Sunday, May 22, 2011

The moment, the lesson, the bond!!! - Part 1

As I sit in one of the few local independent cafes left in Manhattan, I can’t help but observe the people around me. Though I pretend to appear busy and self-important typing away on this laptop, I’m secretly watching people. Reminded of a drunken yet poignant wisdom that was once imparted by a drunk in a bar. It holds true, even today as I look around at these strangers that surround me.

Wisdom 1: As different as we all may be…we will always have one thing in common. We have all once been in love.

From the African American Barrista slaving away behind the counter with more piercings than pores to the lesbian couple interlocking each other’s fingers at the other end of my sofa. The Latina nanny that rocks a stroller with one hand and turns the pages of Twilight with the other. The stuffed and starched intern in a suit struggling to find an outlet for his laptop, the statuesque blonde that saunters outside the window and then passes the short, angry feminist who probably makes more money than all of us combined. The hooker, the suburban housewife and even the desi cabdriver ashing his cigarette and swearing in Punjabi…we still have one bond in common. We once experienced the pain of love. When we couldn’t keep our eyes open no matter how hard we tried. When we couldn’t take the same advice we often gave to our friends. When we found ourselves doing things we knew were wrong…downright pathetic…and even vulnerable. Like sending that one more text… that one more email…one more instant message …even forgiving one more time…powerless yet holding on to self-assured hopes and maybes. Let’s compare notes now shall we?

Why Yes!

But first, here are some other important wisdoms to remember.

Wisdom 2: Contrary to any belief and no matter how often you replay the moment in your head…you can’t prevent falling in love! So stop beating yourself up over it. Once it happens though, every songs lyric reminds you of it! Every character in a film tells your story.

Wisdom 3: Most times the ones you fall in love with are the ones you least expected to.

Wisdom 4: You always fall in love when life seems just PERFECT! When you have the world by its balls and no one can mess with you. You feel and look the best and life has just never been better. And then BOOM…some bastard or bitch comes along to jangle up your perfect world into a humbling mess.

For me it happened quite the same way. Junior year of college. I was spending the semester at Cooper Union in New York City and boy was I in my prime! Everywhere I went from family functions to nightclubs clubs, I was picking up compliments and numbers from aunties and male admirers. Once the victim of perpetual unrequited crushes, I was now the one turning down men left, right and center. With a group of very close friends (Jenny & Julie), an amazing self-esteem and complete independence; the world had quickly become my runway and from campus hallways to dance-floors, I was turning heads. During Fall break, Jenny and & Julie came down to visit me in NYC. We spent the week partying around Manhattan before they headed off to Staten Island for a weekend at Julie’s parent’s house. That weekend, I spent in Philly at Khala 1’s place but my girls decided to drive down one night so we could also make the Philly men dance on our fingertips for an evening.

I remember the night vividly, mostly because I would replay it constantly in my head afterwards searching for answers. But back then, it seemed like the perfect night! I even remember the outfit I wore. A black, criss-cross top with black satin pants. My hair, blow-dried to perfection and my makeup, just right. I recall admiring myself proudly in the mirror as I walked around Khala 1’s house, waiting for the girls to pick me up. Texting back and forth, they drove down and we sang along to Q102 on the radio. My younger female cousins watched me secretly as I covered my skimpy top under a college sweatshirt - immediately peeled off and stashed into a potted plant - when Jenny and Julie honked outside screaming, ‘Lets go bitch, the boys are waiting!’

We had dinner at an Italian restaurant on Rittenhouse Square, toasting to what promised to be an amazing night. Later we ended up in a bar around the corner, where we took over the place the minute we walked in. We didn’t have to reach for our purse even once because men immediately began to waft towards us with small-talk and free drinks. We just laughed and giggled about how much ‘we loved life’. After cocktails and a large side of an ego-massage, we jumped into a cab and headed to Spring Garden Street for some dancing at Club Egypt.

The night continued to unravel as one of the most perfect nights of our lives. We settled into a booth, jamming to the DJs beats and lighting up our cigarettes. Drinks continued to be sent our way from men, boys and grandpas. At one point, a young frat-boy type in a black leather jacket approached our booth to introduce himself and announce that his group of friends had apparently sent us our last three rounds of drinks. We thanked him politely. But then he turned to me
‘My friend over there is from Pakistan. He’s a little shy to come over himself but do you mind if I ask you what your nationality is?’
‘I’m Latina’ I lied and gave a fake name. (All three of us girls had fake bar names in college).
Though we snickered after he left and then headed off to the dance floor, from the corner of our eyes, we could sense the boys watching us as we danced. And obviously we loved it.

An hour later, Julie returned from the bar to announce, ‘Ok so I didn’t pay for any of these drinks, those guys did. The Pakistani’s really got the hots for you, he’s actually kinda cute, you should meet him.”
‘Wait!’ I knew Julie wasn’t the brightest in our crew ‘I hope you didn’t tell him that I was Pakistani? I just told his friend I was a Latina!”
‘But he’s hot…and sweetie no one’s buying that Latina crap anyway. Just flirt with him, he’s probably got some of that that oil money and we need more free drinks and maybe a ride back to our car.’
Didn’t I tell you Julie wasn’t the smartest kid on the block. I had barely rolled my eyes when I noticed the boys approach us. I didn’t really look any of them in the eye but Julie and Jenny immediately struck up a conversation. At one point, the Pakistani guy extended his hand towards me and introduced himself as ‘Mustafa’.
‘And you are?’ he pushed further as I pretended to rummage through my purse for a pack of cigarettes.
‘She’s shy….but her name is Padash!’ Julie jumped in.
‘PADASH!’ the guy exclaimed a little more excitedly than I would have expected ‘Is it really YOU?’
I immediately looked up at him and my jaw dropped open. Even after all these years, it took us both only a minute to recognize each other. Screaming our names we hugged as our friends watched with confusion.
‘Don’t tell me you guys know each other?’ One of the guys asked.
‘Hell yeah we know each other!’ Mustafa cackled ‘I’m seeing this girl after decades. The last time I met her was when she was watching cartoons and playing with dolls. She was my good friend’s baby sister!’
‘This really is crazy!’ I laughed out loud ‘How long has it been!’
‘Ages, I just remember how your brother and I used to hide your dolls and then we bought you cups of Polka ice-cream when you cried!’
‘I know…you guys were SO mean!’ I added.
‘I must say, you’ve really grown up since I last saw you!’ He added ‘You look great!’
‘Well, judging by all the free drinks tonight, we all know you feel that way!’ Jenny interjected with a snicker.
‘Oh my God…I can’t believe I just hit on Hassan’s baby sister. How weird is that!’
‘Very weird and very creepy…Mustafa bhai’ I teased ‘But don’t worry we wont tell my brother!’

The rest of the night was just as fun and we all paired off. Mustafa and I couldn’t get over the irony of the situation. But within minutes, he went from a creepy desi guy trying to get into my pants to the over-protective brotherly sort, shielding me away from all the other men in the club. Still he would cringe every time I called him ‘Mustafa Bhai’.
‘Please, Padash, you’ve got to stop calling me bhai now.’
At one point when we took a break from dancing and settled back in our booth, I realized another fact that I had completely forgotten.
‘Wait….” I squeaked ‘Weren’t you also engaged to my cousin Sakina?’
Scratching his head sheepishly he replied ‘Man, I was hoping that topic wouldn’t come up tonight.’
‘Not that I care!’ I shrugged ‘We’re not really that close to that side of the family anyway. And I’m definitely not close to any of my cousins so don’t worry I could care less.’
‘Good to know, but I’m surprised because Saks always spoke so fondly of you. She made it sound like you guys were best friends or something. Drew such a glamorous picture of you but I just remembered you as a chotee bachee!’
‘I don’t know why but Sakina has always tried to be very friendly, even though we have nothing in common!’
‘Well I guess that’s a good thing because otherwise you wouldn’t hang out with me tonight. You would probably have your girls beat me up!’
‘Don’t worry, I’m sure you had good reason to break off the engagement.’
It was at that moment when Mustafa became quiet for a few minutes. Awkward. I had completely forgotten that besides being my older brother’s friend who would bring me back ice-cream and Jubilees when they went out on their poondee rounds, he also had history with a cousin I knew very little about. If you haven’t noticed, things are always twisted in my life but lets try and get a quick and dirty history on Mustafa.

Mustafa was actually a couple of years younger than my brother but would look up to Bhai Jan as a role model. They had mainly become friends because Mustafa’s parents were family friends of ours and the two seemed to hit it off at a family dinner. After that, I would often see him come over after school, his white shirt un-tucked, gray trousers blotched in fountain blue, Dollar Ink stains and rickety baseball caps perched clumsily on his head. Most of the time, he would just head straight to Bhai Jan’s room and then they would sit for hours bouncing tennis balls on the wall and talking about ‘bachiyan’ and ‘Van Damme’. Quite the combo, I must say. The few times I would come in to Bhai Jan’s room, they would either tease me or nurture me. On some days they would snatch my doll to play catch with each other but on other days they would return from an afternoon of driving aimlessly around Jinnah with a cup of ice-cream just for me. When they prank-called female classmates they would beg me to ask for the girls name on the phone and the business woman that I was, I in turn bargained my flavors of Polka or packets of Choco Chums.

Once Bhai Jan left for college, I didn’t really see much of Mustafa anymore. I think shortly after, he too was sent off to boarding school at Aitchison. And from there he left for college. Needless to say he never really witnessed my transformation from the chubby little sister he teased to a rebellious partier/Alisha’s protégé. But to be honest, Mustafa Bhai was always kind of out of sight, out mind for me also. We did, however, almost cross paths a few years but somehow we always missed!

The first time was during the summer before I was heading off to college. I was waiting for Peanut to pick me up so we could see off a high-school friend who was leaving for a Canadian university. Bhai Jan and his wife were visiting from Dubai those days and mentioned something about guests so I desperately hoped that Peanut would whisk me away before I had to say Salaam to anyone. Luckily, a car pulled up in our driveway just as Peanut and I were driving off, so I was relieved to have escaped the guests.

When I returned, I found my entire family gathered around an empty trolley in the drawing room, yapping away about the guests who had just departed. I joined them to pick through the dry-fruit left on the trolley when Ma exclaimed.
‘Padash you will never believe this!’
‘Wait but first,’ my brother interjected ‘do you remember Mustafa? He used to come over all the time?’
‘Slightly’ I tried to recall ‘What about him?’
‘He just got engaged.’
‘Good for him.’
‘But guess who he just got engaged to?’
I obviously had no clue.
‘Sakina. Your chacha’s youngest.’
‘That’s like the most random thing I’ve ever heard.’ I laughed.
‘It is’ My brother laughed ‘He’s heading back to the States for an MBA so I guess his parents felt that it would be best to tie him down before he left.’
‘I’m assuming it was arranged?’
‘Completely. They got to know the family through us and they seemed to like Sakina a lot.’
‘Well of course compared to Shabana, anyone would seem better!’ I joked!
‘But I was talking to him and he seemed pretty excited himself.’
‘But isn’t it weird getting engaged and then married to a complete stranger?’
‘Well it is the traditional thing to do Padash’ My mother always grabbed an opportunity to tame her rebel of a daughter.
‘We had an arranged marriage too; I think it worked out well.’ My bhabhi chimed in.
‘I guess.’
To be honest the notion had absolutely no appeal for me. Maybe because it was a more exciting time in my life. I was finally running away to the States to discover myself in college and then live life on my own terms. The ‘abroad’ both Peanut and I would often dream of with wishful eyes. Sakina on the other hand, was being committed off to a guy, she had barely spoken to and in a way I actually felt sorry for her.
‘He’s going to Rutgers, in New Jersey.’ My brother added ‘I told him you were going to the States too so maybe you two can connect. He also did his bachelors in America so he knows his way around.’
‘America is a big place Bhai Jan’ I rolled my eyes ‘And besides I don’t need your friends to serve as my bodyguards, I’m a big girl now.’

I think I got an email from Sakina a few days later about how happy and in love she was. She also asked if I could take a gift to America for her fiancé and I told her I would. It still baffled me how she thought we were besties when her older sisters had tormented me as kids. When I landed in Philadelphia to spend a few days at Khala 1’s house before leaving for freshman orientation a few hours away in a small town, I got an email from Mustafa as well. It was a good-natured email which mentioned that New Jersey was very close to Philly and that he would be more than glad to show his me around. But to me it was obvious that his eagerness was fueled mostly by an interest in getting his ‘love letter and Cologne’ gift from Sakina rather than playing bodyguard/chaperone to a friend’s younger sister. At first we decided that he could come over for tea at Khala 1’s place and that’s where I would give him Sakina’s gift. However, the few hours when I wasn’t jet-lagged, I spent shopping with my parents for dorm supplies. Needless to say our schedules never connected. Finally, I decided to hide the pink wrapped gift in a potted plan (yes the same one where I now stashed my sweatshirts) and emailed him that though I was driving off to college with my parents, he could drive by and secretly pick his fiancé’s gift up late one night. And he probably did. I just never got to follow up with him nor Sakina since once I got to college, I immediately dove into the excitement of making new friends and going to frat parties.

A year later, when I was home for break, Ma and I were bonding over high tea at Islamabad Club. As she rummaged through her stash of gossip to fill me in on family news, I tried not to look bored. Falaan Falaan had another baby, Falaan Falaan got married.
‘Oh by the way Sakina’s engagement broke.’
‘Really?’ I asked half interested but still noticeably surprised ‘Wasn’t she engaged to your friend’s son Mustafa?’
‘That’s odd, they seemed like they were in love. Full courting shourting, writing each other letters and stuff.’
‘Exactly’ my mother preached ‘If you ask me, I’ve always been against this engagement-wala fashion. It usually ends badly. This whole calling each other on the phone, love letter writing, gift exchanging…its nice and romantic in the beginning but then comes pointless arguing and then suddenly it all ends. I’m a strong believer that guys and girls shouldn’t meet that much before the wedding. They have their whole married lives to be romantic.’
‘Ma, you’re so old fashioned.’
‘You can call it old fashioned but you know its true.’
‘Sakina must be devastated, I think she was really in love with this boy.’
‘Well I heard she’s the one who broke it off.’
‘You’re kidding?’ I was actually shocked.
‘Aray bhai who knows the actual story. All I hear is that in all these long phone conversations they used to have they had a bad argument and then both decided to end the engagement. Some people in the family say that Mustafa’s character was not right. He had goree girlfriends waghaira in America. Maybe that’s why they had a fight.’
And then just like that Ma pulled out some other family gossip and all was forgotten. And all was truly forgotten till after all these years of hearing about each other, Mustafa and I finally came face to face on that ‘perfect’ night in Philadelphia.

‘Looks like we closed the club down!’ Mustafa looked up at me with a smile as the lights in the club came up at 2am. ‘I’ll Fly with You’ By Gigi D’Astano was slowly fading in the background as Jenny and Julie returned to our booth with Mustafa’s friends. Their beautiful skins glistening with dance-floor sweat. ‘Lets blow this joint!’ Julie suggested and we all poured out onto the sidewalk. Someone suggested food and the next thing we knew, we were all squeezed into a booth at Nifty Fifties sharing pancakes, French fries and milkshakes. Everyone was getting along and none of us wanted the night to end.

Mustafa remained his chivalrous self, opening doors for my friends, picking up the check and then even driving my friends to their car.
‘Come on I’ll drop you off at your Khala’s.’ He offered.
‘Oh you don’t have to; the girls can drop me off.’ I answered.
‘Don’t be silly. There is no way I’m leaving my friend’s sister on the streets of Philly at 4 in the morning.’
‘Yeah you should protect me from creepy desi guys who send me free drinks.’ I joked.

As my friends drove away, I got into Mustafa’s car, admiring the streets of Philly which looked pristine as we zoomed across town to Khala1’s place. We talked the entire way and it was funny how I could now have a serious, grown-up conversation with Mustafa bhai. He also introduced me to an enchanting song in his car called ‘Longing’ from Nusrat Fateh Ali and Michael Brook’s album Night Song.
‘I hope I can trust you and that my brother wont be finding out about my drinking and partying?’ I laughed.
‘Oh don’t worry and you better not do the same either. I’m already the black sheep in your family after I broke off the engagement with Saks. I don’t want them hearing all about my hitting on younger girls in clubs.’
‘Done’ I raised my pinky ‘It will be our secret.’
Mustafa too raised his pinky finger too and laughed ‘Secret!’

We hugged goodbye and I could see him laughing at me as I pulled out a sweatshirt from a potted plant to wear before sneaking in. I crept into my room and immediately dropped on the bed to fall asleep. I was exhausted and it had been another fun night with my best girlfriends. It was also funny how I had reconnected with Mustafa Bhai so randomly. I returned to my semester after that weekend and resumed the perfect, prime life. I didn’t really think I was going to run into Mustafa again for another decade, if at all…

…Or so I thought!

To be continued…

Going Home…to memories!!!

“We’ll fast forward to a few years later…
No one knows except the both of us…
And I have honored your request for silence…
And you’ve washed your hands clean of this…

Just make sure you don’t tell on me… especially to members of your family
We best keep this to ourselves and not tell any members of our inner posse…”
(Alanis – Hands Clean)

Why Yes!

The song plays on a loop in my laptop. Five in the morning. The house is silent. Everyone is asleep. I sit in my childhood room, as the glistening streak of daylight strokes across my Islamabad sky. Painting into vision, broad strokes of memories, both good and bad. A mug of doodh patti placed next to the computer; carefully prepared by me (a common activity back in NY, but an idea which will now amuse Jajee Baba). Jajee Baba is the cook who watched me grow; inept, sheltered and incapable of lifting a finger on my own. He, now witnesses my independence, uncertain of whether to smile with pride or smirk with ironic bafflement. Alanis’s lyrics continue to croon me back towards memories. The same way I am reminded of my past when I sip that distinct taste of Tapal’s homegrown patti vs Jackson-Heights-purchased teabags. The same rush of memories, redolent with the teenage aroma of my room. Four walls with posters of Boyzone still tacked on carefully. Teenage secrets buried in its walls, its pillows and plastered in its crevices. Transporting me back to the past. A room, once and still my own. A peaceful haven for the rebel I thought I was. Time for a cigarette break!

And now I’m back. I sat and ashed my cigarette out of the same windowsill where I spent years guiltily seated with Alisha, Afia and even Peanut surreptitiously sharing cigarettes and joints. Now I no longer hide the evidence. The gray of smoke conspicuously wriggles its way across the same room…and even escapes from beneath the door. My bad habits are no longer a secret. Memories, memories and more memories. Why? Why so sudden, why already? I’m jet-lagged and I want to sleep. But the minute I rest my head on the pillow, recollections of a forgotten past replay in my head. Over, over and over. Some good, some bad…yet both stimulate too much to allow slumber.

With memories, my head spins. All because of that damn dinner I was subjected to last night. I knew it was a bad idea, the minute it was suggested. And I never should have relented. Usually I need a few days on my own before I can face all the people from my past. But Ma, she never listens. Dragged to a stupid family dinner where memories greeted me right at the door like the forceful rush of a waterfall. Splashing me in the face, soaking me with guilt. Too late now, this Pandora’s box will close back on its own sweet time. So this month, as much as I would love to write about an interesting and juicy escapade from a bad one-night stand, this column will serve more of a catharsis for myself than entertainment for you. Feel free to skip until next month!

Readers when you email me this time, tell me about your cousins! Interesting concept, don’t you think? Those of you who have enjoyed a good relationship with your cousins are truly blessed. The perfect balance between friends and family. Unfortunately, I never had such a relationship. Though I always wanted to. For me cousins have always stood for three names; Shabana, Shumaila and Sakina. The cousins who once rejected me! Regrette rien! But the funny thing is that as a very young girl I neither imagined nor aspired to be an iconoclastic harlot living in the Bronx on my own. In fact, when I was very young, I wanted nothing more but to be a nice little girl who would have a nice arranged marriage, lots of kids and then spend her life discussing baby diapers with the likes of cousins such as Shabana, Shumaila and Sakina. Good thing it never happened, of course. But it’s the crowd I thought I belonged in. And the harder I tried to fit in, the more I was alienated from the seedha saadha click. Queen bees exist not just in the pristine walls of English medium high schools. A woman’s worst enemy, will always be…another woman.

Because I was never accepted by this ‘shareef’ crowd…I decided to cross over to the taboo crowd that my cousins had only read about in books and watched in movies. A crowd with intimidating infamies yet the rebels and prodigals accepted me and gave me the self-esteem that I have today. It was my sweetest revenge against what I deliberately referred to as the ‘middle class’ in front of Shabana only because that word, I soon discovered was my cousins jugular and eventual defeat. Not one to sound like an ignorant elitist but in this instance I retaliated by reminding those same cousins who once mocked me of the chains of mediocrity they were bound to and what I now could mock and make fun of. But the truth is, that though I may have given off airs of a girl who pitied their boring lives, only you know …that it was a life I had once tried hard to have.

When Ma told me last night that a distant relative was having a dinner party at their house, I tried my best to flake. Not only was I jet lagged but it was just too early in my trip to meet people I would much rather avoid or strategically encounter in slow doses. But as my mothers pleas grew more and more desperate, I soon knew I was cornered.
‘Everyone will be there, Shabana and Sakina are visitng with their husbands…they will be so happy to see you.’
‘Ma…you act like we’re friends. Those girls and I have never had anything to say to each other.’
‘You can be such a snob sometimes, Padash. They’re such nice girls. Sakina always asks about you. She has always wanted to be your friend.’
‘Well they had their chance…its too late now!’

Sigh! If only Ma knew the whole story. I’m not even sure if Sakina knows the whole story. But pretty much, that’s the way the world works. Be nice to them and they treat you like dirt. Make them feel like dirt…they want to be your friend. Why do we all suffer from Stockholm Syndrome? By 9pm, I was seated in the backseat of my parents car like a kid. Dressed in a sleeves white lace kurta, red bull in hand and dreading the superficial niceties I would have to summon just to stomach some of these people.

No sooner had I walked in that I was checked out hard-core, visually undressed and made love to by a 70 year old…woman. Yes my friends…here in Pakistan, you’re hit on more by mothers of eligible bachelors than the bachelors themselves. Not too different than the looks we often get by construction workers that whistle at our legs or fat wall street losers who haven’t made love to their wives or had an affair in years. I see her scrutinize me and beam at me warmly. I smile back and look forward to the change in her more than cordial disposition when she find outs that I’m not really as young as she thinks. As she makes her way to a mutual acquaintance who will then oblige her investigation of me, I am immediately greeted just as flirtatiously by a slightly balding male specimen who I aptly deduce as ‘Taroo Aunty’s’ son. We exchange smiles and I have barely sipped the ‘cole drink’ offered to me when he makes his way and begins to converse in a rehearsed American accent complete with forced rolls of his tongue and pronouncing his t’s with an added ‘th’. I patronize!

Biodata: He works in San Diego doing IT. How avant garde of him! We discuss the difference between the East and the West Coast. I tell him, I’m not one of those die hard New Yorkers who swear by the City only because the world expects me to. Yet the West has a very strawberry shortcake feel to it, which would also drive me insane. San Francisco excluded of course! He seems impressed by my career and independence. Of course he brings up Broadway when I mention the Big Apple and seems enthused that I have seen a few plays, read a book or two and seen the bare minimum of Indy movies at the Paris to deem myself a pseudo intellectual trophy wife. He proudly shares that he has seen the Lion King musical, Read DaVinci Code or Outliers and watched Slumdog Millionaire. Homeboy is really breaking ground here!

I have barely finished my drink – hoping it was spiked by now – when his mother begins to hover around us like a moth to a flame. The worry and concern in her eyes is as axiomatic as her son’s bulge through his pants. Noticeable yes, wondrous nah! She has probably just discovered that I am 30 years old. Now she desperately tries hard to distract her own 30 year old offspring away from this old cougar. All quite amusing, yet I smile as I excuse myself to go mingle.
‘My local number is on the back’ he pulls out a business card and I puke just a little ‘Let’s get together in the States but I’m here for a few weeks also just like yourself. Maybe we can see what Islamabad has to offer.’
I grew up here you duffer, it has a lot to offer me. How quickly they seem to forget the day they boarded the plane out of this country in tight stonewashed jeans, white sneakers, a fanny pack with their green passport, a mullet and moustache. Your accent doesn’t fool me baldie, once a FOB, always a FOB! Applies to the best of us!

An hour after I have arrived at the dinner, in walks Shabana with her husband and three kids in tow. She is three times the size of when I last saw her yet interestingly she looks exactly how she had imagined her future to unravel. I purse my lips when she slowly makes her way towards me.
MUST REMEMBER TO BE FAKE! I repeat over and over to myself.
‘Hello Padash’ She greets me ‘Sakina told me you were in town. How long are you here for?’
‘Just a few weeks.’
‘Aur, how’s America?’
‘Job kar rahee ho?
‘Buhat mazay kar rahee ho gee, hamay tu bhool hee gayee.’
And then, silence. Sure she has made an effort. I just cant find the motivation to do the same. My eyes are probably glazing over at this point because I’m sleepy…or just not interested.
‘Excuse me, I’m gonna go look for some caffeine.’
‘Haan…you must be jet-lagged. Baad may gup shup kartay hain.’
Yeah right!

Begin Memory: When I was young, I wanted nothing more than to be friends with Shabana and Shumaila. During the holidays when we would go to my father’s side of the family, everyone assumed that since all the girls were the same age…we would instantly become best friends. Much to my dismay it never happened. The harder I tried to befriend my prettier cousins the more they mocked me, avoided me and often ridiculed me for my braces, my glasses and my weight. I would still follow them around trying to understand their conversations…not completely oblivious to the fact that they had code names for me and would often make fun of me while I sat right next to them. I remember when my father once found me crying in a corner because of them. He told me to be strong.
‘Remember there is always something you can have that they cant…just find it and then you wont need them anymore. They will come running after you then.’
Golden words of advice. Advice I followed. Just in a roundabout way.

After I befriended Alisha and found my own niche of burger infidels, I discovered that I had become part of a crowd that these cousins could only be intimidated by. My reputation in the family quickly spread like wildfire of how I had become a ‘Patakhee’…a disparaged ‘Ameer larkee’. I preferred that much more than being thought of as a fat loser. The few times I would then meet my cousins, they found me completely changed. No longer shy, I would then be rude and snooty. I would remind them that I found their lives to be boring and mundane in comparison to what I was now experiencing. If they ever came over, I would smirk at their attempts at conversation and then leave them to go off in a car with Alisha or Peanut, never inviting them along as they sat in my drawing room. Even when I spent the summer in Karachi with my brother, I spent my nights partying with friends and if they were ever over, I treated them like insignificant bystanders because truly by then…that was what they had become to me. End Memory.

Dinner was served at 11. Yes….my eyes were bloodshot by then. As I nibbled through the entrees and Shabana watched me being wooed by baldie, I hoped for sleep instead. Then Sakina walked in with her husband; Shabana’s younger sister.


My relationship with Saks is very different than Shabana. She was never really mean to me but by the time we really got to our teens, I had already become the notorious patakhee. Saks in fact admired my wild lifestyle and was almost tantalized by it. Though she was two years older than me, I heard she often tried to emulate me. Yet because of Shabana, I never ever gave that poor girl the time of day.

At dinner last night she looked absolutely beautiful. As always. Stunning in a peach sari she sauntered in with her husband in tow. He was pleasant-looking in a ‘shareef’ and chubby sort of way but no where near as handsome as the man she once loved. The same man I once loved. I watch the sisters talk for a few minutes and then Sakina’s face lights up when she sees me.
‘Padash’ she exclaims excitedly and I am always shocked by her enthusiasm towards me ‘I heard you were in town! Such a nice surprise.’
‘Yeah I just got here a day ago…still a little jet-lagged.’
‘Yes, we got in a few days ago ourselves, you must have heard I moved to Qatar after I got married.’
‘Yeah Ma mentioned. Do you guys ever make it to the States?’
‘No but I would love to’ she smiles back ‘I keep telling Hassan I really want to see New York. It seems so amazing in movies.’
‘It has its moments.’
‘What about you…why don’t you ever stop in Qatar on your way home. You must.’
‘Maybe next year.’
Another awkward silence. But this one is different. Much more loaded. I always detest the guilt I feel when I meet Sakina now. The feeling of defeat yet being made to feel like a victor through her gaze. We stare at each other raising only safe and euphemistic questions yet hoping for answers to secrets only we share…and one other. Memories we have both tried hard to forget.
From her eyes she wants to ask me if I am still in touch with Mustafa. Yet her new husband and her new life stands just a few feet away from us.
Funny thing is, that I want to ask her the same question.
We stand and stare wondering which one of us is more victorious after all. Who ended up being luckier? The single one or the married one? Neither of us would ever really know. If anything we both feel defeated. She may wish to see the world on her own as a progressive woman of today. But then I wonder if she is luckier; finally married and settled. We will never know and as people around us begin to get curious (i.e Shabana,) we curve our lips into another smile, a gentle kiss planted on each other’s cheeks, plans made for coffee which will never be kept and then go our separate ways.

‘Hey, do you still have that song I gave you?’ I ask.
‘Hands Clean by Alanis! Absolutely.’
‘Do you still listen to it?’
‘Nah…haven’t heard it in years.’ she lies and I know it from her face.
‘What about you?’
‘Well I don’t have the CD anymore, I gave it to you remember…’
‘No, I’m talking about the Nazia Hassan song I gave you that day?’
‘Oh that song? I remember. I don’t even know where that CD is anymore.’ I lie also. I know exactly where it is.
Its still carefully placed on a special rack of memories in my apartment in the Bronx. Right next to the CD with ‘Hands Clean’ by Alanis.

In code words we speak, and unearth answers and some form of closure at such awkward and rare meetings. Alas, we will forever have this awkward bond amongst each other. A bond called Mustafa. A bond we try to forget and then try to remember.

Dinner was barely finished when I informed my mother that I couldn’t stay up any longer. Luckily Ma obliged my request immediately and after long, drawn-out goodbyes where we declined the host’s request to taste her ‘Swedish’ we exited the dinner party. Baldie reminded me to call him because he will be very bored the next few days. His mother scorns at his plea. I have half a mind to wink at her. On the way home, I fall asleep in the backseat and wake up in my room just an hour ago. Memories from last night still very fresh now all of a sudden.

It is almost 6am now. Jajee Baba will walk through the kitchen. The song by Alanis is no longer playing. Its time for another. So I youtube ‘Dil Ki Lagi’ by Nazia Hassan. A song Sakina once told me about. It reminded her of her one true love…Mustaffa. She wanted to never listen to it again. So I told her about a ‘cool, new song’ called ‘Hands Clean’ by Alanis. I just never told her it was a song that reminded me of the same man.

And yes we both probably still listen to our songs. I wonder if she is listening to them right now as well. Her husband fast asleep next to her. We may have both lost, we may have both won. As Nazia Hassan croons mellifluously in the background.

‘Dil ki lagee…kuch aur bhi…dil ko deewana karay…
Jisay ham say milna…gawara naheen…
Woh ham say mila na karay…’
(Late Nazia Hassan)

Ahoy Mate!!!

Growing up, I had always been an admirer of men in uniforms. The girl who lusted after marines in movies about shipwrecks. Not anymore. And no matter how persuasively my friends beg, I still wont go running around Manhattan during Fleet Week hoping to kiss a Skipper. For all I care, they can just go drop and play dead. Don’t worry, it will all make sense by the end of this column…TRUST me!

Why Yes!

Dogs! Man’s best friend…but for me, they have been nothing more than mere acquaintances. The superficial kind at that. Every now and then, I’ll flash a fake smile at them on an elevator as they grunt and groan but unlike most oafs that salivate at my feet…the four-legged kind never get far with me. Or at least that’s what I thought!

I met my male love interest in this story (more of a supporting actor, if you ask me) during my senior year of college. By then my friendship with Jenny from Compton had sailed south, so savior came in the form of an older and Busty Italian woman who lived in town. Gina was a thirty-something who swore like sailor (Ugh that simile was not intended…you will realize later why) and a visceral desire to be cultured even though she had barely left our college town but for a few times to sightsee….in New Jersey! On a wild night out at Sparrows (the local dive bar in town) I was busy dancing with my sorority sisters to Shania offensively spat out of a jukebox when a strange woman approached me.
‘You’re beautiful…men love you don’t they? How would you like to put those good looks to some use and make a few extra bucks?”
Now let me add that in the country-bumpkin town where I slaved through my undergraduate years…anything was possible. And I’m not talking about just mullets, incest and toothless grins. But before I could even pretend to look appalled at such a job offer (notice I said pretend), the woman cackled her signature laugh and added ‘Calm down Mama-Sita…aint asking you to sell your good stuff…just wanna know if you would like to bartend at my next party.’
With that, she sandwiched her business card in my hand and disappeared in the smoky crowd of the pub as quickly as she had arrived.
‘Oh Em Jee….she was like ewww tots lesbionic on you!’ A sorority sister crept up behind me. But never one to decline an opportunity to explore a potential intriguing situation, I pushed the card back in my pocket where other numbers of mullets and toothless grins had been collected throughout the night.

Turned out, Gina was a local event planner and in a town like this…it didn’t take much to impress. You could festoon a room with crepe paper buntings or have the entrees catered by Popeye’s and clients would think they were attending a glamorous gala. When I finally did call Gina…she was definitely an interesting character which as you know is a friendship prerequisite for me. She informed me that she was planning a party that weekend for a local group of military veterans. Old rich farts with retired money and ‘limp youknowwhats’…was how she described her clients.
‘I pay you a flat 200 and whatever you make in tips is yours to keep….which can be way more than what I pay you but it all depends on how well you work the crowd!’
Easy cash in college, an interesting experience. Why NOT?

On Friday night, I showed up to work in a pair of camouflage pants (borrowed conveniently from a gay friend), a white wife beater/Titi banyaan (borrowed from a frat guy) a dog-tag around my neck and a green bandanna on my head that I had found lying around my dorm room. In hopes of a few extra tips, I made sure my body was well oiled and shiny! Gina seemed pleased with the result. I had also warned her that my bartending skills were as advanced as Meera’s English…in fact non existent. I had never even mixed a drink in my life let alone gone to bartending school.
‘Mama you look good enough to eat” She laughed ‘You think these old farts care about umbrellas in their drinks? Just pop open a bottle of beer, hand it over with a seductive smile, make sure to pour more alcohol than chasers….and there’s your bartending degree right there. By the end of the night, they will be good and drunk and your tips will be worth a mortgage.’
Golden advice that I would live by if my career in advertising ever fails.

True to her word, I was making lots of money when the party began. The hungry oogled attention from the men was kind of flattering too. Yes, I had officially reduced years of bartending school to simply pouring grey goose in a glass and handing it over with a wink. The tipsy men would then suck in their gutts and narrate war tales of their bravery or the time they passed through South Asia or the Middle East. ‘Some of the best looking women I have seen, I tell ya.’
‘Why thank you’ I would reply with a carefully rehearsed bat of an eyelid.

The youngest of the bunch was a ruggedly handsome man in his mid thirties. Dark hair, a Jackie Shroff moustache (my weakness as you know) and BIG hands. What more could a girl want? As he chatted away with his older comrades, leaning against the wall, he eyed me voraciously from across the room. A Corona cocked on his waist and a leather jacket pegged on a finger and draped with masculine bravado on his back. Not gonna lie, I was beginning to like this new job, fringe benefits and all. Who would have thought that such a handsome man could grace his presence at such an antiquated affair. Our flirtation grew heavier and heavier as the night unrolled and our stolen looks or subtle smiles kept getting flirtier and flirtier.

By the end of the night even though the room had thinned out, my Fauji # 1 remained glued on his spot moving only to huskily order a drink and then discreetly brush his fingers against mine. By the last hour, we found ourselves engaged in a flirtatious conversation and before the end of the party, we had exchanged emails. It turned out that he lived almost 2 hours away from me and thus an immediate date wasn’t really possible. Our courtship was then reduced to heavy email flirting which got quite graphic at some points but at other times he would excitedly type about a new puppy he had just bought from a pound and how they were enrolling into dog school together. We kept the cyber flame alive for a while but inevitably, it fizzled out because of our distance.

A few months later, Gina and I had decided to go clubbing in another city in hopes of finding more interesting men than the vapid mundane duds we were often stuck with in town. After hopping through a few bars, we landed in a dive with Karaoke and pathetic drink specials. We were almost grabbing our coats to head out when in walked Fauji # 1. No sooner had he entered that our eyes locked immediately. We greeted each other excitedly grinning from ear to ear at such a perfect surprise.
‘That’s the guy from your army vet party’ I nudged Gina with my shoulder ‘The one I’d been talking to for a while!’
‘Well then sweetie you need to do your part for this country…do it for Uncle Sam!’
You now realize why I loved this crazy Gina! Who wouldn’t?

Fauji made his way over to us and immediately began to buy us both drinks. Conversation was quite fun and in fact it was almost endearing to watch him boast lovingly about his new cherished puppy. We gushed at his sensitive side and towards the end Gina threatened to terminate our friendship if I didn’t go home with this kind gentleman.
‘They put their lives on the line for us...its the least you can do! Wait I forgot…you’re not even American…well then think of it as infiltrating the enemy camp!’

So off I went to infiltrate. When Fauji and I landed at his house, I was impressed with how tastefully decorated his abode was for a bachelor pad. But no sooner had I entered the living when a giant Yeti pounced at me forcing me to emit the loudest shriek. The Fauji smirked as he calmed the ferocious beast ‘Down boy…that’s Padash…daddy likes her!’
Ok…so time-out… when he was going on and on about this beloved puppy of his, I was imagining more of a daschund or something compact enough to fit into Paris Hilton’s purse. This gargantuan monster however, could be the stunt double for King Kong…or Sunil Shetty.
‘I see you’ve met Sailor’ he gushed ‘you’re not going to scare away daddy’s guest are you Sailor? You’re a good boy right Sailor…down boy…down boy…we like Padash…she’s pretty isn’t she?’
Yeah, yeah, yeah…the baby talk was all cute and dandy but I grew up in a country were dogs were mostly watchdogs and kept OUTSIDE the house…and in locked CAGES! Go ahead call me inhumane…but I believe in humans rights before animal rights!

After our nightcap, I was just about ready to kill that stupid dog. As we made out on the couch the Fauji had the audacity to stop and smirk ‘I was told never to trust a girl who keeps her eyes open while kissing.’
My eyes are open you big BUFFOON because I am searching around the room for a knife or better yet a Kalashnikov to silence your damn pet. But don’t worry, I said none of that out loud.
‘You ok?’ He asked when he could clearly tell that I couldn’t reciprocate his attempts for physical intimacy. Some Ritalin for your dog would be nice, I wanted to say but decided on being the solution to the problem myself. ‘Why don’t we take the party to your bedroom?’
‘I thought you would never ask’ he purred in his dreamy voice.
Honestly, I just wanted to make a run for our lives like they did in Jurassic Park (all three movies).

Now, I had done plenty of threesomes with Jenny in college BUT this bed (and my threshold) was not strong enough for bestiality. There was room for only one bitch in this room, and I was not going down without a fight! While my Fauji undressed, I stood and stared at his ‘little puppy’ scurrying around the room like Godzilla preventing an invasion of his kingdom.
‘You don’t plan on letting him stay here do you?’ I asked uneasily.
‘Is that a problem?’
Umm Hello? Would you trust Zardari with your bank account? I hate it when men ask the obvious? I mean I fully understand that once upon a time my date had been deployed in remote areas for years on end but did he not know that doggy-style doesn’t necessarily actually involve a real dog! Plus what he thought was so nonchalant was probably illegal in some states and probably only an acquired taste in Europe.

He took the hint from my expression and requested Sailor to excuse us. Sailor resisted with pleading grunts and Fauji’s eyes melted as he too cajoled me to relent. Hey, I’m not the villain here and stop acting like I just asked you to stake a knife through your only child’s chest. I just stood there with my arms folded. I now needed a trump card to win this argument, so I decided to strategically peel off my shirt. One last whimper and Sailor was out the room. Door locked.
‘He’s going to howl all night and wake up the neighbors.’ Fauji remarked.
‘Well we just have to make sure to drown out his noise with our own.’

All that trouble and buildup for such an anti-climactic performance. Lets just say our Fauji wasn’t the best in the sheets. I’m not going to lie, I had come with some high hopes, I mean after all, when what he had described as a ‘little’ puppy ended up being Old Yeller on Steroids, I could only hope it was a good sign of things to come. Oh but alas, Paris Hilton and her Prada would have still managed to find a Chihuahua in this house. That and the fact that Cujo’s spawn was diabolically scratching the door the whole time, and dog howling isn’t really romantic background music to make love to. After the grand finale, which came quicker than a speeding ticket on a highway in this economy, I rolled over and went to bed. By now, even Fauji was quite disappointed at my disappointment and knew that no diplomacy could ever bring world peace to this situation. So, he too threw in his towel, unlocked the door and invited the dog into…the BED!
‘Are you kidding me!’ I threw away the sheets.
‘I’m sorry’ He replied sheepishly ‘But he always sleeps in my bed. He will bring this house down if I don’t let him.’
I have never been much of a cuddler but I thought you men appreciated that about me! But at that point there was nothing I could do. I was hundreds of miles away from home in a strange man’s bed whose PTSD was now being tested by two biotches and I clearly was the other woman in this marriage. So without much of an option, I fully acknowledged that if I were to live this life of going home with strangers, I was not allowed to be surprised if every now and then I then found myself being spooned by Lassie. I threw my arms up in despair and tried my best to fall asleep.

Trust me dear readers when I say that this was one of the most challenging nights of my life. I lay there petrified, sleepy as hell but each time I managed to doze off for even a second, a slight move would remind me that the hirsute fellow behind me had four legs instead of two. I desperately counted the minutes to sunrise and promised myself to lead the life of a pious, celibate, recycled virgin when I got back to campus. I was never going to fornicate with a strange man ever again. We all know how long that lasted! LOL!

Fortunately, soldiers have an innate habit of waking up fresh at the crack of dawn. So luckily my hours in bed with a dog and his pet only lasted a few, excruciating hours – though the hours were comparable to getting a root canal during an earthquake. I jumped out of the bed, showered and was ready in less than 15 minutes. It took another 20 to get out of the house because Sailor had to be served his Kibbels for breakfast. Two very silent and awkward hours were spent in the car where – and I kid you not – a country station decided to play ‘Who let the Dogs Out’ by Baha Men. What next? An Eponymous medley by Snoop Dog.

I couldn’t be more happy to get home. The uncomfortable goodbye that usually follows a bad one-night stand seemed to have happened more with the canine grunting in the backseat of the jeep than the guy driving. Later that day, after I had managed to catch up on my sleep and scrub myself endlessly in the shower, I met up with Gina for our Sunday ritual of a 3pm brunch at a local diner. I narrated my entire night to Gina who spurted her milkshake around our booth in hysterical fits while I cringed and prayed for amnesia. After an awkward few minutes of silence, Gina’s eyes lit up while nibbling on a fry.
‘Padash’ she excitedly shared her Eureka ‘I hate to tell you this but you just tricked with a dog.’
‘I did NOT!’ I retorted tossing a fry furiously at her.
‘Well did you or did you not spend the night with a dog?’ she inquired in her most lawyerly voice.
‘Well…yes but…’
‘So you agree that you did sleep with a dog last night?’
‘Yes… but…’
‘Did you at any point feel the dog lick or nibble your ear?’
‘Yeah but…’
‘Can the same be said for the owner of the dog?’
‘No, the man didn’t even know the word foreplay existed?’
‘What was the man’s name anyway…’
‘Umm…umm….’ Ok dear readers to my defense, I’m terrible with names.
‘And the name of the dog?’
‘Sailor’ I answered in seconds and that’s when my eyes widened with shock and disgust ‘Oh my God Gina…I did just sleep with a DOG!’

Some people need years of therapy to get over a trauma such as this. Me? I just share it with you all. Sorry guys I really needed to get it out of my system! And like a drunk in a recovery support group, I can almost hear the chowk room chorus with ‘Thanks for Sharing!’

We usually hope never to run into one-night stands ever again – there is a reason they only last for a night. Wrong! Sometimes and especially with luck like mine, we bump into them at the most awkward of moments. This situation was no exception either. Almost a year later, Gina and I had decided to spend a weekend camping. It was singles weekend at a campground and we were enjoying the pool under the sun and weighing our options from the eclectic array of the opposite sex.
‘Well so much for hoping we don’t run into any ex’s this weekend.’ Gina commented as she returned from the restroom and stretched out on the plastic chaise longue next to me.
‘Did you run into Donald?’ I was sincerely worried for Gina because Donald was an ex who had left her severely devastated.
‘Nope, unfortunately its one of yours.’
And then I heard a familiar bark. As I pushed up, I saw none other than Sailor galloping towards us. We stared awkwardly at each other for a few seconds but then we handled the encounter quite maturely. It was best not to engage in any small bark, I mean talk. The owner of the dog was not far behind but to this day, I can’t for the life of me remember his actual name. As for Sailor…we tried to steer clear of each other for the rest of the weekend. Besides, he got enough female attention from single bikini clad women all weekend who stopped to coo over ‘his cute furry-ness’. And if you’re wonder, no, I wasn’t jealous. Some even followed him back to spend a night with the owner…I definitely wasn’t jealous of that either. I just chose to be mature and look the other way.

What can I say! Men are dogs… I just slept with one!