I groggily grab my phone. It’s 3 am, and I’m on a business trip to Chicago. I have a missed call from my little sister. I call her back immediately. I can hear that she is scared to tell me, to be the messenger of bad news. She tells me that my Nana has died. She knows how I hate to be told about deaths over the phone; I was told of both Mom and Nani’s death in similar late night calls. She says that he died in the ambulance going to the hospital from his home in Dhaka.
“Okay,” I respond, unemotionally. I check myself: no feelings. Just empty.
On some level, we had been expecting it. He was 87 years old and his health had been deteriorating for the past few years, ever since my Nani died. They were married when he was 21 and she was 16. He had lived for her. Without her, his mind unraveled.
When I went to Kathmandu to care for him in the summer of 2013, he was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. Of course, my family had not told me this at the time – they had just said he was a cantankerous old man. Overwhelmed and alone, I pieced it together after reading the labels on the boxes of pills I was administering to him daily. Those two weeks alone with him in that dark cold house were easily one of the most traumatic, mind-spinning periods of my adult life.
Video credit and gratitude to Women of Spirit & Faith, Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Alison Fast and documentary filmmaker Chandler Griffin!
“Now, in this vision, I want you to visualize yourself in a relationship,” he said.
We were sitting on the sofa in my living room. He was on one end and I was on the other, our feet firmly planted on the floor, eyes closed.
“Picture the man you want in your life. See him in front of you. Picture the characteristics he has. But beyond that, picture how you see the relationship. Think of how you want him to treat you. You want someone caring and loving. Someone that will support you and make you a better person. Someone that will inspire you and support your art and writing. Someone to laugh with and make you smile. Someone to hold faith with.”
An excellent conversation with 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Ayad Akhtar on faith, identity & storytelling at Princeton University.
I’ve been so afraid of being like her, terrified really, that I’ve tried to ignore, deny the many ways that I am like my mother. From my hands, small and stubby, heavy, with a thick palm that can do (and have done) much damage to those who dared to challenge me…like my mother did to me with her hands.
To how I eat, my right leg tucked under me, the left propped up so my knee is under my chin.
How for so long any emotion that shook me I changed to anger, because anger I could deal with, anger I could process. Pain? No. Confusion? No. Sadness? No. Isolation? Please, no.
When I told my mother I was a writer, she shared a stack of papers where she’d started recounting the stories of her life. I’d heard many of them when I was growing up. The ones she told when she was calling us ungrateful. The one about her one pair of shoes. The story of her choking while she was in the latrine: When she pushed the splintered door open with her scrawny leg, my great-grandmother, Tinita, ran over and pulled a two-foot tape worm out of her mouth. Imaginate eso!
Many moons ago, Love InshAllah co-editor Ayesha Mattu asked me to be an advance reader for the anthology. I used the word “honest,” and structured my thoughts around that idea.
Ayesha engaged me as to why I thought being “honest” was so important. It’s because honesty is hard, and no matter how much we practice it – and it is something we practice, because it’s not natural for us – it’s still a radical thing.
We never want to present ourselves in a way that makes us seem less than we think we are. That means we obfuscate, divert, and weave tales of who want to be, both to ourselves and to others. We craft these narratives, and in the telling, there are omissions and commissions. We are not lying or being dishonest, but we are not being honest. We want to be well-thought of by other people.
Love is a hard topic. Along with money, it’s probably the one place no one likes to think of themselves as being less than successful. To talk about sex in a way that intersects with religious sensibilities adds another layer of complexity. Unless these women were all malamati, seeking opprobrium to detach themselves from this world, their stories were radical because they were honest.
When Ayesha came to me and asked me to contribute to the blog, I readily agreed.
Then, I panicked.
I realized that I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be that honest.