Category Archives: Salaam Namaste

Sometimes I get the feeling that I’m standing in the wrong line

Having ordered and paid for a caramel pecan cream pie at Baker’s Square last week, I was idly checking out the tattoos on the young man named Brian who was boxing up and bagging my purchase. Suddenly, Brian glanced at me across the counter and asked, “Do you know what sundar means?”

“Sorry, what was that?”

Sundar. Do you know what it means?”

“It sounds familiar, but I really have no idea. What language is that?”

“It’s Hindi,” he said.

“Oh, well – “

” – I was going to impress you with my Hindi,” he added, smiling. “But I guess it’s not working.”

“I guess not,” I said, smiling back. “I don’t speak Hindi.”

“But your English is great,” he said magnanimously, handing me the bagged pie across the counter. “You don’t even have an accent or anything.”

“Well, I would hope not,” I said, a little annoyed but still smiling politely. “I was born in California.”

“Yeah, it’s perfect.”

“American born and bred, what can I say,” I replied wryly, turning to leave. “Have a beautiful day.”

Later, while cutting the pie in Somayya’s kitchen, I asked, “Hey, what does sundar mean? The dude at Bakers Square was asking me, but I had no idea.”

“I think it means ‘beautiful.’ He was totally hitting on you, Yazzo.”

“You think everyone’s hitting on me. You needa stop with that business.”

“You’re just oblivious all the damn time. And I think sundar really does mean ‘beautiful.’ “

“What a stupid boy, then,” I said derisively. “Telling me how great my English skills are, is not the way to impress me.”

Seriously, people, get with the program. Also, for the Hindi-speaking Blogistanis: what DOES sundar mean?

As an aside, a few of my friends have been teasing me lately about how my “gorgeously drama-free life” was shaken up recently for a day or so. Everyone who knows me knows how much I love my lack of drama, and those few whom I’d confided in took great pleasure in gleefully throwing my drama-free mantra back in my face. Over the phone the other morning, I was updating Somayya on the situation, and explaining why I wasn’t going to take advantage of this opportunity, why I didn’t think it was right for me, and all the off-the-top-of-my-head reasons why it just wouldn’t work.

Somayya overrode my objections with an evisceratingly sharp retort: “Oh, shut up, Yazzo. Just shut UP.”

“I’m just sayin’,” I said lamely.

From the other end of the line came the impatiently blunt, cuttingly clear voice of the one person who knows me best: “All you’re saying is a bunch of BULLSHIT.”

See? I love this kid.

Can I get your hand to write on

Year-round shoes of choice
Year-round shoes of choice, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

A couple of weeks ago, I went out to dinner with the very few friends from high school whom I like enough to engage in such activities with. Remind me to tell you stories about why I disliked high school, and why my fifth-year reunion last December was a ludicrous waste of time.

At the end of our dinner, as we stepped outside the restaurant and began saying our goodbyes before heading in our individual directions, the topic of shoes somehow came up in conversation. I, of course, had to add my two cents to this discussion, so I remarked that I can’t stand to wear real shoes, even during winter.

N looked down at the requisite flip-flops on my feet, and said understandingly, “Yeah, but, see, it’s part of your culture.”

I wonder if my face betrayed the disgust I felt. A lifetime spent combating ignorance and explaining who I am and why I do the things I do, and yet it still came down to such inane observations from people I thought knew me. “My culture? You think I wear flip-flops because of my culture?”

“Well, yeah, don’t you?”

I laughed, because the whole exchange was so ridiculous I couldn’t even believe I was making this clarification: “Buddy, I wear flip-flops because my feet feel freakin’ claustrophobic in real shoes, alright?”


I came home and shook my head a few more times over the absurdity. The next day, after a morning spent shaking off nagging feelings of deja vu, I remembered bits of a poem I had written last year, and the part that comes back to haunt me is this:

You will stop laughing at me
For wearing flip-flops almost
When you understand that
My ancestors wore sandals
Across all seasons
Because they couldn’t afford real shoes to cover
Their brown feet
As they toiled in the fields.

And you will nod in understanding and slip off
Your name-brand
Logo’d sneakers
And we’ll sit on a sunny plot of grass,
Barefoot together,
Squinting at the sky.

Well. Never let it be said that long-lost high school friends don’t know me. But just to clarify, I really wear flip-flops only because of the claustrophobia reason mentioned above.

One thing to add: Much love and gratitude and sunshine to Fathima and Ruqayyah for their beautiful emails. I will reply, but, meanwhile, thank you both for taking the time to check in – and, of course, thank you to everyone else who’s harassed me via the tagboard and comment box, too. I’m here, I’m alive, I’ve missed Blogistan. I told blurker N, who caught me on AIM the other afternoon, that you’d all stab me if you knew the number of half-written weblog entries that I’ve let sit on my computer instead of posting them as I should have been the last couple of months. So, stay tuned for stories about why I enjoy my job, about my first time at the recent ISNA convention in Chicago (and the rockstars I met!), and for musings on Lebanon and September 11th (I do nothing if not write on topics much too late, clearly).

Did I mention I missed you all? I really did, dammit, contrary to what you may think of my periodic, flaky-flake habit of abandoning you without explanation. The next round of cranberry juice is on me. Here’s to sunshine in September, rockstars.

880 South toward San Jose

In light of my recent post on personalized license plates, these plates, which I saw on my way to work this morning, are the best ones ever:


Raa dhey.
Get it?
For those who don’t, raa dhey, in various South Asian languages, translates to something like, Make way. And the driver – Desi, of course – was speeding along and switching lanes in such a haphazard, helter-skelter manner that one would think he was back in the motherland.

No day is ever wasted

Yurt at Zaytuna Institute
Yurt at Zaytuna Institute, originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

[You can check out some more Zaytuna photos from a few weeks ago here, if you are so inclined.]

I spent most of last Saturday with my sister, as we went on a manic event-hopping spree that consisted of the Birth of a Prophet program at UC Berkeley, the South Asian [INDUS] culture show also on campus, and finally the Burdah [Poem of the Cloak] recitation at Zaytuna Institute in Hayward.

[By the way, there’s a Poem of the Cloak musical, did you know? With thanks to the lovely Sumeera for telling me about this so long ago. I came across the website just now.]

The evening before, our father asked pointedly, “Don’t you think it’s strange to go to a religious program and then a culture show right afterward?”
Well…no. Not at all. Not when he raised me to love and respect and take pride in both, so that I celebrate both on a daily basis. Celebrating as a group, with hundreds of other people who feel the same way? Even more rocking, is what.

I know my sister was disappointed that the mawlid program at Berkeley was not as lively and inspiring as last year’s, and that later we didn’t even get to enjoy the entire culture show because we had to head out to Zaytuna, where we only stayed for about half an hour. The day seriously had a hit-n-run sort of feel to it.

But I don’t think Saturday was a total lost cause, though:

There was the young man rocking it up to the radio (or the music in his head?) while driving on Foothill Blvd. in Hayward. Or was that Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley? Wherever it was, he was clearly having fun, and we enjoyed watching the physical, arm-waving, head-bopping manifestation of his spazzed-out rockstar bliss.

There was the little boy named Daniel, about four years old, who lay spread-eagled on the floor where we were all seated after the mawlid program and repeatedly propped his feet against my back while I tried not to shake with laughter and scare him away.

There was the guy at the coffee shop who took my order and asked curiously, “Did you used to swim when you were young?”
“No, I can’t even swim!” I sputtered in surprise at the random question.
He laughed, and began to turn away.
“Wait,” I said, confused, “but what made you think of asking me that?”
“Oh, nothing, we were just talking about swimming.”
“Yeah, well, I still need to get with that program.”
He shook his head, smiling. “Don’t worry about it too much, you’re okay without knowing.”

There was the fact that I sat through (part of) a South Asian culture show and actually enjoyed myself, although I think my alma mater held better ones. There was the fact that I’m somewhat over the desi-phobia that initially made me flinch from attending such events. (In fact, I texted Somayya at the beginning of Saturday’s program with, I’m at the desi culture show at Cal. Remember our freshman year, when we left all early? – a mere fifteen minutes after it had started, to be precise, because we felt claustrophobic surrounded by so many South Asians and especially despised the men sitting behind us for so obviously talking smack about us in Punjabi as if we would not understand – Good times!)

There were all the beautiful people I love to see, both in Berkeley and at Zaytuna. And the gorgeous Burdah recitation. And spending most of the day with my sister.

There was the fact that I re-discovered my love for the video feature on my digital camera, and used it extensively that day. So I have videos/audios for some of the tabla and bhangra from the culture show, as well as some of the Zaytuna Burdah recitation, if anyone wants! [The videos are kinda not all that – since they’re grainy, and apparently my 12x zoom is only for photographs and not for videos, and also because I can’t sit still for lengthy periods of time so they’re kinda shaky – and at Zaytuna I just aimed straight at the carpet instead of at the sea of faces surrounding me while I was recording, so there’s nothing to see, really, but the audio part is fun in all cases, so let me know if you want me to share. Bhangra is rocking. You know you love it.]

By the way – To the person who recently searched my weblog for “Zaytuna”: I hope you found what you were looking for. In curiosity, I performed the same search myself, and came across this post I had completely forgotten about. Thank you for the inadvertent reminder towards activism and accountability.

Driving home that night, we played our own copy of the Burdah, and midway through the ride I was stung by a sharp, split-second stab of grief. Tentatively reflecting on it, much as one touches or prods a sore area to discover where physical pain originates, I finally remembered it was because I continue to subconsciously associate the Burdah with this day, just as little red cars remind me of this day and bubble bottles of this one. Driving home late at night on empty roads? Deja vu sometimes when seeing my face in the dresser mirror as I’m pinning my headwrap? Check, and check. We find the deepest, most painful memories in the most mundane things.

Still, amidst random moments of grief, there are stories like this beautiful one.

As my favorite imam says, “Every Friday is Eid. Every day is our Eid.”
As Suheir Hammad writes, Affirm life.
Or, as I would say, Stand in the sunshine and dance, if you know how to. -Someday, I will learn, and join you, too.
Sing, even if you can’t really carry a tune in a bucket; if you sound like an eight-year-old boy with a perpetually stuffy nose, then so be it. -I’ll throw caution to the winds, and chime in; we can be eight-year-old boys together.

Maybe it’s all about what the coffee shop guy was saying after all: We’re okay even without knowing. Might as well quit worrying and just live it up anyway.

Hope for recovery

Brick walkway leading up to our front porch
Originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Islamic Relief has recently been sponsoring a series of six dinners around the United States, in order to raise funds for continuing support for the victims of last October’s earthquake in South Asia:

The earthquake which devastated the South Asian subcontinent in October has affected millions. Islamic Relief is working hard on the ground and around the world in order to ensure that the 3,000,000 people left homeless are not forgotten. Please join us to help us in our efforts to provide sustained rebuilding and rehabilitation projects to a devastated population. [Rebuilding Lives, Restoring Hope]

If you were following this weblog towards the end of 2005, you know the earthquake is something I felt quite emotional about.

So when my sister forwarded the email about last Saturday’s fundraising dinner in the South Bay and I sent it to my father with a note asking, “Daddy khana, would you be interested in going to this event?”, I was gratified to receive an instant email back: “Absolutely! Let’s go.”

At the dinner, I was impressed by the rundown of Islamic Relief’s work, their speeches and powerpoint presentations and video footage and the 4-star rating accorded them by Charity Navigator (the largest charity evaluator in the U.S.), and their overall professionalism – but mainly I was impressed by their passion for what they do. The speakers I heard that evening – not only the Islamic Relief people, but also local community leaders and activists – have dedicated their lives to helping people and making the world a more beautiful, safer, respectful place, through various efforts. The least the rest of us can do is support such causes from the safe distance of the secure homes and comfortable lifestyles we inhabit.

In all the speeches about the earthquake, and about giving and making sacrifices in solidarity and in compassion, the part that struck me the most forcefully was when one of the brothers up there said, “We all set aside money sometimes, here and there, thinking we’ll use it later in the year, for something or other. I know you’ve saved your money for something important.”

He paused, then added quietly, pointedly, “Maybe this is important.”

Someone later mentioned, “Alhamdulillah [all praise is for God], the winter in South Asia was not as harsh as we had thought it might be: there was only three feet of snow, as opposed to the six feet we had been expecting,” and I sat there remembering that, in the two days prior to the dinner as I hung out with the ALL STAR CRACKSTAR SQUAD (killer phrase trademarked/copyrighted/all that drama by 2Scoops, and, don’t worry, you’ll hear more about the hanging out sessions later), all I had done every time we ventured outdoors was scrunch up my face like a disgruntled five-year-old and whine, “Why is it raining, dammit?”

I was stunned. Three feet of snow? I’m so sick of winter, I can’t even handle three drops of rain. Clearly, some necessary perspective is in order.

If you’re in Chicago, Tampa Bay, FL, or Dallas, the event’s still on. Take a couple of hours out of your evening, and go.

Re. the dinner I was at last weekend

– Why are most of the Karachi people I’ve come across so damn snooty? Someone please explain. And I know it’s not just me having an inferiority complex, because I am Pathan and thus superior to everyone, that just goes without saying. What? You don’t agree? Don’t make me stab you. As they say in Rambo III, “May God deliver us from the venom of the Cobra, teeth of the tiger, and the vengeance of the Afghan” [with thanks to Z for the link and laughs]. Yeah, I’m quoting Rambo now. The quality of weblog posts is really improving.

– To the young couple with the toddler: He’s an adorable boy and I want to pinch his cheeks and take him home with me. But when he’s running wildly around the room with a cheeky grin, you taking him aside and feeding him sugar-dripping gulab jamun and a glass of coca-cola is really not the way to get him settled. That kid needs to be on junk food lockdown, dammit.

Yesterday I got lost in the circus

Four things:

ONE. I finally got a chance to watch Rang De Basanti yesterday afternoon, over at Naz Cinema in the South Bay. I thought it was rocking. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much during a movie. Because our huge group was practically the only audience, I got to laugh as much – and as loudly – as I wanted. And, damn, do I laugh loudly. Is that something I need to be working on?

On second thought, screw that. I’m 25 years old; I refuse to change my loud laugh now. People will just have to start getting used to it.

Also, re. Rang De Basanti: Aamir Khan is way too much fun as usual, Kunal Kapoor is hot and I am considering marrying him when I grow up, and I was actually impressed with Alice Patten’s grasp of Hindi. If you’re way behind the times with desi films, as I always am, you really need to go see this already. Let me know what you think.

TWO. My favorite crackhead is in the Bay! I foresee lots of ice cream in the near future. Except it won’t be mango ice cream from Chinatown, don’t worry. Also, we’ll have to fit real food somewhere in there, too, since 2Scoops is my self-appointed Nutritionist Extraordinaire.

THREE. It’s supposedly 66 degrees Fahrenheit inside the house right now. Lies, all lies. My fingernails are blue with cold. Freakin’ hell, yaar.

FOUR. To continue with the disgruntlement, here’s a damn stupid question you should never ask me: “What’s your GPA [grade point average]?” What makes you think I would even consider answering that question, unless you were a prospective employer or a really, really (REALLY) close friend – of which you are neither, last time I checked. Yeah, really.

Well, I know there’s a reason to change

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As the year winds down to a close, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

Smile on your brother: The tsunami victims who are still struggling to rebuild their lives, the people devastated by the South Asian earthquake, the strangers on the street. These are just a few examples of those whose stories have deeply touched me this year. You can find dozens more, if you take a minute to look around.

I’ll put my “heartless bastard” reputation to rest for a moment and admit that this article about building orphanages in Indonesia, post-tsunami made me tear up:

What does $1 pay for in Aceh? someone asked.

“What does $1 buy here?” Alyan asked back.

“Candy!” the kids said in unison.

“In Takengon,” Alyan said, “one dollar will pay for three meals for a child.”

Her answer drew silence at first. Then one of the children said, “Let’s send more.”

[You can read more about the orphanage and Give Light at Someday I will share my tsunami poem here, if you think you can handle the scrolling involved.]

Please continue praying for the Attari family. And send some prayers for my uncle – my aunt‘s husband – who passed away recently as well.

May the year 2006 be one of beauty and blessings.

Tuesday, November 8th: Worldwide Vigils for Earthquake Victims

Today, Tuesday the 8th, is the one-month anniversary of the South Asian earthquake. Please join the global community in a worldwide vigil. It’s too soon to start forgetting – it’s practically winter, and people need our help now more than ever.

The purpose of the vigil is to:

– Donate money
– Press world leaders into action
– Bring this story to the front page
– Lead or take part in grassroots efforts

The sky knows no bounds

The sky knows no bounds
Originally uploaded by yaznotjaz.

Today is Blog Quake Day.

It is also the day that the UN is holding an international donor conference in Geneva to dicuss relief operations and aid the victims of the earthquake before a “winter without pity” sets in.

Last week, after writing this post about the October 8th earthquake that hit areas of northern Pakistan, Kashmir, India, and Afghanistan, I felt so helpless and in dire need of mental relaxation that I did what I do best: I stopped by the local park on my way home from running errands.

Getting out of my car, I glanced in the direction of the playground and realized that there were an inordinate number of adults and children present. Some kid’s birthday celebration. Not the best place for respite, after all, but my head and my heart hurt and I really, really needed the swings. I hesitated about whether to keep my sunglasses on (something I’ve never done outside the car), but then mentally shrugged. I hadn’t wanted to see people; if I kept my sunglasses on, it’d be as if they weren’t there. And if I kept ’em on, it’d be as if I blended into the background and perhaps no one would unduly wonder why this 24-year-old was venturing into the swing area. And, of course, if I cried, no one would notice. It’d be like sunglasses with superhero powers.

I slammed the car door shut, defiantly shoved the sunglasses further against my nose, and stalked across the playground, head held high, mouth tight, eyebrows furrowed, looking straight ahead. I couldn’t tell if anyone watched or not. I dropped my bag onto the sand and clambered onto a vacant swing with only a cursory glance at the giggling little girl occupying the next one over. Only when my legs were swinging high was I able to breathe deeply for the first time all day.

But even with my superhero sunglasses on and my face sternly set in a squint against impending tears, I watched people, as always. A little boy, no more than four, sat astride a tiny, training wheel-equipped bicycle and peddled happily along the concrete paths winding throughout the park, followed by his mother in the distance. I turned to watch him with a slight smile as he continued peddling behind me. Just as I did so, he turned the bike handles abruptly, upsetting his balance. Both the bike and the boy tumbled down, crookedly coming to a rest half on the concrete pathway, half on the scratchy bark that lined the playground.

I sucked in a breath and slowed down my swing, but even as I dug my toes into the sand and his mother watched from yards away with only the merest, mildest hint of concern on her face, the little boy, lying face-down at a worrisome angle on the concrete, let out an unexpected, high-pitched peal of laughter. The pain around my heart eased up a bit. I felt an answering smile on my face, and, shaking my head, watched him wriggle around, jump up to his feet, and try to raise his fallen bicycle. It took him several minutes. I quickened my swing again and marveled at the fact that children are so resilient.

It is inconceivable to me that the same sky that spills sunshine in California will be soon sending snow onto the heads of those in the mountains of Pakistan and Kashmir, that the survivors have barely had a moment to mourn the loss of their loved ones, focusing instead on digging bodies out of the rubble and trying to make it through the night. Numbed by grief and cold, they wait for aid so that they can erect tents and make it through the winter.

Like Basit, I, too, have bought a pile of used books recently, with money that could have instead gone towards relief efforts. Actually, I’ve bought quite a number of things in the past few weeks: books, numerous bags of groceries, a pair of sandals, a shirt, some earrings. And every time the register rings up my purchases, I wince and think to myself, “Okay, for every dollar I’ve just spent here, I’ll donate one towards earthquake relief.” Because that’s a lot of dollars. It’s always hard to remember that once I get home, though. Or once I wake up the next sunny morning after tossing and turning in my comfortable bed and wondering what those without winterized tents are doing.

I’ve temporarily given up music this month in deference to Ramadan, listening to nothing but Quran recitations in my car these days. And for the last eighteen days, all I’ve been doing is compulsively playing the recitation of Surah al-Zilzalah, the chapter entitled The Earthquake, on repeat. I never thought I’d be able to recite those tongue-twisting lines myself, but I’ve got the first three down by now:

Idha zulzilatil ardu zilzalaha
Wa akhrajatil ardu athqalaha
Wa qalal insanu ma laha

When the earth is shaken to her (utmost) convulsion,
And the earth throws up her burdens (from within),
And man cries (distressed): ‘What is the matter with her?’-

Think about how long these last eighteen days must have seemed for those affected by the earthquake.

DesiPundit has taken the initiative in organizing this Blog Quake movement to raise relief funds. As I mentioned previously, a small list of relief organizations is available in DesiPundit’s post. You can also directly help relief efforts by buying hella slick tshirts through Chapati Mystery.

Here are a few ideas for donations:

one: The Association for the Development of Pakistan (ADP) has a Long Term Earthquake Relief Fund, which will “fund redevelopment once the immediate needs have been met.”

two: The Edhi Foundation is “undeniably the most trusted NGO in Pakistan with a large operational network throughout the country.” They accept credit card donations through this site. If you reside in the United States, you may also mail them checks at:

Earthquake Relief in Pakistan
Bilqis Edhi Relief Foundation
4207 National St
Corona, NY 11368-2444

They are a registered charity, Tax ID 11-345067, phone number (718) 639-5120.

three: Hidaya Foundation is an organization in the Bay Area that I know well and trust. Don’t you want to help them help these children?

also: Baraka at Truth & Beauty has a creative list of ways in which you can help, and Sister Scorpion has posted everyday, practical ways in which we can cut back on our personal budgets and send the saved funds towards relief efforts. You can so do this.

The earthquake-related death toll has already hit 80,000, and will definitely reach still beyond that, as survivors in turn fall victim to the perils of cold weather, limited medical attention, and malnutrition. An entire generation of children has already been lost in many of the villages and towns rocked by the earthquake. Those people who’ve been lucky – or unfortunate – to survive are in dire need of blankets and winterized tents. In two weeks, it will begin snowing in the mountainous regions of Kashmir, and the nearly one million survivors who still have their lives to rebuild are lacking adequate shelter. A second wave of deaths has already begun.

The UN has said, in regards to this earthquake, that they have never before seen such a logistical nightmare. The photographs I’ve seen so far, and the articles I’ve perused, are breathtakingly shocking and heartbreaking. Please take a minute of your time to donate towards relief and reconstruction efforts. Help those who are struggling for relief and aid.

[Technorati tag: blog quake day]