I heard about Gulshan-i-Iqbal park when I was wrapped up in my blanket in my warm apartment, oceans away from the carnage and body parts. My immediate response was worry—not about the lives lost but about my family. Having confirmed that everyone I knew was fine, I proceeded to get out of bed and carry out my daily morning rituals. I made alaichi chai, making sure to let the cardamom infused water boil for a long time. I responded to some messages from friends asking about my family, thanked them for their concern, and decided to make myself an omelet with onions and green peppers. Luxuries of a Sunday morning. I made a mental list of the errands I had to run, the electricity bill I had to pay, and the assignments I had to finish for tomorrow. As I sipped my chai, I opened Dawn on my phone, scrolled quickly through the news articles, and glanced at the image with the woman crying. I thought momentarily about how the idea of “women and children” is used by journalists to invite empathy, to amplify the “innocence” of the lives lost; thought about incorporating the images and headlines into a paper I’m writing on the problematic co-optation of women as symbols by nations while broadcasting news about tragedy.
And this is how I forget the real women and children killed, the real Christians in Pakistan who undergo the horrors of existing under religious facism in a country where the sunni Muslims keep sipping their chai; in a country where folks like me never fear that we too will blow up like the suicide bomber with our anger and sorrow. We are devoid of anger, not because we are used to tragedy, but because we know that we will never be the chosen targets of the suicide bomber. We will never have nightmares about finding children’s limbs under heavy metal pieces, we will never fear the monsters unleashed on our religious holidays, we will never live at the literal margins of Lahore. We will text our family members to make sure they weren’t accidentally around Gulshan-i-Iqbal during the unfortunate bombing, we will drink more and more chai as we scroll through the news stories about Islamist militants, and we will continue to do our daily chores. And now and then in the coming week, we will discuss the state of Pakistan, express our contrived grief as we willfully create a rhetoric that highlights the unfathomable brutality of militants and erases the daily oppression lived religious and ethnic minorities. If we are leftist radicals, we will also talk about how our armed forces are not any different from the taliban; how the authorities would not mourn such an attack if “innocent women and children” had been killed in Balochistan by our nawjawan.
And in our condemnation of the militants, the government, the army, the taliban –who selectively target Christians, Hindus, Ahmedis, Balochis, Hazaras etc etc — we will forget that our chores, our schools, our jobs, our academic papers, our smartphones that provide us with latest updates on the bloodbath, are all tools of systems that selectively target those who live at the margins. We will forget that the lives at the margins exist in that periphery because of our complicity, our silence, our forgetfulness, our chai, our ability to calmly chop green peppers for a morning omellete while a Christian woman in Lahore is shaken by recurring visions of her chopped up sister.
Chop chop chop, sip sip sip. I hate chopping vegetables in the morning even though I really like having some color in my omelet. If only I had a bomb in my kitchen to chop up the limbs of the peppers and onions for me.
i am tired/ of shuttling between the binaries of mullah and white/ of defending the worst parts of me my history my trauma/ of constantly laboring to shatter stereotype to complicate your simplistic reductive bullshit that makes me want to give up the parts of me that are meant to be the most radical
your mullah, your imam, your man who holds hadiths like knives makes me defend the feminist movements that have harmed my mother my grandmother my aunties, makes me suck up to your imperialism, sows my mouth shut when the white cis gay man shrouds me in this rainbow veil/ i do not know how to critique the neoliberalism and colonialism behind feminist and queer movements when my womanhood and queerness is being charred slowly by the sparks of the holy quran/ in the name of god who is most merciful and kind but only in his tyrannical ways
your white, your western, your liberal makes me defend the religion the culture the traditions that i always ran away from, makes me suck up to all things islam, sows my mouth shut when my own brown men shroud me under their protective possessive violent gaze/ i do not know how to critique surah nisa and the thirteenness of khadija-zainab-saffiya-ayesha-etc.etc. behind the faith that has protected me against the swords of whiteness that do not slay, but only probe me slowly split my skin slowly/ you don’t kill straight-up you maim bruise torture me islamophobia
i’ve had enough of this shuttling/ of defending the violence of my brown muslim men in the face of your islamophobia, of defending the colonial violence and prescription of my western-educated feminism and queer liberation in the face of your blasphemy laws/ i am tired of shuttling between your islamophobia your blasphemy your mosque that pushes women to the back your fucked up imperialism your pinkwashing your homonationalism/ when will i give up this defending this justifying this explaining this educating/ when will i finally give up this body, this womanness, this ism, this islam, this muslimness, this brown queer bullshit that is supposed to make me radical but only makes me want to/ wash away my brown, tear apart my quran, vomit out my womyn my queer my desire, and surrender to you/ all of my shields and all of my explanations and all of my contrived broken strength
the women in my family taught me how to love women by not loving men no, they are not lesbians or queer or whatever labels you stick onto me, but they refused so wholly to succumb emotionally to men
the women in my family are embodiments of light because they could not get tied to false ideas of hetero romance yes, they spat out the lies fed to them by the afsanay they read the films they watched
the women in my family married men for circumstance, not love
and this is not their tragedy but their ferocity
[yes, this is not some sad poem about their oppression but a testament to their battle, to their unwavering courage]
the women in my family have been fighting since they hit puberty, and some even before then, and they do not tire they labor on and on in the kitchens and bazaars and gardens by closing their hearts to men even when they can’t close their legs, by rising through hardened mud to build suns for their daughters
my mother has held the entire fucking world on her breasts and she still stands straight always my phuppo learned to make love to god after learning that the man she called husband could only make rape, not love, to her and my nani has had her head filled with clouds since she got married, and yet she never let it rain because the women in my family are goddesses whose kisses planted wings on my back, who filled their own voids by loving each other, who taught me to look beyond the hetero romance ideas being drilled into me from all the arenas that were controlled by men
the women in my family taught me the different colors of love, the multiple directions that I can get and give love, the million ways of drinking and savoring and holding love so deep inside me, and none of these teachings ever involved men
a few thousand years ago when i was crashing into rocks and giving birth to this body burden i sprouted a forest on my chest of two little touch-me-nots and the right one became touchable first
my right nipple: i touched it when i was seven to see what it would feel like and i liked the feeling so i tickled it and used a feather on it and later forgot all about it when i discovered my clitoris, the long span of childhood isn’t different from one night of sex is it? the nipple just gets forgotten under the thunder and rain of other body parts
now it is just a sore, wrapped up, padded up, pillowed part of me that you are not meant to see, that I am not meant to talk write scream moan cry about even if it cracks and bleeds and milks and flowers but I am developing slowly a practice of love and care and compassion
so, the first thing i do when i come back to my apartment from a day of laboring under this white sky against white walls is take off my bra unbuckle it from under my shirt squeeze my arms through the shoulder straps slip the cage through my sleeve without taking off my shirt first
you see, i’m just lazy like that, but i will let this right nipple of mine breath freely when i can when the white walls aren’t closing in when the hybrid monster of memory-oblivion will allow me some respite
what happens if you clip a touch-me-not from the stem, does it react, does all feeling die then, does it become touchable for the whole goddamn world? after all my critical theory books imply that there may not be any such thing as consent in a world ruled by ideology, ugh i will feed this book to the memory-oblivion monster, let him chew it and vomit it out while riding a merry-go-round
you see, i just don’t like it when my right nipple is taken lightly, or taken too seriously that it has to turn into a theory, my body is not a theory for your academic consumption
my right nipple is air and wood and earth and fire it burns and gushes and sometimes it creates a breeze and sometimes it hurts like hell, like today it hurt and i did not know what to do should i call the doctor or should i hold it and sooth it myself, i always choose the latter
you see, my nipple is a landmark that I don’t want inspected by some doctor, it holds the vestiges of my seven year old fingernails, the residue of her hot saliva, drippingdripdrip downward as her tongue rolls and circles against my heavy moans,
you see, my nipple is not for inspection under your microscope, it is a historical site, but not for historians no, these salivatory drips and red hot aches and cotton padded cages, none of these can be archived
there are no visible remains
so, I put my hand under my shirt and touch the softness softly and my nipple feels like
it is made of nothing
Nani ama, I spend most of my time trying to trace your histories etched in the wrinkles of your hands, your forehead, your neck. And I am never able to fully discover these histories, because you are always silent. So I wonder sometimes, if you had had a different life, different histories embedded in your skin, would you share your histories with ease? If you were raised with listeners around you, would you sing fiercely about your life? If you sat in gender studies classrooms, would you emerge with wings sprouting of your back? If you lived on your own, would you spend most of your time thinking about poetry and astronomy and films instead of home and husband and children and laundry? Would you suck on your fingers while eating achari meals you cook for one instead of making sure everyone else consumed food you cook for eight? If you lived for yourself, would the lines on your hands speak more about pleasure than responsibility? Would you turn to art for inspiration rather than to god for comfort? Would you believe more in creativity and production than in destiny? Would you stomp your feet while dancing, would you write about sex with no barriers? If allowed a consciousness about choices and desires, would you be in love with a woman?
Even with this life history, I wonder if you dance secretly on your aging feet, I wonder if you do cook for pleasure sometimes, I wonder if you do muse about wings and tails and webbed feet that can take you to the depths of oceans. I wonder if the childhood friend you once mentioned so fondly and emotionally was your lover, your first inkling of hope in a world where your story was written and edited by others. I guess I will never know because you refuse to tell me your full story. Have they convinced you forever that your stories don’t matter? Do you not believe that I want to listen? Or is this silence your defiance against the world? Am I part of the world that you resist with your silence?
under my feet
lies a crushed cockroach cadaver whose icky crunchiness I still smell when I think of my the space under my left heel
and under my feet lie dreams (that I make sure stay there by clenching my toes hard and closing off any space between them) of holding the heavens for the daughter I will never be able to nurture
and under here I see early morning floors still dusty weeeh I loved to sweep those with my five year old feet so later I could look fascinatingly at the black dissolve from under me on the white tiles of the bathroom
but here, this part under my feet is so grainy and hard now that I wonder when a part of my skin that no one ever cares to look at began to reflect the hardening of my mind (seriously, if you want to look into someone, feather their heel with your eyelashes and you will see through those fissures)
sometimes when it tickles under the hollow of my feet I still feel them marching, those armies led by the women that my history books stomped over thud thud thud
and now under the cracks of my feet lies the warm cushion of double socks that I wear to fight this american cold as I let nostalgia for lahore’s warmth erase the childhood trauma of walking over broken china (what is better, frostbite or blood loss?)
Holds memories too distorted and labeled
For me to make sense now, but they
Arise out of my skin sometimes:
Like the tense muscles smooth skin of my mother’s back as I massaged her on her bed (yes I used my palm more often than my fingers because I liked to feel her warmth fully, absorb it fully on a bigger surface area)
Like the coarse sheets the soft blanket that I held onto after a nightmare, after a nightmarish day, after a nightmarish night, after the image wouldn’t erase even from under my eyelids
Like the sweat of his palm as he handed me change for my 100 ruppee bill but made sure to rub his wet carefully on this palm, so I’d look around the marketplace scared, suddenly ashamed to be alive
Or like the insides of her thighs the soft the flesh the stubble the heat coming out of her going through my palms and spreading through my entire body and coming to rest under my vagina which beat lub dub faster than my uneven heart
Like my baby sister’s hand that I clasped tightly while crossing the road afraid of her existence afraid that he would come from left or right or above or from under the earth to rub his – or like the back of her head when I carry her across the road after envisioning him rising from under the earth to touch her
Or like Her idea or light or power or whatever it is that keeps me raising these palms to pray– like trying while sitting idle on my prayer mat to catch any hope She tosses my way
Or like her fingers tracing the lines on this palm tickling me here and stopping there to draw a line that connected my broken palm line to her heavily ingrained one