America, Black and White, life, life lessons, random

My clothes, my chicken. Your opinions, I don’t care.

I’ve been visiting the gym regularly this year. I realized that it was a necessary evil I had to comply with if I wanted to lose that extra butt I’ve been carrying around. I could easily run for Most Unhealthiest Person in Gym award and win since most of the people I see there are hard core, weight lifting, protein shake drinking, cross fitting guys and gals. In the past few months that I’ve been there, I’ve seen more armpits than I’d like to accept. I’ve seen abs and six packs and calves of steel. None of them are mine, btw.

So, I go to the gym 2-3 times a week after I drop off this man who stays in my house (he says he’s my husband but idk). After an hour of cardio and struggling around with minimal weights, I go grocery shopping ’cause after all that exercise your girl’s gotta eat. I’m very iffy about the kind of poultry I purchase. Good poultry is available in this Pakistani/Indian/Arab/Confused grocery store a few miles from the gym. Some weeks I go there directly after working out and other weeks I drop by while running errands.

There’s a sweet old Pakistani/Indian/Arab/Confused Uncle who works there. I’ve been frequenting the same shop for a few years now so he recognizes me. Every time he sees me he gives a toothy smile and says, “Salam Alaikum! Kya haal hain?!”

Now firstly, I can’t speak Urdu and I know only conversational Hindi. Yet for some reason 99% of the people I’ve met assume that I can actually SPEAK these languages, because as a Muslim it is blasphemy if I don’t speak urdu. They then proceed to have long conversations with me. However, while I can understand what’s being said, I cannot reply back. So when Confused Uncle asks Kya haal hain, I give my best smile and say “Teek hain!!!” He then returns to stacking the shelves apparently satisfied with my answer.

Now, every time we’ve had this interaction I’ve been dressed more or less like this.

 

hijab final

 

A button down, skinny jeans and whichever scarf is clean. This is my uniform, my normcore. In the above picture I’m wearing my favorite button down with donut prints (H&M men’s section, you’re welcome). I most probably haven’t showered and from the look on my face I’ve only had one quota of caffeine. While I applaud my sartorial choices, I’m not too thrilled to go grocery shopping at 11 am when I could sit at home and watch Netflix. Basically, I’m the most anti social person and that’s just me generally. But I always try to put on a smile, even if it is fake, for Confused Uncle ’cause he always enquires about my haal.

The days when I go the shop after gym, I look like this.

 

gym

 

Sweatshirt, leggings, a cap instead of a scarf cause I don’t want to strangle myself and a smile because endorphins. I’m sure most people would find this gym outfit too stuffy but I feel comfortable in it. And some days I look cuter than pictured. I’ve not got weird looks in the gym so far ’cause honestly nobody cares what I wear. They’re all too busy pumping weights and what not. The first day I went grocery shopping, Confused Uncle was manning the meat area. When we made eye contact I automatically smiled and said “Salam Al–

Aapko kya chaahiye“, this cold eyed stranger cut me off.

“Uncleji!”, I wanted to scream. “It’s me! You know me!” But this man with his poker straight face looked right through me like we’ve never exchanged the same conversation ten times before. I was confused initially but then it struck me “Uncleji didn’t recognize me in my gym clothes!”

Oh Uncleji, could my cap and leggings be that big a disguise.

But it wasn’t just that he didn’t recognize me. He treated me like he does every other customer and reserved his sweet side only for scarf wearing, desi Mozlem women. I was and still am so outraged by this. Funnily enough, I’ve never had bad service anywhere because of my scarf. Maybe it’s because I live in liberal state where there are Mozlems aplenty but people have generally been nice to me. I’ve never felt mistreated because of what I wear or don’t wear. But this Uncle is a perfect example of stereotypical desi man mentality of sitting on a 100 feet high horse judging every woman for the choices she makes from their stinky Tower of Male Privilege. Men like him only believe in external “modesty” because they understand modesty to be one dimensional. My cap wearing self is not wild and loose. And just cause I wear a scarf I’m not a goody two shoes. Over the years I have found a sweet spot in the middle of these two “extremes” that suit me just fine. Also, why do men get to dictate levels of modesty? It’s so easy for men to tell women to dress modestly (doesn’t matter the level of modesty)  when they get to wear the same two pieces of clothing as every man on the planet. If you have an opinion about women’s modesty you better be a woman yourself. And don’t judge a woman for her choice of clothing unless you’ve actually worn said clothing before.

Since I have a deep fear of confrontation I never said anything to Uncleji about it. But it wasn’t the only time I experienced it. The situation played out the same way every time I wore my gym clothes. Now, I don’t go the store in my civilian clothes ’cause I ain’t got no time for fake enquires about my haal. So, BYE FELICIA.

(I will still purchase poultry from said grocery shop because chicken.)

(Not all Muslims speak Urdu. Your world is shattered, I know. But hey, it was a small, narrow one after all.)

(All images belong to me. Please contact me if you’d like to purchase my artwork.)

 

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America, Black and White, life, life lessons, madras

Hoarder

I have a problem. I hoard things. I don’t collect random knick knacks and all my nostalgic stuff consists of slam books, letters and diaries. These I keep in two cardboard boxes marked with “ZARINE’S STUFF DO NOT OPEN” written across the front. The boxes safely reside in Chennai, perched above an antique cupboard in my room. I unbox them every time I’m at home, relive those memories for a few moments and pack them up again. Those few moments are enough to tide me over for a year.

What I hoard are pretty things. Notebooks, shoes, clothes and scarves. I buy pretty things with the intent of wearing them but I hoard them while I wait for the “perfect” occasion. This has caused me to buy stacks of pretty clothes that never see the light of day because no occasion seems “perfect”.

I have a gorgeous, purple colored, Kashmiri embroidered jacket. While buying it I was ecstatic at the prospect of wearing it. Since that day five birthdays have come and gone. Anniversaries, special dinners, festivals, but none of these matched up to the “perfect” occasion that I created in my head. I possess a number of beautifully designed notebooks that scream to be written in. Rolls of silk scarves are piled on top of each other, each anticipating a perfect outfit. Exquisite kurtas wrapped in delicate tissue paper sit in my closet waiting to be worn, waiting to create memories in.

But lately I’ve realized that the most imperfect occasions create the best memories. That “perfect” occasion in my head will never materialize because my expectations far surpasses the reality of it. And funnily enough the reality is a million times better than my expectation. Now, I’ve promised myself that I will wear the clothes I want to and write in all my books even if it is just a sentence. I will use my pretty things to make memories even on the most ordinary days and years later, when I come across these things I will see them for what they are- not just “pretty” things but memories.

As for my purple jacket, she still hangs in my closet in quiet anticipation. Little does she know the plans I have for her.

closetold

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America, Black and White, life, life lessons, random

Epiphanies

The past few months I’ve had an epiphany of sorts. Maybe its the growing up or maybe it’s just seeing people in a clearer light, but it is happening. This epiphany (or epiphanies to be precise) has shaken the core of what I thought I knew. I guess everyone goes through phases like this that help them realize things, but accepting what I saw of others and of myself has taken me a while to adjust to.

I know people change, priorities change and people grow but it has been so hard for me to come to terms with it. Friends I once thought were everything have left me stranded and the others, I see them for whom they truly are. This has taught me to be selfish. Selfish of my heart that I should protect from people who treat it mercilessly, like its a plaything. Being selfish has also given me a thicker skin. I don’t let words or actions affect me and I just imagine them sliding off of me, distancing myself from it as far as I can.

Now I know not to trust people based on their face value. I know that promises are just that.. promises.. words that can be so easily mouthed without any action being taken. But what this phase hasn’t made me is bitter. I’ve realized that everyone is going through some difficult stage and the way they act out is by throwing darts at others. I see those darts and I understand them, but they aren’t going to hit me. My shield is my empathy. I feel you, I hear you but you aren’t going to get my heart.

So that’s my lesson for today, kids. It’s okay to be selfish as long as you are protecting your heart. And no one is worth those sleepless nights spent agonizing every situation over. Those that are meant to be in your life will be there no matter what. And then there are others that are there only because they feel they owe you. Learn to differentiate. Prioritize the ones that bring you happiness and protect your heart. Always, always, protect your heart.

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America, life, life lessons, Travel

I’m a nice person, I swear!

Yesterday I was on a  long haul flight (15 hours) from San Francisco to Dubai. I booked the tickets a month before and made sure to select my seat on the plane – aisle – because I have a bladder the size of a lemon and while I don’t mind getting up a million times for people on the inside, I do not want to be the one to shake the sleeping person next to me.

had this experience before where I selected the aisle seat and was asked to switch for the window seat because the obese lady said she wanted to be able to move freely. I had to prod awake her and the lady traveling with her every couple of hours and lets just say it was the LONGEST FLIGHT OF MY LIFE.

Like any other day, yesterdays flight was filled with babies and I was bang in the centre of it all. There was a kid behind me, twin baby boys in front of me and the couple next to me had a toddler. Half hour into flying the lady beside me asked me if I could switch seat with her because her son liked to walk “up and down”. I thought for a minute and politely declined. I said I don’t mind getting up for you any number of times because I am alight sleeper but no, I do not want to switch seats. She was nice enough to understand and the gentleman on the other side gave up his aisle seat. That is when my conscious hit me hard and I FELT SO GUILTY.

I spent the remainder of the flight wondering if I had invited karma to come bite me in the rear years later when I travel with a child. But I also do not understand some passengers. If your really do prefer a particular seat then its super easy to select it while you book tickets (at least in most flights). And especially if you are traveling with a child wouldn’t you make sure of that as much as you can, rather than leaving it up to chance and God forbid if you sit next to a meanie like me?!

I honestly hope karma is kind to me and doesn’t return the favor.

Pros of traveling with me:

1) I bring snacks.

2) Will engage you in good conversation.

3) I don’t snore.

Cons of traveling with me:

1) I won’t switch seats.

 

 

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America, life, my crazy days

I create my own, personal brand of excitement

Late last year when I visited Madras I was unable to stuff everything I wanted to in my suitcase. Hello, baggage restrictions, I hate you. Added to this, my tailor stitched my clothes in time so I left with a promise from my mother that she would send the remaining items through courier? Post? I don’t know whats the difference, but through one of them.

A few weeks later she messaged me saying she had sent the package. I was to expect it in three days – Monday, and I was super thrilled. Monday, Tuesday… Thursday and my package still had not arrived. I panicked (of course) and tracked my package online only to see that tracking showed that someone named ‘Fred’ had received and signed for it!

Immediately, my mind (I have an over active imagination) went wild. I had visions of Fred- a thirty something, portly, brown haired American wearing my precious salwars prancing around his home, amused at how “exotic” he looked. I was palpitating while I called customer service. A nice lady calmed me down and helped me through the process, promising me that they would “investigate” and retrieve my package. I just prayed that Fred would return my clothes without any arm pit stains on them.

A week went by and I got a message saying there was an issue with the address but I should expect my package soon. Again, I decided to track it online and saw that ‘Vega’ had received and signed for it! Vega that Russian lady with the bad dye job! She had her scrawny fingers around my clothes. I had to call customer service again and tell them that no, I’m not Vega; no, I don’t know anyone called Vega and yes, I’m sure she isn’t my neighbor. Are you 100% sure? I live in an apartment complex where humans barely acknowledge the presence of each other. I’ve seen my neighbor walk the dog a few times and I still don’t know whether she/he is a man or a woman (the neighbor, not the dog), so yes, I am sure they didn’t take my package.

So, after further “investigation” I got my package, three weeks after it was sent.

No, Fred din’t leave any pit stains. He must have used clinical strength deodorant.

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America, Black and White, college, life, life lessons

Stories

My workload for this semester is pretty hectic. A few months back all I used to do was watch terrible TV shows. But now, I do not have time for such things (sob). One of the projects we are doing requires us to interview patients with a terminal or chronic disease. So yesterday at 9 AM I found myself chatting with a fifty year old man – M who has been HIV+ for twenty one years.

We spoke about our project and about different support groups for people with HIV for a good hour. Slowly he started opening up and telling us his story. As he told us his story of how he found out about the infection, how seemingly dark his days seemed, how he came out of that depression, decided to take matters in his hands and help the HIV community, my life and my problems felt so pointless.

He talked a lot about forgiveness and letting go. All I could do was list the times I’ve been hurt and brood on it. He said the more you keep that hurt in your heart, the heavier your journey becomes. If you want to feel light, just say I forgive, wish the person the best and let go.

Next to M, my problems seemed so fickle. I am such a procrastinator. Every time I’m given a task I sit on it for a while before I get to it. I don’t know why I do that but I just do. M said he never leaves anything for the next day, because he never knows if he will get to live it. And then I realized the only difference between M and me is that although we are both going to die eventually, he knows that his time is, possibly, closer than mine. Shouldn’t I live the same way then? I am alive today but I don’t know what my tomorrow brings so why do I keep putting things away? This whole interview might have been for a school project but it made me look deeper in to my life.

I love listening to peoples stories. Because once I hear something as heartbreaking as this, I realize that my story is just a tiny speck in this universe. People go through so much, and most of the things I take for granted are of extreme importance in their lives. This helps me reevaluate mine and see things from a better perspective.

And maybe this passing of knowledge is one of the purposes of life.

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books, Eating Out, Food, life, madras, Travel, TV times

Why I’ve been MIA..

It has been over a month since I signed in to WordPress. Things have been hectic and I’ve been traveliing quite a bit. When I did manage to find the time I watched a lot of Downton Abbey. And by a lot I mean A LOT. Also, I though it was Downtown Abbey. Jay was like wow Downtown Abbey like Downtown New York ah? And I was like yeah, thats how they roll. Turns out, that wasn’t how they roll.

I also read and watched Gone Girl. OHMYGOD what a mental story that was! But I loved it.

I took a short trip back to Madras and I got to witness Madras rains after two years. It was blissful. I love rain. It makes me feel so snuggly and so serene and so.. happy. There is nothing like a powercut due to heavy rains, and no food in the house – yeah, I’ve experienced that too. We are facing an extreme drought here in California. It has rained only about six, seven times in the two years I’ve been here.

Whilst in Madras I frequented Saravana Bhavan as much as I could. I have some sad news to report back my fellow Saravana Bhavan lovers, THEY HAVE REDUCED THE SIZE OF THE VADAI!!! Pre this horror when you order one plate vadai you will get : one nice big fluffy, crispy, oil drenched vadai+ chutney + sambar. Now, in the hellish present if you order one plate vadai you will get : four tiny lemon sized vadais + chutney + sambar. Safe to say, I was adequately baffled too. When I first saw the plate I was equal parts surprised and angry, (and a little scared thinking about the future). The waiter said, “Customers ellam complain pannurange madam, aanna management kekemaatikraange.

Over the past few years I have lived through many changes – getting married, moving away from home, living with a boy, seeing little cousins grow up, but this disaster revolving around the vadai is the most painful. I don’t know how I’m going to get through this. And what if I go back to Saravaan Bhavan after a year? I don’t even want to imagine the state of future vadais, its the stuff of nightmares.

So for now I leave you with this – the one decent item left in Saravana Bhavan : sambar vadai (which also has two tiny vadais).

DSC01184 copy

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