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Nine bangles on each hand

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By now, anyone who knew who she was has heard about the sudden death of Bollywood superstar Sridevi. For those of us who grew up with her movies, the news was even more of a shock, because out of a gigantic movie industry which turns out over 700 movies a year, with just as many wannabes, hopeful stars and pretty-faced hopefuls, very few ever leave a mark in the way that Sridevi did.

There was something about Sridevi, I understood this even as a little girl. She appeared in some 300 movies across her career before taking a break in the mid-90s. The following are some of my favourite, and act as cultural landmarks in my childhood and teenage years.

The first Bollywood movie I remember loving was Nagina (1986). In it, Sridevi played a form-shifting female cobra who can’t resist dancing to the sound of a snake-charmer’s flute. Her famous snake dance became a favourite of mine, and as a child too young to understand how contact lenses worked, it seemed like magic to me that Sridevi’s enormous eyes were blue in the movie.

This was followed in 1987 with Mr India, another fanastical jaunt in which Sridevi played a snobby but well-meaning girl who of course eventually falls in love with Anil Kapoor’s broke-but-happy character. Along the way, there are orphans, a bomb hidden in a doll, a magic watch that turns you invisible and a bad guy with a pit of acid.

In it, Sridevi performs a dance sequence which either delighted or insulted all of Hawaii, but we didn’t care.

She also falls in love with Mr India after he rescues her, leading to this fantastic kiss scene.

I mean, who needs Stanley Kubrick with special effects like that?

In 1988 came the follow up to Nagina, Nigahen. As is always the way in Bollywood from the 80s, both of Sridevi’s character’s parents died in a car crash, one of those parents being the magical shape-shifting snake played by Sridevi. So now it’s down to the daughter (Sridevi again) to beat the bad guys with her magic snake dance and contact lenses.

But none of those movies even comes close to Chandni (1989), the epic love story which we all adored, the soundtrack from which I still listen to today.

Sridevi was an expert at iconic dance sequences,and Chandni is no exception. In this movie, she delivers one of her best performances to Mere Haathon Mein, the lyrics of which translate to “I have nine bangles on each hand”.

Naturally, within days of the movie releasing, replica outfits appeared at the weddings, the dance was executed at henna parties as quickly as you could nail down the choreography, and nine bangles on each hand briefly became the standard, even if in the movie dance sequence, Sridevi is actually wearing many more than that.

On a revisit, there is a lot wrong with the movie. Off the bat, Rishi Kapoor’s character, Rohit, a slick city boy, spots Sridevi’s character Chandni (moonlight) at a wedding and immediately professes his love by stalking and sexually harassing her.

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Nothing says love like unwanted physical contact after ambushing you on a dark stairwell. *swoon*

She responds in the only way possible for a 80’s Bollywood heroine by falling in love with him.

But there’s a problem. She’s from humble roots and Rohit’s family won’t have any of that. Like he cares! The movie goes on to set several impossible-to-meet standards for young men in the 80s. The sweaters for a start.

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Nope.

 

Then there are Rohit’s insane declarations of love, one of which is when he flies a helicopter over Chandni just so he can shower her with rose petals.

The moment he reveals to Chandni that he has plastered an entire room in pictures of her is forever preserved in the amber of Bollywood cinematic history. I honestly feel a little sorry for any young men who were on the dating scene at this time. I’m sure many a relationship fell apart because of a lack of a wall of pictures of you.

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“Well, it makes up for the sweaters you wear, I guess.”

It’s the visual representation of falling in love, mirrored with the reverse sentiment when Rohit has an accident and tries to drive Chandni away, so invites her around to see how he has whitewashed over all her photos.

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Crap.

This movie was also among the first to heavily feature Switzerland in a fantasy honeymoon dream sequence, giving us the gold standard of 80s Bollywood cinema, the sari-clad heroine dancing in the snow, and everyone suddenly wanting to go to Switzerland on honeymoon.

The 90s saw Sridevi going from strength to strength. In 1991, she starred opposite Anil Kapoor (Viren) as Pallavi, and then Pallavi’s orphaned daughter Pooja when Pallavi and her husband are both killed in a car crash (naturally).

Again, it’s a slightly strange film which we consumed without question because we just didn’t question whacky Bollywood plotlines: Viren had fallen in love with the older Pallavi, but she loves someone else. When she dies, she leaves behind her daughter Pooja who Viren becomes the guardian of, providing all she needed but never visiting until Pooja grows up and then – gasp – she’s the spitting image of her dead mother! After some twists and turns, Viren and Pooja fall in love, which is not at all strange considering the 18 year age gap, guardianship etc.

This movie contained two iconic dance sequences, the first is Megha Re Megha.
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And the second is Chudiyan Khanak Gayeen. This second dance sequence is one that we all tried to copy, and Pallavi’s yellow and blue outfit made a guest appearance at many a henna party for months afterwards. Fifteen years later, it was the dance I copied and performed at my big sister’s henna party.


Sridevi’s death will be greatly mourned in Afghanistan as well, thanks to her portrayal of a fierce Afghan woman, Benazir, in the lavish 1992 epic Khuda Gawah. Shot in Afghanistan, India, Bhutan and Nepal, The film earned her a huge fanbase in Afghanistan through its depiction of Afghan culture at a time when the country was no more than a footnote in the Cold War, and Sridevi’s Benazir was cheered for toppling the stereotype of the downtrodden and disenfranchised Afghan woman.

There were no fabulous dance sequences to copy from this movie, but it did give South Asia a taste of Afghan melodies with this song:

Bollywood is an industry spun out of dreams. It thrives on them. To this stage, Sridevi brought a kind of charm and natural comedic timing we’d not seen before. From the 50s through to the 70s, Bollywood was happy to feature strong female leads. That changed from the mid-70s onwards, and especially into the 80s, when female leads were universally beautiful, coy and always stumbling into some sort of disaster from which they needed rescuing.

Sridevi was one of the first actresses to break that mold. Of course, she appeared in plenty of demure roles too. But for the most part, the reason she is so loved, remembered and now mourned is because she was different. She’d deliver punchlines with perfect timing and danced like a dream. More often than not, she played three-dimensional characters who were clever and witty. Whatever she wore in a movie set the trend for the next few months, and even beyond her movie career. Just a few years ago, I bought a replica of a sari because I’d seen Sridevi wear it. 

Kapoor arrives for the gala presentation of "English Vinglish" during the Toronto International Film Festival

This one.

There was a kind of easy naturalness about her that made you feel like she could be your friend, even if that was all concocted for the silver screen, and watching her videos again today is a rare chance to see an hourglass figure which movie houses now seem to run screaming from, even in India.

Try as we might, we could never recreate those enormous eyes, and unlike on-screen Sridevi, we did not move in the world with a fan constantly blowing our hair into a billowing cloud away from our faces so that it didn’t get stuck to our cruddy 80s lipgloss.

In losing Sridevi so suddenly and at only 54, it’s not just Bollywood royalty that suffered a loss. Those of us who grew up with her movies feel like a part of our childhood just vanished. She left behind her on-screen self, which has stood the test of time well enough that we still risk wrecking our knees and tripping on our lenghas copying her peacock walk in Chudiyan Khanak Gayeen. We are older now, and we can’t make the same exuberant entrance that she did, her face popping on screen suddenly between a frame of her bangled arms in Mere Haathon Mein.

But we still try, and we still think we can pull the dances off, and that playful, crackling on-screen aura of Sridevi is part of the reason why we feel that way, and why nine bangles on each hand is a code that every 80s girl from the subcontinent will silently understand.

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Why democracy was not born only in the West

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Image via http://blog.onlineprasad.com

I wrote a version of this article for a special issue on Democracy released by Greece Is in September 2016. I chose to write about the flaw of treating democracy as an exclusively western concept, an approach which wipes out the thousands of years of democratic approaches which existed in the Indian subcontinent. I thought it might be relevant as we ponder 70 years since the partition, so I’m sharing it for you to read.

In the summer of 2015, I found myself, like so many of my colleagues, standing on a beach ankle-deep in orange life jackets as I watched a wave of humanity wash up on Greece’s shores. It was a shocking moment, one I was not prepared for and which took me days to recover from.

What hit me the hardest was that I was witnessing the fallout from the disintegration of more than one society, and that if Fate’s hand had moved slightly differently, it could as easily have been me clinging to that boat, a precious child shivering in my arms, as I made a break for freedom. It could even have been you.

What I came face to face with on those shores a year ago, and what I continue to encounter in my work with refugees, is what happens when people are denied their democratic rights or when a society as a whole is denied democracy altogether. In the past, these people and societies might have found some way to blunder along, unaware of what it was that had been kept from them.

But we live in a digital world, and these people now know what lies on the other side of the sea. It’s the precious commodity of democracy and everything it entails. It’s out there, it has been denied to them, and from Syria to Eritrea, people are on the move, flocking to the shelter of a democratic society.

“We want to be free.” This is what the survivors of these journeys have told me again and again. Digging a little deeper, what became obvious to me was that they were equating this freedom with democracy.

Democracy is rightly enshrined in Western thinking. However, while no one could argue against Greece’s role in the birth of democracy, it would be misguided to treat democracy as an exclusively Western trait of society. When we follow this line of thinking, we end up on the path that sees countries in the West waging wars in the Middle East under the clumsy premise of exporting democracy.

This creates the problem of an Orientalist point of view as well as a colonial one. It treats the Eastern world in general as oblivious to the beauty of democracy and in need of having their eyes opened; in this scenario, non-Westerners are no more than passive recipients of the West’s great idea, like sheep sitting dumbly in a totalitarian field, waiting for a shepherd to come and open the gates to the green pastures of democracy.

A Western-centric approach to democracy largely excludes the evidence of democracy’s existence in ancient Eastern societies. The earliest evidence of this can be found in the Rig Veda, part of the ancient Vedas which were passed down orally and are thought to date from 5,000 BC or earlier.

The most striking example is this passage: “We pray for a spirit of unity; may we discuss and resolve all issues amicably, may we reflect on all matters (of state) without rancor, may we distribute all resources (of the state) to all stakeholders equitably, may we accept our share with humility.”

Brahmanical and Buddhist literature from the 5th and 6th centuries BC describe large swathes of northern India functioning as independent republics, much larger than the equivalent Greek city states of the time. These Indian states were also described by the Greek writer Diodorus Siculus (90-30 BC), who wrote about what they were like around the time of Alexander’s invasion. His account appears to draw on the explorer Megasthenes’ records of travels through India.

About these republics that replaced monarchies, Diodorus wrote: “…most of the cities adopted the democratic form of government, though some retained the kingly until the invasion of the country by Alexander.” But whether democracy came from the East or the West is of little concern to those who don’t enjoy its freedoms, be that in how you are able to dress, to interact with the world, to make political choices, to air those political choices, to express your sexuality or to choose when and whom to marry.

No one appreciates these blessings of true democracy more than those who have been denied them, and on this point, the Eastern world needs no lecturing. I say this as someone who was made keenly aware very early in my life what it means not to be an equal in society. I knew how it felt to grow up in a patriarchal society which is structured to remind you that, as a female, you are worth less than a male.

That being said, as a woman and an ethnic minority, I also remember the sense of injustice I felt when I discovered that the West did not exercise democracy in its fullest form, either. Knowing that, as a woman in the UK, I will consistently earn less for the exact same work as my male counterparts, I don’t feel equal, even if I enjoy the right to vote on the same grounds as my higher-earning male counterparts. The discrepancy becomes even more stark when race is factored in. Western democracy was supposed to give everyone an equal say and footing. It doesn’t.

The conclusion is that democracy, like so many of humanity’s creations, is not perfect. It is a millennia-old creature that is still evolving; it is also something which cannot be applied in blanket form around the world. Like any creature, it needs to adapt and adjust to its environment in order to survive. Its flaws, always there, are perhaps simply more evident these days, in the face of the results of democratic processes like the Brexit referendum or the confusing circus that is the American presidential election [As we know, Donald Trump was since elected as president, and I don’t think I need to go into how that made me feel].

Nonetheless, democracy is precious. It’s a veil, thin as cigarette paper, which separates order from chaos and freedom from fear. Its flaws and its fragility are exactly what make it worth preserving and perfecting. Greece may have had an overdose of democracy in 2015 with two general elections and a referendum, leaving many complaining – yet another democratic process?

But to those people who collapsed gratefully onto the shores of Greece and who continue to make the journey this year, even with the odds stacked against them, too much democracy is better than no democracy at all. It’s worth remembering that when you’re trudging to the voting booth yet again; this is a right and a privilege that you are lucky enough to be able to take for granted.

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“It’s as if they don’t exist”

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Image via www.thepressproject.gr

Summer has descended on Athens with a bang. After a transition period from spring into summer, where the weather flip-flopped so often the more organised among us gave up packing away our winter clothes, and the disorganised (me) felt smug that ours were still in a jumbled pile with all the rest of our ironing, the dragon of summer is here at last.

Temperatures have begun to soar in the city and with it, everyone is trying to find ways to stay cool. After my trip back home in March, I’m well armed with a colourful selection of crisp, cool cotton shalwar kameez  in bright colours. With temperatures of over 40C predicted for this weekend, they’re my outfit of choice as I to and fro through the city.

But I wish I could tell you that I wear them with carefree abandon, because I don’t. And the reason for this can be traced back to 2012, when the no-one-takes-them-seriously-they’re-kind-of-a-joke neo nazi party Golden Dawn were voted into parliament.

I had never felt unwelcome in Greece, or under threat. After that happened, I did.  I stopped feeling like I could wear whatever I wanted. I began avoiding eye contact. I didn’t want any trouble.

Eventually, I began to turn my point of view around, deciding that neo nazis were not going to stop me from being who I am. That’s not to say I’m fully confident in displaying that I’m different. On the metro this morning, sporting a deliciously cool blue and white bell-sleeved kameez, I didn’t look around. I read a book or stared at the floor.

Mostly, nothing happens. Sometimes I can’t tell if the looks are curious or hostile. Yesterday, a Greek lady at the seafront spent a good 15 minutes fussing over my son’s Eid shalwar kameez, saying how wonderful we both looked in our traditional clothes, and how pleased she was to see it.

Another time, wearing a bright yellow shalwar kameez with green patterns across it, I sat enjoying a coffee with my Greek husband, when the man at the next table began loudly talking about how the foreigners were to blame for everything. “We should find them where they sleep and burn them alive. We should destroy all their shops” he said to his friend. I wondered, had he noticed me sitting at the next table? I looked up. Oh yes, he had. He was looking directly at me as he made his little hate speech.

Obviously, this feeling of not feeling safe in the place you live is a completely new sensation for opposition leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who, in comments made in this article, said he fears for his safety because of left-wing terrorists:

“Opposition leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis of New Democracy blames Tsipras’ left-wing party, Syriza, for fomenting the anti-establishment hatred that he says is behind the attacks. He accuses the prime minister of failing to take adequate action to protect potential targets, including himself, if — as he confidently expects — he becomes the next Greek prime minister. The next general elections are scheduled for 2019.”

He goes on to make this astonishing claim, which is what first brought the piece to my attention via an angry tweet by journalist Yiannis Baboulias:

However, Mitsotakis played down the impact of Golden Dawn on Greek society, saying it was “so extreme and so vulgar” that it was marginalized. “It’s as if they don’t exist,” he said. “The violence has been almost exclusively from the left in recent years.”

I am stunned beyond words. For sure, Greece has a problem with left-wing anarchists and their strategy of delivering parcel bombs to Greek politicians, or leaving bombs in public places (which are usually called in before hand). Their destructive activity should not be played down.

But to dare to claim that nearly all the violence of recent years has come from anarchists, rather than from a murderous group of neo nazis, who killed, looted, burned and attacked with impunity because no Greek government took them seriously, is so outrageous it’s insulting. It’s not left-wing terrorists and their MPs who are currently in their second year of a trial for a long list of criminal activities, murder and attempted murder. It’s Golden Dawn, whose case file runs to over 30,000 pages long.

And I’m angry, because time and time again, no one in power in Greece has taken them seriously. They were left to run riot, until the murder of Pavlos Fyssas. I’m no fan of having molotovs whistle past my ear every now and then, or to see brand new metro stations smashed to pieces. But I’m much less of a fan of being stuck in a taxi and not knowing how to answer the question, “Where are you from?” because I don’t know what the motives of the person asking me are. I’m much less of a fan of the constant, low-level sensation that all visible foreigners have lived with since Golden Dawn’s rise that they could be anywhere, and you could provoke them just by being you. I’m lucky, because like I’ve said  in the past, I can vanish if needs be.

Mitsotakis said that Golden Dawn’s actions are so extreme and so vulgar it’s as if they don’t exist. This comment makes no sense. How can anyone say with a straight face that Golden Dawn’s actions had no impact on Greek society? How can anyone say that their black-shirted thugs and cult mentality didn’t at the very least embolden others who might have been leaning in their direction, but needed just another push?

How can anyone say that their actions and their existence did not impact Greek society, that they didn’t at least lead to some soul searching among ordinary Greeks about how things could have got so out of hand that a country once brutally oppressed by nazis now had neo nazis serving in parliament?

It would take exceptional short-sightedness to make this statement. It would take not seeing the depth of the problem that is Golden Dawn, or choosing not to see it, or choosing not to see the immigrants who – surprise, Mr Mitsotakis! – also live in Greece and love it and call it home.

So no, Mr Mitsotakis, it’s not as if Golden Dawn don’t exist. It’s as if WE don’t exist. By joining the ranks of Greek politicians who have constantly played down the threat of this group of neo-nazis, or in this case saying that the issue of left-wing anarchists is a more serious one, you might as well have walked up to me in the street and said that to my face. You might as well have told me it’s as if I don’t exist.

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Hot Pink Chicks

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via Business Insider

According to a 2015 report, poultry farming contributes around 1.3 % to Pakistan’s GDP annually since the advent of poultry farming in the 1960s. Chicken represents around 26.8% of meat production per annum. The industry employs around 1.5 million people across the country. In short, Pakistanis LOVE chicken!

Some chickens are bred for their meat, others for their eggs. For egg-laying chickens, the female ones are the ones which the industry prizes.

This leaves a problem. Million of fluffy little male chicks which are considered useless and destined for a quick death. The alternative presents itself in markets across Pakistan every spring – fluffy make chicks dyed hot pink, orange and green and sold as pets.

When I was little girl, you could either get natural yellow chicks or pink ones. Buying a few of these chicks each spring was a ritual for me and my sisters. We’d fuss over them and feed them grain, taking turns to watch over them when we’d let them out into the garden to forage for bugs.

As fun as it was, there was a lot of heartache involved. The chicks were not hardy. They’d start dying off for no reason. My vigils and prayers were useless. Crows would swoop down and snatch them from under our noses on their outings in the garden, or a cat would pounce during the few seconds we’d turned our backs.

It’s a short, sharp introduction to the circle of life for little children. I’ve shed countless tears and buried so many fluffy little chicks in my back garden, their little graves decorated with pistachio shells only to find a cat had turned up later and snatched the body. And yet, every spring we’d go back to the market for more chicks to do it all over again.

In all the years we did this, only one solitary chick every made it to adulthood. We coaxed him through colds and sniffles, warded off cats and crows and soon he grew into a fine rooster.

But raising him turned out to be a harsh lesson in parenting, because this rooster which we had all nurtured so lovingly into adulthood was the meanest, most vicious and completely ungrateful rooster I’d ever met. He was so diabolical that cats didn’t dare come near our yard because he’d attack them. We’d creep into the yard carrying a stick to ward him off when we had to go out to collect or put out laundry, because he’d attack our legs with such fury our shalwars would end up with holes. We’d all run screaming from him on more than one occasion. Eventually, we gave him away to a rooster fighter. I’m sure he had a dazzling career.

When we arrived in my village, I’d asked for a couple of those pink and orange chicks to be brought for my own kids to play with. And so it was as history repeated itself. Across 10 days, they fed them and played with them, collecting them back into their cage at night and watching them in the garden during the day. By the time we left them, their fluff had started to be replaced with proper wings. There were no assassinations by crows or cats. My kids got to live the glory of the hot pink chicks without the pain.

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My second first day at school

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Mean Girls, basically a documentary about my first day at English school. Though I never got popular.

My very first day of school, I was excited. I couldn’t wait. I proudly put on my school uniform – white dress, white socks, white shoes , school badge – and went off. My mother hovered around the door waiting to see if I would join the chorus of sobs around me.

“Go home, no need to stand by the door. I’m alright Mum. Go home!” I said, and sent her on her way. I was five years old.

My second first day of school was a little different. I was 14 years old, wearing a tie and blazer for the first time in my life, my hair neatly tied back into a tight braid, like I always did at school in Pakistan. I sat outside the principal’s office, waiting. My mother asked if I wanted her to stay with me, and I said no, I would be alright. The truth is I desperately wanted my mother to stay.

But I knew that it wouldn’t make my life any easier if she did. I’d still have to go to a new school on my own tomorrow, so I cut to the chase and decided I might as well jump in the deep end. I remember thinking how cold it was for May. Just a week ago, I’d been in the blistering heat of a Pakistani May. The school uniform I was wearing now was a world away from my white cotton shalwar kameez. I liked it, though. I felt very smart in it.

The principal came and escorted me to my new class. I smiled expectantly at my new classmates. I was met with a sea of bored faces. No one smiled back. I was sent to shadow one of the other girls in my class until my own class schedule could be prepared. My teacher, Mr Yates, found me a free seat and sent me to sit down. Next to a boy. More details of my horrified reaction here.

Even though I spoke the language, I found that first day of school incredibly hard. I tried desperately to act like everything was fine. I asked a few times when school finished. “Twenty to.” came the reply. I’d never heard time told like that. Twenty to what? I felt I should know that, so I didn’t ask.

I was used to classes that began at 7:30 and finished at 12:30, with 40 minute lessons crammed in back to back and one 15 minute break. I couldn’t believe how long the school day was in England. It just went on and on. And you had to change classes. We didn’t do that in Pakistan either – there, the teacher came to us. It felt like a madhouse. So much noise, so much talking, such a big school, so many corridors. Just pure confusion.

And the kids – my peers were so rude, both to each other and to the teachers. I stared in shock as they answered back. They chewed gum in class. At my old school, we were not allowed to have our hair loose. Here, the girls wore it any way they liked, and in all sorts of colours – had my tight, frizzy braid been a mistake?

I spent most of my day with my cheeks burning red – the language! The profanity! And I didn’t know 14 year English boys were so burly. They were not kind or polite at all. They were crass, and rude, and HUGE! They stomped around like giants. Some of the meaner girls wanted to take a detailed history of my love life, and when I had absolutely nothing to report – no first kiss, no first anything – they looked at me like I had just arrived from the moon.

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Which boy do I like? How about none of the above?

My brain was going into overdrive, trying to take notes for things that might be useful for me to settle in and find a place in the social order of the school. But by the afternoon, I’d given up. There was simply too much ‘new’ for my brain to register and file away.

I came home with a pounding migraine after that first day of school and burst into tears. I insisted my parents had made a mistake. This was all too much, we should go back to Pakistan. But after I calmed down, I got up the next day and went back to school again.

And eventually, it wasn’t so bad. Whereas under the Pakistani school system I was an average student, under the British system, where you were encouraged to think a little more freely and not just memorise texts, I was considered above average smart. This was a huge confidence boost for me, and I flourished academically.

I’m thinking of all this today because today refugees around Greece will start going to school. This will be a combination of special schools just for them and integrations into the Greek schooling system. I’m remembering my panicked, blushing, horrified, exhausted and tearful 14 year self, who could at least speak the language, and hadn’t come from the incredibly difficult backgrounds they do. I’m wishing them all good luck and this little message from me:

Stick at it. I hope it’ll get easier.

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More good advice from Mean Girls

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With a little help from my friends (and pills)

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I try to avoid writing these posts. Mostly because they scare my mother, who thinks I am utterly miserable, to which I wave my boxes of Xanax in her face and say “I’m okay, Mum!”

No, really, I’m okay, most of the time. Sometimes, I’m not though. Sometimes I just don’t know what to do with myself. My life feels like an impossible mountain I’ve been sent to climb with a spool of string instead of rope helpfully tucked into my pocket by the Universe. And as wonderful as it is to mark World Duchenne Awareness day each year because it brings us one step closer to the cure, it’s also involves me coming face to face with the fact that all is not right in my world. I’m not always up to that task.

Remember the movie Run Lola Run? Whenever the scenario doesn’t play out the way Lola wants, she goes back to the start of it to try again. This is the feeling I had the moment I was given Hermes’ diagnosis.

My brain just couldn’t process what I was hearing. My son has what? No, you’ve got it all wrong. That’s not what you were supposed to say. I came here today for you to tell me that the genetic test was normal, my husband isn’t even with me, that’s how ordinary this conversation was meant to be. You’re not supposed to be telling me my son has Duchenne. Go back to the start and tell me something different, tell me what you were meant to say, which is that everything is fine.

I think of that moment still, though not as often as I used to, because it represents the moment my life was cleanly cut from the path it was following and set on another one. For the first year or so after Hermes’ diagnosis, I obsessed over that moment. It played out in my head again and again, as if I was trying to retrace a terrible mistake I’d made and trying to work out all the various things I could have done to make it right. It was if my brain felt it was missing something, some small clue or detail.

Where was it? Where was the one thing I had missed that would unravel all of this mistake and put it right? Was it how the doctor’s assistant didn’t look me in the eye when she came into the room? Was it the two spots she pointed to on the paper in her hand she showed him, saying quietly “Here, and here”? What did that mean? What did “here and here” mean? Where was the clue? Was it in the way the geneticist clasped his hands in the seconds before he changed my life? Where was the clue?

If I could just find it, I’d unlock what had gone wrong and be able to set it right. That would be my Eureka moment. But even my frantic brain knew somewhere that that wouldn’t happen.

In my weak moments, I’m resentful of being reminded of Duchenne in my lives. Hermes is starting to struggle a bit more, and when I hear the impatient kids on the stairs of the slide behind him stomping their feet and yelling at him to move faster, I really want to let rip at them. Very, very rarely, I am angry with everyone else for being able to walk away from my life, when I have to shut the door behind them and go back to living it every day.

I don’t mind telling people about Hermes, but there are times when I’ve got so used to this reality that I forget the impact it might have. I’ll flippantly mention life expectancy, and the next thing I know the person I’m talking to is sobbing. Whoops! “It’s okay!” I say cheerfully “It’s not so bad!” Cue more sobs.

The truth is that often, life is okay. It’s fine. It really, truly is not so bad. We’re happier than a lot of people. Having such a shadow cast over our lives has made us appreciate the light much more. Eating a delicious slice of melon turns into this year’s landmark event – “remember the summer of 2016 when we ate that really delicious melon? Those were the days!” We save the seeds for planting later, knowing exactly that we’re much too neglectful of our plants for them to ever bear fruit. We’ll ignore that, and plant them anyway.

Our joy is in our life as a family and the friends who rally around us – even a small gesture like changing your profile picture to a Duchenne balloon means so much. So, despite it all, somehow we do find a way to be happy in our new reality, and for everything else, there’s Xanax.

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Why Game of Thrones is basically about Pakistani Family Politics

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Nahiiiiii!

Like practically no one else in the world, the whole Game of Thrones phenomenon passed me by over the last few years. My ignorance of it wasn’t down to some hipster-y preference (“I only watch silent French arthouse films from 1923, so much more substantial.”) and eventually, even I got curious.

I started to watch. I watched and I watched. I squeezed in watching before going to bed and during late-night ironing. I soldiered on through all the guts and violence (motherhood has rendering me unable to watch this sort of stuff any more), I stuck through the dull, convoluted plot lines. Seeing as Game of Thrones has turned into such a cultural benchmark, I really tried to get into it.

But I’m now on the third series of the show and ready to admit defeat. I just am not captivated by it at all. The only character I like and care what happens to is Tyrion Lannister. If they just made a show of his biting little comments I’d watch it all day. Everything else just has not appealed to me at all, and now I’m bored of it. It’s like those Indian soap operas my mother likes to watch. The plot is flimsy, not much really happens and each show is padded out with pretty costumes, lots of shots of agonised faces, dramatic music and a cliffhanger ending. If you spliced Sasural Simar Ka with Saw you’d get Game of Thrones.

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Same thing.

And then I realised why. Cut out the filler violence and copious nakedness and Game of Thrones is basically about Pakistanis and Pakistani family politics, and who the hell would find a show about their own life interesting? This is why it’s failed to engage me. You don’t believe me? Observe:

Cersei Lannister

cersei-coverShe is the archetypal neurotic Pakistani mother, and not the nice sort. Sweet on the surface, horribly conniving on the inside. She is completely, utterly and totally obsessed with her son and spends her days plotting all kinds of complicated unions, family politics and such shenanigans. She was shoved into an arranged marriage that made sense purely in terms of solidifying her family’s relationships. She can see nothing beyond how perfect her horrible beta ji is, and is the only one in the world who thinks the idiot she produced is a genuis. She would probably try your biryani and smile while she backhandedly told you how shit it was: “You used ready-ground spices didn’t you dear? I can tell. I had a biryani like this once at a roadside shack a few years ago. It made me sick as a dog for weeks. I was sooo sick. Must have been typhoid. Remember that beta? Remember how sick I was and I said I hoped I’d never eat a biryani like that again? Yours tastes just like it.” *smile*

And she would totally not let you marry her son if your rotis were not perfectly round. Which would be a lucky escape for you.

Joffrey Baratheon joffrey-baratheon-7A horrible male child who has been spoilt rotten by his mother into thinking he is the most perfect specimen of man on the planet. Looks like a toad and expects to marry an absolutely first rate babe, preferably a doctor or whatever else was a big deal in those days, but she should never hurt his fragile ego by daring to be his equal. Sound familiar? Ami ji has never said no to him, and the result is that he’s acting like a self-entitled egomaniac after taking over Daddy ji’s business even though he knows nothing about how to run it.

Petyr Baelish 

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Smarmy Uncle. Hangs around in his sherwani, hiding his true motivese behind that smug smile of his. Finds various ways to make you feel like an insect. “How did you do in your exams, beta?” is the loaded question you dread from Smarmy Uncle. Also cheek pinching. Or his presence in general.

Catelyn Stark

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Not Pakistani, because she’s had five children and still looks svelte.

Brienne of Tarth 

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Butch Baji. We all knew at least one Butch Baji growing up. She was cool, and her mother was obsessed and permanently stressed out about who the hell will marry her. She would tell your own mother this over shami kebabs and tea “I keep telling her to grow her hair and stop playing sports but she won’t listen!”

Crap for girls to pass the time with

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When they’re not being chased to rape or kill, the unmarried girls in Game of Thrones pass their time in mindless pursuits like embroidery. Good embroidery is a really big deal in the GoT world, and at least when I was a girl and there was no internet, it was a really big  deal in actual Pakistani teenage girl world too. My friends and I spent hours perfect various stitches. I punched the air in jubilation when I got a french knot right for the first time. If someone had insulted my satin stitch, I probably would have burst into tears and decided to become a nun. Who the would marry me with my sub-standard crooked stitches anyway?

Plotting, backstabbing and elaborate family politics

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Game of Thrones is full of this. See the internal bickering of any land-owning Pakistani family, trying to decide who owns what plot of land, who should marry who in order to keep/gain more family land and why so and so’s khala built a hedge that encroaches on your phupo’s plot etc etc etc ad nauseam.

The Dragons150420-news-game-of-thronesPakistani Mothers in Law. No further elaboration needed.

(Disclaimer: as always, no offence intended to anyone, this is just for fun)

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