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.