Dear editor,

It is not easy being human. We are casts that came from moulds that are so perfectly set, that the cracks rarely emerge.

We are fired and tempered under conditions that are so quintessential that we automatically, eventually, resign to the informality of unerring raunchiness. It happens inevitably, for the wet clay when it is incarcerated, is constantly compelled to stir.

My story begins on a train bounding endlessly across the plains of Lahore to Karachi. I could have flown there in an hour and forty-five minutes, instead I chose the twenty-two hour travel time by train to dilute my thoughts. Since I was returning from college, after an event full year of feuding, longing, recrimination, repose, exhilaration, emotions that are evoked when one is young and fluid.It was late at night so after a while,  I fell into a tempestuous slumber. When I awoke I was sweating.

The first thing that dawned on me was that I was not alone. On the berth across from me lay a young woman assembled in red threads. Could be she was a bride, but where was the wedding party? Why was she stretched out in such unquenchable relinquish? – her red dupatta partly covering her face, her hair a loose sea of serpents hanging from one side, her slim waist arched in peaceful agony.

I carefully removed the thin covering from her face only to be astounded by what I saw. It was dark in the cabin, so what was revealed to me was nothing like I had seen before. She seemed unconscious; or was I unconscious; I cannot remember. I swallowed in earnest to cease my thirst, but all seemed still. The rhythm of the moving train erased in the soft moonlight, making shapes which kept changing, like ripples spreading over a calm surface, of a lake full of blood. I ran my fingers over that face, over that lucid  body. Was she alive? When my hand cupped her breast I was certain she was, as I felt her heart beat and the rouse of a woman who is swinging between being awake or in a deep state of latency.

And then I undressed her, in that very state.  The body that lay before me was nothing like I had held before. This flesh had been through many changes to be reborn with such utter perfection beneath the light of the moon. So perfect was her physical beauty, it aroused nothing sexual in me. I could only stare, astounded, at the lovely curve from waist to hips, the rounded richness of the breasts, the gentle movement with each breath of the slim belly, and the soft pubic shadow beneath.

A terrifying intensity arose within me as I stayed fixed for a very long time, until it occurred to me that I had to walk away and break the spell.

I left the cabin, and gasped for air in recognition of where I was, in time, space, association, only to find myself walking from one car to another, only to realise too late what I had left behind, when all of a sudden I heard a scream.

I rushed back to discover in sheer horror that my lack of foresight had led to a situation that was as absurd as what I had managed to create in that delirium. She was surrounded by people who were sounding completely inane as they jumped from one conclusion to another, shouting profanities at the girl who was still obviously drugged. After a while I figured out through the commotion that they were her family taking her to her future husband’s home near Hyderabad, to be wed.

A few days later I read an obituary:

Unidentified girl, medium height, age approximate 18, raped and shot on the Shalimar Express. No family present when body was found. Case being reviewed by Pol Road District Thana. No evidence found.

That night, I picked up my knapsack and forced myself to walk away from that tableau, enveloped in a haze of emotions that still jolt me out of my sleep with a ferocious brutality. It never leaves, the intensity of that moment. It always leaves me with such a great feeling of impotency. I am fascinated by my own paralysis. Fascinated by the fact that any human is capable of such dishonorable malignancy, and yet continues on the journey of life.


‘Because I am Not Catholic’ and Other Paragraphs

The sun, I saw, setting  with its orange haze – it was past. I watched, collecting in my mind the colours that the night was to throw at me – blues, indigo tinted with orange, all kinds of blues, layered with black now – a Van Gogh night.

With these colors in the periphery but nonetheless active I sit, waiting at Café Prague.   Waiting?  For whom?  I guess I am waiting for an enigma, an imaginative sapping who I or destiny has called Sophia.

And it is my relation to this Sophia that bothers me – I wear a blue coat and yellow vest coat and on the brink of expectance I am to consider in words with ink (red) on paper, and through paper, my relation – in language – to Sophia.

Café chatter rings past my ears, and I tell them – my ears – ‘don’t pay attention, don’t pay attention’…obediently they arrive to affirm my cry and only a murmur is accepted.

That too occasionally, and with great hesitance.

Sophia’s neck remains invincible, it does not exist and I have never seen it, her eyes confess in their brown ways to have seen utopia – in her step she relates to air as a bonsai plant relates to stillness.

My nose and my hands are tortured for the calmness of her sight. They are especially frightened by her voice, which terrorizes them into pockets and sweat. In her presence all speak with a rhythm associated with wayfarism.

Because I am not Catholic I do not confess and instead have to carry pens, and paper, and engage in conversations with strangers on buses, with cats and newspaper sellers, and bottles of wine – not scared but damn fun.

Back to Sophia and the problem of her being – that she exists and has hands is true, but that she is in my dreams, and in my fragrant fantasies, in a web of my mind, and that she somehow pours through my figure nails –

This is also true – and the problem.  For whatever she is she is nonetheless to me part of my creation, and as my creation she cannot have a substantive presence in my being – I will gaze at her internally.

A painting, I alter it, and add dabs here and the problem is common and we know it well, let me turn to Cristina – who on a cold night over the phone told me to ‘see her’ (Sophia) –

I did not understand this cryptic advise, but now as I await Sophia, as I avoid the indiscretions  of smoke, and chatter, I would like her to come with her stillness and terrorizing voice, so that I may ‘see her’.


Of Sex, Love and …

This evening I thought I would take stock. With markets crashing all around me, and people intent on scaling back their financial portfolios, I thought that I might participate in the only similar way I could, not by reassessing monetary investments, rather it would have to be my time investments, which never really pay off the way you like, you know…boys.

It had been over six months since Bjorn and I had officially ended our relationship. My momentary insanity induced desire for another man had been the catalyst and having been left little recourse for reconciliation (a continent stood between us) I decided to take up arms against myself in the same way all good self-loathing break-up artists do, and go, not on the rebound, but on the hunt, like I had been placed in a vast field of lame walking breakfast specials after starving for years.

Being an open-minded sort of person, most all discretion was put on the back burner as I re-enacted, as I realize now, the same pattern of behaviour that had emerged once before with me, after the break up with my first real boyfriend, Dan.

Dan and I being finished was somehow “carte blanche to fuck” in everyone’s eyes, and since I was in high school, there were a lot of generous college boys willing to be there for me. How sweet. In retrospect I believe that I was just looking for an excuse to get drunk and laid in the bathrooms of houses I didn’t know because a good sort of girl of relatively benign repute couldn’t really get away with that sort of stuff in my small hometown unless she wanted to come under the harsh scrutiny of other ladies, and hooooooboy can they be unforgiving.

I reminisce with profound nostalgia about those times. Having been oversaturated with Tom Robbins by that point I quickly explained my hormonal activity as “feeling power of woman”, to devour sexually, with pure reckless abandon. The kind that included car hoods, driveways, bathrooms, car seats, bunk beds, antique couches and sketchy apartments.

Sigh, the good old days.

I really regret nothing of that time since what stands out to me is not the memory of a broken heart and a desperate search to help heal it, rather I remember discovering, quite happily, that really good sex existed.

Before Dan I had slept with only one other person, Rob, who was also a virgin. How stereotypically cute, no? He was a few years older, he took me to his prom and only after staying up until 8 am drinking cheap Baby Duck champagne all over the city and getting into mischief did we finally first have sex. Terrible, terrible sex. But what did I know? I was a virgin. So, when Dan came along, and the sex was ever so slightly better, I thought I had found my soul mate and, formerly an atheist myself, was suddenly willing to spend obscene amounts of time practicing Buddhism with him (his family’s chosen religion).

I think I had been expecting the same sort of sexual re-awakening this time with my break-up with Bjorn, and unfortunately you can’t learn to be sexually free twice, the second time, you learn that you are an irrational emotional being, and without having noticed it you’ve become attached, in love and fundamentally soulfully entwined with someone you thought was just a good lay and pleasant company.

I feel bad for the fist guy I tried to sleep with after Bjorn. A few glasses of wine and blasting Peaches explicit lyrics was not enough to get over the fact that this body was different, this body was not Bjorn’s, and was therefore a stranger and therefore…terrifying? As the moment of truth approached I grabbed my clothes and ran out, not even able to make up an excuse.


And so went the discovery that my inner slut had disappeared, had been stolen in the night and replaced with some forlorn overly romantic idealistic little girl. Later I was lamenting this to my friend Jared (incidentally the man who had stolen my attention from Bjorn) and he told me that I had to re-mythologize myself. I was now a woman of emotional depth, not bawdy provocation. It sounded nice so I thought I’d go along with it and decided that I would seriously mature and become a 2nd date lay.

So, now that sex was off-limits to me without a “connection” I had to make due with low level messing around, so a lot of making out and a little head here and there.

There was Mark, who I had an excuse to stay away from as my friend had already put her “crush dibs” on him, though the moment she had moved on, I found myself guilt-free sticking my tongue in his mouth and letting him stick his in me.

There was Robert, the scientist, who tried to woo me with date conversation about fish dissection. We spooned a lot and watched Planet Earth. We made out a lot until one session where he pulled back, looked me deep in the eyes and recommended a moisturizing routine.

There was a minor flirtation with Ben, but he had a girlfriend.

Then, I thought I had found a new love and there was a serious sharing of hearts and minds over post mail with Jared, who was in Europe at the time.


***Brief interlude where Bjorn comes to visit and we try to work things out, but I am completely unreceptive as I am mad about some drama from a few months earlier and starting to get excited about slowly re-discovering my sexual prowess.***


Jared came back to Canada from Europe to go on a road trip home with me for the holidays. This has been my beacon of hope for some time. Jared will be a man, he will set things straight and we will be able to go one from there as a newer and better happy couple. A few hours later, lying in bed at By the Bay Cabins, I am wracking my mind over and over to try and figure our what the hell I’d been thinking all this time!

Worst sex ever.

And I mean the goddamn worst!

Not only does he have some over humpy aggressive monster in him, but his dick was too small to measure up to the bravado, so a question of time was also on the shelf, because although for a brief moment I thought that I might be able to work with him, teach him… it was over and I was hurled in to a den of misery and shock at the fact that I had turned Bjorn away for this. I was completely disgusted with myself.

Ever since it’s been an endless search for new meaning in music and partners.

There has been Gesar, the over praised Buddhist leader with the dick that makes all Asian jokes true, three ex-boyfriends, two who have proven they still can’t give head and one who has proven to have the most beautiful cock I’ve ever seen, and why didn’t I realize that when I was eighteen?

There have been several musicians from bands I could brag about, randoms in the bathroom and artists who live in their parent’s basements.

The only thing I think I’ve been able to further learn from all of these new and finally repetitive sexual forays in to the promiscuous adult world, is to learn to love the one you’re with. Of course, in cheesy fashion that means you.


Image c/o David Ritter

Her face was smarting from the slap. But as soon as palm had landed on cheek and humiliation set in, bitter rebellion was set into motion. Ivana received many slaps in the course of each day. Every day since she was 3 and on special occasion perhaps a few more. So instead of gulping down her shock and maybe even crying she would put her best cheek forward and close her eyes. And when that was over she would stare at the floor till the ranting and raving blew over and she heard the word, ‘Hopeless!’

That was the signal to sit put for 5 minutes and then get up and go to her room.

Ivana relied on signals. On chatter and hands and nods and laughter to let her know what was going to happen when the air got heavy. Her predicted anticipation was fine tuned to a point that it was nothing short of a skill. When Ivana was 9 and 3 months she walked into her parent’s room late at night. She’d had a nightmare.

It was very dark. She heard some noises but she couldn’t really make out much. So she stood and listened. There were heavy stunted breaths, a slight thumping, and some odd sounds and although she wasn’t really quite sure about it she wanted to turn around and go back to her bed.

But she didn’t move. It was too dark and she’d probably miss the fifth floorboard and there would be a loud creak. They would hear…and she didn’t want a slap, not now.

So she stood with her hands on her ears by the wall and stared at the pattern of the wood near her feet. When she finally pried her hands off her ears she realized that it was completely and totally quiet. Ringing silence disconcerted her. It disarmed her ability to prepare and to see. They were asleep. She could go back now.

Tracing the embossed swirls in the wallpaper, she dodged the floorboard and made it back.

Her parents were sat on her bed, silently stunned.

“Ivana…come here.”

She couldn’t quite understand what she had done, but her heart beat so hard her chest hurt.

There were a few times that they’d taken her to the fairground and save for those few times she almost never heard in that tone, those words.

She took 9 full steps in the direction of her bed and clutched the lace that spilt over it. It was her mother that spoke first. She was crying. Her voice was muted and shook with the same sickly doom that wafted through the room.

“Ivana, sweetheart, come here and sit down next to me”.

She could hear her father pacing. Every single step he ever took struck terror in her heart. Always. A silent indiscernible terror that never reached her face.

She sat down.

Lace crumpled in her little fist.

Her father left the room. His departure bore a resonance larger tonight than ever before.

“Sweetheart, I’m going to ask you something now ok? Don’t you worry about a thing, ok? “


“Ok now Ivana I just want you to tell mommy the truth. Has daddy …”

More escaped sobs.

Ivana’s heart beat so hard now she thought she might die. The lace was damp.

They didn’t often ask her opinion on things. Let alone about each other.

“Sweetie does daddy come to your room sometimes at night, you know just to talk and kiss you goodnight?”

He did.

He would. Sometimes. He would come in and she would hear the door open slowly. It would always creak just when the door knob was turned then it stayed quiet. Just standing there, a stern observer.

It was never the bed that he sat on. He always kneeled on the floor so that his head and hers were at the same height. Almost always, she was awake and acting marvelously.

“Uhuh sometimes.”

Her mother is clutching her so hard that now, all Ivana can think of was how to catch her next breath without shirking her off. It was a rare occurrence, this clutching.

He would ask her if she was asleep in a gentle voice. Almost always at this point her performance would gain momentum and she’d try to feign a gradual wakening.

Most recently he had knelt and spoken of how he wished things were different. How he wished things weren’t so difficult. It was hard to focus when she was trying so hard to look comatose.

“Sweetie, tell mommy… does daddy ever say or do anything, anything at all honey, that you don’t like?  Just tell mommy Ivana.”

There is finally a breeze in the room. The front door has been opened. He mother is breathing so hard Ivana’s hair keeps tickling her eyelids and she cant move it because her arms are in a clutch.

Review: And the World Changed

And the World Changed
Edited by Muneeza Shamsie
The Feminist Press: New York, 2008


I read fiction to be reminded that my experience of the world both is and is not singularly mine. I read it to experience the pain and joy of others, to be moved by their stories, and to try to see their truth in my own. I read fiction because it is full of the humanity that is sorely lacking from our daily lives—because I cannot be petty when I experience life through a lens of comparison. And sometimes I even believe that reading fiction makes me a better person.

And the World Changed is the first-ever collection of short stories by Pakistani women written in English. Spanning generations and continents, editor Muneeza Shamsie has compiled an amazing work of 25 writers and nearly 400 pages. Situated chronologically, the stories seamlessly flow from one to the next and the reader is hard pressed to find a flaw. Because flaws have a tendency to provide character, I will share the only one I was able to locate: Prior to each story, Shamsie provides a brief biography of the writer along with a pithy analysis of the meaning contained in their contribution to the book. I wish this had come after the reading instead of before, as Shamsie’s synopsis interrupts the story’s natural unfolding. This, however, is a minor complaint, which is easily rectified by reading the chapter’s sections in reverse.

The stories jump temporally and geographically—from Lahore to Oaxaca to Berkeley to Japan to London to Karachi. The voices that emerge are as diverse as the population itself, and represent the internal and external struggles caused by differing ideas about issues such as religion, modernization, violence, and gender roles. These issues cause liberation and enslavement, a double yoke that is so difficult, at times impossible, to transcend.

A young bride-to-be is devastated when she bumps into her future in-laws wearing jeans after a day of hiking. An older woman considers how her life has been shaped by the world’s bloody conflicts (Partition, Vietnam, Civil Rights, Zapatistas, Sandinistas). Childhood friends are reunited far from home and re-open wounds that refuse to heal. A new immigrant searches for a mosque in New York City in the days following 9/11, only to be turned away because she is a woman. A community of poor women scheme to utilize cultural norms in order to protect an innocent who cannot protect herself. There are numerous stories of love’s joy and devastation.

Much meaning is gently folded into words as they are lined up to create these fictions, and sometimes the weight is so heavy that it literally pulls you down. Other times the descriptions are so wonderfully precise that you can almost taste the sweetness of paan or chai rolling around on your tongue, feel the acrid pollution burning your nose, or hear the honking of cars and squawking of crows blaring in your ears. Time and place becomes intertwined as you move between the spaces of past, present, and future. And all is lost and found in the exquisite placement of words on each page.

And I Thought You Would Ask Me to Leave

We would have never expected this but it is true. Men learn from us.

So I bear the brunt of the things that I have said, because you like me want to feign bitter indifference. It’s a very masculine thing. I learnt it from a very bitter woman.

And my confidence is all mine. You didn’t push me out of the door or trample all over me.

My self is intact because you didn’t, thank God you didn’t demolish me with the power of your tongue. You just refused to talk to me.

We still encircle each other.