Silk threads

It was your last smoke. You watched the cigarette smoke dissipate into – where? You always wondered that, a toddler on your grandfather’s bed, as you tried to catch the silk of it in your hands. Rafiki-deft, you would swing between the vines of your imagined mental jungle and craft paints and cackle gleefully as you prophesized the return of your king. You must have watched Lion King not long before.

You asked him if clouds were made of cigarette smoke. He laughed, and you asked if Allah was made of clouds too. He said Allah was made of light. You wondered why the two couldn’t be reconciled.

You still thought Allah had a bit of cloud to Him.

Nicotine-lunged, you exhaled. Your grandfather had passed, breathing God with every light. The silk poured forth from your lips like a wayward libation, a thread between today and yesterday.

It was your last smoke. You watched the thread break on its way heavenward and smiled a secret smile. The clouds shifted to show a glimmer of sun, and you heard your grandfather tip his head, and Gold Leaf, toward you.

Short note: Eid blues and how to fix them

I was not excited for this Eid. For all that I was grateful to have relatives nearby in the Netherlands, I really felt the absence of all that was familiar to me. My first Eid in Boston had its bitterness undercut with new friends, an Islamic community to go to the Masjid with, and options of Eid-specific Shalwar Kameez I’d hauled across multiple seas with me. That evening, I dragged some friends to my soon-to-be-minted favorite Pakistani restaurant, and felt the emergence of a new tradition. I didn’t have the time to be homesick, because I had found another home. And that restaurant had found a new loyal patron, not that it stopped Uncle-jii from giving me crap for making him drive all the way from Brighton to Mission Hill on a delivery run…

This year, I felt my mood sour as Eid drew closer and closer. Weight restrictions necessitated leaving my heavy Pakistani clothes at home; not even my favorite kurta could make the cut. And as shallow as it sounds, Eid without clothes rings hollow when you’re already facing Eid without family, friends, food, familiarity.

This morning, after half-heartedly putting on some makeup (yes – half-heartedly putting on make up, me, half-hearted, makeup! Me! Makeup!) and getting on the train to go to work, I resolved to get some treats for my office. Without a lamb (RIP) at hand, I had to figure out some gesture of generosity…so, chocolate and buttery biscuits it was. I said Eid Mubarak to the hijabi cashier and then uncomfortably realized there was nothing in my attire to suggest that saying it back to me was warranted. I trudged off, feeling the Eid spirit slip off me like the dupatta I didn’t have.

Woof.

At work, I announced that there were chocolates and biscuits to avail. Letting the swarm descend in my wake, I went to my desk and drank my requisite two-shots-of-espresso-black-as-my-sins coffee. The perk was needed. I suddenly recoiled with disgust at my behavior.  Sick of feeling sorry for myself, I drew up a list of reasons to be grateful, viz.:

1. You worked your butt off and persisted through a quagmire of bullshit to get to where you are. Yes, you’re away from your family/friends but it’s for a very good reason.

2) On your 3rd try, also after working your butt off, you got an impossible research grant. So now you have to do your over-ambitious original research. Scary? Yep. But that’s huge and you should be proud of yourself.

3) Albeit with some pitfalls, you’re dealing with your anxiety really well. You’re learning how to care for yourself without a therapist. Good job!

4) [redacted; you didn’t think I would share all of my reasons for gratitude, did you?]

5) *points to parents* You’re going to feel guilty about this for the rest of your life but look how MUCH they love you that you are here.

6) *POINTS AGGRESSIVELY TO THE PEACE PALACE* YOU COULD GO THERE EVERY DAY IF YOU WANTED TO AND EAT ITALIAN ICE CREAM.

7) You actually have family nearby. You could have been so much more lonely. Count your blessings.

8) The McElroys exist and so does Carly Rae Jepsen.

9) [also redacted]

10) Pakistani/new clothes aren’t the be all, end all of Eid. Steel yourself: you can always celebrate another way.

11) [which I added later] You can do proper push-ups now. Upper-body strength is just around the corner!

Point number 10 gave me pause. I could always celebrate another way. If clothes were a staple of Eid in the past, what else was? Even in Dubai, cut away from the majority of our family, we found a way to celebrate; how did we do it?

It took me longer than I care to admit to realize that the common denominator throughout my life had been music. Surely it couldn’t be as easy as all that. But it was: whether it was the infamous Lasharie family concerts that every evening would give way to, or music in the background while we waited for guests to arrive (even if the artist in question was Sting, the Patron Saint of my father), or me carefully singing around my eyeliner or over whatever food I was making for my friends that day, music was the ultimate staple of Eid. It couldn’t be that easy…

…but it was. I found a random playlist on Patari and I felt my heart immediately swell. And look, I know nostalgia for the past is usually extremely contrived and only serves to create a false impression of something that only barely was, but music is practically a family heirloom. Even my non-virtuoso self has been known to hold a tune. I could extol the virtues of Pakistani music ad infinitum, but it was what I needed, and that’s that. For all that I’ve been binge-listening to Carly Rae Jepsen lately, I needed the familiarity of a musical tradition I grew up on, that comforts me when I’m miserable, that reminds me of family in a way that not even food can.

Tomorrow, I’ll get to spend the day with my uncle and aunt in Utrecht. I’ll have little cousins to talk to and play with and whom I will promise that one day maybe they’ll get Eid money out of me. They’ll probably be in traditional clothes. I’ll probably be in jeans. But at least my makeup won’t be as half-hearted; I still have to catch up on this season of Coke Studio Pakistan, after all.

Short note: On family

To study the concept of family in sociology is to approach a many tendril’d institution with a pince-nez that can only see so much at a time. Granted, that can often be all of academia, but with family especially the coldness, the hardness, the brutal honesty that comes with intense study is amplified. Family is warmth (ideally); it is unconditional support (hopefully): but it is also flexible, and human, and with that humanity it is subject to corruption, to decay, to tragedy, to change, to heartlessness. Like everything, family is complex.

But sometimes it doesn’t have to be.

Sometimes you’re a fairy tale character waiting to be reunited with the family that you love and hold constant, and when that reunion happens, everything else falls into place. You’re reinvigorated, ready to take on the world once more after your mother’s hugs, your father’s advice, your brother’s jokes. The stress of the world takes a backseat if only for a little while.

Families aren’t perfect. Many people don’t have a family they are comfortable around, or a family period. And that’s okay. Family is flexible, like I said, and it doesn’t always have to be blood. Family is where you can find unconditional love, recuperation. Family can be hard at times, but that’s kind of what makes all the good times worth it.

Family is good. And I can only speak for myself when I say that more than anything else over the past four months, what I needed was family. And I’m so lucky to have so many different families in different parts of the world, but sometimes all you really need is a mother’s hug. So go hug your parent, or your parent equivalent. It makes everything better.

Shout out to you, mamma. You give the most wonderful hugs. And yes, I really do think about you when I’m in Boston. Just ask my friends who still haven’t gotten sick of hearing about “Mama Lasharie.”