Today I lost a poem

Today I lost a poem –
it might have gone down the drain in the shower
or alongside the dirty washing up water
Come to think of it, maybe it got thrown out
of my pocket along with old receipts…

There were some lines about longing
and England and the trees
and wondering where life is going
and whether calling myself a writer is suitable
or pretentious
or simply untrue
Because I don’t do it as often as I used to,
because the things I think about nowadays are hidden,
embarrassing even!
Because writing happened the most when I was unwell
and now that I’m better, is there anything left to say?

The poem might have escaped when I was busy at work
or maybe it just got tired of waiting.


A summer in grayscale.

I’ve had some adventures this summer. In early June, I visited my brother in Spain and we went to an amazing aquarium in Valencia — a city I’d never visited. I battled the heat as best as I could and enjoyed myself.
A couple of weeks later, I had the privilege of visiting Brussels. A friend who lives there showed me around the European Institutions and the old town. I took advantage of my short time there to explore and take some photos. I loved the buildings, the food and even the constant confusion as to what language one should speak. I tried Dutch several times but it didn’t quite work; apparently it depends on the neighbourhood you’re in. I was happy to meet some Flemish-speaking Belgians at the airport, even though it was time to leave.
In early July, my mum came to England to visit me. We did some tourism in London — I ended up walking with her along some of the sights where I usually take language students. I took the opportunity of being in London for my own enjoyment to take some photos of popular tourist attractions.
There was plenty of colour this summer but grayscale highlights lines, shapes and the intensity of colour. These features bring forth something that, I think, often gets lost when we see an image in full colour. Enjoy!

Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, Valencia
I love signposts. Valencia.
Ashford Internatonal; waiting and more waiting…
I love that everything is in two languages! Learnt some useful phrases in French because of this.
The Royal Library, Brussels
The camera couldn’t quite capture everything. I love the books on the windows!
Beautiful balconies, Brussels
This made me smile, Brussels
View from a friend’s flat, Brussels
View from a friend’s flat, Brussels
Southark Cathedral, London
In London with mum
Westminster bridge, London
My first ever photo of the London Eye!

“Modern women have cats as family!”

This morning I watched a film called Good Morning Karachi. The film follows Rafina and her family. She lives with her mother and younger brother in Faisal Colony, a neighbourhood in Karachi. She spends a lot of time looking at a billboard across from her house, where there is a woman clad in yellow, hair floating in the air, a faint glossy smile on her face. Rafina stares at the billboard and dreams about having a job and “seeing a bit of the world”, as she puts it. Rosie khala (aunty), a neighbour, works at a beauty salon called Radiance. Rafina begs Rosie to take her there and let her be an assistant so she can learn. Rosie’s son, Arif, and Rafina like each other and they often go on drives around the city and talk about the future. Rafina’s mother and Rosie agree that their children should get married but first Rafina is offered the opportunity of working for two months at Radiance, after that the wedding will take place and she will no longer work but start a family with Arif. He is involved in politics and the atmosphere is getting quite heated in the city. Arif is eventually taken to prison and questioned because of his involvement.

At Radiance Rafina goes from making tea to being a model. She is excited about it and goes for it despite the opposition of her mother and Arif. Rosie doesn’t seem to think there is anything wrong with it but Rafina’s mother is worried. Throughout the film we get a feel of how tense the atmosphere in Karachi is through the radio show Good Morning Karachi. It is a useful device for the audience – especially if you’re not familiar with the city – to understand how Rafina’s choices are seen as defiant and maybe even dangerous.

Rafina is convinced that she wants to be a “modern woman, like the ones in Paris, New York and London”. She jokes with her younger brother that “modern women have cats as family”. Rafina has a family and she is offered a proposal of marriage by Arif, with the approval of both their mothers. But by choosing to become a model she jeopardises these things, especially her relationship with Arif. I couldn’t help seeing her as a victim: going from the hands of her family to the hands of her employers, who see her as a way to make money, not a person. I’m looking at this situation from a place where models are hardly ever presented as women who are in charge of their lives — or maybe that’s just my perception. I have often thought that the moment you sell your image to be manipulated and distributed you are no longer in charge of it. Being a model doesn’t seem like a way for a woman to take charge of her life, it doesn’t seem to be a way of being free. But watching this film stirred something in me, it unmasked many of my prejudices and assumptions of what it is to be a “modern woman”, as Rafina puts it.

There is a moment in the film where Rafina must decide whether she stays at a fashion show or goes to the funeral of someone close to her. She ends up staying and doing the fashion show, which is her big break. At this point I stood in judgement for a moment, how could she?! But when she went on the runway I was disarmed by the expression on her face: determined, strong, piercing eyes and confidence. It was beautiful. Later on, when the sun goes down and she realises she’s missed the funeral, she is walking on the street in tears. But she owns up to the consequences of her decision; she asks the hard questions “I missed the funeral. How could I?” and it is Jamal, the Radiance representative, who somehow tries to justify her actions, probably in an attempt at silencing his own conscience.

I wonder how many women in cities like Karachi dream of living the life of women in Western capitals. Rafina’s modelling career has little to do with this. I’m more interested in her picture of the modern woman; one who works, lives alone, makes decisions on her own, doesn’t marry… That is the picture Rafina has but most of all she wants to be free to make her own decisions, to do something that she is passionate about. I look at Rafina’s story from a place where I enjoy all the freedoms she would like to have. But I also struggle finding a place in society, knowing what it means to be a woman nowadays. I don’t even need to be modern, whatever that means.

So what does it mean to be a (modern) woman in Europe? Often it feels like the obstacles for women are invisible walls. Discrimination against women in different areas of life is often more subtle here than it is in countries like Pakistan. We may not be told how to dress or that it is best if we don’t go out alone. We are generally not forced to marry a person we have not chosen. We are told that we can do any job we want. But it is still a struggle, from things related to women’s salaries, to women discriminating against each other, to small acts of sexism (like a male colleague patting you on the head and saying “oh, women always like to draw attention to themselves”).

At the end of the film Rafina, her mother and her younger brother are in the process of moving to a different flat. She is not marrying Arif and she is continuing to work. She has launched a campaign with the face of Rosie in it called “Unveil your loving glow”, where Rosie is shown lifting a veil off of her face. It isn’t clear what the campaign is for, I guess I’d have to read the book for that. But her actions are seen as provocative by the city’s more conservative mullahs.

Flyers with Rosie’s face are distributed on the streets, most of them are given to women, they are on cars, posters on pillars, there is even a billboard. Rafina is invited to a TV programme where she says that the campaign is a call to “show your love”. She is proud to show her aunty’s face. I believe Rafina is strong and independent, she is a “modern woman”.

Maybe being a modern woman is not about whether you decide to have babies or not; whether you live close to your family or far from them; or whether you are a model, a hairdresser or a diplomat. Maybe it is more about daring to live life to the fullest despite the obstacles you will undoubtedly find, whether they are big injustices or small annoyances. I can think of many stories of women in history that attest to the fact that this can be done. But Rafina’s story isn’t big, it is rather one where you have to zoom in: one city, one neighbourhood, one family, one life. She learns to pursue what she wants, cares for those she loves and defies social norms in a city rife with contradictions, danger, beauty and turmoil. Rafina may be fictional but her story has reminded me that we can find inspiration and courage to live with joy in the women around us, women like her mother and her Rosie khala.

Eminem’s Monster and the Ghosts that I knew.

Just a quick reflection on Camille Paglia’s article about Eminem’s new album, The Marshall Mathers LP2.

Her article appeared in The Sunday Times Magazine, it begins as follows: “The rap star Eminem has a reputation for conjuring violent and degrading imagery – particularly against women. Yet his daring eighth album has won him a surprising admirer in Camille Paglia, America’s foremost cultural critic.”

I read the article with enthusiasm because as a teenager I used to listen to Eminem and some of his songs still ring a bell. I remember watching 8 Mile with my brother; for some reason we both identified with aspects of the main character in that film. Paglia’s article has brought these memories to the surface.

She conducts an analysis of Eminem’s album against the backdrop of the current pop music scene. His album has been very successful so far despite the low-key publicity, the contrast is especially stark if compared to Lady Gaga’s latest album. What I find interesting, however, is Paglia’s take on the connection between Eminem’s troubled childhood and his music. His unhappy, volatile home situation growing up is no secret. And he has undoubtedly used rap as a tool for expressing the anger and frustration that such experiences yield. What makes me uncomfortable is Camille Paglia’s opinion that “Eminem’s conflicts are internal and therefore irresolvable, forever propelling him forward”. Yes, it seems like he hasn’t dealt with his childhood stuff but it is a mistake to assume that internal conflicts don’t have a solution and that it’s okay as long as they are the driving force behind a person’s creativity. I get that what she was doing was analysing his album but I couldn’t help thinking about the fact that this man is alive! As long as he is walking on this earth, his conflicts, if left unsolved, are a double-edged sword. He has a choice to make there but it doesn’t help that academics, in the name of art, put this man’s “monsters” down as the artists’ defining quality. Of other rappers she writes, “Success often undermines black rappers by removing them from their harsh early environment. Striving to stay relevant, they can become pompous and monotonous, such as Jay-Z or Kanye West in their respective overblown new albums”. It seems that what she was saying is that the only reason Eminem is good is because he had a messed up childhood and as long as he holds on to the ugliness of the consequences he will have something to say. Camille Paglia seems to be a woman of strong opinions and I respect her for that. But as someone who has faced the devastating consequences of a childhood similar to that of Eminem, I cannot accept the superficiality of such conclusion. In any case, the article was good Sunday afternoon reading material.

When 8 Mile came out I had no idea that more than a decade later I would be sitting in a therapist’s office staring at a gaping wound, unable to express my rage and process pain – trying to reconcile the disgust I feel for some of the things I experienced growing up and my desire to have a family some day. There was a time when my creativity was fed by the ghosts of the past. I was friends with “the monster that live[d] under my bed”. And I thought that if I ever let go, creativity would dry out: I would no longer be able to write honest poetry, I thought I would be dull, a conformist, a sheltered and creatively impotent individual. I will not deny that the pain of the past has shaped who I am. I am strong, compassionate and honest. But saying goodbye to my ghosts hasn’t killed my creativity. I don’t have to hold on to the anger, reproduce the violence or forever explore my unresolved issues with my parents. And neither does Eminem.

“But if one kid out of a hundred million
who are goin’ through a struggle feels it and
relates that’s great, it’s payback…”

The Monster, Eminem ft. Rihanna, 2013.