feeling blue and how i got over it

i had been feeling blue for a while. it’s hard to be homebound and work on one’s computer all day, every day. so today, i turned on the music, loud, on my wonderboom, and cleaned the whole apartment. there is something deeply satisfying about being in motion and scrubbing. isn’t cleanliness next to godliness:)

then i put on my snow boots and drove to #lakeronkonkoma. i had no idea if it would be walkabale or not, with all the snow on the ground. lake #ronkonkoma is about 10 min from where we live. it’s the largest and deepest lake in #longisland – 92 feet at its deepest. the indigenous people of this land considered it a bottomless lake, so sacred that they wouldn’t fish in its waters. but they did perform wonderful ceremonies all around it.

i have always, since day one, felt a deep connection to lake ronkonkoma. there is something unreal about the blue of its waters and the translucent light and sky above them.

the lake was particularly moving this afternoon. the sky striated with shades of blue, grey, light-filled yellow and gentle purple hues. something delicate and liquid. the lake covered with ice. still, white, expansive. i walked in the snow and learned to keep my balance, held by the enchanting beauty around me. my eyes rejoiced.

in urdu, there is this expression ‘aankhoon ki thandak’ – the coolness of one’s eyes. those we love give us pleasure, when our eyes behold them, they provide cool relief to tired eyes. i kept thinking of this expression. my eyes too felt relaxed, not just because of the cold weather but because of the serenity the lake offered so generously.

i know all our situations are different, but if u can, go outside, walk in the snow and feel connected to the world.

salman toor at the whitney

why i came to nyc: stunning work by salman toor, born in lahore, at the whitney. his first solo exhibition: stories of queer brown men as they negotiate the distance between new york and pakistan. the expressive faces and hands in his paintings are exceptionally rendered. so many things that strike one as immediately recognizable – the turn of a head whilst sitting down for tea, the passive acceptance of extra security checks at customs and immigration, the anxiety of being questioned by pakistani cops when on a date, etc. am still here. still discovering.
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whitneymuseum #salmantoor #lahore #pakistan #newyork #newyorkcity #art #figurativepainting #oilpainting #queerbrown

Borders Can Be Borderlands

My piece in Mason Street’s Winter Issue 2021 published today.

‘It used to be that borders were formed naturally, by oceans and mountains, carved out by the physical contours of the earth’s surface. There was something poetic about these landforms, extending from foothills and valleys, to plains and plateaus, all the way to seafloors. They were shaped by wind and water erosion, pushed up by the collision of tectonic plates, forged by volcanic eruptions, sandblasted and weathered over millions of years. They were substantive, grounded in history.

The borders that came out of the crumbling of empires, in the 20th century, were different. Cartographic inventions meant to divvy up world resources and power, divorced from indigenous logic or priorities. A few sheets of stolen paper.’

More here.

a mon professeur prefere

cher monsieur maurer, it will be a while before i can fully express everything i want to say, but u left an indelible impression on my life. u believed in me more than any other teacher. u made me feel like i was destined to do important things. nothing could have meant more to me at that age, in 6th grade. it opened up the world to me, made it accessible, in spite of the racism that would crop up once in a while both inside and outside our school. i never got those othering vibes from u.

i am glad i got to meet u once, as an adult, on a visit to brussels. what a moment that was – stepping into a classroom at parc schuman, the way it used to be, u coming out of the class, recognizing me and hugging me with immense emotion. u once told my mother that everything is possible for me. i lived by those words. when i left parc schuman for lycee emile jacqmain, i came to say goodbye. as i left the school, i can still see u leaning against the door frame, saying matter-of-factly: “ne change pas.”

after we reconnected on fb, i didn’t always agree with ur politics. the othering that i had never felt in person, came through indirectly in the posts, an orientalism that was hard for me to take. yet what u meant to me growing up is unequivocal. relationships can be complicated that way. it’s hard to believe u are no longer here. yet so much of what u taught us will remain close. it is a part of me.

the memes are for us

just to clarify, the bernie memes are for us, hardcore bernie supporters. we’re not posting to defang bernie or minimize his message, but because he’s the real deal. me personally, i am also enjoying the memes because, as jennifer jajeh pointed out, inaugurations are corny. also, settler anthems, flags, expensive peacoats, and other misc pageantry don’t do anything for me. so i am with bernie: apart from the crowd, doing his own thing, aware of the sabotage, but continuing the work. neoliberals, centrists and warren fans who went after bernie, hands off pls:)

To be published in a literary magazine!

Last year in Sept, in the midst of working on my film and several other projects, I wrote a longer piece and submitted it to Mason Street for their Winter 2021 Issue “Frontiers and Borderlands.” My piece is a collage of personal and collective history, poetry, and art. It combines many voices and points of view, but it starts with my mother’s story and how she experienced the violence of the 1947 partition. I got an email from the editors today. They have accepted the piece!!! It should be published online in Feb. I am incredibly thrilled! Writing is something I’ve loved since I was a child. Although I continue to write for films, articles and presentations, it was important to try and write for a literary publication. I was nervous. It’s an art form I have not invested in for too long. This validation means the world to me.

seeing ‘the changemakers’ at RMSC

at the rochester museum & science center today where we saw ‘the changemakers’ exhibit which is stunning. recognized so many beautiful women friends who are part of the exhibition. two pieces from my art series ‘this heirloom’ are on display there. one is a graphic collage with my mom and her sister, when they were little girls. the other is called ‘embroidered dreams’ and it’s a tribute to my paternal grandmother, niaz fatima. my grandmother became a widow when she was quite young and struggled to raise and educate her children, in a highly patriarchal family system. i was wondering how she would feel about her picture hanging in a museum in rochester, new york, a tribute by a granddaughter she didn’t see grow up. it felt empowering.
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rmsc #thechangemakers #beachangemaker #womensupportingwomen #womenempowerment #pakistan #rochesteny

The NYT’s terrorism fetish

“We fell in love with the fact that we had gotten a member of ISIS who would describe his life in the caliphate and would describe his crimes,” New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet told NPR in an interview. “I think we were so in love with it that when we saw evidence that maybe he was a fabulist, when we saw evidence that he was making some of it up, we didn’t listen hard enough.”

That’s it? The NYT was madly in love with ISIS fantasies, so they didn’t bother to check whether their one and only source, Shehroze Chaudhry, had ever been to Syria? Rukmini Callimachi, their terrorism star, gets reassigned and we move on?

This is the problem with the West: their obsession with lurid, Orientalist, violent, but also perversely erotic readings and portrayals of the non-West. It’s a full-time job that requires constant snooping and make-believe, the invention of entire disciplines and colonial projects, the production of art and culture, as well as plentiful funding and prestigious awards. Whether it’s the Nobel or Pulitzer, the Peabody or the Oscars, look at the stories being told. What gets rewarded and what gets left on the dusty pile of rejection.

This reward and punishment scheme is so consistent and normalized, that even people of color with connections to the non-West get it. They know what stories to tell or how far they can go in their criticism of Europe and its stellar intellectual history. The trick is to complicate, to rely on subterfuge, and not make the indictment of the non-West too obvious, racist, or one-note. The formula works well, particularly if the oeuvre is inspired by Plato’s Dialogues or Leopardi’s Canti.

The ‘Caliphate’ fiasco is hardly an anomaly. NYT terrorism expert Judith Miller cheerled the invasion of Iraq, because her source “clad in nondescript clothes and a baseball cap pointed to several spots in the sand where he said chemical precursors and other weapons material were buried.”

This is the precarious foundation on which the War on Terror and its attendant propaganda are built, buttressed by stories of magic WMDs and ISIS elves. Failures of American journalism, however spectacular, never make a dent because this is the reflection we want to behold. We can only be good and right, if someone else is bad and wrong. Even if we get caught lying like a rug, we can turn around and say we were so madly in love with the truth, we just didn’t listen hard enough.

in karachi

i’ve been working 24/7 on a new community-oriented art project and the gorgeous website that will house it (thank u Isabelle for ur brilliant work on the website) and so i’m looking through old external hard drives to find and organize artwork and photography i have produced over the years. came across this picture from karachi where i was working at the time – my first serious job as a management trainee at ICI. wonderful times when everything was exciting and possible, even though i was stuck in a corporate world that never really jibed with me. still i will always be grateful for jobs that made me financially independent and able to live on my own in a diverse and insane metropolis, almost double the population of nyc. photograph by Umar:)

The Unvarnished Truth about Obama, Harris and Diversity without Accountability

Jordan Elgrably asked me to flesh out my post about Obama for The Markaz Review. I was trying to keep the post private, lol, but here it is with more thoughts about representation without accountability. Pls recommend/comment on the Markaz website if you like this column:) More here.

Obama’s new book

Obama’s new book has been making the rounds. It’s everywhere on social media, much like Michelle Obama’s book a couple of years ago. Both book covers glow with the same photoshop finish, two attractive people a bit shy about the power of their own magnetism. Smart, effortlessly debonair, moneyed. Diametrically opposed to Trump’s vulgarity, civilized in their discourse (“to protest a man in the final hour of his presidency seemed graceless and unnecessary,” he’s written about protests against Bush), and confident in the gushing response from their stans. Obama, the drone president. The man who dropped 26,000 bombs his last year in the White House. Literary rock stars like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Zadie Smith fangirl over his remarkable writing and unimaginably difficult presidential decisions. The decency of his character is assured, in spite of his war crimes. He’s got the Netflix deals after all and the power to gift us Biden. He makes us feel nostalgic for the good old days, when America was truly great. Everyone knows he killed almost 4000 people in 542 drone strikes, deported more than 2.5 million others, and force-fed Muslim men categorized as non-human in Guantanamo. Yet here we are. He didn’t just do the broadly brutal, presidential butchery we expect from American presidents, to keep us safe, he made it more personal. He handled kill lists, droned a 16-year-old American kid in Yemen along with his 17-year-old cousin, started spanking new wars, and called the president of Yemen to halt the release of a journalist reporting on drone casualties in that country. But the boring repetition of these atrocities can easily be set aside. Pictures of dead children or their wailing mothers don’t really register if they’re not wearing the right clothes or speaking the right languages. We can say sensibly that collateral damage is a price we are willing to pay, as long as someone else is actually paying that price. Would we be equally understanding about the droning of our own children for the greater good of the world? Why is that a crazy question? Maybe that’s just how it is these days. Everything whitewashed, packaged like an Apple product, branded like a captivatingly effete IG influencer, and placed adroitly like sponcon. It’s hard to tell the news from the ads or Hollywood films from military propaganda. Everything ground together into a bland paste of vacuity. Makes one hungry for guerrilla filmmaking and some raw, unvarnished truth.

lecture at UR on multiple feminisms

earlier this week i taught a UR class on gender, sexuality and women’s studies about islam and feminism. thank u tanya for inviting me. these are the three women whose work i used to make a case for multiple feminisms.

i talked about saba mahmood’s ‘politics of piety’ and the need to self-parochialize by acknowledging the specificities and limits of one’s own position in the world. she reminds us that western knowledge is not self-sufficient or neutral, that it is divisive, exclusionary and complicit in harm.

i relied on francoise verges for an understanding of decolonial feminism and the problematic relationship between bourgeois women in the global north and women in the global south as well as WOC in the global north – the ones who take care of their children, clean their homes, and do their nails. she questions the meaning of ‘autonomy’ under oppressive systems of militarization, surveillance, obscene inequalities, precariousness and disposability. to her, decolonial feminism is about constant questioning and curiosity, and about decolonizing oneself (examining one’s own prejudices).

finally, houria boutelja confronts savior feminism and the privilege of solidarity. she refuses to answer the question: ‘is islam compatible with feminism?’ and tells us that the submissive muslim woman is a myth – she’s never met one. i cannot thank these women scholars and activists enough for their sharp analysis and powerful work. so many of us stand on their shoulders.

Frankenstein in Baghdad

Halfway through Ahmed Saadawi’s ‘Frankenstein in Baghdad’ – macabre, surreal, comical, poetic. Also heartbreaking in how it portrays life unraveling under war and occupation – how our sense of ‘normal’ can shift precipitously. Masterful writing. Thank u so much Mazin M Hameed for recommending it and thank u Muna Lisa for reminding me of this book.