the Irani actor who was working on our project complained that he had been sexually propositioned by a Pakistani actor and how I first had to placate him and then requested him not to register a complaint in a weird mix of barely-there Persian and English with a few Urdu and Punjabi expletives thrown in for my personal satisfaction. I had to do that to get out of that country without getting entangled with law enforcement agencies because we were told that homosexual advances are considered a non-bailable offence in Iran. I wanted to learn Persian to appreciate Ghalib’s poetry more and ended up groveling to a guy for not reporting an incident of sexual aggression – something I don’t believe in – to save my skin along with that of my crew. That took care of my fascination with Persian. (Now I only throw random phrases of Farsi in the middle of arguments to sound learned.)

As a child, I also wanted to learn Arabic because I naively thought it would guarantee me a place in heaven. Growing up generally and dealing with a Saudi stalker at university who refused to register the fact that no amount of petro dollars would make him popular with normal folks took care of my childish enthrallment with Arabic (to say nothing of the visions of paradise associated with the language). The fact that I can still fool my European friends at Dubai airport into believing that I know Arabic by reading the flight schedule in the language also played a part (why learn a new language when people think that you know it already?).

Another language I have toyed with is French. I hate snooty waiters at French restaurants who correct my pronunciations. I dream of going to a French restaurant and ordering Soupe au pistou, Boeuf Bourguignon and Salade Niçoise without fumbling once. Back in college, I tried speaking French with my friend Frédéric but every time I tried take the name of a dish, he cracked up and dashed my hopes of holding my head high in a French restaurant and proudly order escargot borguignonne – the thing is that I don’t even eat snails, I only wanted to order them, without repeating the word thrice to make sure that waiter got my order.

Back in college I lived in student halls and when we got a brand new community room with a huge TV (I graduated 9 years ago, so that TV was a big deal) I wanted to enjoy that too. The problem was that every time I would go there – and I tried sneaking in at 3 a.m. – the room would be full of Greek students watching football. I had to give in eventually and learned to appreciate football with them. Not only that, but I also learned to enjoy Greek food, how to order it in the lone Greek takeaway in the neighbourhood and all the choice swear words in Greek that people in my building used to hurl at their teams when they would not do well. If I ever end up attending a football match in Thessaloniki or Athens, I would be totally at home out-swearing the wildest of sports hooligans. They say – and I don’t know who “they” are – that if you know how to swear in a language, it is half the battle won, so perhaps I can say that I “get by” in Greek.

Unfortunately, proficiency with Greek cusswords is not a skill I can list on my Linked In profile and hope to increase my chances of landing a high-paying job. The way things are in Greece right now, that will probably make me eligible for an economic bailout.

I think it is time I get serious about learning a new language and I have decided to concentrate on Spanish for various reasons. For starters, I have actually attended one La Liga match in Madrid.  Secondly, I have seen all Pedro Almodóvar films. Thirdly, I have always wanted to sing along Spanish songs and what can be a better incentive to learn a new language than singing along the songs that you liked but could not understand.

Hola Español, Here I come.

Originally written for The Friday Times the image is also reproduced from The Friday Times

Passing desi-isms as sage advice

Most people think that they have this one major problem and if they could change that about themselves, they believe their lives would improve drastically. Some people think that if they lose weight, or manage their anger or embrace spontaneity, their lives would be better. In my case, it is my lack of ability to say no that always ruins it for me. If I somehow manage to say the golden word NO, I end up with so much guilt that I actually regret making the right decision.

If only someone was teaching a course on how to politely say, “Please God, No”, “Not my problem” and “Whatever!” without losing friends and alienating people, I would jump the queue — and I never jump the queue, despite being Pakistani from all sides of the family — to sign up for that course.

The problem gets even more intense when you move to a new country. Unless you are moving to Outer Mongolia or Chilean Highlands — and I have my doubts about Chilean Highlands — chances are that you will encounter your fair share of desis, who will try and interfere with your life, dish out counsel when none is sought and try to sell you things and services that you have no use of. Saying no to that is not just difficult, it is almost impossible.

Everyone who has the opportunity to move to a country will probably meet people from the old country who may or may not help them get settled. When someone from our part of the world — I mean South Asia in general and Pakistan in particular — moves to another country there would always be loads of people from the home countries dishing out desi-isms and passing them on as sage advice.

There will always be people around you who would want to guide you in your job search — they probably have moved to that new country 15 years ago when the job market was drastically different — and easier to break into — but they will try and force their opinion on how you should carve out a career in your adopted country and will offer you a ten dollar an hour job at their father-in-law’s super store selling biryani masala and Bollywood DVDs to bored desi housewives.

It does not really matter that you are trained as a lawyer or an IT professional or a speech therapist, they will tell you that everyone goes through this because they have been through this.

Some of them will not only suggest that you take that butchery course from your local community college but will also have the cheek to say that you will enjoy it because it is so different from what you have been doing before – you could be an Economist in your old country but they would not care. You feel like practicing some of those butchery skills on them and ask how in the name of everything that is holy and sacred can a vegetarian with two post grad degrees ever enjoy being a butcher?

Some of them will tell you where to rent an apartment and whom you should rent it from — it would almost always be some relative of their wives trying to con you into getting a smaller/smellier apartment in name of desi camaraderie and brotherhood.

Telling them that you have decided to share an apartment with a Jamaican co-worker close to your workplace will result in high dramatics. From telling you that your mom will be disappointed in you for spurning their amazing offer to making you feel horrible about not renting their space as they kept the apartment vacant for you because they knew your brother’s mother-in-law’s neighbours back in 1980s.

You being the ungrateful FOB not only decided to move in with your co-worker but you choosing a black person to share your living space will be taken as a personal insult. There will be implied or explicit racism — depending upon how integrated they are in the society — and they will regale you with tales of how someone they knew lived next to an apartment where one of the residents — almost always a black person — slit the throat of his/her flat mate and robbed them off their worldly possessions.

You try telling them that your Jamaican friend — a widowed lady of 55 — has only decided to share her apartment because she is suffering from an empty nest syndrome and is a fine upstanding, law abiding taxpaying citizen but they will continue to shake their head and make you feel bad for not taking up their offer.

At times like this, renting the smellier apartment seemed like the easier thing to do. If you happen to take them on their offer of renting an accommodation owned by a desi person, you are in for a treat. For starters, three previous tenants would still be getting their bank statements and phone bills and other assorted mail on that address and would want you to hold onto their mail so that they can pick it up whenever they feel like it.

When you try to tell them that they need to update their contact details with their cell phone service provider and their bank, they would give you the hurt look which basically says, “Et Tu Brutus? Can’t you just pick my mail from the box?” and you who perhaps wanted to scream “Please Gawd, NO!” agree to keep picking up their mail for foreseeable future.

Picking up the mail is less of a hassle because you do it once a day; the bigger threat to sanity is your land line phone. If the phone is registered in your desi landlord/landlady’s name, chances are that you will be inundated with offers of Quran classes for toddlers from dudes who call you behen or baji. When you try to tell the telemarketers that there are no toddlers in the radius of 600 sq yards and you do not wish to avail their services, they will try to get you to buy an online course for yourself so that you are saved from the eternal fires of hell.

This is not all, if your landlord has an Arabic sounding name, telemarketers who do not speak a word of English will call you and try to sell you channels running Turkish soaps dubbed in Arabic and you end up wanting to tear your hair out. As you are not bound by desi code — and the fact that they barely speak any English — you can scream and shout and let it all out at them.

I once spent some time in Slovenia with friends and found the lady working in the kitchen of the hostel where I was staying giving me seriously dirty looks. My Romanian friend and the lady found a common language that they both could speak — Italian — and asked her if she had a problem with me.

The cleaning lady was a Greek woman who assumed that I was Turkish and felt obliged to hate me. When my friends told her that I am from Pakistan, her demeanor changed and she became friendly to the extent that she offered me special hidden jams and freshest fruit for breakfast. You just cannot pull that in an English speaking country where everyone knows Bollywood, chicken tikka masala, our track record with women’s rights and the fact that one Osama bin Laden lived in Pakistan for many, many years.

There are times when you get exasperated with all the desiness around you and you wonder about your decision of leaving home because there is no escaping the sights and sounds from home and you yearn to escape it all but that, too, passes away and you learn to coexist with it — at times reluctantly, and at times, wholeheartedly.

I remember once spending some time in Ukraine without seeing another person of colour and was ecstatic when encountered all things desi at Dubai airport after weeks of not seeing it. No matter how keen we are for integration in the new land or how insulated we want to be, a certain desiness will always stay with us, no matter where we live.

First appeared in June 2013 issue of Monthly Pique

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