Band of Halves

Kulsoom Khalid Ijaz


You feel most like a stranger when you’re watching your father give your brothers warm hugs and kisses. When you’re watching him tell them that he loves them.

You eagerly put on a mix of vintage Bollywood in the car with him later that day. Anything Lata, Mukesh, or Rafi. You hope that being in the presence of what he adores may rub off. Maybe you’ll get some scraps too.

The songs teleport you to when your father heard them for the first time. It’s the 1960s. You land in his courtyard in Faisalabad, Pakistan. You enter through the giant forest green doors. You see your Dada-Abu ( paternal grandfather) getting up from his chaarpay.

You watch his tirades. You witness his misogyny revealing itself in a harrowing way. You’re watching your father observing him intently and you hear the same songs ominously playing in that landscape.

You want to blindfold the little boy. You wished he was off flying a kite every time this happened. You resent how all of the baggage trickled down generationally. How you’re a second class offspring.

You’re scared your brothers’ daughter will someday be in a car putting on Lupe Fiasco, Nas or Tupac tracks. Your deepest anxiety is that she’ll be playing them not because she wants to learn about our American history through hip hop but because your brothers never unpacked it all.

You don’t want to watch that happen to her. To see yourself in that little girl. Because you know in your heart of hearts that living something isn’t the most painful part. It’s the watching. It was always the watching.

Dearest Self

This picture was taken in Palestine. 

You may read this years from now and perhaps wish to erase this like you did your Xanga in middle school and your old Facebook posts after you broke off your engagement. You’ll justify the act by proclaiming it isn’t reflective of who you are today. You’ll justify wrongly. Coming face to face with the past has value. They say you get wiser as you age but I find that many life lessons we learn along the way get buried beneath the toils of sacrifice, bad decisions and placating each competing moral dilemma after the other.

I request that you practice restraint. What I am writing is indicative of who you used to be. And that has merit. Please don’t shut me out. I want to remind you of the timid desires that used to tiptoe in your heart’s shadow, ones that wouldn’t dare take up residence in its domain. You recently fought with family members because you believe that spouses aren’t commodities to shop for by sifting through a catalog of pictures and bio-data. You want the kissing-in-the-rain, the playful-banter, the euphoric-twirling, the cheek-reddening-gushery, the shouting-from-the-rooftops kind of story (with added flair and extra cheese) or nothing at all.

You also don’t think marriage is a last resort if and when other prospects in life aren’t looking up. One should engage in serious personal growth, be able to stand up on both feet (i.e. be self-sufficient) and be of sound enough mind (I’m still figuring out what that means) before making such a heavy commitment, but only if there is someone worthy of making that commitment with. You’re allergic to the thought of an arranged marriage because it puts the cart before the horse.

You hate Tinder for the same reason you hate when your mother tells you to look into a suitor from Houston, Texas. Use of both “resources” is forced and inorganic. You like the mystery and the dance that comes with the meet and greet. You cherish the period between the friendship and the intimate partnership. You crave the becoming, the anxiety, the will-they-won’t-they, the moments just before the fruition. If you take the thrill out of developing interpersonal relations of the intimate kind, then all you’ve got is a glorified business deal.

And you despise that word—and the word “finance”—because you hate crunching numbers. Your neurons fire most fervently when studying subjects in the humanities and social sciences field. And natural sciences only appeal to you when you associate a human element to them. Queue examples. Negligence in treating infections in prisons. There is something insidious about taking people’s agency away and rendering them victim to easily curable diseases.

Behavioral therapy for kids with autism. Faith in humanity is restored when learning about the advancements we’ve made in improving quality of life for all children. Poor sanitation in India and the broader effects that has on child development. The WASH Initiative is therefore beneficial for more than the clear and obvious reasons. How there are some people who can never get HIV because their bodies just can’t compute the virus and how you can’t wait until a major breakthrough comes from that knowledge.

The fact that scientists found a way to turn unfertilized eggs in to sperms. How they can only help produce female babies because they’re missing that distinct chromosome. You find amusement in the fact that, not only do we not need men to be the breadwinners; we don’t even need them for reproduction. You find the scientific accomplishment to be liberating and empowering even though you appreciate that: the shadow your pulsating organ casts is the keeper of a little desire that—any man who ever occupies your intimate space be capable of bringing comfort, warmth and safety to the table.

But the desire, as shy as it may be, isn’t one sided. You believe in reciprocity and equilibrium. That you will be as much a part of nurturing a healthy, loving relationship, as your partner will, if such a relationship is ever actualized. You qualify this dream because your favorite Pakistani poet, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, once wrote, “Aur bhi dhuk hain zamaaney mein mohabbat ke siva. Raahatein aur bhi hain vasl ki raahat ke siva.” “There are other greivances in this world besides the grief of love. There are other paths to take in life besides the path of union.” You take heed to this and have remembered the lines through the years, through several trying times—times that tried testing your patience and times that tried stripping you of your resolve.

You’ve committed the stanza to memory not because you’re a pessimist. If you were one, you would’ve settled long ago. The path you wish to take involves becoming a human rights lawyer, doing good through profession, not just because God knows you’ve got a long inventory of vices and is aware of your inability to follow through with rituals. But because you wouldn’t know what else to be. You’ve never dared to color a dream of being a spouse with words but have always quite confidently voiced your desire to be a parent.

It’s for the same reason you rip up straw wrappers into tiny little pieces in crowded restaurants and then mold them into little spheres, placing each one next to the other, forming a straight line on the table. You’re obsessed with making order out of chaos. As a person with a tainted childhood you not only want to reconcile your past but you want to rectify it too. Adopting a child is how you wish to do that and by becoming a lawyer, in the broader sense. These are the dreams that wildly inhabit your heart.

This isn’t because you’ve given up on romantic prospects but it’s because you can’t fret about what you can’t control. The desire is bashful but you know it all too well. A partner, if there ever is one, will firmly believe in non-violent parenting and will never throw the word “fat” around to describe someone while making a face like they smelled something funky. Someone who promotes body positivity. A person who isn’t transphobic or homophobic. You’ll find it easy to gush to them about the curve of a woman’s body and the chiseled form of a man’s jaw. Someone who can criticize problems the porn and sex industry perpetuate by promoting the devaluation and dehumanization of women without slut-shaming sex-workers.

A partner who gets that Black lives matter. A person who may not be able to empathize but at least be able to sympathize with the anxieties that come with being a person of color and belonging to a diaspora population in America. Someone who believes in a free Palestine. A feminist who gets intersectionality, systems of oppression and cares about social justice. You recognize that you care far too much to be with someone who just doesn’t get it and that intelligence and passion is sexy. But at the same time you want a partner who isn’t condescending or patronizing—who doesn’t make you feel small.

Someone who cares about these things but does so with a sense of humor because you’ve learned that you will get worn down very quickly if you don’t find a way to morbidly joke about all of this. You recognize that you can get too angry and worked up about human rights issues and need to surround yourself with persons who can lift your spirits. You have absolutely no clue what this person will look like nor does it really matter. But you’d like to think it’ll be someone with a contagious smile that lights up their entire face and warm hands because you’re always so cold.

You wish for them to drive you to be all the great things you could ever be. Someone who celebrates your passion and ambition. A person who couldn’t be bothered by the length of your nails but someone who takes care in what you have to say. Someone who doesn’t cringe at the thought of your next blog post. A partner who doesn’t make you feel like you’re gasping for air. Someone you can be goofy and childlike with. Someone who your friends adore—one who has adorable friends.

You have found that you often lose yourself in relationships. That you are the youest of you when you’re alone with your thoughts, when you’re not desperately seeking to gain affirmation. You want someone who sees you as their equal, who hears you as their equal. A partner who needs you just as much as you need them. A person you could be just as good to as they are to you.

You have this nervous thought about a day when you won’t get lost in someone and abandon who you are. You think you’ll know when you know. It’ll be with someone who thinks you’re awesome and with someone you think is awesome too. A partner who doesn’t make you falter from the path you’re already on. I want you to know that as dark as it is here these dreams are valid and legitimate. They don’t need to be compromised nor do they need to morph into something else in order for them to someday go from making meek pitter-patters to large strides that set up shop in your blood bank.

Syracuse Candlelight Vigil for Pakistan #PeshawarAttack

The smallest coffins are often the heaviest to carry.

Join and support us outside Hendricks Chapel by the Quad as we mourn the lives slain in Peshawar, Pakistan.

Please bring a candle. This is a chance for us to hold a moment of silence to honor the lives lost.

For those who can’t be there, keep these lives in your thoughts and have a moment of silence from home. Spread the word on social media and encourage those who are still in Syracuse to show their support.


Relevancy and Impact: Peshawar Attack

Picture obtained from Tumblr user:

A friend asked me why do you care about what happens so far away, about another country’s laws, and aren’t American issues more relevant to you, because you are closer to them, because you live here and because they directly impact you. What he said made sense at face value. The heart, however, doesn’t factor in proximity was my immediate thought.

Relevancy and impact isn’t dependent on where someone is physically situated. Admittedly, news resonating from the Middle East, North Africa and the Indian subcontinent tug at me more. I would imagine it’s because I belong to the Muslim and Pakistani diaspora population in the United States. Thus, some events remain relevant no matter how far away they are. Impactful even.

Today when I woke up and rolled over to look at news tweets on my phone it was the Peshawar Attacks. I read through a couple horrified at first and then anger began mixing in. But then I read this: “The smallest coffins are often the heaviest to carry.” Anger simmered and was replaced by sadness. I read about the heroic teachers who told children to stay calm, read the qalma and snuck them out back doors. Then I read something that said, “Sitting in your house, writing about this wont change a thing.” He’s right, parents’ glowing dreams embodied by their sons and daughters’ smiles will never re-kindle.

The vigils we’re going to have in the States will help us mourn for brothers and sisters we have never really met or shared the same soil with. It’ll help us grieve for people that sure looked just like us, bright eyed with brown skin and black hair, but that’s where the similarities more or less end. It is our Pakistani American privilege that allows us to come together and light candles.

The ability to hope is an expense many can’t incur. We have the chance to acknowledge lives taken far too soon with elegance, wax, light and grace without the kind of debilitating pain, relevancy and impact mothers and fathers in Peshawar are bearing. And we should take advantage of that chance. We ought to care. However, we should be mindful that our visceral anxieties come from a place of truth: that we are watered down identities of those that remain in the motherland.

The truth of our diaspora identities demand that we ought to stay in our lanes. Because although our hearts don’t factor in proximity, we would be kidding if we said the tragedy that happened today is as relevant and impactful as it is on people in Peshawar. We don’t have to deal with the ugly effects of the War on Terror–which the country that keeps our bodies is waging but the country that keeps our hearts is enduring. And it is precisely because: no matter how we align ourselves we still don’t share their blood soaked soil.

Recommended Reading

A collective of badass Muslim Feminists and I decided to take back the narrative and respond to Muslim Matters’ piece “The Hypocrisy of Feminist Outrage.” The problematic ‘article’ promotes victim blaming and seeks to divert attention away from women negatively affected by sexual harassment and sexual violence. This rhetoric is the very kind Feminism seeks to eliminate in order to promote the equality of all genders and identities based on our shared humanity.

The article we wrote is an incredible resource and rebuttal of the many misogynistic comments and arguments that we endlessly experience. Please read and share it on your respective social media outlets to bring more awareness to these issues.

Link here:

Even In Make Believe I Couldn’t Help You

The name “Burhaan” is fictitious and so is the city, “Smoketown.”

Skinny Love by Bon Iver.

I had a dream last night that I met the ten year old you again. You had that blue clip-in extension pinned to your hair. You know, the one you wore at that birthday party we threw you at the Smoketown townhouse. You were holding your friend’s hand—Burhaan I think his name was. He was two years old, a few years shy of witnessing his parents lose their lives to the Talibs gunshots in his modest home in Kabul. Both of you had solemn and telling expressions on your faces. It was as if you possessed foresight about the kind of plight you were both set to endure.

I watched and studied your silhouettes, as both of you walked out of the fog, until you presented yourselves to me. I was overwhelmed by the sort of pain you feel when you just want to sit down, crouch, and hug your legs, while rocking back and forth vehemently. You didn’t say a single word but something about the vibes you were sending me kept me from acting on compulsion, which was to capture you both and keep you in my protection.

I invited both of you to stay at a cottage I had built. I kept saying that it was just up the road. But you wouldn’t respond. I asked you both repeatedly, as I feverishly paced my eyes to and from your faces, studying you endlessly. I desperately wanted to be your keeper. But the white noise wouldn’t relent.

Remember that one friend I told you about? The one who told me about her father’s middle aged friend with children and a wife of his own? Well she showed up as well. She appeared in a form just shy of five years old. She presented herself at an age before his dry mouth, incensed by the stench of cigarettes and chai, ever encroached on her passive mouth. It was before the rough and violent contact of his sandpaper skin ever violated her plump-milky complexion. She gently took Burhaan’s other hand. She appeared somber and ready for it as well.

I pleaded with you all. I said, I had room and board for everyone—that I had enough chickens and cows to live off for centuries to come. At ages ten, two and five the atmosphere should have been taken by the illumination of laughter and nuisance. But the white noise wouldn’t relent.

Our Precious Vulnerable Truths

Written while listening to the Sufiana Kalaam Soz-e-Ishq, sung by Abida Parveen.

Progress is stunted and a part of humanity dies when we destroy precious truths. We do it by taking a body to the gallows or by picking up stones to shatter the vessel that contains them. We do it by pillaging sacred and priceless literature of ancient civilizations, which bear them. We do it by demolishing shrines of spiritual symbols, which reveal them. We do it by murdering an entire family who were deliverers of the Divine’s truth. The destruction of truths, I contend, is one of the greatest tragedies humankind can inflict on itself.

When we took Mansur Hallaj’s body to the gallows for uttering Anal-Haq, Anal-Haq, we mistook it for herecy and silenced a truth that the Divine was closer to him than his jugular vein, that which ran to and from his heart and his mind. When we threw stones at Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow we shattered the truth that human beings shouldn’t be subjected to the harrowing torture of losing their lives slowly with heavy blows to the body. When we pillaged Bayt al-Hikma and when the river turned to ink we erased the truth that hard-earned knowledge should not be ephemeral. When we demolished But Hay-e Bamiyan in Afghanistan, we crushed the truth that cultural and spiritual sanctuaries should not become empty caverns. When we murdered the Prophet’s family at Karbala on Ashura, we destroyed the truth that religion shouldn’t be exploited and used for rampant debauchery.

I ask us to examine the sorts of truths we destroyed when Reyhaneh Jabbari was executed, when Afghan orphans are sold into bacha bazi, when Mukhtar Mai was paraded around in front of hundreds of onlookers but no onhelpers, when an injured child named Zubair Rehman says “I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer grey skies. Drones don’t fly when sky is grey,” when the United States’ present day prison industrial complex resembles a bitter pre-Civil War past, when an Apartheid wall and annexations render thousands stateless–a people belonging to a land but becoming a people without a home to call their own.

I ask us to consider the sorts of truths we would expel if we end Asia Bibi’s life in the name of contrived blasphemy laws. We would dispel with the truth that children and adults threw stones at the Prophet in the city of Taif and that his companions still lacked an aggressive response. We would flout the truth set as a rhetorical question that: if the Sahaabas, those closest to the Messenger, had no right to inflict this sort of injustice, what right do we have? We would castigate the truth that Asia’s country was created under the premise of free exercise of religion for all and not the establishment of religion to others’ detriment. We would dull Quaid-E-Azam’s truths, echoing

You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State. As you know, history shows that in England conditions, some time ago, were much worse than those prevailing in India today. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other. Even now there are some States in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days. We are starting in the days where there is no discrimination, no distinction between one community and another, no discrimination between one caste or creed and another. We are starting with this fundamental principle: that we are all citizens, and equal citizens, of one State.

Progress is stunted and a part of humanity dies when we destroy precious truths. A mob was responsible for destroying each one of those earlier ones, screaming with their figurative pitchforks and torches. How sheep could and continue to carry out a terrifying pride’s work is beyond me. And although, we have done it many times before, I ask us, why must we do it again and again? I ask that we spare our ether of the desolation that plagues it every time this happens. I ask that we spare the truth that whosoever saves a life, saves all of humankind.


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