“I don’t use social networking sites,” I say, haughtily. My friend shakes her head vehemently. “Why are you so snobby about them anyway?” she asks. I try to explain that it’s not snobbery; it’s more like a neurosis. My friend has accounts on hi5 and myspace and regularly converses with people through MSN. Now there’s nothing wrong with this but she cannot understand why I cannot and do not regard people I ‘met’ over the internet as ‘friends’. I tell her that it’s about trust or lack thereof. I say internet contact is missing that trust you build with a person when you meet them face to face. She challenges me by asking, “What if you have spoken to them over a webcam? That’s face to face contact. Would that be good enough for you?” I shake my head, unconvinced. I’m not quite sure how to articulate my reservations about this.

I know it’s the 21st century. People meet over the internet every day and establish lasting friendships and relationships but I can’t help but feel that making friends the traditional way is better and, well, real. Some argue that internet friendships are real; you exist and they exist and just because the space you meet in doesn’t really exist, it doesn’t nullify the relationship but it is this space that my neurosis stems from. After all, I didn’t have a problem with Meg Ryan falling in love with Tom Hanks without meeting him face-to-face in Sleepless in Seattle and yet, when the same thing happened in You’ve Got Mail, I rolled my eyes and stuck two fingers down my throat (metaphorically speaking of course). I do wonder how I came to this opinion. After all, I have grown up around computers and studied the field in-depth. I, of all people, should be comfortable with virtual activity but it leaves me feeling cold.

I asked a question to my friend who has always maintained that an internet friend can be just as real and good as a “real” friend. I asked her if she would trust an internet friend to look after her children at which point she stalled and instantly realised my point. See, if I had children, a friend would be someone that I would trust to look after them and I could never leave my children with someone I never met face-to-face no matter how many times I spoke to them online or over a webcam or in a chatroom because that personal touch is missing. 

I guess it all boils down to what you call a friend. To some, a friend is someone they met a few days ago. To me, a friend is someone I truly trust. Everyone else is just secondary.


Either want to be with her or be her

A friend of mine recently made a mildly-derogatory remark about Natalie Portman. He soon regretted this as I launched into a tirade about how she is far better than your average two-cent actress or singer. I don’t know why but I have always been a massive (massive) fan of Natalie Portman. People bang on about her style, grace and elegance (which she has in abundance) but I respect her for different reasons. Of course she is beautiful and talented but it’s her belief that intelligence is more important than any of those things that makes her stand out. She uses her smarts instead of her sexiness. She put studying ahead of acting, she speaks multiple languages and is more content expanding her mind than falling out of a club with Hilton & Co. In short, she’s the woman I want to be.



I think 70% of this weekend was spent underneath a duvet. As unglamorous as it may be to admit this, it’s true. I ate so much chocolate, I think I’ve got RSI from unwrapping the endless arrays of Blue Ribands. I ate, read and watched TV all from the comfort of my duvet and generally indulged in self-loathing for not having Saba Douglas-Hamilton’s life. I was even reduced to watching Deal or No Deal, which is kind of like watching a tooth get extracted but just drawn out over an hour.
And yet, when I told myself ‘You need a bigger bag’ as I stepped out this morning, I replied with:
No, I need a smaller life.

Why is it that even when I spent a weekend just resting, this sentiment rang true? Endless surveys tell us ‘young professionals’ that we work too hard, play too hard and that we will burn ourselves out before we reach 30. I’m beginning to wonder if what they say is true. Don’t get me wrong, I think of myself as a relatively well-balanced individual... Ok, scratch that. I don’t think I’m a whole lot more screwed up than the average person; I have plenty of drive, ambition, determination and all those wonderful and amazing things that make the iPod generation, the iPod generation but at times I wonder if we should just step on the brakes once in a while, just to stop ourselves from spinning.


Educated fleas

A friend of mine is going through the arranged marriage process and experiencing all the trials and tribulations I went through when searching for a suitable boy. I empathised with her as I know how difficult it is. I also joked that hopefully she would be untouched by the bad luck that I and others I know have had with regards to arranged marriage. That’s when I realised that I don’t know one girl who went to university and is in a happy arranged marriage. Granted, I don’t know a great many that had an arranged marriage (most of them either had a love marriage or are going through the hunting process right now) but those who have are either unhappy, dissatisfied or (and) regretful. How this didn’t register with me before, I don’t know. 

I am not a fan of arranged marriage per se but I have always respected it as one of our cultural traditions and believe that, done in the right way, it can be helpful to those who didn’t pair up at college/university. Despite my personal bad experience, I still believe that arranged marriage can work but why is it failing for so many of us? 

There has been a long-held belief by the “elders” that sending your daughters to university turns them into heathens. Is this true? Is it our fault that we’re not satisfied? Is gaining an education propelling our expectations to unreachable heights, so far beyond anything realistic that we simply cannot find someone we’re happy with? Would cutting off our education at 16 or 18 been sufficient enough to match us up and facilitate happily-ever-after? Have I polluted my mind simply by expanding it?

iPod & Apple

It’s official. My iPod is numbing my brain. I was fiddling with it, skipping over Missy’s ‘One Minute Man’ (too graphic first thing in the morning… yes, even for me) and I walked straight out of the house without my bag, which contains my phone, keys and purse. This meant that I couldn’t buy my usual chocolate brownie on the way to work, which means I’m in a bad mood and I’m starving (more than usual). I may even be forced to ingest the apple that’s been festering in a Tesco bag on my desk since Monday morning. Bah!


2006 will be a GOOD year

That was my mantra at the beginning of this year. 2005 had been so inconsequential; it seemed that the whole year could be cut out of my life and still leave me in the same place and same position so I was determined to get things done in 2006. Turns out it became a crazy, messy year with sweeping highs and equal lows but here I am, intact and content. 

The lows included stuff that most of you already know about. The highs included holding my debut novel in my hands for the first time (which was amazing), travelling (which I love) and gaining my independence.

Overall, it has been a good year. Or, at the very least, a year for new things. Along with getting my novel published, I managed to avoid the dentist for another year (I do have pretty teeth though, honest), I learnt to cook (sort of) and one of my best friend’s got engaged. I discovered Outlandish, improved my navigation skills (but only marginally) and received hate mail for the first time (but some fan mail too :). I pierced my ears and let the holes close again as a small act of rebellion against the Asian Woman Extraordinaire that everyone was trying to mould me into. But most importantly, I questioned myself and my decisions. I asked myself how I could write a book judging a character too cowardly to stand up for herself and yet indulge in the same cowardice. I questioned how I could write about becoming a “tall woman” and yet bow to the expectations of everyone around me, spurning my own in the process. And finally, I decided to make myself happy. Yes, it was selfish and yes, it broke a few hearts but here I am: intact and content. 

2007 will be a BETTER year.


A few days ago, a young Asian girl smiled at me; just a passing smile that you may shoot at a stranger who you make eye contact with. I was so taken aback that I looked at her in a half smile, half stunned-duck kind of way. Why was I taken aback? Because I can truly say that no young Asian female stranger has ever, ever smiled at me. Conversely, I don’t think I have ever smiled at one either. Why am I highlighting this? To show that Asian girls are just so damned bitchy. I know that’s generalising but the vast majority of them (us) are.

Members of the poker-straight-hair, jeans-tucked-in-boots brigade are readily equipped with dirty looks that could floor each other if they had physical force. When I walk down the street with my 16-year-old sister, I can see her assessing every single Asian girl that walks by and they engage in some sort of evil stare-out. Why are we all such cows? It’s not like we’re out to steal each other’s boyfriends/jobs/friends/cred so what’s with all the mascara-caked evil eyes? Smile for Christ’s sake. I promise I’ll smile back without a trace of my stunned-duck expression. Now let’s all hold hands and sing. 

Kumbaya, m’lord. Kumbaya.


N*****s, P***s and C****s

I was on the train listening to Nothing by N.O.R.E (yes, I listen to such classy music) and as you can see from the lyrics, the song is pretty saturated with the word “nigger” (or if I’m cool like Tim Westwood, “nigga”). Now I don’t usually listen to music cranked up to piss-off-my-fellow-passengers level but the song before it (Stand By Me by Ben E. King) was really quiet so I turned it up. Murphy’s Law will dictate that as I am listening to this song I will be surrounded by a host of black people and of course, because I am Kia, Murphy’s Law is pretty much a constant truth in my life. I was pretty sure that even if the other passengers could hear the song, it wasn’t really a big deal because it wasn’t like I was calling anyone anything offensive, it was just Pharrell Williams doing his thing but I did feel a little uncomfortable so I turned down the volume as subtlely as possible. 

This of course led me to the age-old debate about who is ok to use certain words and who isn’t and when it’s ok to use them and to whom. I personally call some of my Pakistani friends “Pakis” (sometimes even “f***ing Paki”) and my Chinese friends “Chinks” but only because they’re my friends. I would never dream of saying those words to a stranger. My instinct is to say that this is ok because they’re my friends and yet I would never feel comfortable using the word “nigga” to a stranger or a friend, simply because there is such an intense level of negativity attached to it. I even debated whether or not to blank out the “igga” in “nigga” here but decided that we’re all adults so that it’s ok. 

I remember how Jennifer Lopez was lambasted for saying “niggas” in a song (I’m Real) because she wasn’t black. P Diddy leapt to her defence and said that it was ok for her to use the word because she was Latino. Would it have been ok for her to use it if she had been white? Some will argue that it’s not ok to use (potentially) racist words against anyone any of the time but I think it’s to do with personal relationships. It’s up to the individual to glean who it’s ok to say certain words to and just practise a decent level of sensitivity. Having said that, Tim Westwood should never use the word “nigga”. But then again, I don’t think Tim Westwood should use any words at all. He should just sit in a corner and curl up in a foetal position, rock back and forth, suck his thumb and pray for forgiveness.

Wait, am I rambling again?


The good and bad

Most of us have done things in life that are generally deemed as “bad”. Things like lying to our parents, cheating on a test and maybe even stealing a pack of chewing gum. Despite these minor misdemeanours, we are convinced that we are inherently good; that deep inside, when you cut past all the surface stuff, there is goodness. There are some of us that are inherently bad (hard-core criminals, etc) but what happens when as a good person, you do something really terrible and ugly? What if you are driven to do something you would never think possible, like murder or adultery or both? Does that immediately transform you from a good person into a bad one and is there ever a way back? Does any amount of repentance or guilt make up for it? Can we ever become good again?


A quick tribute

Depressed about: Michael Schumacher losing out on his eighth world championship. Yes, he lost but he was certainly not the loser. His last grand prix proved him to be a driver that excels any other on the track. His determination and will to win is beyond anything else in the current sporting climate. He has won the championship in two different cars and outlasted at least four close challengers. Statistically, he is the best driver the sport has ever seen and I’m pretty sure we will never have another driver like him.


What happens when you cross an Islamist with a Mac?

Firstly, what the hell kind of word is “Islamist” anyway? What does it mean? Is it a person that follows Islam? We are not “Islamists”, we are “Muslims”. If it is used as a reference to the crazies that like blowing people up, call them terrorists or extremists or even fundamentalists but don’t use the word “Islam” to define them because what they do and what they are goes against the very grain of Islam. 

Ok, gripe about semantics over and done with. The real reason why I’m writing this is the laughable reports about how Muslims are apparently up in arms over the Apple store on Fifth Avenue in New York because it is shaped like the Ka’ba. According to a report by the Middle East Media Research Institute, Apple's store has been slammed by "an Islamic website" as a "new insult to Islam".

What Islamic web site? Which Muslims are up in arms over it? Who is actually offended that Apple’s store is cube-shaped? Does Steve Jobs really have it in for us? The very concept is completely ridiculous. It seems that one person can make some kind of bizarre parallel between two things and just because that person happens to be Muslim, they suddenly represent the views of a wide cross-section of Muslims.

I don’t want to go on about how the media were inflammatory specifically in this case simply because the religion in question was Islam but it’s true. Would a Christian saying s/he was offended by a rectangular building because it resembles an altar have been given the same time, space and attention?

If I wrote on a web site that I am offended by a Dell computer because it is black and cube-shaped, would that view be reflected by a large number of Muslims? Of course not but it would sure as hell be projected that way. I guess I should slap myself on the wrist for getting caught up in this. I haven’t dignified Jack Straw’s comments and the veil debate by addressing them, I probably should have left this one alone too.

The Key to Perfection

After spending almost two weeks’ wages in one day during yet another trip to Green Street this weekend, I think it’s safe to declare that my trousseau is officially complete. Along with gathering mounds of sarees, shalwar kameezes, bangles, sandals etc etc etc, I have also been trying to adjust my attitude. I was in the kitchen when my mother told my elder sister to take her husband some water/food/tea. I started to say, “Does he not have functioning arms and legs?” but stopped myself lest my mother starts lecturing me on the virtues of a good wife. 

That unvoiced comment helped me figure it out though; the key to being the perfect wife. It’s simple: you just pretend that your husband doesn’t have any legs and do stuff the way you would if it were actually true; you would not only make his breakfast/lunch/dinner/tea but you would take it to him, you would constantly check if he was ok and ask if he needs anything, you would run his bath, bring him the remote, fetch the paper etc etc etc.

Ok so, yes, this post is meant to be tongue-in-cheek but I still reckon it’s a neat trick. This way you’re not succumbing to a life of subservience but one of benevolence and a quiet amusement. Of course, pretending he doesn’t have legs only works to a certain extent. We may have to rely on the good old headache for getting out of certain other wifely duties...



My joy about Schumacher equalizing with Alonso came to a bitter end yesterday when he retired from the Japanese F1 race. Usually when I’m set to watch a second broadcast of a race (the first being before dawn) I avoid the news so I can watch the race without knowing its outcome. This time however I knew the outcome of the race so I didn’t watch it as I couldn’t bear to sit through the excruciating moments of Schumacher’s championship go up in smoke. He seems to have put aside his win-at-all-costs philosophy and accepted the fact that Alonso will win the championship. It is gutting because Schumacher is a sporting legend. Yes I know at times he has acted in an unsportsmanlike manner but no one can deny that he is a fantastic driver and truly great at what he does. He is a legend and this is no way for a legend to exit the game. It is unfair.

Ok, I’m done. For now.

PS. Fat lady. Not singing.


Leaving Tower Hamlets

I’m leaving Tower Hamlets. After my wedding at the end of October I shall be moving to the borough of Redbridge. Many people I know would rejoice at the thought of leaving the “crime-infested, poverty-stricken cesspool” that is Tower Hamlets but for me, it is a reluctant move and a sad event. Tower Hamlets may be one of the poorest boroughs in Europe; it may be saturated by high unemployment rates and have an uncontrollable drugs problem but it has always been my home and I have grown to love it.

Living in Limehouse, I have experienced both the affluence of the Docklands and the poverty of the surrounding areas. This dichotomy has only helped create the unique identity sported by my borough. It has history, culture and an amazing mix of people. I know I sound like an over-passionate council brochure or a second-rate estate agent but I don’t care. From Limehouse Basin to Brick Lane and Billingsgate, the colour, charm, diversity, vibrancy and authenticity of Tower Hamlets is unmatched by any other borough in London. It is as much a part of me as the colour of my skin or the level of my education. I hate to leave it because it is a part of my identity as a bengali, as a woman, as a writer, and as a person.

Stragging and haggling

A half-decent weekend overall. Sunday was spent exulting over Schumacher equalising with Alonso in the F1 Championship standings (so I’m a geek, shoot me). Saturday was spent traipsing up and down (and up… and down) Green Street buying some sarees for my "Asian Woman Extraordinaire" arsenal. I also have to stock up on jewellery and even thought about buying a jewellery box (Kia Abdullah, you have been assimilated). At some point during my (third? fourth?) shopping trip to Green Street this month I realised that I no longer feel awkward walking into Asian clothes and jewellery stores. I no longer feel like I’m going to act like a fool (Q: Would you like that in a kabuli or chudidar? A: Uh, What’s a kabuli?), feel inferior for my inability to match shades of baby pink just-so or feel like I’m going to get screwed out of money on 300% mark-ups. 

In fact, I have proven to be quite the adept haggler. I managed to get my price in all stores but one. This one involved getting into a gladiator-type battle of prides with a silver-tongued salesman complete with spectators and hecklers. It came down to a twenty pound difference. I was not willing to go any higher and he was not willing to go any lower. Eventually we decided to meet in the middle. “There we go. Neither of us lost our pride,” I commented. “It wasn’t about pride,” he replied. “I want to sell it to you more than you want to buy it.” I could not help but narrow my eyes and say, “I still think you got the better of me.” “No,” he replied immediately. “You got the better of me. Buy another saree and we’ll have another round.” I left with my pride intact but was not entirely convinced (Asif, you and I have a score to settle).

I have also developed a set of “haggle” statements (“Let’s not waste time, give it to me for fifty and I will hand you the cash right now,” “My sister’s getting married in two months. Give it to me for sixty and I will send my family here for the wedding shop.”) I haven’t used the “I’m a writer, I’ll tell the world you do great discounts,” line yet but who knows what I’ll stoop to? After all, now that I have been assimilated I may just start to enjoy it! (eek)


He was as young as newly formed mud, and he talked to himself as if reciting poetry

Written by Kiwi.
Published here with permission.

There's a kind of girl that's just about anything and everything and absolutely nothing all at once. A puzzle girl, a sort of Rubix Cube incarnate. Everyone knows at least one. She's the type of girl where you could gather together all her friends and they could each probably tell you her favorite color, her favorite movie, her favorite moment from the summer before last. They could tell you all about her strings of boyfriends and various neurotic habits. They could probably capture a general descriptive image of her personality for you within 200 words and they'd definitely have a story or two to tell as well. But ask everyone to sit down and piece together her life's story from birth canal to last night's sushi boat dinner for you and they wouldn't even be able to agree on the most basic of chronological maps. They might not even be able to agree on the correct spelling of her real name. Does she even *have* a real name?

She's a subconscious magician with invisible arms that are always protecting her with tricks and sleight of hand. She's the kind of girl that never lets you notice how truly elusive she really is. Those physically around her will confidently tell you that yes, they know her, and that she's open with everything about her. Yet look closer and you'll find that she'll have many more friends that she's rarely around who somehow know far more about her intimacies. She's the girl that likes a sense of distance one way or another. She'll keep you physically close but emotionally distant, emotionally close but physically distant. And even in those rare instances when you think she's allowed you both, it only takes you a minute to realize that she's still far away enough to run at a moment's notice. She's the girl that never stops balancing her own need for security with everyone else's need for comfort.
A changeling, a chameleon, a mystery, a coward. Whatever the name, the species exists. Always available, but only on her terms, always loving, but only at her pace. Always the same prism but never the same face. She's the girl that everyone knows everything and nothing about.


A Life Less Ordinary

Anyone who knows me to some degree of detail will tell you that I don’t do things by half but this past week, I’ve been spread so thinly I haven’t been able to give anything 100%. This grates on my nerves not only because it is against my nature to do things slowly, badly or incompletely but also because this month, being Ramadan, should be the one which brings the most focus and calm; elements that simply have not transpired over the past week. Perhaps it’s the lack of sugar that’s leaving me feeling low. Not to mention the lack of water that not only leaves me headachy towards the end of the day but has caused a continuous production of spots on my face. Yes, this should be least of my worries and usually I wouldn’t really give it too much thought but y’know, I’m getting married five days after Ramadan ends and no bride wants icky skin on her wedding day. Oh well, ho hum. 

Other than generally feeling close to zero, I’ve been reading books and grinding my teeth over the season 2 finale of Lost. I have also (after almost ten years) discovered Outlandish who are sort of a weird combo of European hip-hop/Asian fusion/rap group based in Denmark and no, it’s really not as bad as it sounds. The three members hail from Morocco, Pakistan and Honduras respectively and write lyrics that are important and insightful and they are actually quite good.  

Speaking of “good” leads me onto something else I have been considering this week. I am so glad that I started writing because whilst I’m not a Pulitzer prize winner or anything, it’s something that I really enjoy and something (I like to think) I’m relatively good at. And finding that one thing you love, enjoy and are good at is a rare gift. It makes me wonder how people who are truly great at something must feel. I am in awe of those people who are at the top of their game and who forge ahead with unwavering self-belief and commitment. From Mohammed Ali to Michael Schumacher, these men have done things that no-one else could achieve and that is both enviable and inspiring. 

I went through the fog that was Computer Science and whilst I still work full time in IT, I found my one thing. Everyone out there must be good at one thing. They must have one talent, one field that they love and are good at. I don’t want to go all John Keating on you but so many of us waste our lives on the 9 to 5 without ever discovering this one thing so I urge you to think about what you want to do and take it up. I’m not saying you should leave your job or spend your life savings but think about the one thing you might be good at and try it. Whether it’s something as simple as enrolling in an evening class to learn a language or taking piano lessons, do it. Attack life my friends because when all is said and done, it’s going to kill you anyway.


Kia & Killing

I have been told on more than one occasion that I have a split personality. After the day I’ve had, it’s half this personality that wanted to go home, curl up in PJs and listen to some Mariah Carey. It’s the other half that refused to take such a defeatist attitude. So instead I put on the angriest music I have and ran til I bled. It’s because of that half that I’m sitting on my bed with muscles that have lain dormant for years incapacitated beyond movement. But I’m ok. Sort of. I think.

To blank out the residual mean reds, I picked up Perfect Match by Jodi Picoult in which a mother kills her son’s molestor. There is a part where she questions how she could have killed another person. This theme of “Am I capable of murder?” comes up in many books and films. There is often a moment where the good guy has the evil guy in a vulnerable position but just can’t bring himself to shoot/stab/strangle/etc because he is inherently good. I questioned myself on this issue once and I came to the definite conclusion that I could commit murder (under the right circumstances of course). Perhaps admitting this openly to the world isn’t the smartest thing I’ve done but we’ll ignore that for a second. I know murder is against my religion, against the law and pretty much against everything we have been taught but I still feel that I could do it.

Am I a minority? Do most people out there shake their heads and say, “There’s no way on Earth I could kill someone,” or do they have the same attitude as me? I guess it’s all to do with the situation. If someone posed a real threat to me or someone close to me, I know I could do it. Hell, after the day I had, maybe I’d have open fired on the Northern Line just to get some breathing space! Ok, now I sound like a sociopath so I’ll stop.

And, er, if someone pushes a person under a Northern line train sometime this week, it wasn’t me.



I’m often castigated for my zero-tolerance attitude towards smoking. People start quoting Niemöller at me (“First they came for the ‘smokers’ and I said nothing…”) and bandying about words such as tyrant and totalitarian but as many of you are aware, once I form an opinion, it takes about five solar eclipses to make me change it. Call it narrow-mindedness, I call it strength of belief.

Despite all the uproar over the various smoking bans, they were readily welcomed by me. I don’t spend my time in pubs but I still felt it to be a small victory in the battle of Kia v. World. I was especially pleased when Pizza Hut placed a ban on smoking in their chain of restaurants (pizza being one of the main staples of my diet). This strict anti-smoking attitude was instilled in me by my father at a young age. Not because he didn’t smoke but because he did. I saw him suffer a number of heart attacks and as we all know, smoking is a large factor in cardiovascular disease. But I don’t want to excuse my tyrannical stance by personalising the problem so we will move on.

I not only believe that smoking should be banned in public buildings and restaurants but that it should also be banned on the streets. If people want to smoke, they should do it in their homes and on their property. Why should I have to endure second-hand smoke being blown into my face by a pedestrian ambling along in front of me? Not only does the disgusting smell permeate every item of my clothing along with my skin and hair, it is damaging to my health. Why should another’s weak-will affect my health?

Lock them all up in a zoo I say! But seriously, whilst parts of this blog entry are tongue-in-cheek, the basic message is genuine. I honestly think that smoking should be banned in all public areas. If that sends out images of an Orwellian type autocratic state, then so be it. Smokers can either give up or shut up.


Faster, London, faster

Firstly, a quick apology. I know there is no excuse for abandoning the blog for three weeks so I won’t make any. I have kicked off the torture contraptions that are my sexy shoes and have nestled into the worryingly comforting chair on a Southwest Trains train. I’m on way back to London Waterloo from Chessington North, which for a born-and-bred Londoner is kind of like being in the middle of Deliverance; I kept expecting incestuous banjo players to come and grin at me wildly. So anyway, as I journey back to civilization, I silently thank God that I live in London. Yes, I have the typical Love-Hate relationship with London but I definitely love it more than I hate it. Quite recently, I was told that Londoners have a chip on their shoulders and that’s probably true but that’s only because we’re better than everybody else (kidding, just kidding…)

A friend from Birmingham complained that everything is so crowded and fast and people are so rude. Even my sister who lived in London for years found it difficult to deal with after a three-year-long stint up north (don’t ask me where, surely England ends on the borders of the M25?). But my complaint is that London isn’t fast enough. It takes just about all of my self-possession not to scream at women who plod their way up or down stairs in front of me simply because they can’t walk in heels. If you can’t walk in heels, don’t wear them. Even in my torture-contraptions, I don’t slow down to the pace of a stoned tortoise. People texting on their mobiles, fiddling with their iPods or reading their paper are also culprits. What ever happened to multitasking, people? Walk and talk, walk and read, walk and text. Is it really that hard? Faster, faster, faster. 

But then again, I’ve been spinning so fast that these thirty minutes of sitting in one place undisturbed seem like a decadent luxury. Surely when you find a Southwest Train seat invitingly comfortable, you know you need to slow down?


A Gift

I was given a book called A Gift For Women by my fiance on the day of our Islamic marriage. When thinking of gifts for me, a lot of people tend to opt for books so I thought, "Great. He’s on the right track.” The book is a sort of one-stop reference of what is Islamically right and wrong for a woman. The first thing I noticed was that it was a man who had written the book, which isn’t really here nor there but it was something that I mentally noted.

A week or so later, I decided to glance through it. The first page that I came across was the following one (click image to zoom in).

Needless to say I was far from impressed. I discussed the book with a friend who said that whilst the way in which these ideas are presented in the book are a bit consternating, the core ideas hold true in Islam. As the conversation progressed my friend stated that, “Islam is based on common sense. Is there any one part of it that doesn’t make sense or that you can disagree with?”

In reply to my friend’s question I said, “There is a part that doesn’t sit well with me; being able to marry off a 12-year-old girl to a grown man.” This was followed by a brief silence in which my friend was probably distancing himself from me since I was surely going to drag him into the hellfire along with me. “Is that something you are totally ok with?” I ask.
“I believe everything Islam says.”
“I understand that but do you think that is it ok for a grown man to marry and have sex with a 12-year-old girl?” I ask.
“It may not be acceptable in Western countries but it happens in places like Bangladesh and Pakistan,” he replies.
“Yes, but do you think it is ok for a grown man to marry and have sex with a 12-year-old girl?”
“I wouldn’t marry my daughter off that young,” he says.
“So you agree that is ok or you disagree?”
“Well, if you want to make it as black and white as that then yes, if that is what Islam says is right, then I agree.”
“So you agree that it is ok for a grown man to marry and have sex with a 12-year-old girl?”
“Yes,” he replies.
“Ok. That is all I wanted to know,” I say.

I’m not going to launch into a diatribe because obviously everyone has their own opinions but this just reminded me of what I said in a previous entry about drawing a line between believing stuff you believe and believing stuff only because you’re meant to believe it.

There are tons of stuff about the whole marriage-straight-after-puberty thing on the internet (bearing in mind that a lot of the stuff on the internet is unreliable) and there is stuff telling me I am an infidel and a hypocrite for not embracing this ruling. I understand that a girl who has started menstruating is old enough to bear a child and God made women this way for a reason but if someone was to press me on the subject as hard as I did with my friend, I would really have to say, No, I don’t think it’s right. If that makes me an infidel and a hypocrite, so be it.


Customs and Exercise

It seems that unbeknownst to me, my personality has been surreptitiously removed and replaced with an entity called “Bride-to-be”. What bought on this sudden realisation? The fact that no-one in my family speaks to me about anything other than the wedding. Sure, it was a specifically wedding-focused weekend with Saturday containing a visit from the Groom and his family and Sunday spent picking up and trying on my freshly tailored wedding outfit but y’know, I can still talk about other stuff. I still have opinions about general life. I can still talk about the latest movie or the book I’m reading or how funky Jon Snow’s tie is tonight or how the new Pantene is a load of crap. But no, I’m forced to talk wedding rings and furniture buying and beautician finding and card choosing. I know that these are things that need to be talked about but for the sake of my sanity, surely these topics can be punctuated with the occasional, “Hey, did you watch Lost last night? What is Henry Gale up to?” or “What do you think about the Google-News Corp deal?” or even “Damn, hasn’t the weather been crazy lately?”

Every time I encounter one of my sisters, I make it a point to talk about topics ranging from the interesting to the inane; anything that is not wedding but inevitably, like it was ordained by Allah Himself, the conversation rolls around to wedding talk. So now I have withdrawn into a shell of reading, eating and scowling. If that is so, why am I here talking wedding? Because it’s under my skin, crawling around and I’m just about managing to contain Bridezilla (crazy, unhinged, control-freak type monster).

Two things are probably worth a mention: 

Firstly: Bengali (or at least Sylheti) custom dictates that the Bride’s family must buy the Groom’s family a whole new set of furniture (generally speaking, the bare minimum would include a double bed, closet set, dining table and chairs, sofa set, showcase, fridge, washing machine, television, microwave). This would be a sensible practice if the couple was moving into a place of their own but this is not usually the case. Usually the new furniture is housed in the family home after which all original furniture is either thrown out or given away despite being in perfect working condition. How is this good sense? Surely the money spent on this largely unnecessary custom would be better put aside for the couple’s future together? But custom is custom and must be adhered to.

Secondly: My plan to get in shape. Thankfully I’m naturally slim (thanks dad) and can pretty much eat what I want without having to exercise but most girls over the age of 22 will tell you about the little bumps that appear just above their hips and it’s those that I want to get rid of. But I’m lazy. Damn lazy. I’m hardworking when it comes to mental activity but physical exercise? Bah, I say. Bah! Last year I went to Decathlon and bought myself sports gear. The running shoes have never seen the light of day. It’s something I really want to do, not only for the dreaded bumps but just to get fit. And those of you who say, “But you’re slim, you don’t need to get fit,” ought to walk up a set of escalators with me and soon you will be retracting that statement. 

So yeah, those are my two little niggles but apart from that, I think I’m doing quite well to keep my cool amidst this storm. But who knows how long my grip will remain on the reigns of Bridezilla?


It's good to talk

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I say to my sister.
“No, seriously. Ask dad. He’ll tell you,” she replies.

She has just told me a really interesting and scary story about my father and I’m sitting there, wondering how I never knew that about him. And then I realise that I don’t really talk to my parents. Of course we speak to each other but it’s usually regarding the day-to-day running of the house or general stuff rather than conversing about personal experiences or current issues. And I’m not quite sure whether that’s my fault or theirs or if that’s just the way it is. I know many kids that do have a bond with their parents that allows them to have long, interesting and comfortable conversations but the majority of Asian kids I know speak to their parents (and specifically their fathers) mainly in passing. 
I recall the few times I had real, interesting conversations with my father. I recall how he told me that he used to play football in Bangladesh and wanted to go pro, about some of his first years in the UK, about how my eldest brother threw a fifty pound note in the fire back in the days when fifty pounds was a month’s rent. These small insights into my father’s history are stunning and special. So when my sister revealed this latest story about my father yesterday, I had to go and speak to him about it.

“Tell me the story you told Shiri,” I say to him. So we sit and he rewinds the years back to 1978. He tells me that he was walking through (what is now) Altab Ali Park after work one day. He tells me how the weather wasn’t great so he was carrying a long umbrella. He suddenly noticed three men get up from their lying-down positions in the foot-long grass and begin to walk towards him. “Each one was carefully placing his foot in the footprint of the one before him as if to show there was only one person there,” he recalls. He sensed danger and began to walk faster, making sure that the long umbrella with a pointed end was in full view. As he reached the street at the end of the park, he exited as fast as he could and breathed a sigh of relief as he saw that the men had stopped advancing towards him. He walked home as fast as possible and told my mother about it. It was a few hours later that the news of Altab Ali’s death reached our house. Altab Ali, who walked through the same park was accosted by three racists, stabbed and murdered.

I am stunned that I never knew this about my father. How many other things are there in his life that I do not know about? Stuff like this makes me realise how hard our parents worked to set us up here and most of the time, we’re ungrateful and critical. I guess if parents took some time to talk to us instead of simply commanding us and if we took some time to listen, we would find out stuff that makes us feel bad but also, feel really really grateful.


Two Princes

As I was getting ready for work this morning, I had a sudden urge to listen to Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson. I dug out the Bad album on cassette (remember those?) and put it on and you know, despite all the stuff that surrounds him, his music was always f***king good. Everything from Off The Wall to HIStory was fantastic and as a musician, he was simply genius. This got me thinking “Wasn’t music good back in the days?” I mean, I listen to Prince stuff and it is still fresh and better than half the stuff out there right now. Thieves in the Temple, Seven, Pop Life and dozens of others are such good songs on a basic and pure level, is there anything like that out there anymore?

I know there isn’t going be a second Michael Jackson or another Prince but there aren’t even close seconds. What do we have these days? Usher? Justin Timberlake? Yeah, these guys have good songs but compare them to the Greats and they’ll crash and burn. I try to tell myself that it’s just the times we live in now; music is so diverse with hundreds of sub-genres, people just don’t go crazy over one type of music BUT I just don’t believe it. Recently, I was excited over John Legend and Robin Thicke but again, whilst they are hugely and massively talented, they just don’t inspire that feeling. When was the last time you heard a soul-wrenching Under the Bridge or a life-affirming Living on a Prayer? And whilst I understand it’s hard enough for the original artists to match the former glory of their hit singles, you still expect the new artists to strike you with lightning once in a while. Maybe I’m just getting older and music doesn’t excite me the way it once did but good songs are good songs no matter what age you are, right?

I’m actually really interested in this. Contact me and tell me what the last song/artist that really excited you was. I want to see if it really is as doom and gloom as I think. Perhaps it’s not because if you asked me the same question, I could come up with a name. I would probably say Nerina Pallot with Fires and she is a relatively new artist. (If you haven’t heard her stuff, listen to Sophia, Idaho and Damascus. I’m not usually into the whole Tori-Amos-Fiona-Apple-Female-Angst thing but Fires is good.) So, yeah, let me know if you think there will ever be two Princes. Unless of course, you don’t like Prince in which case, we don’t really need to know each other :P


All the fair men

As many of you know, I'm getting married soon and am therefore officially “off the market". A friend recently commented: “It’s great you’ve got a ring on your finger. I bet there’s no better way of deterring the perverts, lechers and freaks than with a wedding ring.” I agreed with laughter but you know what? I think I owe something to the guys that have approached me in the past.

I want to divide this group of guys into two though. Group B contains the greased up, dumbed down, non-entities that yell from cars, gape lecherously in train carriages or make kissing sounds as you walk by. Group A contains the guys that glance at you shyly, smile at you honestly or approach you sometimes respectfully and sometimes cheekily. And no, Group B does not consist of only unattractive guys and Group A does not consist of only attractive guys.

To my Group A guys, I want to say thanks for flattering me. I don’t think I was ever rude or dismissive (if anything, my friends accuse me of being too soft hence getting repeat offenders) but if I was, then I’m very sorry.

To Group A guys in general, I want to say well done. Yeah, there you go. Girls without wedding rings will hate me for encouraging you but you know what? They are flattered and it is brave of you. If you see a girl you like, go on ahead and approach her. She may be rude and dismissive but at least you did something about it. Maybe some time down the line she’ll realise that you were brave for doing so and that you deserve some credit for it.

Just check for a ring first.


Being Talked About

Life, Love and Assimilation received good feedback from many sources but it also provoked a number of negative reactions from both the public and people who I know personally. This week has been particularly interesting as East End Life (local newspaper distributed in Tower Hamlets) decided to run a review written in Bengali. Up to this point, I have been somewhat insulated from the “elder generation” as they haven’t read my book or read about it. This is mainly due to the fact that many of the elder generation cannot read English very well or at all. The East End Life review goes into some detail about the content and nature of the book (i.e. negative experiences with the community, drug addiction, inclusion of sex scenes) and thus reveals all to the elder Bengali community, exposing my heathen-ness. 

My mother read the article. She knew I had written a book but not the specific nature of it and whilst she did not discuss the article with me, I was cringing and whingeing and generally dying. Having already alienated three of my siblings through the book, I wasn’t quite ready to be disowned by my parents too. Ok, that’s an exaggeration but you know what I mean. So anyway, I was planning damage control when the rebellious side of me said, “So what?” 

And those two words calmed me down. Damn right! So what if it has sex scenes? Sex happens. So what if it discusses drug addiction? It’s rife in Tower Hamlets, no-one can deny that. So what if I’m meant to be a good little girl? I have a voice and I’ll say what I want with it. My sister told me that it’s probably best if I stopped doing promotion for a while or downplayed it a little but I said NO WAY. I am not backing down. I am not staging a retreat. Let people say what they want to say. After all as Mr. Wilde so astutely proclaimed, there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.


What is it good for?

I am dreading another picture of a war-torn land; the one picture that will make me stop and stare, transfixed, letting it darken something inside me. I know it sounds melodramatic but that is exactly what happens. There are countless of “good” pictures of war and famine; pictures that effectively portray the horror and pain. The most famous, of course, is the picture of a young, naked Vietnamese girl running from a napalm attack on her village. That picture has haunted millions over the years and rightly so. When I first saw it, I have to say, it wasn’t the girl in the picture that affected me as much as the boy on the left. His face is twisted in such terror and agony, it tore at me. The only way I got rid of the horror I felt was to find out about the subjects in the photograph and deconstruct and demystify it. In that way, it lost some of its power which is both a good and bad thing (http://digitaljournalist.org/issue0008/ng_intro.htm).

The napalm picture was the one picture that horrified me most but usually, it is the more poignant pictures that affect me. Below are two pictures that have done that in the past.

The cover of a copy of the Economist I bought a few years back. It is a simple but touching picture that I chose to keep.

A detained Iraqi man comforts his 4-year-old-son at a holding center for prisoners of war near An Najaf, Iraq. The picture was taken on 31 March 2003.
Photographer: Jean-Marc Bouju of The Associated Press. 

These pictures are beautiful but saddening and kind of heartbreaking all at the same time. With George W. Bush decrying Kofi Annan’s plan of action with regards to the Israel-Lebanon conflict (“I don't like his ceasefire plan. His attitude is basically ceasefire and everything sorts out.”) and his power-hungry and jingoistic attitude, we can expect a multitude of pictures coming out of Lebanon showing blood and body parts and missing limbs. But, somehow, it’s these pictures of children with sadness in their eyes that make me feel worse.


Stem of my Belief

On certain occasions, when discussing ethical or particularly controversial issues, I have occasionally thought, “I wonder what Islam says about this,” with the obvious intention of adopting Islam’s stance as my own. Whilst this is the correct thing to do from my religion’s point of view, it does disconcert me to some extent. Instead of forming my own opinions about an issue, am I really willing to blindly accept a specific view or its polar opposite depending on what Islamic scholars interpret from the Qur’an? Should I ditch my “original opinions” if they are deemed wrong from an Islamic point of view? Perhaps that is the right thing to do but it just doesn’t sit well with me. Surely it is better to believe something by questioning it and subsequently understanding it rather than blindly accepting it? So, what is the root of this train of thought? 

Stem Cell Research. 

Those three little words represent an issue that has bought about discord and dissent and has divided opinion like very few before it. It has certainly divided my opinions. On one hand, embryonic stem cell research destroys a human life and inherently, as humans, we believe that this is wrong. But it is not just the destruction of life that makes me uneasy, it’s also the creation of it; isn’t this almost like playing God?

On the other hand, stem cell research and therapeutic cloning could be the answer to serious illnesses and provide hope for people with degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

So what is right? I can understand and identify with both points of view but I don’t want to sit on the fence. If push came to shove, I would (reluctantly) say I am pro-stem cell research. I respect the sanctity of life but I think that the creation and destruction of a collection of cells without a nervous system may be worth it to save a “real” human being’s life and/or to cure them of a degenerative disease. Saying that is not easy for me but it is what I would lean towards if I was forced to. I believe that as long as there are strict rules guiding the research and that we don’t somehow branch off into liberal eugenics, stem cell research can be justified.

After I made my decision, I decided to find out what, specifically, was Islam’s stance. Naturally I assumed that Islam would be anti-stem cell research because of the strict ruling on abortion so I was extremely surprised to find from several sources that there was substantial support for it by Islamic scholars. Many say that the Shari’ah (Islamic Law), differentiates between actual life and potential life; that a young embryo outside the womb is not considered a person and the use of it for stem cell research does not violate Islamic law.* Ultimately, this tallies with my personal opinion. Whilst this puts me in the same boat as the person who would blindly accept Islam’s ruling, I am glad that I thought it through and came to a conclusion of my own accord. I actually have deep respect for the people who can accept, “Believe this because Islam tells you to” but I, personally, like to do a little more digging. That way, I will believe what I’m meant to because I believe it and not purely because I’m meant to.

* http://www.islam101.com/science/stemCells.htm has a good article on the matter by Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, the Former president of the Islamic Society of North America.


Nonpolitical Animal

I find myself clapping after a statement made by David Cameron MP. I stop mid-clap in shock and disgust. I look around to make sure that no one has witnessed this act, which of course will make it easier to pretend that it didn’t happen. There are many reasons why one would dislike Cameron; his tendency to change his views to suit his audience, the fact that he voted in favour of the Iraq war, disagreement with his political views and policies, etc etc so why do I personally dislike him? Alas, I cannot say it is because I have carried out a discerning analysis of his political views and concluded that they do not align with my own. I cannot say it is because of his chameleon-like habit of changing his colours and skipping from right to left and left back to right. The reason I dislike him is because he is smarmy. Yes, you heard me. Smarmy. He has this self-serving pompous look about him. No, I can’t back this up with specific observations; it’s just a vibe that I get from him. The way he speaks: smarmy, the way he smiles: smarmy, the way he gesticulates: smarmy

Maybe it is some sort of inverse prejudice; Cameron is the son of a stockbroker and was educated at Eton and Oxford. He grew up in Oxfordshire, read Philosophy, Politics and Economics and dabbled with recreational drugs. If that doesn’t smack of toffness, I don’t know what does. Basically, he’s a million miles away from me and most “normal” people. How can he possibly relate to my experiences and my problems? The closest he has ever got to my community is indulging in a saccharine photo-opportunity at a local primary school.

I mean, could this picture get any less genuine? It’s like, “Let’s have girls in scarves behind me to say that ‘Yes, I like Muslims’ and why not have me sitting on the floor to show that they are equal or even above me? It will portray a strong sense of humility in me and I’ll sit here and make all these important looking gestures and..[etc etc etc]” *Smarmy smile*
I just really really dislike him.

But then again, most of my political leanings are based on equally irrelevant factors. I listen to the debates in the House of Commons not because I think they are insightful or interesting but because I love the banter, jesting and lighthearted derision that takes place. I like the tradition and the big, fancy terms and titles such as, “The Right Honorable Gentleman”, and “Serjeant at Arms” and even “The Leader of the Opposition”. 

Equally lightweight is the reason why Teflon Tony held a special place in my heart for many years; in 1998 with the burgeoning growth of the internet, I read that using one finger, Tony typed in a message for Cherie with the flowers he was ordering for her online. Perhaps that too was a ploy to show his “human” side but it worked with me. It made me like him and surely, that is half the political battle won?

Perhaps I should examine political agendas in depth rather than making decisions on whether or not I like a politician. After all, surely it is an abhorrent crime to like any of them?


I [Heart] London

I’m wilting. Wilting like a dead flower or a weeping willow or, erm, things that wilt. It is simply too hot. And I don’t want to be quintessentially British and complain about the hot weather (even though that’s exactly what I’m doing) so I will try and be positive. It’s great that we’re having nice weather. London in the summertime is beautiful and special and beautiful and special (it’s the heat). So special that Anthony Keidis even wrote a song about it. But it’s not hard for me to sing the praises of London in the summertime because I love London all year round.

I sold my car years ago so I don’t have to worry about the congestion charge. I don’t have my own place so I don’t have to think about council tax just yet (though house prices are darkening the horizon). I grew up in East London so lack of green spaces is something I’m used to and I can be just as rude and cold as the next person so that doesn’t usually affect me too much. The only thing I can complain about is the Northern Line but even that I can avoid if I need to. And whilst this weather is making me droop and wilt and create my own little hole in the ozone layer with the amount of Impulse Body Spray I’m using, I’m still not going to complain because London is great. 

London is great because the view from St. Paul’s Cathedral is beautiful. London is great because you will find a Muslim person eating lunch next to a Jewish person on a park bench. London is great because of the Somerset House fountains at night and because of the Serpentine. London is great because you can be as pretentious as you want and shop on Carnaby Street or laugh at pretentious people shopping on Carnaby Street. London is great because of Big Ben and Westminster Abbey and Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. It’s great because of that dinosaur in the Natural History Museum. The gorgeous Jose Mourinho lives here. We have Hyde Park and Hampstead Heath and Richmond Park and the Queen’s Walk. You can find any type of cuisine you like. The restaurants are amazing. We don’t speak French. Abbey Road. The London Eye (don’t judge unless you’ve been on it). Brick Lane and Chinatown and Spitafields and Billingsgate and Shoreditch and damnit, even Hackney. 300 languages. Great universities. Wembley Stadium. The music and entertainment. Canary Wharf lit up at night. Maple Krispy Kreme donuts. 

*Realises there’s gum stuck on her shoe*