Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Happy Birthday Old Friend

Today is Pakistan's Independence Day. Today, I finished the (hopefully) last draft of my novel, which is set in the country of my birth.

We all hear about Pakistan in the news, we all know the other buzz words that follow in the same sentence. But the Pakistan I remember so vividly is different.

My Pakistan was so hot that after a rigorous game of hide-and-seek in the compound, I could squeeze the sweat from my sudrah. After an evening of swimming at the Gymkhana, where I always won the freestyle at the annual swimming contest, I cradled hot-from-the-tandoor naan in my lap in the back seat of the car, head spinning from too  many dives to the bottom of the pool. Once a week, I stood quivering in Sister Bergman's office at the Convent of Jesus and Mary, unable to explain how it was I'd lost my Blue House badge yet again.

On the night we left for Canada, my best friend, Mehereen, and I stood in the passage of Nani Nana's house in front of the lattice work through which I had always been able to see her apartment, hugging and crying our goodbyes.

I went back twelve years later to a different Pakistan. Each day brought forth a torrent of memories, wave after wave of things that no longer were. I wasn't allowed into the pool area of the Gymkhana without a member accompanying me (no one cared I'd been the free style champion from 1986-90). We weren't allowed to enter the Convent our first two tries; Mehereen had moved away. It was a trip filled with nostalgia long felt, wishes not quite fulfilled, not fully understood in the moment.

Years after that, I began to write a novel. My main character decided to go to Pakistan. I tagged along to show her the way.

I know it's a place of perpetual turmoil. I know the political history, the literacy stats, the predictions for its future. I know that when I tell people where I was born, they judge me. I know that whatever I've made Karachi out to be in my novel comes from a place of naive nostalgia, of seeing the lassi glass half full.

But what do you do with the place that holds a part of you in its dusty grip, that calls you back to its raging sea at sunset which you know will glow brighter, thanks to the pollution in the air, than any you've seen the world over? How do you keep from tearing up when you speak to your family back home, the crows nearly drowning them out, hearing the ayah- your old ayah- come in and, you imagine, get on her haunches to sweep the patterned floor with the graying chindi in great damp arcs?

Even Pakistan's Independence Day is rife with controversy. Even in my myopic state, I see that. Yet today, like many other days, it is on my mind, in my heart.

This is a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek song I discovered in my research of Pakistani pop music. Its depiction of the state of things gets closer to the truth than I've ever managed to.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Kill the Critic

They say in order to write, you must kill the critic. You know, that little voice in your head that watches every word you write and hisses into your ear how awful it all is, forcing you to second-guess yourself till every last ounce of self-confidence is depleted and you slap shut the laptop and slump before the TV. That's the inner critic, a writer's worst enemy. 

I told this to a friend who was saying her writing's crap and she described her inner critic to me (in a way that proves how un-crap her writing is). Inspired, I thought about mine.

My inner critic is a prissy Parsi girl who sits atop my shoulder twirling the end of one of her perfect plaits and, squinting at my writing, sucks in her breath sharply. "Really? You think that's how Parsis are?" she asks incredulously. "That's not how it would happen in Karachi," she laughs.

I'm from Karachi, I insist. Offering me a simpering smile, she crosses her legs daintily and lists my offenses: I was a mere child when I left, I know nothing of its politics, its history, its day to day occurrences. My Gujarati comes out a bastardized hybrid of Gujrati and Urdu and the Hinglish I've picked up from Bollywood, every other sentence caught in a downward spiral of confused tenses and misplaced pronouns till I give up and finish off in English. 

I continue to type. She goes in for the kill. Didn't I attended... the Convent of Jesus and Mary, she asks, patting the emblem of her Mama Parsi Girls High School uniform. 

People will see you for the fraud you are, she preens, plumping the ribbon at the end of her braid. You may as well give up now before everyone finds out, she smiles, revealing for an instant the flicker of a pronged tongue.

I wait for her to slink off to do her sadra kasti- being a good Parsi girl, she does her prayer ritual five times a day- and then, while her eyes are closed in prayer, I push her into a closet and get back to work.