3 Years On…

If I look back, it is obvious that I had my head in the clouds when I rolled my bags across the Pearson International Airport. It was a crisp summer morning in Toronto and yet the universe got into action like it usually does, my flight got delayed thrice. But then I am a desi through and through and reading signs just isn’t my thing.  I went on to board that flight and then another and then another and landed in the ‘Land of the Pure’, my eyes set on a bright future. I was going to live alone in Lahore and take rickshaws at 4 in the morning to go watch sunrise from the minarets of Badshahi Mosque and do reporting for a kick-ass newspaper.

I ended up renting a room in a crumbling old building in the poshest area of the city, working as a content writer and coming to terms with my limited access to public space as a girl . Life as a single girl living independently in Lahore isn’t Saba Imtiaz’s ‘Karachi You’re Killing Me’ after all. Here I was relying on male friends to drive me around the city (pre-Uber era), getting pinched in the markets now and then by perverts and finding out that a good sized water melon shouldn’t cost me Rs.1000.

But after three years of living alone in this city, fighting with landlords and dealing with broken water motors and moody circuit breakers at three in morning, I’ve come to realize that Lahore’s home now. Of course, I can’t go for a run on the streets or lay down with a book in a public park. I can’t roll up my pants and dangle my feet in the nehr at night or walk into a market without being ogled from head to toe. But it is in Lahore that I truly kicked off a budding career in communications and community management. I found my path in the yellow woods. I met the most important people in my life along with the most helpful strangers. The city sucked ego and cynicism out of my chest, shattered me more than once and then let me rebuild myself. I’m still in the process of learning to look for solutions, jugaads instead of complaining and crying. I’m still in the process of learning what is socially acceptable and what is not. Wrapping up three years in this city seems like a feat and just about the right time to go from  being the ‘New Girl in Lahore’ to just ‘Girl in Lahore’.

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All Hail Lady Rina and Her Kitchenette

It had been months! The man in shinning Ray-Ban wasn’t budging. I needed to dress up, look sharp and be swept off to a nice dinner but his definition of a dinner date has been changed to ‘Netflix and Chill’ or rather ‘Torrents and Take Out’ and there’s nothing one can do about it except wait for the internet bundle to run out. And when it did run out, I slipped on my new Mango tee (that’s as dressed up as I’ll ever be) and he pulled out his Toms. Off we went to Rina’s Kitchenette (the one on Main Boulevard).

There’s much to be said about pretentious dinning in Lahore but I’d rather keep my mouth zipped here. Walk into one of the more upscale restaurants and when you find Drake blazing out of the speakers as you fiddle with your fork and knife,  you’ll know what I’m talking about. Rina’s Kitchenette was a different story.

We found ourselves seated on a communal table with nice plush bar stools, no wooden seat corners digging into my thighs, no back aching, no staring back at K in sheer awkwardness. It was an informal and yet comfortable seating with a fun and casual vibe. K ordered Chicken Schnitzel and I went for Aglio E Olio. Simple comfort food cooked to perfection. His was golden and crisp and came with fresh home made bread. Mine was hearty and wholesome and tasted even better the next day. The dessert, the dessert, the Nutella Caramel cake slice! We dug into it with our tiny teaspoons satiating a desire we didn’t know of before! And I have kept going back for it again and again. Lazy K’s skeptical, I wouldn’t be able to hold off the weight I lost over the past couple of weeks but trust me! If I end up leaving Lahore, I’d be bummed I didn’t have my cake and eat as much of it as my heart desired!

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The first time we went to Rina’s Kitchenette, we were too engrossed in the food to snap a few pictures for the blog. Making do with this one from the second visit!

PS. Someone pray the internet bundle runs out again! There’s this Smash Burger that everyone’s been talking about! Man in Shinning Ray-Ban, are you listening?

My Lahori Summer Moment

Note: I wrote this piece a while back for ‘The Lookout Journal’. Etching just a snippet of it piece on the blog today. You can read the full piece here.

“There is a moment sandwiched between the last breath of electricity and the first hum of the generators. That moment is mine. The city stands still. It freezes. In that moment. For that moment. 

And then a second comes to completion, clocks tick, fans start turning, candles start melting. 

That moment when reality hits, when air conditioners stop and the prospect of heat seeping inside closed doors starts haunting others, I look at Lahore and smile. That’s the only honest moment the city gives me…”

 

Aunt Flo & The Angry Girl

You know the feeling that someone is hammering you down there, under? The feeling that you and I try to cloak with painkillers and the shopkeeper with brown paper bags? Well our friends over at Angry Girl are here to rant, complain and start an open conversation about it! And today I’m talking to them about talking about it. Confused? Read on.

NewGirl: Period talk! When did you decide to take the brown bag off it and start talking about Aunt Flo out loud?

Angry Girl: When the team realized that the only hygiene essentials that are not being sold online in Pakistan are sanitary napkins, we knew we had to be okay with talking about menstruation openly as a society,  something had to be done. And so Angry Girl came to life to start a conversation, change a perception.

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The pads in a brown bag is such a desi thing that only a fellow desi angry girl would know about it.

NewGirl: Talking about perceptions, is the Angry Girl only angry about menstruation?

Angry Girl: One step at a time. Angry Girl is angry about period non-versations today. Tomorrow she might pick up another topic. But until she makes sure her voice is heard on one platform, she cannot jump to another. We cannot let an issue be lost amidst the clutter of others, especially when it means so much.

NewGirl: Will the issues only be women-related?

Angry Girl: The thing is, we never considered what Angry Girl was talking about to be a ‘woman-related’ issue. It is a community issue. From the conversations we initiate, we don’t want them to be considered girl-to-girl, but rather person-to-person.  So yes, Angry Girl will speak about issues and they will be community related.

NewGirl: I’m curious as to how people are taking this. How has the response been like so far?

Angry Girl: We have gotten great feedback from people we were least expecting it from. Our inbox has been flooded with period confessions but there is still some hesitation. People want their identities hidden. What has shocked us though is that people we considered enlightened enough weren’t willing to talk about menstruation openly or even okay with a conversation being started around the topic. But hey! That is precisely why we are here.

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The tone of the content is light and relate-able

NewGirl: I love how casual the tone of the whole dialogue is! Who is behind the design, the idea and its conception?

Angry Girl: We’re two guys and a girl. The design came about as a result of research where we came up with color swatches and reference images. We already had the name by then and all we needed to do was put a face to it. We wanted the Angry Girl to talk like her counterparts. She needed to talk local to be heard and understood by locals.

And when we finally wrapped up our conversation and I asked them if they had any additional comments. Here’s what they had to say:

Join the conversation, period.

Real Resolutions

Usually when I look at a blank space, I chatter. I fill it with words and stories that I house in my heart. I give it some inhabitants, I make it a home and then I visit it often. These days it is a different story. Writer’s block has been in town for a long time now but I’m forcing this blog post out. It has become a tradition for me to jot down my resolutions here after a quarter or almost half a year has passed and I want to keep it alive.

So here it goes…

I’m grateful for the apartment I have now. And I finally feel I’ve found that one place I wouldn’t want to leave for as long as I’m in Lahore. Now I’m on the lookout for a job like that. I plan on joining a new work place and sticking to that job for as long as I’m in the city. Too boring for my standards? Naah. I’ve waltzed around a lot, discovered what I do best, gathered a lot of experience and learned even more but now its time to settle down, apply that learning and grow within an organization. I’ve sent out my resume, have my eyes fixated on one particular organization and just need to update you on when I start working there. I’m ambitious like that. That reminds me of sugar. Yes! Sugar.

Last year, I quit sugar for almost two months. Just two months but only two months changed my attitude towards all things sweet. I have had zero midnight sugar cravings since. The idea of over indulging in desserts nauseates me and coffee with sugar is a big no now. Even I can’t believe myself! Sugar was my life line, my constant. I will have to write a full blog post on how going sugar free for two months changed my eating preferences. But first, I’d need to shake off that writer’s block holding onto me from the back. I write extensively for work but I miss being able to write here. This year I want to blog more regularly, write better and truly get this space bubbling with fun and Lahore-esque content.

And before you buzz away, judge me for quitting sugar, let me tell you I want to hold onto you my readers, the plants I’m growing and the people who brighten up my days. Some bonds are too special and I want to work towards keeping them in harmony.  By the way, did I mention I want to grow my own food? Well some of it! More to come on that later.

Lastly, I want to spend more time grounding, meditating and learning more about the universe we inhabit.

What are your resolutions for this year? Do share! I’ve a feeling jotting down resolutions here makes us stick to them. Trust me I’ve stuck to almost of all the resolutions I published on the blog last year and the year before. Can I call it my lucky space?

May you have a blessed year!

Tons of love from Lahore

Aisha

Salwar Kameez & I

Conventionality skipped my household. It hopped over the multiple houses we changed, not even stopping to squat for a while. If I was breaking a fast (a rare event for the family members, save our cook), my father would sit across me explaining the law of diminishing marginal utility in relation to the number of glasses of water I was gulping down. If I re-arranged the furniture in my room and emailed a detailed account of the new setting to my mother, she would reply back with a long essay on Feng Shui.  So when I told my father, it was about time I got some salwar kameez stitched, we discussed the effects of peer pressure and internal identity crisis on my dressing sense.

No, his intent wasn’t to save me from peer pressure as much as it was to keep me from wearing the pieces of garment he abhorred, wore only when he visited his father’s grave in Multan or on Eid if we happened to be in Pakistan, that too in his father’s memory. I never really found out why he disliked the garment so much. After all, Pakistanis all over the world think of freedom in relation to a light cotton salwar. I exaggerate a little. Okay, I exaggerate a lot. People don’t vouch for salwar so much anymore. In fact, it is now making a comeback after a few years of absence from the fashion arena. But this blog post isn’t just about the conventional salwar kameez alone anyway. I’m my parent’s daughter, after all. Redundancy, my eighth grade teacher had written with a green sharpie fine point in the margins of my SOL essay. It still hurts. So does shopping for kurtas/kameezes. I haven’t figured out the difference yet.

All I know is that the long tunics that I buy off the rack are tricky. Saunter into a Sapphire or Khaadi outlet and tell me if you aren’t nauseated by the number and types of flowers creeping up the tunics. While the world embraces clean lines, we stick to vines, flowers and digitally printed images from Chinese gardens. A mumbo jumbo on our shirts! Shirts designed for rectangle cardboard boxes instead of real women with pear shaped bodies. Maybe it is just a handful of us in Pakistan, us hour glass, apple and pear shaped women.

And yet when I don even clothes with the right cuts, I still feel like a rabbit hopping around in a burlap sack rather than Mahira Khan on the sets of Humsafar. Not that I believe my beauty matches hers.

Perhaps her ease with the garb comes from years of practice for the only feeling I get is that of a rabbit in a burlap sack race when I don it. On most days, the shawl falters at first, then skids off my shoulder and wraps itself around my legs. I bend down to pick it up and then forget to pull down my shirt when I finally straighten up. I resume walking, my shirt flapping against my back, the lace smacking my knees. The light weight salwar moving like a flag swaying from left to right, plays peek-a-boo with my feet. I hop instead of tread, carrying out conversations with my father in my head. Why?

Perhaps, he wanted to save me from this harassment at the hands of the traditional garments for as long as he could.

Perhaps…

Lahore Walli: Rants of a Desi Bride

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Fauzia, the girl behind ‘Rants of a Desi Bride’

Why is the last button on a button down shirt always oriented horizontally unlike the rest of the buttons? What is the purpose of the loop on the back of a shirt? When did dhaba owners decide to use the adjective ‘coozy’ for haleem? Is it really cozy? You get the point?  I’m a curious person and E is a patient listener. He listens to questions, shakes his head and leaves me to Google. Very smart.

But Google isn’t always helpful. When I wondered what Disney meant by happily ever after, it revealed its idiocy to me. A few months later, I stumbled upon an Instagram account, Rants of a Desi Bride. There was my answer.

Fauzia is the desi bride behind the blog, Rants of a Desi Bride. You can scroll all the way down to the bottom of her Instagram page and start going through her shaadi journey, listen to her rant and laugh. She made a beautiful bride. And now that she has been married for a year, she makes you realize what Disney meant by happily ever after, only Disney never talked about the positive mindset that Fauzia talks about.

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Fauzia with her husband

But I decided to talk to Fauzia about something else. She moved from Karachi to Lahore to be with her husband and I was curious about how she was finding the city. Luckily, I didn’t have to turn to Google. We had a little tête-à-tête:

When is Lahore at its best for you?

Fauzia: Just as summer starts fading away, there is this beautiful chill in the air – For me, Lahore is definitely at its best then. I love that beautiful winter smell in the air.

What would a perfect evening in Lahore look like? 

Fauzia: A perfect Lahori evening? Hmm…For me, on a very personal level, it would probably involve a very casual walk with my husband followed by some disgusting roadside french fries/pakoray/chaat.

Lahore and food are somewhat synonymous. Favorite Lahori eatery?

Fauzia: I am obsessed with H&G’s Ginger Mint Lemonade. Give it to me right now and I’ll have it. As for food, I really like Lahore Social, mostly because their food is consistently good. My go to place, however, is definitely Johnny and Jugnu. Their tortilla wrap is incredible. And of course Maro Tandoor for those awesome stuffed naans.

How are Lahori weddings different from Karachi weddings? 

Fauzia: Lahori weddings are way too flashy. Sometimes its hard to figure out who the bride is because everyone is so dressed up. Haha. I feel like in Karachi, people are becoming more mature when it comes to the shaadi business. Less events, less guests, less wastage. People here say things like ‘Oh they had one event? Probably just trying to save money’. That is a mindset that is almost out of Karachi and I hope Lahore follows soon. 8-9 events per wedding makes me want to jump off a cliff.

Lahore is like…

Lahore is like that very loud neighbor we have a love-hate relationship with. It is a little judgmental, sadly very materialistic but deep inside has a kind heart and is very welcoming.

A tourist is in town and can visit only one spot, where would you take them?

It would either be Masjid Wazir Khan (mainly because I still haven’t been there myself. What better excuse to go? Haha) or Badshahi Masjid.

Curiosity sufficed!