It felt wonderful to go to the movies for the first time in almost two years of Covid-induced lockdown. All masked up, finding seats without any other folks near us, popcorn and soda and peanut M n Ms in hand, felt just so exciting, especially to see the last Bond flick with Daniel Craig in the role of 007. My husband and I like many others have both enjoyed the dark seriousness he brought to the role since his debut in the role over a decade and a half ago, a different performance of masculinity than previous incarnations, shedding the characteristic sexism of the Uber British spy without sacrificing the sexiness of the man with the golden gun. The cheeky insouciance was still there, but with Casino Royale that set the tone for the Craig era, it became clear such an attitude was a mask that hid a real man, not a caricature of one; a man who could and did, fall in love deeply and truly, was betrayed, and so developed the steely edges of the Bond mystique as a shield for his very human vulnerabilities. A far cry indeed from the suave sexism perfected by the original Bond as played by Sean Connery, a role and image tweaked here and there with more or fewer of the nods and winks signaling the machismo that defined the Bond essence, but which remained essentially intact over the almost half century of Bond mania before the baton was passed to Craig.
But with the advent of this latest chapter in Bond history in 2006, the films began to reflect the changing zeitgeist of the 21st century, with Dame Judi Dench as head of MI6, a sexy black woman in the role of Money Penny who was no longer cast as a long-suffering secretary pining for her “James”— and in this final episode of the saga- we get yet another clear indication how far the world has changed by seeing Bond replaced by a 007 who is a sharp and sexy Black woman and M, though once again a man (played by Ralph Fiennes in the last few films)- is tired, old and as Bond quips, has become symbolically “smaller.”
And though the title promises otherwise- lulling audiences into the belief that Bond will endure forever— it lies. He may not have the time to die because he is indeed, as usual, busy saving the world from the bad guys—having been forced to come out of a retirement he’d entered on the heels of yet another heartbreaking betrayal. But alas for him-the world has moved on. Despite learning that the woman he thought had betrayed him had not in fact, done so, and that in fact he is father to her daughter, there is no redemptive happy family ending for our man Bond. Despite-possibly because-his beautifully sculpted white male hetero body refuses to stop playing the saviour role—he must be stopped by the very missiles that symbolize the powerful nations his missions have defended over our lifetimes. While my generation might mourn the passing of the era of Bond because of a misplaced nostalgia for the way we were, surely, I now find myself thinking: its a good thing that the anachronism of Bond should give way to something new, and in sync with where the world (as I hope in my optimistic moments)—is headed toward. Yes, of course my child self is sad to acknowledge that my mom and dads era of giggling romance, inseparable From Russia With Love, is definitively over. My own nostalgia for Bond films is a longing for my parents, for a world that was never mine, nor theirs, really. It was a colonial fantasy, and it’s high time Commander Bond released us from it. So we should be grateful that he dies, very much on time. Here’s to a post-Bond world, then, in which not just Bond, but his CIA compadre also finds that it’s the right time to die— giving the world hope for a future inhabited by fewer and fewer soldiers and spies of dying Empires.
Learning of the original James Bond’s passing away this past weekend—at a fittingly Bondsian location, I might add, in Nassau in the beautiful Bahamas— made a time traveler of me.
I found myself, like D.H. Lawrence, “taken back down the vista of years…” till I found myself, like the child in his poem, recalling my young and beautiful mother, wearing one of her famous sarees, flowers in her hair coiled around the joora she used to wear in those days, pretty jhumkas adorning her ears. Her coral pink lipstick, a Revlon gift from a friend in London, was, I’d like to think, applied as a deliberate gesture to connect her glamor to that of the world of the British secret service agent played by the handsome (and later to be Sir) Sean Connery on the screen he was gonna light up at the Plaza cinema on Mall Road where my parents were headed with another couple for a night out. “From Russia With Love” was the film they were going to see, and then have dinner with their friends at Mei Kong, a favorite Chinese restaurant of that era in Lahore. I shamefacedly recall how I vomited the first time my parents took us children to try Chinese cuisine there; and now I can’t live without Chinese food which I’ve enjoyed on a regular basis since that first embarrassing incident when I was 6 or 7. An important early lesson in understanding how “other” tastes and experiences turn into lifelong companions in our journeys of selfhood.
And so, back to the dashing world of Bond and his fast cars and sexy women…. I was too young then to understand the sexism of this screen world and it’s connection to the patriarchal mores of all cultures then and now. But I do recall hearing my parents laugh salaciously afterward at some remembered joke or pun…. and mom’s giggling peels when I asked her if she could take me to see the film, I too wanted to share in her fun I said, and she, twinkling her eyes at her darling ghooshoo, my dadd-y, telling me no, darling, not yet, not yet, this movie is for grown ups only.
Oh how mad I was then, this Sean Connery was taking her away from me, I could hear her later saying to my dad, oh darling, wasn’t Bond dreamy, much as I now tease my husband, oooh, now here’s the sexiest man alive each time the Scotsman appears onscreen….
But the day I learnt of his death at age 90, almost exactly a year to the day after my own mother, the Ava Gardner of her time and place had passed away aged 86 in lahore, a few miles away from the cinema she’d gone to all those years ago with my dad n her friends to see the handsome Bond escape death time and again—-I was surprised at the depth of my mourning.
Like the grown up poet of “The Piano,” I was overcome by “the glamour
of childish days upon me” my womanhood “cast
Down in the flood of remembrance” as I wept “like a child for the past.”
This past month leading up to Halloween 2020 today, has been a gift of love to me from my beautiful granddaughter Nylah “Bano” Thompson and from me, her “Nano”to her.
Each Monday, Wednesday and Thursday morning for this past month (these being my non-teaching days this semester)— I have picked her up from her parents’ home in nearby Yorktown Heights between 8 and 8:30 am, and driven her in tomato red car 🚘 which is my link to my mom, her great grandmother who died a few days ago this time last year in her home in Lahore— to the town of Croton on Hudson. That is the town where her mother was brought to her first home after I gave birth to her almost 35 years ago.
Our destination each of these mornings has been the Black Cow Coffee shop, where we stop for “Nano” to get her Java fix, and Nylah (who I call Nynah for some inexplicable reason 😂 much to the chagrin of her mommy!)— to get a sugary treat such as a pumpkin muffin or an almond croissant, which we both end up sharing (no more sugar after this month, I promise—at least, not until thanksgiving 😛 😉). We also read her favorite Babar book, “Babar Goes to America”— and it is apt that she enjoys her “Baba” book since she calls her grandpa by that moniker and he also happens to spell his name in the same way as the little elephant! We are all truly connected! And lil Nynah of course has made friends with all of the coffee shop regulars even as we sit at our socially distanced tables, bemoaning the fate of our country under the present regime that seeks to keep the Babars of the world out of its borders.
While we end up on our morning outings at the Black Cow, the real treat is the route we take there.
My first stop is on the country road that brings us into town, where I pull up next to the humongous front yard of a house jam packed with Halloween paraphernalia: there are skeletons reclining on pool chairs, paddling boats and playing a spooky piano, next to a black coach driven by a skeleton, next to 5 horse skeletons one of which has a headless rider holding a pumpkin, and various ghostly figures hanging on trees including a late addition of a werewolf.
Nylah exclaims each time with delight and awe at these macabre displays, the “keletins” and “hossies” and headless horseman fetching squeals of pleasure from the 18 month old bundle of joy in my arms.
Our next stop is the side street in downtown Croton where I park, and there Nylah and I hold hands as we walk on the sidewalk past the houses with front porches decorated with Halloween witches and carved pumpkins and spider webs and “ghosties” and “ ‘carecrows” and gnomes— and even a life size chimpanzee sitting on a chair! One of the houses has a box of colored chalk on its steps so we stop and pick a few pieces, pink and purple, orange and red, and draw on the pavement, thanking the owners for their thoughtful invitation to a wee bit of coloring fun this grandma and granddaughter can share in, giggling and cuddling and exclaiming in excitement as we perambulate up the street. It’s been a monthlong ritual neither of us has tired of, each walk we take bringing us into ever more intimate touch with the sap that rejuvenates the spirit long after the leaves have fallen to the ground.
I look forward to seeing my daughter and granddaughter dress up as Avocado and Toast today as we try to enjoy a scaled-back version of Halloween; but I am truly grateful for this month’s gift of exchange that I hope will turn the physical route Nylah and I have traveled each morning into the deeper roots of memory, blossoming into a tree of many branches. These branches of leaves changing colors with the seasons, are our futures interwoven with travels in which the skin of the past breathes through the pores of the epidermis we call the present. Nothing stays, everything remains. I see my loving Nani and my Ammi in my Nylah who I hope will remember me with the love that binds us together in an unbroken chain of human connection.
So I must have been one of the exceptions to the rule in not having seen any of the massive output in pop culture- especially through the medium of TV soap operas- that have made Turkish contributions to the genre famous and beloved across the world, including its legions of fans across Muslim lands. So I decided to travel back in time and space to the pre Ottoman era and stories of the Kayi tribe whose entry into Anatolia in the late 12th century AD served as the foundation stone for the building of the Ottoman Empire that spanned the regions of south east Europe, Western Asia and Northern Africa; the Turkish descendants of the Kayi tribe ruled this powerful Islamic state from the 14th till the 20th centuries.
While the 100+ episodes of the series called Resurrection: Ertogrul — are cartoonish in the black n white depiction of characters and the heavy handed music and cinematography reinforces this black/white view of the world with the brave Kayi leader Ertogrul and his Alps being too good and mighty and always on the side of virtue, and the Templar knights the epitome of all cruelty and vice possible—the series serves an important function: it’s a caravanserai for travelers weary of knowing the history of our world from the point of view of the West. A point of view that Edward Said termed “orientalist.”
And so perhaps there are some lessons to be learnt from these anti-orientalist travels. For instance, I loved seeing the women’s work: the rug weaving, the dyeing of colorful cloths for sale in the Aleppo Bazaar, showing the male and female roles working in complementary fashion to help the Kayi Tent survive the harsh conditions of their existence. Viewers also observe the respectful and loving relationships between men and women despite the heavily patriarchal nature of the tribal society. These representations are a good counter to stereotypes about Muslim male treatment of women that both Muslim men and those who stereotype them would do well to observe.
What I’ve enjoyed about this representation is that it counters the lack of historical knowledge about the pre Ottoman world and its conflicts. I also like the centralisation of the character of the Muslim mystic Ibn al Arabi and the world view he brings to the table of binaries; he counters the oppositional framework that structures that world and which continues down to our own day sadly—through adumbrating an Islamic cosmology that is spiritually elevating because it is humanistic at its core, in a pluriversal way, embracing as it does, all of the life forms that sustain our worldly existence. It is a mythology we need to be aware of, especially as we also witness the internal conflicts in the Muslim world of those times which parallel what’s going on in the contemporary Muslim cosmos. And it’s useful to be reminded that just as no nation or people or place in earth has the lock on the good— so too, fanaticism is not the purview of any one religious group or ideology; the Knights Templar being a case in point, the “fundamentalists” of the Christian world who were as reviled by their saner counterparts as the extremists of the Muslim world today are seen as outliers and are disavowed by the majority of Muslims.
Back in early May as classes via Zoom were winding down, I decided to reach out to my desi Feministas— the 4 women of Indian origin, immigrant academics like me with South Asia as our heritage in common, and who were founding members with me of the South Asian Feminist Caucus of the National Women’s Studies Association of N America that is one of our professional homes.
Initially, I just wanted/needed the comfort and camaraderie of our long term friendship, with its professional edge that has kept us sharing our work and presenting it together at the annual conferences of the NWSA, as a ballast in these crazy anxiety-ridden times we are living through. And so we raised a glass of wine (or water!) to toast each other’s resilience in the time of Corona, to share our stresses and worries for the future of our worlds— back home, this home, the literal travels and shuttling between them now on hold (who knows for how long, we wondered, with sadness and angst, esp those of us with family/aging parents awaiting our annual visits in our countries of birth).
And then, in the way of feminist travels, we opened up our weekly zoom sessions to friends and neighbors, and then, soon enough, to shaping these sessions into serious musings on the rapidly unfolding picture of the intertwined social, political, economic and dimensions of this dreaded plague of our times, blowing open the racism and sexism that underpins everything.
And thus, May and June were dedicated to weekly Zoom meetings that lasted 75-90 minutes apiece, bringing so many engaged and concerned feminist minds together to think on the state of our world and offered ideas on how we might be part of the change that is surely coming— a new journey, to a new place.
I am honored and grateful to have had the opportunity to listen to so many wise voices in friendship and solidarity over these past few challenging months. And how fortuitous that Prof Diana Fox who I know through my connection to the great feminist icon of our times, Dr Nawal el Saadawi, should show up as an attendee and participant in our sessions, and offer to archive our humble journey in the pages of the online journal she edits, the Journal of International Womens Studies (JIWS).
Here is a short description of this venture, and links to where those of you who would like to be part of these travels, can access our sessions.
Current Issue of JIWS ( Journal of International Womens Studies), Volume 21, Issue 4 (2020):
Three Months of the Global Covid-19 Pandemic: A Selection of Liberatory, anti-racist, feminist webinars, panels and interviews.
This special issue can be accessed at the link below. Once inside the journal, sub-links are provided to each of the Zoom sessions of “Love and Solidarity in the Time of Corona,” organized and moderated by Fawzia Afzal-Khan with the support of the South Asian Feminist Caucus of the National Womens Studies Association (NWSA).
Joint Introduction by Diana Fox and Fawzia Afzal-Khan can be accessed at:
So I’m grateful my traveling is intimately integrated into my teaching life, and no wonder since I teach courses in World Literature, which are explorations, through the lens of literary and cultural texts, of the ongoing aftermath of colonialism affecting all of us to this day.
One of the advantages of Zoom technology is the ease with which we can connect with large numbers of people in different parts of the globe during a class session.
Thus, yesterday, I was able to bring Palestine into my virtual classroom or you could say, take my students to the Gaza Strip whose reality they/us know so little of. Since we are reading and discussing the novel Men in the Sun by Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani this week in class, I thought to invite my friend and colleague Professor Isam Shihada of Al Aqsa University, Gaza, who teaches in the Dept of English and Gender Studies, to share his insights about the author and on life as a Palestinian based on his own daily experience. 147 of his students some now situated in Iraq and Kuwait, also joined our session.
The rest of the world’s Covid-instigated lockdown has been THEIR REALITY for over half a century! It was an observation that my students could now feel viscerally after their own enforced lockdowns of just a month’s duration and without having to also deal with the added daily humiliation of being an occupied people (though we are now in a way, under occupation by Covid 19!). During my conversation with Prof Shihada it became clear to the students that the inhuman continued occupation by Israel of the Gaza strip has turned it into the worlds largest open air prison, with NO infrastructure left after repeated attacks and bombardments over decades, to enable the 3 million or so inhabitants of Gaza fight back against the pandemic should it spread there; such an eventuality would effectively become the Final Solution for Gazans in a repetition of history that led Hitler and his Nazi party to wipe out 6 million Jews in the Holocaust during World War 2.
Is that a “solution” the world is willing to live with? In learning about the Occupied Territories, about the courage and commitment of Kanafani to use the pen as an instrument of resistance, of how he paid with his life for daring to inform the world of the unjust treatment of his people (he was assassinated in Beirut by the Israeli Mossad at the young age of 36, along with his teenage niece, Lamis, who was with him at the time)— my students’ eyes were opened to a reality they don’t normally see. In the process, as several of them asked— “ what can we do to help change things?”
Isn’t this what traveling feminista, eyes 👀 wide open, ears 👂 alerted to hearing the voices of the underrepresented “others” of our world, hope travel will lead to?
You can watch a video interview of Kanafani at the url above where the bias of the interviewer Richard Carleton is so obvious but which Kanafani challenges so smartly!
I haven’t been able to write for a while, for a variety of reasons. At the beginning of the year, my travels to my home country to teach short term as a Fulbright Specialist in Lahore and participate and help organize three major launches of my latest book, took up so much time there that I found it impossible to keep up with the blogging. And then I had to rush home mid March not just to resume my classes back here at my university in Montclair NJ, but because by then Covid-19 had become a serious global threat. I was lucky to manage getting back in to the US given the flight cancellations and quarantine restrictions on travelers etc.
Since then, like everyone else, I’ve been on what feels like house arrest, going nowhere and seeing no one except immediate family. Luckily my son moved in from NYC to ride out the pandemic with us, and I spent my first week back training to use the Zoom platform to conduct my classes online. Our daughter n son in law live nearby so we meet them daily and help look after our darling granddaughter, which is a bright spot in our otherwise anxiety-ridden days.
Teaching and cooking, taking neighborhood walks and watching Netflix shows fill up my days that are marking the passage of time, as people around the globe wake up to the same nightmare, worried, unsettled, angry, resentful, simultaneously scared and pessimistic yet hopeful too for a better, more just world that could emerge from this catastrophe.
Traveling in this interior landscape is its own adventure, not one any of us was looking for, but now as it has become the new “normal”, we all are having to deal with it one way or other.
In my following posts I’ll describe some of these new travels I’ve been undertaking sitting in my home study, and intersperse those musings with descriptions of my recent time in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad; all the while hoping/imagining a world after Covid….
I jumped on a train to Grand Central from the river town I live in upstate, to make an hourlong journey in to NYC, and then walk briskly for 20 more minutes to the Lahore Grill shop next to the apartment Shahidul Alam was staying at during his recent trip here from his native Bangladesh.
I had mobilized some good friends and their contacts in the museum world of Manhattan to put me in touch with Shahidul once I heard he was in town (I’d never met him)–and spent the previous day playing WhatsApp tag with him, trying to figure out some window of time we might meet. I am hoping to write a conference paper on his photographical performance, which transforms the mundane into the magical, rendering visible what is no longer there.
The French word “bouleverse” captures best the “coup de foudre”— bolt of lightning— effect Shahidul’s photographs had on me when I first encountered them a month ago at his first major retrospective exhibition in the USA curated by Beth Citron at the Rubin museum.
As my dear friend Tim Mchenry who is chief program director at the Rubin showed me and a young artist friend around the exhibit, I found myself struck by the way Shahidul uses his aesthetic aperture to frame tragedy as a consequence of political and moral failure. The beauty of his photographs is heartbreaking precisely because it points not to the inevitability of “natural” or “political” disappearances— of, for instance, land disappearing under water forcing a woman to cook atop a corrugated rooftop in a sea of submerged cottages against the surreally beautiful backdrop of brightly colored cloths flapping in the wind; or his images of women activists burnt onto straw mats who are still keeping alive the search and memory and demand for justice for a 23 year old social justice activist, Kalpana Chakma, who was “disappeared” at the point of a gun by the Bangladeshi military and 2 local village defense party men 20 plus years ago; or the way a photograph of her dress hauntingly recalls the shape of her body when it wore that fabric. Rather, these images show such phenomena of the natural and political worlds to be both intertwined and avoidable— for both are a result of man-made policies aimed at a vision of “development” and “progress” that has unleashed so much violence for the majority of the world’s peoples. And yet, when tragedy strikes, survivors refuse to be victims, the camera captures their resilience even when they or their worlds are disappearing in front of our very eyes….
The best part of spending even a tiny bit of the afternoon with Shahidul yesterday, was how the encounter with a resistant, artistic human being can just add so much joy and optimism to your day. Here was a man who had been rounded up by Bangladeshi security forces and hauled off to jail in August 2018 for 104 days, tortured by his own account, all for the crime of speaking truth to power. For his amazing work in the cause of social justice he was recognized by Time Magazine as one of their 2018 Persons of the Year, and in his smiling, humble company, I forgot about the depressing US presidential impeachment trial for a while, as in between packing Shahidul a Lahore kebab sandwich for his train trip to Philly, snapping photos of him with an admiring fellow Bengali and the grill shop’s owner (and myself!), jumping into an Uber with several bags and two large frame packages, his camera equipment and my heavy coat, then jumping out at PENN Station and racing higgeldy-piggeldy with all this stuff to help him make it in the nick of time to board his train—- phew! well— in between this madcap rush to get him to his train in time, we somehow, magically, managed to connect/communicate our passion for justice in the world…. and I’d like to think, to recognize kindred artistic spirits in each other. We looked across the train platform once Shahidul and his many packages were safely on board— and grinned, as if to say, another world is coming, built on the mad hopes of solidarity.
I hope to deepen our acquaintance in the coming years– and look forward to working on the paper discussing his work that I’m planning to present at the International Federation of Theatre Research later this year
Jan 1st 2020
I haven’t been able to blog for a few months— since Oct 27th, 2019, to be precise.
That’s the day my mother made her final journey, to a place which I, you, we together here, in our world, can only access like the character played by Robin Williams does, as he invites us, interlopers all, to What Dreams May Come after we shed this mortal coil, and travel to destinations as yet unknown whilst we live and breathe….
What dreams might come then, mommy? Will I get to you in them? I see you still, so still, your flesh cold and hard as I join the ritual bathers in pouring water over you to prepare your body for your final journey. Are you headed home, mama? Will you be my guide when I’m ready to travel back to Hades? My beautiful mother, I see you in your great granddaughter, my Nylah Bano— you’ve passed your soul to her, I can tell, a journey through successive generations who I hope will continue these travels long after my own have ceased….
For friends and other interested readers of this blog, I paste below my final goodbye to my mother, honoring her memory at the Du’a (prayer) ceremony held at her house, 190 Abid Majeed Road in Lahore Cantonment, the seed of my past and ongoing travels…. here’s to new beginnings in 2020, tethered to all that has enabled me to fly far and wide; the paradox of home and abroad, roots and rootlessness, life, death, and dreams everlasting.
In the beginning, there was the dream…
Eulogy for Mom:
“Thank u all for coming today to be with us on this sad occasion and to share in the suffering of our immense loss. Many of you have already experienced this loss, others will do so in the future, as we are all mortals and life for the living is about learning to cope with the passing on of our near and dear ones.
Coping well is a skill and like all skills, requires mindful cultivation. Our beloved mother, Rashda Afzal, also lovingly known by close friends and family as Bano, Bano apa, Rashi, aunty Rashda, Ami, mommy, maaji, ami Hazoor, Mrs Afzal—had honed it to perfection. From being a beautiful and carefree young bride, she soon became a mother for the second time (after me)—to my brother Rizwan aka Biji-who was born with Down Syndrome. What might have (and usually does)— destroy family equilibrium, cause major distress and dysfunction- instead became one of life’s greatest lessons for me (and so many others)— in what one of my favorite writers has called, Grace Under Pressure. My mother turned what could have been a tragedy into a blessing- the blessing of growing up with a most wonderful kid brother who traveled the world with us, from lahore to Africa, to England, to America, who blossomed into a whole human being because of the love and care she showered on him and who we never felt was less than us in any way. She treated him like she treated us, and so we never thought he was different or strange or anyone to be ashamed or embarrassed of.
She dealt with the second great challenge of her life, the brain tumor of our darling dad, which luckily was non malignant but caused him to come back home to her and us after his operation a changed man, never quite fully able to regain his physical balance as his left side became semi paralyzed as a result of the brain surgery. Our beautiful, vibrant mother took this blow too in stride in her characteristically stoic way—in the process adding to her list of roles that of the family chauffeur, driving dad from home to work, Irfan and me to school, herself to Islamia college Cooper Road, where she would arrive dressed and coiffed to perfection, never a proverbial hair out of place, calm, smiling, ready to serve her students, enjoy her colleagues, and participate in all the sports days winning first prize for three legged races she’d run with her colleague who became a dear family friend, known to us as aunty Irshad. They were quite a pair! And I remember aunty saying when people always praised my dad for being such a good husband and human being- she’d say, “lo- to hamari Rashda bhi to kam nahi!”
Her driving style, esp in her red Mazda 929 became legendary in Lahore—her father, my grandfather, would often get calls from his friends saying “ aap ki Beti Bano to buhat Tez gari chala rahi tee Jee canal bank pey…”—the woman in the red car driving very fast— this was the 1970s, when she was one of a handful of women who owned and drove their own car! My brother just told me the other day that she was saluted daily by a traffic light policeman on Mall Road who referred to her as “the First Lady driver of Pakistan”!!! She’d been driving since the late 1950s….
As many of you who knew her have attested in your reminiscences of her, she lived a full life, mashallah, who never let the seams show.
She was a brave and independent woman who was a pioneer of her time, inspiring thousands of young female students who later settled in every corner of the world— so that wherever we traveled, there was sure to be that encounter we had come to expect: “Mrs Afzal? Aap yahan?” And then would follow the inevitable invitations to lunch, tea, dinner etc. She loved her career, her students, her colleagues—a career which ended officially with her successful stint as a popular Principal of the same college she’d taught at for over thirty years, but she then continued her commitment to women’s education and rights by serving as treasurer and then president of the Business and Professional Women’s Club for many years. She also supported many charities and schools, and gave generously of her time and money to help all those who needed such support. She would always tell us, Agar kissi ki madad Kat saktey ho to Karo. Haqooq ul Abad was as important if not moreso than haqooq Allah in her book.
She was truly a great enabler. I am sorry I never fully expressed my gratitude to her for all that she did for me: if I can speak French and sing, it’s because she drove me for years to lessons at the alliance francaise, because she engaged a wonderful Ustad who came to give me lessons at home when such things were often frowned upon in our society at that time.
The biggest sacrifice she made was to let me go far away from her to the other side of the world to continue to pursue my desires and ambitions, even though I was her only daughter and she knew very well I would never return- though she was happy I had married a man who in all the essentials was like her “darling”husband.
Yeh hothi hai maa. This is a Mother. I will never have another. Khudahafiz Ammi Ji, it is your turn now to go away, never to return. I will miss you with every breath I take.”
I remember a dream that I had more than two decades ago which was vivid enough to wake me up with tears flooding my face; I’ve had reason to recall it lately, as the Indian state has once again unleashed its terror and might on Kashmir.
Traveling in the nether world of dreams and nightmares—in French, the word is “cauchemar” and cauche meaning “to tread on” captures perfectly the weight pressing on my chest that I needed to push off to come awake, to feel saved from a dangerous journey. No such safety for the trodden-upon Kashmiris, not then, not now. But it must have been 1992 when I had that nightmare, that cauchemar, in the wake of the hoisting of the Hindutva-draped tricolor flag by BJP up n coming stalwart Narendra Modi with Murli Joshi in Lal Chowk, Srinagar. Or perhaps it was in 1999 when there was a “limited” war between Pakistan and India in Kargil around the Line of Control in Kashmir. Or maybe as recently as 2002 after the Gujarat riots also referred to by some as the Gujarat Pogrom against Muslims, presided over by Modi who by then was Chief Minister of the state.
What I recall as clear as day is that I dreamt the dream during one of the more heightened moments of possible war breaking out between India and Pakistan. And what I dreamt was this:
—I’m at a conference in India, having left my young kids with my husband back in New York. While there, war breaks out between the two countries. It goes nuclear very quickly. There is widespread panic and the conference delegates, myself included, are huddled into some sort of lift that promises to shoot us up into the atmosphere, to get above the nuclear radiation in an attempt to save our lives…. my last thoughts are, my children, my beautiful babies, my husband…. will I ever see you again? What will happen to Noddy, to Faryal, without their mom to love and protect them? Oh God, oh god….—
And that’s when I came awake, sobbing.
Today, the nightmare is back, the dream only inches away from reality.
I heard from my dear friends Angana Chatterji and Nyla Ali Khan, both with strong ties to Kashmir. The former is a longtime scholar-activist of the region who has risked much in uncovering unmarked graves of Kashmiris and working on reparative justice which has not come for this paradise on earth. The latter is granddaughter of Sheikh Abdullah who believed Nehru was going to uphold his promise of plebiscite and thus agreed to lead Kashmir as an autonomous region awaiting the vote of self determination; that day never came.
Today, both these women, academics at US institutions, are unable to track down their friends as Angana has been trying to do, or contact their family members in Kashmir as in Nyla’s case.
Travelling to freedom remains a pipe dream for the 10 million or so Kashmiris and for those who fight alongside them
If war does break out between India and Pakistan over this latest abrogation of the Indian constitution by Modi and his ruling party, it will surely be a nuclear one.
And that will spell the end of all journeys; a Cauchemar from which no one will wake.