Beloved was my introduction to Morrison. I read it some two decades back, and I still recall how helpless and enraged this book made me feel. A part of me has remained in that shed with Sethe for the past so many years. I suspect that a part of me will always remain in that space.
Beloved, to me, is a book about love; parental love, sibling love, romantic and carnal love, and love between friends and companions. It is about love which is thick and suffocating and love which is nurturing. It is about love that fixes the broken in you, but also about the kind that breaks you repeatedly. "She is a friend of my mind. She gather me, man. The pieces I am, she gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It's good, you know, when you got a woman who is a friend of your mind." Beloved, Toni Morrison.
Zara was born at two in the morning sixteen years ago on the sixteenth of September. She entered the world with her right thumb in her mouth so happily contended that she couldn't be bothered crying. The only time she cried in the next day or two, was when nurses removed her from my side to place her in the crib beside my bed, and then my little warrior would scream murder. After a few times of this, one of the nurses wheeled away the crib after declaring that Zara was a cuddle baby.
That nurse was right. Hold Zara and she melts into you.
Sometimes I look at Zara and I am filled with wonder at how lucky we all are in having her in our lives. Other times, I am a little scared at what will happen when life bruises my child.
I am still a little surprised when she and I walk into a room and I notice male eyes turning to her, and I realize that my child is no longer a child except in my mind, and in the safety of my arms.
Divya Shankar, @divyashankar553,
mentioned Annie Ali Khan to me a few weeks back, and by happy coincidence, my mom-in-law presented me with Sita under the Crescent Moon soon after.
Sita under Crescent Moon is a travelogue of sorts. Annie Ali Khan travels to sacral sites in and around Karachi. But the book is much more than that because she doesn't just visit these places, she takes the time to befriend some of the women she meets at the shrines. This book is as much a story about those women as it is the story of how Partition and the wave of Islamization that took place in Pakistan following the split, has altered the shrines and the people who visit them.
For the longest time, I have wanted to visit these shrines, to discover these places for myself. I hope that someday I shall trace Ali Khan's journey and like her, I hope I will stop to pay attention to the ones who count; the women who come looking for hope in sacral places because the land they live in gives them none.
Annie Ali Khan seems like the kind of person I admire. The type of person who walks their own path unafraid of public censure. Hers is the type of quiet bravery I respect.
She died of suicide July of last year. And no, I don't say that she committed suicide because I don't think that suicide is a choice.
Thank you, Annie Ali Khan, for leaving something wonderful of yourself behind in the form of this book. I wish I had had the chance to meet you. But after reading your words, I feel I almost have. Sleep well. "One woman brought home because of her body. The other woman sent away because of her body. These bodies that did not behave - did not fit on either side of a partitioned hill. These bodies that were childless or scandalous had no home to call their own."
'For the Times, he accompanied Italian troops to Ethiopian in 1935, as what we would now call an embedded reporter, finding it a "thrilling experience" to be covering a war in a part of a world new to him. Quite conventionally for an age that took colonialism for granted, he felt that "the Italians did bring a measure of civilization to Ethiopian," whose native inhabitants were "pure savages, with a vicious lust for blood." Italian soldiers , he told Times readers, fought a "brilliant campaign." No matter that Ethiopia had few weapons with which to defend itself against Mussolini's bombers and poison gas.' I picked up Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936 - 1939 by Adam Hochschild because I don't know nearly enough about the Spanish Civil War, but Hochschild educated me on a lot more besides. He really brings to live events that happened long ago and before my time.
This picture of me was taken just an hour or two before I went into labour with my first-born. At this point, I had no clue as to the agony I would endure for the next couple of hours. I thought I had prepared myself so well. We attended prenatal classes, I had a birthing plan prepared months in advance, my hospital bag had been sitting by the door for the past three months just waiting for the moment to present itself. Even my baby had been prepped for this moment in advance of my due date. Mine was a high-risk pregnancy and so I had been injected with steroids to speed up my baby's lung development because the doctors were so certain that we would not make it to full-term.
But Ali was born right on his due date, the 27th of August. The birth was traumatic. My labour progressed too quickly for me to be given an epidural, but then stalled, and finally Ali was extracted through an emergency C-section, after going into fetal distress thrice.
Once, we brought Ali home, his father and I had no clue what to do with our child. We would sit and gaze at him in bewilderment. Everything he did fascinated us. What a genius our kid was: he could wiggle his hands and toes. We took pictures and made videos of him doing absolutely nothing and then subjected others to watching all this riveting footage with us.
People began avoiding us.
But there was another side to this. 9/11 happened just a few weeks after Ali's birth. My milk didn't come in for days after the C-section, and when it did, there was simply too much of it. A constant deluge which posed risk of infection and dehydration. Breastfeeding was nothing like I imagined it to be. I was clueless and my nipples bled. Ali was colicky and cried all night, every night. I refused to take my pain meds because I was afraid I wouldn't wake up for my baby. I went into depression. I was suicidal. I didn't realize what was wrong with me, and therefore, didn't get any help.
There is no tidy ending for this caption. I stumbled out of depression, only to fall back into it from time to time. Ali is now in university. And Luna and I go for long, long walks because every day is a new day, and life goes on.
Isabel Allende wrote Paula as a letter to her twenty-eight year old daughter. A letter begun at her bedside as she lies unconscious and which continues reciting their family history until her death months later. "Perhaps motherhood is a series of small abandonments, in the same way life is a series of goodbyes. We are raising our children to survive without us in the world. We are raising them to leave us, raising them to endure our own departure." -Ayalet Tsabari, The Art of Leaving.
But what is infinitely worse, is when we survive to live in a world, which no longer contains our children.
"If women have influence, it is only- and then only sometimes-within their home. Men control all the political and economic power, the culture and customs; they proclaim the laws and apply them as they wish, and when social pressures and legal apparatus are not sufficient to subdue the most rebellious women, the Church steps in with its incontestable patriarchal seal. What is unforgivable, though, is that it is women who perpetuate and reinforce the system, continuing to raise arrogant sons and servile daughters. If they would agree to revise the standards, they could end machismo in one generation." - Isabel Allende, Paula.
Patriarchy is propagated by both men and women. I come from a long line of female chauvinists; women who don't see the contradiction apparent in the way they stand up for their own rights, while forcing women younger and in weaker positions than themselves to adhere to subservient roles. Women who sit at the table with the men and have other women wait upon them, and if god forbid, they lift a finger to help the woman serving, it is done as a grand favour.
Women who break every rule themselves but frown on other women breaking rules. Women who have no problems with their men drinking, flirting, and bossing others, but raise their eyes at the "out-of-control woman" in the circle of family and friends.
But I am not interested in just pointing fingers, the sad truth is that I am also guilty. My own feminism only rears its head when convenient. I too have held on far too long to too many conventions without examining my own behaviour. I have spent years whispering about my own body as if it is a dirty secret. I first wasted years adhering to other people's idea of modesty and then more years, rebelling against enforced rules. It is only recently that I have finally, somewhat, come to terms with the idea that a person's body belongs to them alone and it is for them to decide how to present it to others. There should be no shaming attached to either covering up or to uncovering. Your body; your choice.
Please let the women in your life breathe. "All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks." -Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Brothers of the Gun is a memoir about life in Syria, before, during, and after the war. It is not a book that one can enjoy. A light read. A minor distraction. This one will fill you with sorrow and it leave you in that place. I finished reading it a few hours back and my heart is still heavy and I actually hope it remains that way. "Should I point out the real victims of terrorism? Should I point out who the terrorists were? They were mostly Europeans and non-Syrian Arab jihadis, and Americans, European, Russian, and regime military pilots fighting each other in a war that was never ours, but claimed us as its victims all the same. How did we, the locals, exert control over a French jihadi threatening to conquer Paris? A stranger who had done more to us than he'd ever done to his country and his people." - Marwan Hisham
He and I have been reading ever since we began our journey together eighteen years ago. People would ridicule me for reading advanced books to an infant but he listened. By the time, he was a year old, he was completing the ends of the sentences in the books I most frequently read to him. He is my book thief. The very best of my books disappear from my shelves to reappear in his. Even the book I am currently reading, Brothers of the Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian War by Marwan Hisham, was immediately whisked away by him, only to be returned two days later once he was done reading it.
Here, I tell a half-truth. He never returned it. I retrieved it from his desk.
The questions he most often asks me are: what's for dinner? What are you reading? And how do you like it?
My baby will be leaving me soon. He has been preparing me all summer for this departure by repeatedly disappearing for camping and cottage trips with friends. I already know what it is to have food last longer in my fridge. I am growing accustomed to smaller laundry loads.
But I already also miss the sound of his voice, his presence in our home, his loving, playful interactions with Luna.
I know Luna misses him too from the way she greets him each time he returns. I wish I too, could launch myself into his arms the way she does when he walks in through the door.
"Home is collecting stories, writing them down, and retelling them. Home is writing, and it grounds, sustains, and nourishes me. Home is the page. The one place I always come back to." - Ayelet Tsabari, The Art of Leaving.
This is one of those books which people seem to either love or hate, I loved it. I love easily, but the good thing about loving a book is that it doesn't let you down, if anything it keeps you company through your lonely hours.
The Art of Leaving was good company. It's a brutally honest book. The prose is simple, straight forward, perfect. There are no pretensions in this book. Tsabari does not attempt to woo you and I like that a lot.