Monday, December 29, 2014

brown skin, city streets

read it here: brown skin, city streets

thanks Coming of Faith for publishing!

*I performed a raw version of this in the Muslim Writers Collective's April open-mic! Here's a trimmed cut, check it out y'all!*

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

ramadan recitation

“Tumi ki Bangali?” “Are you Bangali?” she asked in her Sylheti dialect. This I knew because I had spent too much time with the Sylhetis in Queens organizing in the projects collecting surveys from Bangali aunties and uncles, attempting to politicize them while eating their bhaat (rice) and beguner bhorta (mashed eggplant) all while trying to decipher their Bangla. Conversations ranged from “ami english mattam fari na,” “I can’t speak English,” to describing some “khaanor or matar bish/bedna,” “ear pain/headache.” Far from universal shuddho but close to the regional Chatgaiya my parents spoke at home.  

Before I could respond, she looked closely at me, “tomake dekhte Bangali lage,” “you look Bangali.” I smiled, showing no teeth, sharing no words. Her eyes stared in curiosity, perhaps at the bulge on my upper lip carved out by a snaggletooth. Maybe she was assessing the caramelized shemla she knew could only belong to a Bangali meye.

I could tell she wanted to talk and engage in the purano “tomar bari kothai?” where are you from? script. Did she really want to know where I grew up? Did she care that this was my first time at the 96th street mahal of a masjid? A mahal, at least compared to the ones that Bangali landlords would’ve otherwise housed Bangali families of 4-6 in an overpriced, cramped 1-bedroom, which was actually a 2 or maybe 4-bedroom, but these Bangalis are hustlers. Like my father. No bedrooms in these apartment building-turned-worship centers, just rugging and men for days. And a terrible stench. Maybe from the shoes stacked abrasively by the entrance. I imagine no shoes were ever stolen here. Or the underground bathrooms in need of a blessing. Though somewhere along the stench I remember my first crush.

The script was cut short with questions I had never been asked before. She listened carefully as I shared how this was my first Ramadan participating in masjid congregational namaz, my first jummah, my first janazah because in Brooklyn, the Bangali women in my family prayed at home. It was Rabia’s idea to masjid-hop. This began with juhr at the Islamic Center at NYU.  

We separated until I noticed her hovering over my body and the Qur’an I held close. I stopped my speeding finger and looked at her. “Tumi porte paro???” “You know how to read???” Amused, she mentioned having learned a different script of the Qur’an. I continued reading silently until she requested that I read out loud. No! I had done that only in Qur’an class where we could move forward if we read the day’s lines fluently. Aside from the hujur evaluating, no one had heard me.

I started off shy, soft, and self-conscious of pronunciations until her voice joined mine.

Together, as if in a choir, we recited in harmony.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

I'm desperate for love.

I'm desperate for love. 

There, I said it. 

At 23, I find myself navigating the maze of unconventional partnerships. Perhaps I'm titling them unconventional because they're not the relationships I remember... from high school. I remember love... its simplicity, without any hesitation, elaborate calculations. Attachment... which didn't deem you crazy or psychotic. Desire to see each other at crazy hours and somehow escape parental eyes. 

Lights off in the upstairs bedroom, not mine, I'd slowly make my way to the window far right. He was already waiting by the lamppost across the street. And this happened every night. No reminder texts (I didn't have a cell phone until 12th grade). We spoke on AIM (just remembered my lame screen names), a lot, but these nightly visits were fluid. 

The fights were a part of us and our relationship. Arguments didn't mean it was over. We had different points of view and it was okay to have candid conversations about our feelings.

Though we've separated, we were together for four years, which I realized after moving on. I didn't count days like I do now. When I meet a potential, because really, no one seems to be the one anymore, I give them two months. And all that happens is hurried and hormones. Conversations are so quick because we need to get to know each other in 60 seconds. Or they don't take place at all because they reassure me that if we kiss, it'll be more meaningful. 

Dating. Someone please break this institution down for me. What it means, why it exists, what does getting to know each other mean, is it exclusive, monogamous, would I know if you're seeing others, am I allowed to be jealous, can I text you first, or do I wait on you, how is attachment broken down, can we talk on the phone, how often do we see each other, do I tell my friends, are we friends, can we talk...on the real, what are we... actually? 


Certainly this has taken a toll on me. After telling him, "You're not for me," I felt empowered. I also realized, I've never said that to anyone. You're not for me. But a part of me expected some sort of redemption from his end. Which didn't occur and instead I was faced with, "So, what are we now? Are we friends?" No. 

Nonetheless, another heartbreak. I needed mending and to vent my emotions, not with words, but with emotions. I needed attachment and that's what happened (with someone else). This freaked them out (I'm sincerely apologetic). Rejected, check.

I feel better.

Ya, take a moment to take in what you've just read because I'm also trying to understand how I've healed through a rejecting-rejected process.

I'm capable of vocally rejecting without compromising. But my emotions are feeble. Do I not love myself? Why did I crave attachment from someone I know nothing about?

I'm desperate for love.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Bangla Blues

It's a new year and I won't give you the whole "new me" spiel, but indefinitely lying in bed has got me thinking... quite selfishly, about myself. It is not unusual for me to dwell on the same thoughts over and over. Nor is it unusual to think about these thoughts so deeply to the point where bitten finger nails are mounted on the bed sheet. Great, no more long fingernails. Some self-deliberation, some realization, some sighs. What person or type of person would you choose as a life companion? (btw, click link for other insightful and provoking questions).

This one stuck. And I know why. But it's only now that I'm going to face it because I've never thought about it. It is true and inescapable that I want to love...someone--sure, love takes many forms and I've addressed marriage in the previous post but only as a concept and never revealing who or the qualities of a who. Because I don't know. Regardless, this post isn't about him. It's about me.

I've never understood myself when dealing with men who are interested. What does it actually mean to be interested in someone? I assume (apparently a lot) that your interest means conversations over one-sugar-only chai (only on certain days because I don't particularly like hot beverages and I don't drink chai cold; water on the rocks is always good), actual dates that don't include ripping my shirt off (well, at least not right away, c'mon), and patience (because seriously, I'm not going anywhere and if I do, you'll hear about it) leading to a relationship (with a title. this includes girlfriend and wife) whose foundation is more than just kisses and steamy make-outs.

I'm so melodramatic, I belong in Bollywood or some equivalent. I trust easily. I believe. I accept his flaws. And I have faith that he is the one. Who will love me. And I tell myself, yeah, I can love him. He's not that bad. He could be the one.

Shahana, this is all wrong.

ek din'er bhalobasha ......a love that lasts one day
dekhechi onek ...............I've seen many
tarporeo ami osthir ........still, I'm impatient
chirokal prem'er khoje search of a love that is forever

When I think of love and heartbreak, I imagine it all in Bangla. The language is delicate but not frail, romantic, and meaningful, qualities I want in my relationship with you. Certainly, my Bangla is broken with English words replacing the Bangla I can't recall or are unfamiliar with. But never have I been impatient or frustrated. And such is how I envision my relationship with you, patient and without disappointment. Of course, like my Bangla, it is not perfect, yet there are smiles in the imperfection and much to discover. How to write and read the script that is so foreign and challenging to this Brooklyn-born. Foreign, but belongs to me always. There is serenity in this journey towards Bangla, towards you.