Category Archives: marriage

Yes, I am a Pakistani

Are you a Pakistani?”
The first time I overheard this question, my daughter was five years old. We were attending a pre-wedding function at a friend’s home. It was 28 November 2008, and 10 terrorists from Pakistan had laid siege to the city of Mumbai with a series of coordinated shootings and bombings. Staff and guests of the Taj hotel were still trapped in a hostage crisis and rescue operations were being covered live on all news channels in India. Almost everyone at the wedding function was talking about the news. Besides the hundreds of injured, 166 people would die in this attack.
“What is your name?” an older child asked my daughter.
“Sahar,” she answered.
“Are you a Pakistani?” asked the child.
I gasped involuntarily but I was able to stop myself from jumping into their conversation.
“No,” said my daughter. “Aiman is a Pakistani. I am from Greater Noida.”
I didn’t need to rescue my child from this “slur” just yet. It was just a misunderstanding she was clearing. Aiman is her older cousin, who lives in Karachi and visits regularly. Aiman is my children’s heroine. They write school essays on her.
“Aiman is my best friend. She wears jeans and T-shirts and doesn’t like wearing skirts. My mother says I learnt to eat potato chips from her. Aiman loves to cycle very fast in her colony and has many pet animals. She has rabbits, a cat, and fish in an aquarium. She has to keep the rabbits and fish safe from the cat.”
Aiman’s mother is my husband’s sister. It is summer vacation on both sides of the India-Pakistan border these days and Aiman is visiting us with her mother.







My parents-in-law are hosting all their children and grandchildren in their home in a village in east Uttar Pradesh. The adults scan newspapers and check the news on their smartphones. A new government has taken charge in New Delhi. Heinous crimes against women are being reported from across the state. My father-in-law reads editorials in three newspapers, one in English, one in Hindi and a third in Urdu. He highlights passages for me to read and discuss with him.
Litchis, mangoes and melons are peeled and cut. Children run around us, playing hide and seek in the long afternoons, when they are forbidden from going out in the sun. Someone gets hurt. They are thirsty.
They settle down to choose a film from a USB drive an older cousin happens to be carrying. For some reason, the film they want to watch today, The Road To El Dorado, doesn’t play on the DVD player. I suggest Sholay.
“It has too much fighting and Amitabh Bachchan dies,” protests my daughter. Sholay doesn’t play either, it is in the wrong format.
The only other film available this afternoon is Gandhi. Richard Attenborough’s 1982 biopic on Mahatma Gandhi. It is just a coincidence, but here are a group of children from Karachi, New Delhi and Lucknow watching Gandhi together on a hot afternoon in 2014. I sit down with the children. It has been years since I have watched this film.
I explain events and scenes to the children.
“That’s Nehru, that’s Patel and that is Jinnah,” I say, the first time they appear after Gandhi returns to India from South Africa.
“Jinnah!” exclaims Aiman. “Quaid-e-Azam.”
The afternoon has come alive for Aiman. She notices Jinnah in every scene he appears. Sahar is too tense to be able to watch the violence. She runs off to reread one of the Harry Potter books. Another child runs off as troops led by General Dyer begin to march into Jallianwallah Bagh in the film. The rest of the children watch the scene of the massacre in stunned silence. Hundreds of bodies pile up as soldiers shoot relentlessly at unarmed people gathered for a protest meeting on Baisakhi.
“I have been to Amritsar many times,” Aiman says. She is 12 years old.
The film draws towards its end.
“After this, they will launch the Quit India Movement and then India will become independent,” I say to the children, preparing them for scenes of more bloodshed. “But, there will be the partition of India also. India and Pakistan will become two separate countries.”
Aiman claps her hands. “Pakistan!”
I am startled at first and then I realize that this is where this child recognizes her part of the story. I knock my moroseness out of me and celebrate with her. My mother was 4 years old when her family came to Amritsar as refugees from Lahore.
“When Aiman visits during her school holidays, she gets her holiday homework along with her. Her English books are just like mine. She studies Urdu and not Hindi like us. In her holiday homework, she writes about the things we do together. So do I.”
As I type this column on the roof of my parents-in-law’s home, it is close to midnight. This is the last night that the cousins are together. They have permission to stay awake as long as they want. I can hear them discussing stars in the sky. Hopping on barefoot toes, my eight-year-old comes to me and asks me if it is possible that some stars blink in the sky.
“We see something red that is blinking,” she says.
“Maybe it’s a shooting star,” I say, quite sure I am giving her the wrong answer.
She returns to break the news to her cousins.
“Mamma, in this world there are many different worlds like India, America, Pakistan, but everywhere there is the same sky,” my youngest child informs me.


Blowing the Lid off a Marriage

A good long day being folded and put away for the night suddenly flares up with an unexpected argument.
I forget what the disagreement was about but I remember how we went about it. A casual remark sparked a more vehement assertion from one of us. My tone became sharp. His voice grew louder. It felt like he was yelling at me. I stopped yelling back, but by now he was on a roll.
I looked at the child who was watching us. I hoped that he would see that both our child and I were distraught. I held her in my arms and lay down with her to sleep. I wanted to reassure her that it’s just a temporary fight, that arguments are a part of life. We’ll sort it out tomorrow.
I slept through the night instead of lying awake like a younger me might have done. It is a milestone in our relationship that I can turn away from an unfinished fight and just fall asleep.
The next morning demanded its own rhythm. Children get ready for school. There is a bus-stop and breakfast routine. He appears. He is sorry but he won’t say sorry. He sits around looking sorry. Some tears flow down my cheeks. We distract each other with conversations about logistics. We talk about other people. Future plans are made. Then we replay the “sorry scene” one more time. He won’t say sorry.
It might be faster to do that. But we are not efficient. Love is not efficient. It slows us down. Marriage chugs along, getting the work done. It has deadlines to meet.
We used to be the annoying couple who never seemed to disagree with each other. Friends would mock us for being so well behaved.
Last year when my husband and I exchanged gifts on our 10th wedding anniversary, I asked him for a few good arguments. I want to let go of the silences, I said. I realized that our “differences” scared us. Afzal would get angry and give up too easily. I would be fearful and try to cover up and deny them. One reason we seemed to get along so well was our fear that we had very little in common.
In the 11th year, we learned to fight. This month we complete 11 years of being married and to celebrate I am going to blow the lid off our marriage.
I am really good at making money and Afzal is really good at spending it.
“You are not supposed to keep money,” he reminds me, “you are supposed to spend it on what you want.”
I don’t get his logic at all. What are banks for? What are accounts for? What are envelopes stashed between saris for? Before I had children I was saving for their school fees. Now I must save for their higher education, no?

Apparently not. Well, I am learning to spend money after I have earned it and he is learning to earn money before he spends it.

I spent most of my growing-up years living in big city apartments. His home is a sprawling haveli in his village. He opens doors and windows and lets fresh air circulate in the house. I am learning to live with dust everywhere.
I grow indoor plants in cracked coffee mugs. He plants tree saplings. He is beginning to share my joy at the tight fist of a new leaf on the windowsill. I pretend to be interested when he gushes about the trees that will surround us 10 years from now. We live on the edge between my city and his village.
When setting food on the table, I use the words practical and logic a lot. He talks of adaab-e-dastarkhwan. I get impressed and accept his version of table etiquette. Besides, he’s in charge of the rules he sets.
We have the compulsive habit of showing each other the mirror. There was a time I would come home enamoured of this CEO I worked with, and narrate anecdotes in awe.
“The property dealers I meet are better than these corporate honchos,” he said. “Whatever they are, they are on the outside. They are honest that way.”
I am worse. I hit out at what he calls family. I show him what his mother endures. Propound theories about his father’s patience. The games other people play.
Outsiders in each other’s worlds, we are blind to hierarchies and unwritten rules. We make each other very uncomfortable in what used to be our comfort zones. Sometimes it is too much and we fight. Stripped of our security blankets, we find ourselves forced to redefine and articulate our choices again and again.
Marriage is the bad cop who keeps us on our toes. Love is the good cop who announces the tea break. The time to look out at the setting sun.
“Stop analysing everything, Natasha,” he interrupts me. “Life is not for analysing, it is for living. Live it.”
“Okay,” I say.
“Why are you so quiet?” he asks me after a long pause.
“You said, no analysis,” I say, “so I am being obedient.”
His face crinkles up in amusement.
Don’t be afraid to love. It is a terrible thing, but it keeps you alive. Be an adventure hunter, determined to keep some part of your innocence alive. I’m still new at this, jotting down notes on the side as we go along.
…………..
[This was first published on Livemint.com here: Blowing the lid of a marriage

Marriage. Don’t do it, seriously.

One evening we lost our two-year-old in the park.

We had just moved into a new home. There were unexpected guests and a pocket of chaos as we cleared away cartons on the floor and put enough chairs for everyone. Cool water and sweets were offered. Pleasantries.

Our children were playing outside. Aliza, our five-year-old, came running in to let us know that she couldn’t find Naseem any more.

My first reaction in an emergency is to be calm. I ran out with Aliza to the forest park next to our new home. Too many people, gates, trees, bushes, a pond. It was a large space. I was not wearing my spectacles.

How long was it that I could not see my child? 10, 5, 20 minutes? Some people said they had seen her, some stared at me blankly. Everyone was a stranger. I sent Aliza to call her father.

“Tell him that I cannot find Naseem, run and get Papa,” I said to her.

I had crossed over to panic. My world was whirling around me. It was Afzal’s turn to be calm. When he found her, she was sitting near a gate with a flower in her hand.

“I got this for Mamma,” she said.

This month we complete 10 years of being married to each other. It seems like a good time to revisit the moment when I was ready to run out of our home without looking back.

That time when I had been standing in the park paralysed by fear, unable to find our toddler, the thought in my head had been: If anything happens to Naseem, I will leave Afzal.

After I had finished crying, put Naseem to sleep and worn her flower in my hair, I was left with the residue of my panicky thoughts. I had not known that I was this close to the edge in my head.

“I don’t know who or what this marriage is but it better not come between my wife and me,” a friend of mine had once written to me.

Marriage is really an accident-prone adventure. It gets hijacked, kidnapped, derailed, distracted and exhausted. Marriage can become a pile of resentments.

Togetherness is a venue. We seek it for respite. For nurturing and rest. We go there to practise fighting. It’s a boxing ring. Boxing is a sport, remember. We play at boxing to be better prepared for the rest of the world. We analyse our strengths, compensate for weaknesses.

But don’t always stay there. Go away also. Don’t expect it to work all the time. It is lazy and busy and easily distracted. Just like the lovers in it.

And then there are children. Children are like a JCB. They will wreck your marriage and play with the debris.

If they don’t come along and create utter chaos, something else always does. If nothing else shakes us up, it is quite likely that we will start feeling itchy and draw blood ourselves.

Marriage isn’t necessary at all. Don’t do it. It’s a lot of trouble. It’s a racket. A conspiracy to defeat the individual. A human rights violation that creeps up on you.

Marriage can be lonesome. Being together won’t stop you from being alone, lost, tempted, greedy, insecure and sleepless.

Just like a two-year-old playing outside the house, love is vulnerable. It is gentle and friendly, like a child. Yours could be wild and tantrum-prone.

Love learns to walk. Love ages. Be gentle with it, holding its hand when the traffic is fast.

Love is looking at him in the evening light and being able to smell the tea that you will have with him. Even on a train. Specially on a train. Love is made of still images. Clothes hanging together on a clothes peg in the bathroom. Messages saved in an inbox. Earrings next to a black wallet. A shared backpack.

Love sulks for attention. Sometimes you make up because there’s a rat behind the washing machine and you need company to deal with it. Sometimes the rat is just an excuse.

Love gets taken for granted. We forget what it was like in the first place.

“Come and help me choose my shirt,” he says.

“I am working,” I say.

“Please, I have no idea what will go with this colour.”

“Is that your way of saying you love me?”

“You’re the expert,” he says.

Be creative. Have an affair with the one you love. That’s one way to make this business profitable.

Falling in love with the same silly smile again and again and again. That’s shaadi for you. Total barbaadi. Don’t do it, seriously.

(This was first published here: http://www.livemint.com/articles/2012/07/05193229/Marriage-Don8217t-do-it.html and has 40 comments from readers)

Whose wife is it anyway

.
8 years.

Finally I have a sense of why I don’t use the word ‘Wife.’

Husband-Wife doesn’t seem to be a relationship between two people. Its a social and cultural construct. Loaded with expectations, rules, code of conduct.

Thank you very much, appreciate the hard work everyone has put into creating this corporation.

For now, I am friend, lover. Lover, friend.
I give, I receive.

I love, I am beloved.

.

What are you doing, hiding behind him?

I’m hiding behind him because the superficial world, the chamki world, the world of aggression and competition tempts me too much. I love it, I thrive in it………. but I don’t want to spend all my time and life there.
Its empty and it also depresses me…. a lot.

I’m using him as a shield.

I’m also saying Protect me, Hide me, Take Care of me.
Sometimes he does…. sometimes he says, Honey, I gotta go right now. (or something like that!)

I’m also hiding because I feel too thin, too flat to come out and be photographed.

Besides its a great way to touch him, to hug him. He makes me desperate, what can I say.

(Photo taken by Jyotindra at Sush’s Chitt Park home in early 2002. Much before Shaadi)

In November 2008, 2 months after Naseem was born, I retrieved this photo from a heap inside a drawer, dusted it and put it up on my notice board. I could see it when I was nursing the baby, after I had yelled at my daughters, when I felt lonely, lost, hungry and angry.

I looked at it and wondered why I had put it up. There was a reason why but I took my time to understand what.

It was a cross connection time.
Last year, after NamNam was born, I needed to hide, to hold, to be protected. I was exhausted and weak, happy and disturbed. I wanted a shield.
Last year, after Nam Nam was born, he really had to go. (Maybe he had to run, that might be how he felt. To his credit, he didn’t)


That’s Naseem, cheering us along, as we pick up the pieces and get our act together again.

Notes on M A B


MAB: I don’t know why I love you, but Damn! I do

Makes the most atrocious (embarrassing) PC. Unapologetically.

Is masseur par excellence.

Expert at cleaning the bathroom he uses…. he dries the floor with the wiper…. even if the effort makes him bathe with sweat.

Hates make-up. (But not made-up women)

Is excellent with our children…. even though he insists vehemently that he “Hates” children related chores. Brushing teeth, going park, attending school functions.
(‘Why should I travel by bus when I can afford a car? Get a maid, Natasha!’)

Has a special something with Nam Nam, although he dismisses it as my desire so strong that I imagine it.

Worships his Ammi.

I told him today that he is a conservative liberal.

Dreamer-doer.
Dreams up what Chris (our XXLsize English friend) used to call Beg Plans.
Dreams up these dreams and while others are silently praying that he may get over it, embarks on doing them…….. and pain or no pain, gain or no gain ends up doing them.

Some kind of a financial maverick. I cannot elaborate on that yet.

I’m beginning to realise that he has some strengths and talents of genius proportions (calibre)
I can’t quite put my finger on it yet…… but I am slowly getting a sense of it.
(partly from all the suffering he himself endures…. and partly from the suffering caused in me as a side effect of loving him and being true to him as intensely as I am)

Sounds a bit off, I know, but I am saying that even all this misery, pain, heartache and hidden diseases point to something big brewing inside. It wouldn’t hurt so much if he weren’t aiming so high and working so hard. And stretching himself all the way from Adilabad to God knows best where.
It may well be that in some way he is stuck. On his own, he is not being able to make a breakthrough. Or he isn’t ready for it, yet.
We’ll find out.

So what the hell are we two doing together? We don’t know yet, but we’re keeping at it. God guiding us.
He is so silly, he doesn’t even know yet that we have the same God. I mean Af is silly, not God, of course.

Is an artist. People artist. Self trained. Sometimes frustrated, but then this path is hard.

Meanwhile he continues to make atrocious PC.
And brush their teeth at night even as he can’t stand anymore with that pain in his legs. Then massage three pairs of little feet to put them to sleep.

Homeless at Home

Homeless at Home

I’m a film-maker , an artist, a mother and my husband’s lover. What’s wrong with the word, wife?

Must be something not okay about it because I do not say I am a wife. I am probably not a few things a wife is supposed to be. And I don’t want to be those roles either…. So I won’t use that word for now.

(Things are great between Afzal and me….this is a better marriage and partnership than I could ever have imagined even if I had really pushed my imagination from a feminist standpoint. So not using the word wife is not a bad thing, I think)

Coming back to why I feel homeless at home.

There are a few issues here: God, religion, dress code, our mothers. Some others which are unconnected to my marriage: the house is too big, I’m too lazy for consistent housewifery, I worked and traveled for news television for too long.


Also these days accentuated by the fact it’s the month of Razman and this is the first time that I am at home watching Afzal observe his fasts. Empathy, guilt, love…. A combination of emotions causing me to be uncomfortable in my skin.

When he fasts and suffers and prays and I don’t, we become very different. And ‘differences’ is still a bad word for me. It makes me insecure and a little scared.

And that’s the time when it really helps that we have two children who still make us chase them to eat and use the potty and separate them when they are too tired to be nice to each other.