After 3 Days, There’s An Odor; After 8 Years, There Are 8 Emails

Searching for ‘Jawad Sakrani’ in my Gmail inbox brings up exactly 8 results. 4 of these are emails I shared with my brother, and the other 4 are all dated in the weeks immediately following his death, when people reached out to me to offer condolences or share an anecdote or two about how they knew and loved you. But just 8 results? This pittance of a number shocks me. All I have to show for you are 8 measly email threads from 2010? Digitally speaking, that’s not much of a presence. Most days, I see this as a blessing because it just means there are fewer reminders of him around for me to stumble on while scrolling. But on some days, like today, it feels like a great grievance, like something I should draw up an indignant petition about or start a hashtag over, anything to break the monotony of sadness that drapes me whenever I think about Bhai like this.

It’s like a blanket, this feeling. Early on, for about two years after his death, it was heavy, its thickness so overwhelming that I’d spend weeks shrouded beneath it. It would pin me so that I, a willing captive, emerged only to do the absolutely-necessary-bare-minimum-if-I-must things that life demanded. This blanket-feeling had a reassuring solidity to it; it kept me warm whenever I rocked myself to sleep with swollen eyes and became a sanctuary for all my anguished what-ifs and why-hims. But as my life changed, it grew softer, the passing of time lightening its burdensome weight, as if Bhai were saying, It’s okay, you’re allowed to live, go on. In the last few years, I’ve only turned to it every once in a while, to willingly wallow in its familiarity and remind myself of what I’ve lost. This happens in moments when I least expect it, like if I hear a snippet of an old Jawad Ahmed song or when my husband remarks how wonderful it is to have a brother, because of some small happiness he’s experienced from his own. This is when I tug at the blanket, in off-hand instances that appear harmless and nonchalant to any outside observer, but cause dramatic, though brief, system shutdowns within my own being. I reach for it before I even realize what’s happening, a part of my mind shrivels up in protest, my eyes acquire a blankness that reminds me of an empty page, and all I can think is, Yes, it is wonderful to have a brother, more wonderful when he is alive.

And then the moment passes, but sometimes it takes a day or two. Sometimes, like last Tuesday, it makes me stay up till 2 am and Google ‘what happens to a corpse after 8 years’ while my husband shifts around in his sleep and I minimize the brightness of my phone screen so he doesn’t worry about why I am up. Needless to say, that search took me down a rabbit hole that only sleep ultimately helped me escape out of. Long story short, nature is very efficient at breaking down human corpses. In fact, that was one of the very first sentences I read in one of the 16 links I opened up that night. Such is the efficacy of nature that “in ordinary soil, an unembalmed adult normally takes eight to twelve years to decompose to a skeleton.” This wasn’t enough to satiate my middle-of-the-night morbid curiosity, because I then started to wonder: What kind of soil does Dubai have? So Bhai is a skeleton now? Or is he part skeleton, part flesh? I also learned that “different cells die at different rates” and found this fact wildly amusing at the time because it made me think of Bhai’s forehead, the way it protruded out at the brow bone and how he would sometimes call it his second brain. Did that second brain die faster or slower than the real brain? I found myself perusing funeral home and burial websites, combing through their descriptions of what physically happens to a body after it’s buried. This was new for me because never before, not even on the day of his funeral, did I ever allow myself to contemplate the goings-on of the world six feet under. But when I read, “After 3 days, there’s an odor,” I quickly locked my phone and grasped my sleeping husband’s hand. There are some hard truths the blanket can’t protect me from.

All of this wondering and searching was driven by an anxiety I haven’t quite been able to verbalize. I’m going to be in Dubai again soon. There, I’ll visit his grave, drive repeatedly past the mall where he died, sleep in the home where he lived his last day, and spend time with family whose faces bear the load of his loss even after 8 years. It sounds like a long time, but it really isn’t. It’s long enough for my blanket-feeling to become worn out because I’ve turned to it so consistently all this time, but not long enough for it to vanish entirely, for me to not need it anymore. It’s long enough for us to keep living our lives, achieving milestones and celebrating each other’s successes, but not long enough for us to ever stop wanting him here for every occasion, no matter how monumental or inconsequential. It’s long enough for me to now just be 2 years shy of how old he was when he died, but not long enough for that sunny December afternoon to stop feeling like it was just yesterday, when I screamed at the sight of his immobile body and ran to wake him up as if he were somehow, surrounded by disheartened paramedics and tearful onlookers, pretending to nap because that’s exactly the kind of prank he would pull.

What do I have to show for these 8 years? A husband, 2 dogs, a new city, a few new jobs, a stable career, some publications, a maybe-novel and an almost-done MFA degree. It’s a small, but valuable list, and I think he’d be proud of me for trying to grow it. He loved words and music and creativity and the idea of dedicating yourself to a pursuit of passion. That, more than the emails, the maddening midnight Google searches, the sadness blanket and the indescribable anxiety, is what counts after 8 years.

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I never got a chance to help him finish this song, but I love that he just “scribbled something” and got “lost in words.” I know exactly what that feels like, and even now, 8 years later, it’s reason enough to say I can relate to my big brother.

Image may contain: 2 people

We share a nose and a chin, and I was definitely wearing one of his sweaters here.


Just Because I Don’t Write About You


Mom asked me the other day why I haven’t written about you in a while.  My answer was simple, instant, truthful.

“Because writing about him means I need to think about him.”

Perhaps it sounds callous, but it is candid.  I’ve become so accustomed to not thinking about you that it’s more a default way to function.  Does that mean you no longer matter? Does that mean I’m used to you being no more? Does that mean I no longer wish you were still a part of my life?

The answer to all those questions is a resounding NO.  Just because I don’t write about you much, doesn’t mean you no longer exist.

Next month will mark 4 years since you passed away.  That quantification baffles me.  4 years is seemingly a long time, and it truly amazes me how we’ve adapted to your absence.  We have filled in the gaps you left behind as best we could, and seem to be moving along now at a steady pace.  The hiccups are few and far in between, like when Ayana is at a birthday party and one of the games involves the kids bringing along their daddies, and she quietly sits it out, painfully aware that hers is no longer alive.

But what I said to Mom holds true.  I don’t consciously think about you much. Why? Because it’s still more painful than pleasant, it still inspires more conflict in my mind than any sense of serenity or contentment.  After 4 years, people would assume I have come to accept you’re gone.  But I am not.

It’s not okay that my big brother is no longer alive. It’s not okay that when I have a bad day personally, professionally or just for no reason at all, I have to resort to trying to find calm by listening to something you liked.  I can’t bitch to you about random, nonsensical crap the way I had imagined I’d be doing at 24.  Instead, I have to make do by wondering and assuming what you’d say.  I have to think. I have to think about what you would have done rather than having the luxury to interact with you in the present.  I have to think. I have to go back into the past, because that is all we have of you now. And that’s not okay.

I am not ‘at peace’ with it.  I am not okay.  You are dead and it is still unfair.  That’s the simple truth but that’s not something I can voice aloud to Mom.  Perhaps, she will read this and understand and not ask again.



Math + Me = ??

Math and I share a complicated relationship.  One defined by non-existence.

It’s a common complaint by many: i just don’t get numbers, I can’t do math.

But it’s more than just a complaint for me, it’s a legit fact, as factual as those horrendous equations I never understood the point of.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure math is great.  There are many people i know who excel at it and think it’s the bee’s knees.  I look at these people, these Russel-Crowe-A-Beautiful-Mind types, with awe and respect.  They can decipher numbers and functions and matrices and all that jazz. Good for them. Kudos to them. Let’s give em all a big cookie.

It’s the complete opposite for me.  I was 6 when we moved to Canada, went into grade 2 and, for a while there, I was the “smart kid.”  Okay, I’ll stop being modest, I was pretty smart at school, but I think it had a lot to do with the fact that the intensity of what was taught at school in Canada was nowhere near the stuff I had been learning before.  It’s pretty ironic; in Grade 2, I remember being grouped with a couple other kids (brown, obvs) and given stuff like long division to do because what the rest of the class was doing was just not challenging enough.  Things continued in this vein for a while, another 5 years till grade 8 and  then BOOM! We moved to Dubai and I was stupid again.

Amen, sister

Amen, sister


Geometry, algebra, multiple choice quizzes and tests every week! The dramatic shift in what I was learning and how I had to learn it was unsettling.  Gone was the emphasis on personal development and creative growth through fun projects, and in was adopting a new way of memorising as much information as possible. It took ages for me to catch up with what everyone else was doing.  The school I went to, there was no such thing as a stupid person, academically.  While there was no encouragement to develop your personality or figure out where your strengths lay, there was plenty of pressure to outdo yourself and those around you in every quiz.  I remember distinctly liking science at school in Canada (experiments ftw!); fast forward a couple of years in Dubai and I’d developed a deep abhorrence for anything formulaic.  At college, I cried great big tears of misery after the calculus midterm.  Needless to say, I did not do too well on that course. I wonder now if my mental block towards Math & Science (yes, to me they form one big, evil union together) was merely a result of the change in learning environment.

Perhaps, it’s not an inherent quality lacking in me that prevents me from grasping such concepts now as well as I used to.  Had I maybe stayed in Canada and continued school there, I wouldn’t tear up now at the sight of numbers.  There is the obvious flip side to this argument as well: loads of kids who went to the same school I did flourished at all things math-y and science-y, including others like me who’s moved to Dubai from Canada.  Whatever the reason may be, the fact remains: I’m no good at that stuff. Furthermore, I have no particular interest in trying to be. I have my words.

I’d often wonder aloud in class when I’d ever need to use the Pythagoras Theorem later on in life.  Five years out of high school, my thoughts remain as they were. Numbers and formulas are great at helping you figure out how something works, but words can elucidate why.  So, to conclude with a fancy justification of my weakness, my strength lies not in thinking of the “how” of life, but rather the “why”.

See? He thinks about the 'why' too.

See? He thinks about the ‘why’ too.

Someday, You Will. And So Will I.

Someday, we’ll sit across a table, you and I.  One of those anonymous, unnecessary little coffee shops with fading pencil scratches on the wall and generic branding that over-achieves.  Coffee World.  Coffee Planet.  You will saunter in – you don’t saunter now, but perhaps by then you will have learnt – and slide into the chair in front of me.  The movement will distract me from the words I am reading in the book I have open in front of me – no doubt, some complex tale of intermingling lives that detach and reunite – and I will look up at you.

I will look up at you and instinctually smile.  It will be a smile that comes quick and easy, devoid of the uncertainty and hesitation that seem to tag along with expectation.  It will be a smile that does not wait for one in return.  It will be a smile that is real simply because it is thoughtless.

Your reaction will be a small shrug, one that says ‘Here I am’.  The jerk of your shoulders will move the collar of your shirt slightly off-center, and I will want to reach over and fix it.  You will know this and, feigning a need to scratch the back of your neck, you will surreptitiously fix it yourself.  I will nod approvingly and place my hands on the table, as if responding, “Yes, here you are.”

I will be tempted to look around the room, at the part-time cashier drumming her nails against the till to dry the sickly orange polish she just painted on, at the pensioner in the left corner staring intently at an open wallet on his table, the picture of his dead grandson as dog-eared as the edges of his oversized denim jacket hanging limply from the back of his chair.  I will want to look at them, just so I do not have to look at you.  This, too, you will know and you will reach out with both your hands and place them above mine.

I will look down at these hands, a flat stack of me and you.  I will look down so I do not have to look up any longer.  I will look down and try not to think about the weight of your palms on my knuckles, try not to think that this is somehow a symbolic gesture depicting entrapment and suppression.  I will look at our hands and see them as just that.  Our hands.  Together.  I will be distinctly aware of your gaze on me, and will feel you waiting, waiting for me to shake off these notions of mine.  Because they are mine, and you will know that because I will have already told you, in a conversation in another time, of my penchant to see things as more than they really are.

You will wait and watch as I struggle with ideas of my own making in my mind, and you will keep your hands exactly where you placed them.  You will stay, because you know I will look up again.  You will wait while your coffee gets cold, while the cashier changes her mind about tangerine on her nails and tries on violet instead, while the pensioner finishes off his ninth refill and pulls on his jacket in slow, practices motions.

I will look up and just as I do, you will smile. Unlike mine, it will not be a rapid one.  It will take its time to develop into fruition, to complete an entire semi-circle across your face.  This time, it will be my turn to wait.  This time, I will not look away.  This time, it will be worth it.  You will smile and it will be whole and complete, as all-encompassing as the depth of your smooth hands, the same ones that hold the rough mountain-ridges of mine.  You will smile as if to say, ‘Finally.’

Still smiling, you will lift your hands from mine and push your chair back.  Still smiling, you will get up and saunter out the same way you came in.

I will wiggle my fingers – light, weightless and free – and I will go back to the words.

P.S This bit of writing was inspired by this video. 

SYNOPSIS: Marina Abromovic and Ulay started an intense love story in the 70s, performing art out of the van they lived in. When they felt the relationship had run its course, they decided to walk the Great Wall of China, each from one end, meeting for one last big hug in the middle and never seeing each other again.

At her 2010 MoMa retrospective Marina performed ‘The Artist Is Present’ as part of the show, where she shared a minute of silence with each stranger who sat in front of her. Ulay arrived without her knowing and this is what happened. – Source

No Culture in Dubai? Come to Emirates Lit Fest. For Ben Okri.

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I’ve been a bit starved for intellectual conversation in Dubai.

Since moving back here 7 months ago, I’ve been on the lookout for anything that can get me cerebrally turned on.  There are some great folks in the city, certainly, but most events in Dubai labelled as ‘cultural’ or ‘artistic’ attract the same type of footfall.  There are only so many vapid, self-involved people you can meet before you decide to give up and just stay in and watch re-runs of Friends.

All hope, however, is not lost. Lo and behold the Emirates Lit Fest!

Granted, I don’t think all the authors invited for it (and the list is rather long) are the cat’s pajamas but I’ll stop nitpicking long enough to rejoice that YES, THERE IS CULTURE IN DUBAI (…only when it is imported, but it’s a start).

Today was the 4th day of the festival.  The venue was crowded, lots of bookworms milling about, hoping to find a last-minute ticket to the Jeffrey Archer session, which was sold out soon after it went on sale. Thankfully, I didn’t even dream of wanting to attend that one.

What I was looking forward to was catching the talk and reading by Ben Okri, and oh, what a delight it was!  The man is a wonderful speaker: soft, thoughtful, and eloquent with words that seem to just glide into the ether and linger there for a while so you can savour them before digesting what they are trying to convey.

His bio is impressive: a Booker prize, novels, short-story/poetry collections, books of essays, even a comparison that denotes him the African counterpart of Marquez and Rushdie.  His demeanor, however, was absent of any grandeur and he spoke about some truly wonderful notions surrounding literature.  From five pages of notes that I was compulsively scribbling down, there are a plethora of things that really stuck with me.

Okri, Ben.jpg

On being called an ‘African’ writer, Okri shook his head and commented that a people and what they mean cannot be confined to simply one place. With literature, geography becomes transnational.  As a teenager, he would devour Plato while his father would often gesture around him with his hands and comment ‘We have our own Platos.’ (Isn’t that just the loveliest image/line?)

The African (and here I could easily insert Pakistani or South Asian, and it would make just as much sense) philosophy and way of seeing reality are in the air.  The spirit of a place and its people are not separate from the way in which we live our lives.  Thus, writers who write only of where they are from, or who are labelled as where they are from, pose a severe limitation to the scope of what is being written.  Where you are from is already implied in your writing as a default, there is no need to make a deliberate effort.

This particular idea really resonated with me.  It’s something we often debated in Bilal Tanweer’s workshops at LUMS, the concept of writing ‘ethnic lit’ and representing Pakistan. Making an effort gives you prose that is exoticizing and simply trying too hard, with long English descriptions of the simplest of things such as a paratha (“round, flat bread, fried to a rich golden brown”?) sounding like a justification or an over-explanation for what is normally just a part of your culture that you don’t think twice about. A paratha is a paratha.

Expanding on the burden of representing Africa in his writing, Okri used a great little analogy.  We do not find Shakespeare interesting because of his English-ness, we read him because of his humanity.  When you read a writer, think beyond their identity and their labels. To approach a piece of writing with a set prejudice in mind is to do it a great disservice.  “One of the most effective ways of overcoming prejudice is to write well.  Conflicts of the world would be so much easier to deal with if we just read each other.”

Okri also spoke at length about childhood.  He described that phase of time as an unusual way of seeing significance in insignificance, a teacher of openness. “If you want to know what a nation is like, look at how they treat their children.”  As we grow older, this is what we lose. It becomes difficult to see.

This reminded me a lot of what William Wordsworth puts forth in his poems (Tintern Abbey, and Ode to Intimations of Immortality).  He explores childhood as a time when our connection to nature is at its most pristine.  Equating Nature with the divine also implies that in childhood, our connection to that which is beyond us is unblemished.  Childhood is that idealized state in which a simple sight such as that of a rainbow can excite the mind in wondrous ways.  We lose that sense of awe and wonder as we grow older.  There was this beautiful moment in the Q&A after the talk when a young girl asked Okri, “What advice would you give to children about writing?”  He was flummoxed into silence fro a few minutes before thoughtfully responding, “Read.  Read as much and as often as you can. Write, of course, write but read because that comes first.” He paused to ponder before continuing on, “There are moments when Mom or Dad say something amazing. Remember them.” He settled back in his seat and the audience began to applaud.  He sat up again and interrupted the moderator to continue, with widened eyes and a feigned look of wonder, “You know that feeling when you see something or someone for the first time? Never lose that.”  Needless to say, the entire audience aww-ed and sighed in pleasure.

I also really liked what Okri had to say on ideas.  He likened an idea to a seed, it may be small but it contains the potential to be an oak tree. (A lot like Shariati’s idea of the 0 and the 1.) The logic of your idea pours out once you start writing and that is the best kind of writing, that which calls forth out of your soul.  A novel doesn’t just happen all at once.  “A novel visits you, in a glimpse.  Maybe it’s just a glimpse of a woman walking down the street, but what a woman and what a street!”

He described himself as an obsessive re-writer.  You cannot know, he said, if a sentence works unless you literally and with full consciousness go over every single word.  “The process is sickening.” It requires what Chekhov called the “coldness of the eye”, a sort of distancing yourself from your creation in order to critique it.  But this is far from easy.

Personally, I abhor going back to stuff I’ve written in order to edit or re-write.  What you write is like your baby, you;re protective of it, you’re halfway in love with it, and incredibly resistant to altering it in any way but it’s necessary.  Being secure as a writer is impossible. How can you be secure in a way of being that deals with the most intangible of things? As Okri put it, “Insecurity is a punishment from the gods for the effrontery you commit for wanting to create.”

How gorgeous is that line? Soak it in.

Needless to say, the session was exactly what my soul needed.  There are not a whole of other writers I’m particularly looking forward to meeting and hearing, but Ben Okri was definitely one of the highlights.  Here are a few bit from some of his poems:

We have broken the night.

The night yields in the rock.

Night leaps out from our hands.

The night has left the sky

As fire and power in our hands.

As a strong shape.

The world is ours at last.


We are as the gods dream.

Haven’t we broken the mountain

And shaped the world

In our own hands, to bend and crack

And change it into form and dream?


We have become more than we seem.


Not sure which poem this was from, but I loved this particular stanza.  Made me think of Karachi:

Our future.

Who can read it,

save the Gods.

But they are quiet now.

They are quiet



And this one:

I held you in the square

and felt the evening

re-order itself around

your smile.


I could keep gushing about Okri. So I’ll stop now and start reading the collection of his essays that I bought today, ‘A Time for New Dreams’. Indeed.

“I love you”

I love you.

You don’t own me, I let you possess me.
You complete me, but you’re also an agent of my annihilation.
You are what affirms me, and also that which denies me.
You are my anchor, my rock, my support, but you are also the edge of the cliff that I am slipping from.
You are the shore that I sail to, but also the iceberg I will inevitably crash against.
You are my greatest joy, but also my impending doom.
Your vision is my lens of the world, and also what distorts it.
You can make me feel like a million bucks one minute, and then a neglected, forgotten rag doll the next.
You are my sanctuary, but also the cave of my horrors.
You are the other half of the yin-yang, and yet you are all grey.
You are my refuge from the madness of this world, but you are also the madness in my world.
You are clear-cut and straightforward, but you are also a labyrinth with no solution.
You will meet me halfway, but you will also leave me stranded.
You are what I know so well, but you are also unfamiliar territory.
You are a crimson flame, but you may fade to blue anytime.
You tend to my wounds, but you also pour salt on them.
You are my dream-catcher, but you are also a living nightmare.
You break down my resistance, but you also help rebuild my walls of defense.
You are not my master, but your command over me is transcendental.
You are what I stop and turn around to look for, and then you keep walking away.
You form lyrics from my words, but your rhythm is out of sync.
You can make me lower the weapons, but you will never surrender.

You are mine, but I am not yours.
You are not me, but I am your mirror.
Your skin is yours. My skin is mine. But you are still under it.

Photo courtesy of: Wajiha Khuwaja

“My clothes are not hot. Never. Never.” – MARC JACOBS

It’s been wayyyyy too long since I wrote about what I love on here. I’ve felt like a junkie who’s been going through cold turkey and now just desperately NEEDS that one hit to keep going again. So I am back with a bang to talk in a superior hoity-toity way about my all-time favourite topic: FASHION!

Creative director at Louis Vuitton, an award-winning graduate of The New School (which happens to be one of my dream schools!), one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world, the youngest designer to have ever been awarded the fashion industry’s highest tribute, The Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) Perry Ellis Award for New Fashion Talent, and the sassiest, most-daring and charmingly gay man EVER: that’s right ladies and well-informed gentlemen, I’m talking about Marc Jacobs. I’ve been in love with his designs and his work for so long, it’s really a wonder I haven’t dedicated an entire blog post to him before (although, of course, I had to do god of fashion, Karl Lagerfeld, first before anyone else). From handbags and fragrances (‘Daisy’ is currently my favourite perfume!) to shades and shoes, this man has done it all, and done it all spectacularly well.

I was just looking through the Spring/Summer 2011 collection of ‘Marc by Marc Jacobs’ (a diffusion line) and it’s all about emphasizing what a pop of bright colour can do to transform an outfit. Its full of lots of upbeat, breezy daywear accessorised with military touches and bonnet-style hats with bold stripes and splashes of colour being the main fixture of almost every piece.

Military-cut top, slim waist belt, beige bonnet and a tan satchel. Notice how the red hue of the slouchy shorts really adds the softness that would otherwise be lacking from the severity of the navy-blue and black in the outfit

Loving the patterned jumpsuit. Despite it already being a vivid outfit, notice how the electric blue strap of the satchel still makes the outfit pop a little more.

There really is no better way to tame down a busy outfit. Nude shoes. Every woman should own a pair!

Because nautical will ALWAYS be in style.

High-waisted patterned skirt with a flowy hemline, teamed brilliantly with a structured white blouse. Accessoried with must-have chocolate wedges, electric blue tote, black bonnet, fiercely frizzy hair and neon lips. Genius.

Again the 'pop of colour' I keep mentioning. The sunshine-yellow satchel brightens up an otherwise dull beige floral jumpsuit.

Loose and flowy really was the order of the day. The lack of strict tailoring and rigid structuring really makes this outfit perfect for summer days. Also seriously coveting those copper wedges. Not sure about the yellow-gold belt though.

The man himself. Squared jaw, just the right amount of stubble, seriously sick calves, a tailored Nehru jacket and an Hermes tote. Only HE could pull this off!

Plenty of calf-skimming hemlines and florals in this collection, it reminded me of the one he had designed for Louis Vuitton for Paris FW last Spring (I talked about that here: ). However the LV collection was more 50s whereas this has a more 70s vibe to it. It’s certainly more playful; I love that its just so utterly asimplistic, no fancy-shmancy McQueen type heels or outlandish Lady Gaga-esque creations. Fundamentally, everything in the collection is wearable; sadly just not quite yet affordable for the likes of me. *Sigh*

For My Brother

On December 18th, at approximately 8 pm, my brother died. His heart failed. He was at the mall, in an indoor cricket ground; the game had not started yet and him and all the others, who were family friends and cousins, were warming up and stretching. He paused just to drink some water, and the next second he was on the ground. He had a cardiac arrest, and his heart stopped beating. He did not suffer or gasp for breath, his death was immediate. The paramedics arrived straight away and tried to revive his heart. It’s said that for a man his age, 30 years old, shock treatment is normally just given twice; but all the cousins and friends around him insisted that they do it repeatedly, over 5 times.

My father was present, he had arrived immediately after one of the cousins had notified him that Bhai had collapsed. My father had called my sister and I, we had also been roaming around in the mall somewhere. Little had we known that just 2 minutes away would be where our brother would lose his life. My sister and I arrived at the scene just as the paramedics were giving Bhai the final shock treatment. I will never forget that sight of my brother lying still and limp on the cold, hard floor, his arms at his side, his legs straightened out, his eyes half-open. I’d fallen by his side and screamed at him to wake up, I had felt like maybe he was just napping, but his glassy eyes revealed that they were not registering anything, that my brother couldn’t see or hear me, that he was gone. I held his hand and patted his hair, despite the fact that everyone was trying to pull me up and away from him. I knew he was dead, but all I wanted was to touch him and be with him for as long as I could for the last time. His hand felt like it always had, slightly rough, but his fingertips had started to become cold. All those episodes of medical tv-shows may try to depict how it is when someone dies, but it isn’t until you touch and feel for yourself that you really know how it is.

It’s now the 4th day since Bhai has died. Just writing the word ‘died’ is hard. As hard as I try to force myself to listen to what people say about all of this being for the better, that it’s Allah’s will, that maybe God has a bigger plan in mind, that Bhai is at peace now and in a better place, I cannot understand it. He was so young, he’d just turned 30 in the summer. He hadn’t seen as much of the world as he’d wanted to, there were so many more places he wanted to travel to and explore. He’d never even been to Lahore, and I had always pushed him to come to LUMS so he could check out the campus with his wife and daughter and he’d talked about doing that next month but now it’ll never happen. How is there any fairness in taking a life away so soon, in snatching away a husband from a young wife, a doting father from an 18-month old daughter, in taking a first-born only son away from loving parents, in taking an older brother away from 2 sisters? Where is the justice in that?

It has felt a little better since we buried him on the 20th, I don’t know if that was because of the anti-depressant I was given or because they say that when a soul reaches its heavenly destination, peace comes along with it. Before he was lowered into the ground, he had to be bathed so that his body would be prepared according to the Islamic tradition. My father and uncle were the ones who washed him and got him ready. It breaks my heart to think that my father, the same man who’d first held his child when he was born and cleaned him and bathed him when he was a baby, had to do the same to the dead body of his son just a few decades later. We were allowed to see him after that, and it soothed me a little to see that Bhai looked a little more peaceful, I’d closed his eyes right after his death at the mall, but even at the cemetery they remained slightly open, as if he was just pretedning to sleep and peeking to see what was going on. His face was expressionless, his face pale blue and so, so cold, but it looked as if he was dressed as a traditional Arab, and Bhai had always liked doing that, so it made me a little happy to see him like that at his final stage. I hope he heard me somehow when I said I was sorry for all the times I’d hurt him and defied him, and when I said that I forgive him for any pain he may have caused me in his too-short life. I think he knows it, because every time I try to sleep, I can hear him singing. He loved doing that and I was always the one who would sit and listen to him and give suggestions to how he could play around with the song, so maybe he’s letting me know he heard me and he;s fine by singing to me.

Bhai, I don’t know where you are but everyone keeps saying that you’re in heaven, that you’ve been given a place by God at the highest stations of heaven so I hope that you’re happy there. Your sudden death has made me so angry and frustrated but if you’re okay then all of us will be fine too. Don’t worry too much about Mom, we’ll take care of her extra hard. You were the apple of her eye, remember how much you used to bug me before and try to make me jealous that she loves you the most out of all her children? I know that this is true now, you were her son, her first-born, the one she used to cherish and dote on and make kheer at 4 am if you only mentioned you felt like having it. I know you wanted to do and see so much more, that you had many plans, that you wanted to LIVE, so maybe your own death has even made you angry and annoyed, but please don;t feel that way. You may be physically gone from our world, but you live on in so many ways. Your music, your words, I will keep them alive for you, I will finish your stories. Your daughter, our precious darling Ayana, is so much like you and we will see you in her and through her as well. We will never let her forget about her Baba and tell her many stories about how funny and charming he was and how insanely he loved her. Wherever you are, I know you love her still, just as much as you did when you were alive.

I miss you so much, and I know that this yearning will never go away, it’s like a wound that will always remain open and fresh. I will miss you at my graduation, at my wedding, at the birth of my first child, at any gathering when we all sit around because you loved being the center of attention then and you would do all these hilarious imitations of people. Even now, when so many of our relatives have flown in from Karachi to be here, I feel like you will walk in any minute and start doing one of your funny Anarkali renditions. The last time we all were together like this was just 4 years ago, at your wedding, except now it’s your funeral. I will always feel your absence at every stage of my life, but now I have a reason to make an extra effort to remember all our shared memories which I would’ve otherwise forgotten over time. I am sorry for all the times I resented you, I know that you were just trying to protect your baby sister from the harshness of reality; I am sorry I raised my voice at you the last time that I was at home; I am sorry I didn’t call you or email you more often all those months that I was away from home, I wish now that we’d spoken more than just once every semester. I am glad you picked me up from the airport this time, and that we got a chance to have our usual debate about Punjabis. You always bugged me that I was becoming like them because of living in Lahore, and I always defended myself. I am also glad that in the 3 days that I got to spend with you here before you died, I got a chance to make you chai. I had been doing that for you since I was 7, and I finally got to do it one last time on the 17th, just a day before you left us.

Everyone who came to your funeral commented that, in all the years they’ve lived in Dubai, they have NEVER seen such a funeral that was ever so crowded and so completely bursting with people. Cars kept rolling in every second, and people parked miles away to walk to the cemetary. It made me happy to see that you touched so many lives in your own short life, that you had an impact on hundreds and hundreds of people, from CEOs to peons in all the places you’ve worked. You had so many well-wishers whose lives you affected positively, so many people expressed how grateful they felt that they ever knew you and it’s an amazing thing because the more hands that are raised in prayer for you, the better you will feel. People have been calling from all over the world, there are so many that we have never heard of yet they insist on telling us how you changed their lives. You lived a short life, Bhai, much too short, but even in just 3 decades, you managed to connect with and touch the lives of hundreds, almost thousands of people. They will always remember you.

You will never be a part of any family picture again, but for us, you will forever remain an integral member of the Sakrani house. You are gone, but you will live on. In our hearts, our memories, our minds, we will hold high the flame of your life. I hope you never, ever forget that we all loved you immensely and will continue to do so for as long as we are alive.

It is said that when you look at a picture of the deceased, it hurts their soul. Nonetheless I am posting a picture of Bhai, but when you look at it, please make a dua (prayer) for his heavenly soul so that he feels better.

Smiling serenely as he thinks of the next song to sing. We'll miss you Bhai.

A Funny Facebook Message

It happens all too frequently that random men send strange messages to other random girls on Facebook. I don’t know if they think it’s actually a successful wooing technique, because trust me, its really not! Also, how many of these men actually expect a reply?? Here is one such message that was waiting for me in my inbox today:

im usman malik from islamabad but basicly from chakwal!
m in seeking of true frnd whom which i can share my wories and evry thng evry day so m usng facebook 1st time to find a true frnd you know yurs is my ideal name so m tring my luck!
would you lllik to be my frnd forevr?you know todays eid day and m feeling so alone to day my mama ji anda baba ji are too far from myself and also dnt loves me m sho much painful may we be a true frns?a frnds of wory if m able to be…..?cus m nt so rich
and thats my cel numb pleesh cntect 03145777777

A few things I found troubling with this message:
1. How can someone be from Islamabad but ‘basicly from Chakwal’ at the same time??
2. If you want to share your worries with someone ‘evry thng evry day’ , I’d suggest a therapist. And also maybe using Spellcheck.
3. I’m not sure if I’m flattered or disturbed that you think my name is ‘ideal’ for you. And oh you poor thing, luck REALLY has nothing to do with you trying here.
4. I actually would NOT ‘llik’ to be your friend forever, and can someone show this guy a calendar? Eid’s still about 10 days away.
5. Once again, I really am not the cure for your loneliness, a therapist or some pirated DVDs are what you need. And quite sly of you to pull the “im all alone, nobody loves me” card but ‘mamaji and abba ji’ REALLY? I dont know about you, but just reading this is becoming ‘sho painful’ for me.
6. I’m confused. What does ‘a frnds of wory if m able to be…..?’ even MEAN?!
7. Oh this is the cherry on top! Not only are you confused about where you’re from, suffering from horrendous grammar and spelling issues, as well as some sort of depression and loneliness maybe resulting from a parental feud, but you’re also ‘nt so rich’! Whattay catch!
8. Won’t be ‘contect’ing you, ‘pleesh’ try your luck elsewhere.

p.s a quick look at his profile reveals that he’s interested in both men AND women, really not picky are we?

Six Years and A Wedding



It’s been six years since the very first time December 18th became a big day for us. Big in sadness, in loss, in remembrance and in reflection. Every year, on December 18th, we become a little more subdued, a little less animated, a lot more aware of what happened back in 2010 when you left us, suddenly, without warning, without even the thought of a goodbye. This year, we thought we could try and celebrate. This year, we attempted to use December 18th as a day of happiness, to kick off my wedding.

That’s right. I’m getting married. Can you believe it? I, your snotty-faced spectacled little sister who you caught eating Nutella out of the jar with a knife, am all grown up and getting married. It’s more than not okay that you’re not around for any of it. I can picture you around all the festivities, having a good time, sharing a laugh or two, mocking something or the other, and ultimately, walking me down the aisle with everyone. But all I can do is make do with old, faded memories and the dear hope that you really are around here somewhere, smiling with us and having a third helping of kheer.

Our attempt today to make December 18th something other than a sad day wasn’t as successful as we’d deluded ourselves into thinking it could be. Overall, the house was filled with laughter and music and prayers for a blessed future but there were moments in which your absence was as painfully felt as an open wound. There were moments when Ami broke down, and later Abu, and it was all I could do to not follow suit. All this happiness sometimes doesn’t sit quite right, it’s incomplete and the tragedy of this realization truly is overwhelming for all of us right now. We’re not quite the same, and we haven’t been since you left.

Sometimes, i miss you so much that the only way I can stay sane is to force myself to stop thinking altogether. I wish you were around to help us with all the wedding arrangements – you’d have such a great time in all the revelry and the late nights. I wish you were here to hand me off to my future husband – you’re both the same height and all I can do is just imagine all the pictures you should be in but won’t. I wish you were nearby to help me brainstorm what songs we should play at the events – making playlists just isn’t the same without your input. Most of all, I wish you were here to see your baby sister as a bride – I hope you’re proud of the choice I’ve made.

But since you’re not here, all I’m really left with are these faraway hopes and dream-wishes that I put out into the world in words. That’s all we can really do now, pray hard with eyes that smart with tears and hope with all our heart that you’re enjoying the glorious winds of heaven, strumming a guitar and crooning some old school Vital Signs.

So we try, and we persevere, as we must. It doesn’t mean we love you any less, or don’t miss you anymore. You’re with us all the time, wherever we go. There are some things that won’t ever change. Your place in this family, and in our lives is one of those things. We love you, Bhai, and feel your loss deeply right now. Send us some good vibes and sing a song or two, your baby sister is getting married!

5 Years & Counting

It hasn’t been a great week. It’s been almost atrocious, actually.

Typically, all of December is like that. This year, it was different, it had been going well.  The first two weeks of the month, I didn’t think too much about the 18th. I didn’t think about what it would signify.

I didn’t think about how it’s been five years. Five. A number after which I can’t quantify my brother’s death in a way that’s acceptable to me in my head. What’s acceptable? Being able to talk about the time that has passed since then, in words, rather than in numbers.  I was okay with saying ‘oh it happened a couple of years ago’, or that it’s been just ‘a few years’. Five worked too, I’ve been able to say it’s been a ‘handful of years’. But what now? Now that the 6th year has started, how do I quantify that in mere words? I can’t, anymore. There is no phrase of words in existence to quantify 6 years, or 7 years, or 8, or 9. The next acceptable phrase hits comes after 10, when it will have been ‘a decade’. So what do I do for the next 4 years?

It’s become bigger than me, something I don’t think I can make peace with. I’ve read about grief hitting in waves, blinding and overpowering at first, manageable and visible later. These aren’t waves, though. It’s like driving without breaks – you can manage long distances well, because there’s nothing to stop for.  But there are speed bumps every now and then, and though they’re quick, they’re still brutal, because there’s nothing you can do to lessen the impact. It leaves you shaken all over, and your stomach lurches up to your throat for a moment, and then just as suddenly as it happened, it’s over. You’re back to cruising on the road, one elbow resting against the open window.  You ease into it all again, focus on the song on the radio, the comfortable speed, and you forget the bump ever existed. Until it comes back.

It’s a ruinous process, one I’ve plundered through on my own. Sure, the loss of my brother impacted the whole family, but the grieving hasn’t been a collaborative effort. We’ve all stumbled our way through these past five years on our own, warily glancing at each other to ensure we’re at least all at the same pace, and no one has fallen.  It’s been dark, it’s been lonely, and I wonder if that will change, if I can let that change. It’s almost been a sordid badge of honour in a way. ‘Look what I can get through alone.’  Just because I have, doesn’t mean that I still need to. I’m not brave, just withered.

That’s the beauty of seeing death so close – it teaches you things you could have never known any other way.  It takes you into a deep, dark tunnel where you’re never quite sure if the ground will give away, or if you’re about to chance upon some treasure. You keep going, anyway, and you decipher clues from writings on the wall, uncovering one life lesson after another. It’s not reconciliation, but it is comforting.

Death informs life. My brother’s death has taught me a whole lot about mine. Even though I have no way of eloquently quantifying the 6th year of his death, here’s hoping it’ll teach me more than what I’ve understood in the last 5.


The Weird and the Wonderful – There’s Something You Should Know


On a spectacularly sunny California afternoon, the love of my life asked me to marry him, and I said yes.

There are certain things girls dream about. We fantasize, subconsciously or not, about the perfect ring, the ideal proposal, the classic dress and of course, the right guy.  I am no exception and while I’ve found the right guy, there is one thing I don’t think I’ll ever stop wishing – that he could’ve met you.

I think you two would have really hit it off. His sense of humour, though jarring for me at first, is so infectious that I now find myself cracking his kind of jokes right back at him.  We laugh more than we actually talk and I think you would’ve just loved that, I mean, you were quite a funny guy yourself when you were around.  If the two of you could be in  the same room, I think we’d all hear you both guffawing miles away.  He likes to horse around and just be silly, and, as grown up and adult as I sometimes consider myself, it’s a relief to just turn that off with him.  It’s a relief to just…be.

That’s not to say he can’t be serious.  In all my life, I haven’t seen anyone as dedicated to their goals as him.  When he makes up his mind to do something, that shit gets DONE.  You’d appreciate that about him, just as I do.  It’s reassuring to know that if I ever need help with anything, he’ll be there.  Even when it’s something he has no idea about, he’ll still do his best.  That perseverance calms me down.  I get worked up so easily about small, nonsensical things, and his steadfastness anchors me. It also makes me feel safe.  It’s a little like how, when I’d tell you I heard something outside, you would take a round of the front and back yards in the middle of the night, cricket bat in hand, ready to strike.  He’s like that, for me, all the time. It’s like having a bodyguard around 24/7, except this one safeguards my soul, too.

One thing you two would truly bond over is music.  His playlist is one you’d easily want for yourself and his love of Coke Studio could rival yours. Granted, you were only around long enough to listen up until Season 2, but the sheer joy and passion with which he enjoys some of the newer tracks often reminds me of you.  There are moments when he’ll be singing aloud at the top of his voice, and then suddenly pause to lament why he doesn’t have a good enough voice to properly carry a tune.  I tend to smile then, because that’s when I imagine the two of you together, listening to this music, with you actually singing it, and him being your happy audience, the way I once was.

You’d like him, you really would. I don’t just say that as a little sister who wants her big brother’s approval on her choice of partner. I say it because if you could see what I do, you’d agree. You’d see that he already makes Ami laugh and smile without even really trying, and instils in Abu a hidden hope of a son’s shoulder to lean on.  You’d see the effort he makes in learning about you, and keeping your memories alive for me, going as far as playing one of your favourite songs for our proposal. You’d see that he wants to move mountains for Ayana and get her every toy under the sun, without ever having met her yet.  You’d see that he worries about the aches and the colds of every member in the family, as if we were his own. You’d see that, in a matter of just mere months, he is family.

I never allowed myself to think too much about who I’d marry or how it would be, because anytime I did, my heart would shatter remembering that you won’t be around for any of it. Now, when I have someone who makes all the cliches about love and life ring true, I think about how it will be and I wish, more than anything, that you were here for all of this. I wish you could see your baby sister next month, getting engaged in front of family and friends to the man she loves. I wish you were around for all the planning, and the gossiping, the freak-outs and the dancing. I helped you make your wedding playlist, and I had always imagined you helping me make mine one day.

I wish you could be a part of this magic, in person. But because you can’t, I will console myself with what I know to be true – that I chose someone my brother would get along with, fantastically well.


If I Were You, I’d Have Just 5 More Years

I turned 25 this week. In my head, that always seemed like a definite sort of age.

At 21-22, you’re still figuring your life out, getting used to the real world after the college bubble, learning how to deal with the perils of a full-time job and finances and bills. 22-23, for me, were years when these new adjustments solidified, and I began to make real choices about what I wanted to do, who I wanted to be and be with, and where I wanted to go exploring.  24 was quieter and louder at the same time, a sense of restlessness creeping into the routine of work life, but not enough to make me want to up and leave again, helping me build a resolve to stay and power through whatever needed sorting out. 25 seemed to me more decisive than others, a turning point from struggling to figure it all out to actually having a game plan set and in motion. Is that the case? Not really, and oddly enough, that feels more than okay. I didn’t expect much from 25, or from the months leading up to it. Perhaps this is why, the happiness is a welcome surprise.

I didn’t expect I’d want to celebrate this year, seeing as it hasn’t been much of a priority the past handful of years.  I didn’t expect to feel the euphoria I did, surrounded by friends and family at home and otherwise.  I didn’t expect to rediscover the old excitement I used to feel on my birthday, counting down the days like a kid and planning what I’d do, wear and experience. And, as much of an advocate of happiness as I can be sometimes, I truly did not expect to be so fundamentally happy.

A last thing I also did not expect was to be visited by you in my dream this week.  It has been so long since it last happened, that it actually took dream-me a moment to recognise you and register that it truly was you, my brother.  If someone had told me 10 years ago I’d have a hard time recognising my brother if he appeared in front of me, I’d have laughed dismissively.  But that is exactly what happened.  You showed up and my dream-state-mind needed some time to put the puzzle pieces of your face together.  The shock and surprise dream-me felt then, I can still recall that feeling right now as I type these words, and that fact, is as sorrowful as it is real and true.

The first year after you died, I had phases where I was in so much pain, I’d make myself feel better by picturing a time much later in life, maybe 4-5 years down the road, where your death was simply a fact of life I’d gotten used to and thinking about it wouldn’t hurt me. Heck, just the thinking itself wouldn’t happen much.  Guess what, though? That time is here, it’s right now. It doesn’t hurt to think about you, and it’s true, I actually DON’T think about you a whole lot normally. In day-to-day life, there are things alive that preoccupy my heart and mind.

This might sound callous or harsh but there’s only so much of the past I can allow myself to emotionally relive. I don’t usually talk about you or allow myself to think about you because I haven’t wanted to share these thoughts or tales with anyone.  It’s been an entirely internalised process, silent and inherent, not to be shared, not even to be self-acknowledged.  Lately, however, there’s been a slight shift.  I’ve been sharing your stories, and just through this act, I’ve been thinking about you, remembering your characteristics and habits, recalling your likes, dislikes and irritations. By using you as a topic of storytelling, I’m able to fondly step back into a time where I’m 10 and oblivious to what will happen to you when I’m 20; I’m able to think of you as ‘my big brother who plays the guitar and can charm an eskimo into buying snow’; I’m able to trick myself into putting you back into the present tense again.

It’s soothing to recount anecdotes of your life that make me laugh, because I can now share that laughter with a keen listener, who will join in and extend the joke and talk of you as if you’re still around.  It’s probably exactly what I needed without knowing it.  It’s been tough to recall the stories, not because it hurts but simply because they’re old and muddles in my head, and my memory muscle isn’t too strong.  Maybe your long-awaited reappearance in a my dream a gentle reminder from you, of you. There’s no way to know, but I’ll go with that interpretation. There are some bits I remember all too well, like how enraged you became when I secretly decided to tune your guitar and broke a string, and others that are blurry, like a song you had taught me how to play which I can only remember the first few notes of. Certain triggers, like this song, are still as strong as ever and will cause my eyes to smart quicker than raw onion juice.  Other triggers, like seeing the car you drove on the road, have, over time, settled into a state of relaxation enough for me to drive past with ease.

I just turned 25, which means that, in a few days, you would have been turning 35.  I used to wonder how my life would be if you were still around but, as alarming as it can seem sometimes, I have come to like the life I have right now, even without you around.  I’m powering through, trying new things each year, visiting unfamiliar places, connecting with unexpectedly like-minded people, and attempting to set goals that don’t always align with practical considerations. Am I fulfilled? No, because I keep wanting more and more and that’s okay, because if I were you, I’d have just 5 more years.

Happy birthday, to you and me both, this month.


The Man in the Bookstore



You hear about it sometimes.  You see it in movies, read about it in works of fiction.

You never thought it would happen to you.

You never imagined you would walk into a bookstore, browse languorously in the poetry section and end up having an hour long conversation with a total stranger about the kind of words you both love.  You didn’t think instances like this existed outside of anecdotes.  But they do, and now you have one to share too.

You can now tell people how, while holding on to a Lorrie Moore novel you’ve been meaning to read, you were tapped on the shoulder gently and told, ‘You’re going to love that book. It’s one of my favourites.’  You can reminisce on how you responded with surprised but suppressed glee and told this man that Moore is one of your favourite writers, one that has greatly influenced your own writing style.  You can recount how you both then stood in the poetry aisle in companionable silence, which was soon broken by him picking out a slim anthology from the racks and asking you if you’ve ever read anything like it.

You can narrate then how responded in the negative but launched into a tirade about the kind of poetry you do enjoy, about how Zbigniew Herbert gives you goosebumps and Jack Gilbert makes you want to sit on a bench under a tree and weep.  You can tell people about the stories this man told you, about the poetry festival he organises and the many great writers and poets he’s interacted with.  You can smilingly share with them what you shared with him, that words will always be your first love, no matter where you go or what you do; that even though your career path has nothing to do with stanzas and plots, it’s what you think about and indulge in on your daily commute across the Charles and the small hazy window of time right before you fall asleep every night.

You can elaborate on the characters he told you about, the Moroccan store-owner who speaks a new language every time they meet or the owner of a Central Square tavern who happily displays this man’s artwork, the artwork you were amazed to hear about because of its sheer simplicity of it being a collection of pieces made up of broken and discarded bits of picture frames.  You can tell people of how stunned you were to hear about this, and how it only added to the beauty of the strange but welcome encounter.  If you are interrupted, you can veer the conversation back with another quiet but simple story he shared with you about one of his favourite poets, who writes about a refugee who, at displacement, took his house door off its hinges to take it with himself to wherever he was going next.  You can go into detail the way this man did about how this refugee, if he ever returns, will reattach the withered door to his old home to solidify his return; or will place this old door to wherever he settles next and will build his new home around it, to remember the foundation of where he came from.

You can muse on how this stunning story touched you because you could relate, because you have been displaced your whole life and have no doors to carry, only the idea of something that could feel like home but has yet to be discovered.  You can tell people how you asked this man more about this poet he loves, and in return, told him about a poet you love, a poet whose writing is so frenzied and manic you feel like you’re helplessly dancing along to a rhythm so remarkably fast your feet ache to catch up.

You could go on. But you won’t. You don’t need to tell anyone you bought all the books he pointed to, including one by the poet he loves.  You don’t need to tell them how you walked into this bookstore because your soul was down and the only thing that could revive it was some old-fashioned make-believe. You experienced something sacred today, something that added a bounce back into your step, something that made you grateful for who you are and where you are, something that reminded you that there is still magic in the world, even if it is just in a bookstore around the corner.



‘Do Tell’ by Richard Hoffman