Saturday, 17 November 2012

Stumbling Through Muharram!

Muharram crept up on me this year, by surprise, unannounced, without
warning. It captured me when I was unarmed: I'd not forgotten about
it, though every effort had been made! Let me be honest and say, I was
scared of it. Muharram for me has always been a solitary act; It is a
time of painful tears, cried out in the dark, cold depths of the
night. It is a time of praying, searching, discovering the beauty of
solitude in trauma in darkness; so that when all the tears have been
cried out, I emerge stronger, with a new sense of faith and direction.
I don't know if it has to be that way, but that's where my soul takes
me; I've never been able to cry in the presence of others, Muharram is
about my Imam and me, my creator and I developing new levels of
connection and intimacy, and that's just how I adore it! I was afraid,
because this is the first Muharram I'd spend with my husband. He has
reached a stage I pray I never reach, a place where he is almost
indifferent to Muharram; and indeed Islam. For him, it is enough that
he prays, fasts and eats halal. Muharram is something he is
desensitised to, or something which possibly the Iranian regime has
forever destroyed for him. Whatever the case is, observing it in our
too small flat feels rather like walking on egg shells, like stepping
fearfully around a sceptic or a non-Muslim, no more solitude, no more
space for my imam and I alone!

Before Muharram, I had begun reading Joseph Anton, the compelling
autobiography of Salman Rushdi. Initially I felt guilty to find such a
book in my hands as Muharram dawned, but then, I started to see the
parallels. It seemed Ironic and fascinating to me that I was honouring
the life of one who selflessly sacrificed his existence, while reading
about one who was almost butchered by a so-called leader who claimed
to be a custodian of the message of he who sacrificed! Perhaps
contrary to most Muslims, I've never seen Rushdi as the enemy within,
and rather find his ability to question and his innate fascination
with Islam deeply moving. His pain over that Fatwa and journey less
ordinary runs so deep Joseph Anton is written entirely from the
distance of the third person, something which also strikes chords with
this month. I wonder if my husband lives there too, or, if we are
truly honest with ourselves, were we to look deeply in to the mirror
of Muharram, would we really recognise the tear stained face blinking
back at us? Solitude, majliss and ritual; is it really an opportunity
to heighten our experiences, or is it that Muharram has simply become
too comfortable!

Right now, my life feels too chaotic for Muharram, yet more struggles
in the world of employment, a new marriage and house renovations going
on around me; there feels like a chronic lack of time and space! Yet
despite the challenges, I'm beginning to see an opportunity to
discover this month in a new way, and it seems I'm not the only one!
My own city, Glasgow has embraced the month in a new way; where once
English lectures were a thing of the future, now each masjid has some
level of English output! There are film nights, blood donation drives
and strategically written educational banners to take on Muharram
processions. Some of the leading shia scholars of our time are in the
UK this year, Sayed Ammar Nakshawani and Sayed Mahdi Mahderesi, so
that England feels like a melting pot for change and contemporary
learning/debate. Leicester Jamat have put together a 'Who is Hussain
campaign, complete with website, free water donations and a huge
exhibition and interactive procession on ashura day, aimed more at
non-Muslims than the traditional rituals one would normally observe on
that day!

When I look beyond the frustration of not spending this month how I'd
like to, I start to see Muharram as a shifting, dynamic reality, which
demands us to move with it, rather than attempt to drag it back in to
a past which constricts it. Perhaps facing the challenges of central
heating installation is all part of the package; because I have to
admit, the elements of team working are having beneficial affects on
my marriage!
I do think that Reza and I will occupy very different spaces this
Muharram, especially when Ashura and then Arbaeen are upon us, but
Imam Hussain (A.S) didn't set out to win hearts and minds, his mission
pivoted upon honouring the truth, on doing what simply had to be done;
so I have to do the same; and maybe difference isn't that bad?
A few weeks ago, I was asked to deliver a series of Lectures on the
return of the Imam of our time (ATF). The focus for the majority of my
talks was to encourage attendees to cultivate a personal relationship
with the Imam, in order that they might prepare with love, relevance
and sincerity. On the way home, Reza said "what did you mean by a
relationship with the Imam? How can you relate to one who is not here?
Who you can't see? We can pray to the Imam or to Allah, but a
relationship?". No matter how much I attempted to contextualise this
concept, it simply didn't register! I don't believe this is simply
that he is switched off to Islam, it has more to do with packaging and
perception. Being a solitary soul, I might still be bent on
seeing/living it my way! but maybe my own connections, if converted in
to communal ones can open his heart, maybe he too can teach me some
sceptical objectivity, (which only pushes one to delve deeper in the
end), and the ability to function affectively through Muharram, rather
than seeing it as an excuse to close the door. Ultimately, I pray it
is a chance to grow stronger in my faith, not to lose my Muharram,
but, Insha Allah to discover it a new, and that I'm forgiven for not
being thrilled that it isn't how I planned it, especially when there
are 2 too many heating engineers crowding my prayer room!

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Knock me down with a feather, Trevor!

Don't ask me where the whole Trevor theme at work started (I blame
Abbs for introducing me to Magical Trevor), but it gets me through the
day, and this humorous Trevor poem just about describes where I'm at
right now!
Who would have thought a humble toad could be so violent, eccentric
and romantic all at the same time? Enjoy!

The pond was very busy and young Trevor Toad was late,

he had to hunt for food to take - a special dinner date,

when Tina mentioned picnic lunch, down at the rocky end,

her eyes had said that Trevor might be more than just a friend.

Four tadpoles held him up by holding hands across the road,

demanding that he pay a toll for being such a toad,

a childish prank that would have been all right some other day,

he bashed them - said a little prayer - then hurried on his way.

He hopped along quite quickly, there was such a way to go,

but zygo weed was everywhere, and made his progress slow,

he hit the shore and found the mud was wet, and thick as goo,

a baby eel got in the way, so Trevor bashed him, too.

He dove into the water and sank right down to the bed,

if swimming took up too much time, he'd walk along instead,

a crayfish that he landed on grabbed Trevor with a claw,

so Trevor chomped his head although he hated shellfish raw.

He hit the surface hopping mad, a newt was swimming slow,

he punched him and then stretched his legs, he'd still a way to go,

he felt a little better when he bashed a dragonfly,

perhaps he still could make it? He decided he would try.

He ran and hopped and swam and then was held up with a frown,

a strider insect blocked the way so Trevor knocked him down,

he saw the rocky shore ahead and slowed down on his stroke,

that's when he made a sudden stop, and heard a mighty croak.

A big fat frog was holding up the traffic in the lane,

he asked for some donation, that's when Trevor went insane,

he screamed an oath and grabbed a rock and threw it at his head,

then suddenly the way was clear - the frog was floating, dead.

He hopped up on the rock where Tina squatted on a rug,

they smiled at one another as they shared a doodle bug,

"So, what is for our lunch?" she asked, I'm famished, don't you know,

"A special treat, said Trevor, "lobster tail and escargots

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Why Be Alone, Wen you could be Normal!!

How many women say "sometimes, it feels like my husband and I speak 2
different languages", and what happens when she's right, when you do;
Really do! No, I'm not talking mars and Venus, or culture/ethnicity;
frequent contributors on this particular blog! Instead; let me back
track to what inspired this post! So; 2 years ago I got married; and
for 2 years since, we've been battling the immigration system to bring
my husband here. He arrived in the UK no more than 2 weeks ago; so we
are both quite overwhelmed by our struggles being over, and by the
reality of the commitment that we made, and how that sort-of obligates
us both to live together! When you get married, people tell you about
hearts, flowers, dresses, mendi, cakes and fluffy happy things, but
they don't tell you about fights, about transitioning, about needing
space or about feeling like you've made the biggest mistake of your
life! Maybe, if they told you, no one would be stupid enough to enter
in to marriage! Thankfully, this is most definitely not the reality
for some people, but international/long distance or pressured
relationships certainly do, probably inevitably suffer from these
things! Put 2 independent minded, determined, free thinking souls
together in a 1-bedroom apartment, ask the dominant one to transition
the place from "her" house to "our" house; force them together for 20
hours a day; and what have you got; a recipe for tantrums and gnashing
of teeth! This is what has been going on for us over the past couple
of weeks; and though people keep telling me that its "normal" that I
should "snap out of it", "get over it", and just "live it", I feel
they all miss the point. Worse still; they make light of our
situation; and despite the pain we inadvertently cause each other,
I've realised something deeper over these past 2 weeks.

At a basic level, change is difficult; its tough on only children; its
even tougher on survivors. Before others scream "excuse" at me, I'm
simply attempting an explanation here! Personally; I am something of a
double-survivor; somehow dragging myself out of abuse, and then out of
a violent, complex marriage. This was my second/last shot, my chance
to get life right; to prove to others, then myself; that I could do
"normal". Now, I'm slightly less sure of myself, but in all the
arguments and flapping and panic, I realise one basic truth, that I
don't really know what "normal" is anyway? I grew up in a broken home,
I attended a "special needs" school where I felt estranged from many
of the severely disabled kids, and then mainstream school, where I was
even more estranged from all the "normal" looking ones! Then there was
the abuse, which caused things to become even more screwed up, for a
very long time; and then the dodgy marriage! There was only 1 place I
felt safe; and that was totally on my own! For 7 years, I've lived
alone in this apartment. I've hid behind its stone walls and built a
protective layer of heat, wood and assorted junk around the pieces of
my shattered heart. The foundation for this precarious ivory tower was
"better the devil you know", and though I battled with the inner voice
that told me "normal" was the only way to be truly happy, I resisted
falling for it; that is; till I met my husband!! He was kind,
balanced, hard-working and gentle; in short, what all women want; and
what my soul told me I needed! However, knowing that and accepting
that are very different things! I realise now that my heart felt
protected, by the prospect of long-distance, for a very long time! Not
really thinking beyond the visa; what would happen when we actually
had to do "normal". So here we are! Trying to learn to live, build a
home and grow together; and for me, perhaps the hardest test is
learning how to "love". See; when you've been abused, the wiring in
your head becomes rather disconnected, so when good things happen, you
don't permit yourself to get too attached to them, thus enabling you
to survive yet again, the pain that doubtless awaits you! Moreover,
when some one shows you love, humility or genuine compassion and
affection, there is a very loud speaker system inside which says "he
is not abusing, hitting or shouting at you; he doesn't love you at
all; not a bit! He doesn't even care!". This won't really make sense
to most of you, especially if you've been blessed enough not to have
experienced abuse! However; for those that have, you'll know very well
how this sort-of becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; and can often end
up with those you love the most retreating to the hills; because they
can't handle you! And though you've unintentionally driven them away,
you feel peace because, heck; you are back to what you know; and
broken feels good, feels comfortable, safe and tranquil! What these
last 2 weeks have taught me, is that I must learn to love, not on my
terms; but on unconditional, selfless terms. More than that; I must do
the hard part; and learn to take love, to live it, hold it and embrace
it! there is no such thing as "normal" either; the lifestyle is up to
the individuals. One thing I did realise when I married, was that I
marked the end of a generation in both my maternal and paternal
families; I was an only child; and if I married and had a family;
while the line would carry on; it would be, it had to be; different; a
dramatic departure from all the car crashes of relationships and
connections I'd grown up with. If you are reading this and going
through something similar, relax! You are not "abnormal", no matter
what the friends, husband or anyone else says! You are just you,
coping in the only way you know how! I don't have solutions for you,
other than to recognise your own destructive cycles of behaviour;
counter the messages your mind is predisposed to responding to. Be
calm, be strong and make sure you get some time out! And in your every
waking hour; in prayer, in dua and in meditation; (and washing the
dishes too!), ask your creator to teach you how to love; knowing your
Lord is knowing yourself; so that when you accept his love for you,
then you become capable of embracing your spirit; and those of others;
this change, this pain need not be the end; it can be the beginning;
but ditch the "normal", throw away the manual and let yourself fly;
you'll fake it for a while; a long while probably! But then, slowly;
it will become real, closer to real; and then you'll be really there.
Just take each day at a time; and if I can do that, anyone can; the
secret really is, to keep breathing!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

My Journey to the Beloved ...

No, this post is not about some dream man, a fantasy, a hidden desire or a sacred passion! Yet, still it concerns all of the above, and so much more besides!
See, thanks to a very special some one in particular, I’ve been forced to contemplate the recipient of this title and my resulting affections quite allot lately, and as I’ve nothing in particular to blog about these days, I’ve decided to indulge myself by writing about some aspects of this love, and just why it is so special, so beautiful! Some of this will be familiar to you, if you’ve been reading the blog for a while, or if this is a love that you and I share!
Let me try to identify where it began! Not that this is easy for me, for this love feels older than me, so elemental, so much a part of me that it resonates in my heartbeat, pours out through my every breath! But though its familiar, it remains exotic, captivating and entrancing, so that no matter how much I try to shelf or contain it, the intensity only returns to me with force, dragging me from categorising it as a guilty pleasure, and recognising it for what it really is! When did I first fall in love? That’s the thing, I really don’t know! Maybe the first time I wore glass bangles, the first time I dreamt in Urdu (when I was 6 years old), or the first time I heard Radio Pakistan! …, not what you were expecting eh? Well, that’s the whole point about this love, the whole charm of it lives in its spontaneity and its ability to keep its admirer on the edge, adoring the unexpected! I envisioned Karachi long before I ever visited! The city used to call to my subconscious through Radio Pakistan and the long hours I spent in my room as a kid, listening to Tahira Saeed gazals and dreaming of a world that was unknown, yet somehow part of me. I was given a salwar kameez when I was 9 by my uncle who worked in India at the time. I’d wear it, lay on my bed, listening to spoken Urdu. If I closed my eyes tight enough, the sounds of the cars on the newly built slip road below my bedroom window almost mimicked the waves on Clifton beach. I’d stretch my arms wide to touch each of the walls that imprisoned me in the tiny space my parents had given me, and wondered why I was here and why I was such a misfit in this family, this realm that had been chosen for me; such a small child, asking such big questions! Things didn’t make sense to me then, any more than they do now! But I knew one thing for sure; one day, I’d visit that place, I’d make it home! And though I didn’t know how I was going to get there, I made it my business to make the dream a reality by learning Urdu, studying Asian classical Music, filling my wardrobe with more salwar suits and glass bangles than I knew what to do with; and insuring my music collection began and ended with Vital signs; exclusively! People often ask me how I ended up in Karachi? And my stock answer is always something like; well, I went on Holiday; got a job, and never came back! …, this is true, though there is a bit more to it than that! See, we plan, and Allah (SWT) plans! Karachi rescued me at a time when I was truly drowning! The seed was planted on the 14th August, 2003! Pakistan Independence day, 2200 hours, GMT! I was alone in my office at the BBC. I’d been sort-of living there since my husband had divorced me only 2 months previously. I couldn’t quite get my head around it; here I was, not even 21 and divorced, with my dream job coming to an end in less than 4 months! What would I do? Where would I go? How would I survive? To make matters worse, my landlord at the time, who was a relative of my former husband, informed me that as my x had no more use for me, he had no need of my rent either, and wanted me out! In those days, the BBC was still in its former home in the West End of Glasgow! We occupied an old, eccentric charming building with character and sanctity in equal measure! Security was lax for staff and it was perfectly normal for the anoraks among us to spend days and nights there! I kept a bag of clothes under my desk and slept on one of our meeting room sofas. I showered before any one came in; and no one even noticed I’d made the office my home! But on 14th August, I had a 10 PM moment! I stood by my office window which looked down upon Kelvin Grove park. Couples walked hand in hand under the trees, talking, loving, laughing and living! People wandered casually home, picked up bottles of wine and pizza for a quiet evening by the fire. I surveyed the scene; and wondered what had happened to my life! Just then, the phone on my desk rang! It took me by surprise because as far as I knew, no one had any idea I was still at work! I didn’t want to talk, but still, the journalist within was already imagining the potential story lead which might just bag me a BBC Contract extension! My friend and colleague Ali was on the line, all the way from Karachi! I was in shock; it was 2 AM his time, why was he calling me right now? He said he’d been calling my house for days in the evening, and had a horrible feeling that I’d rather moved in to the office; as I appeared to only be returning work related Emails! Ali and I had worked together for 2 years prior to this point. He was with Geo Television at the time, and had become a great friend, skilled colleague and serious inspiration in my eyes! Just like me, he was a journalist without all the necessary letters to his name, but his passion and incredible film skills had earned him a production job way above most of his counterparts! Ali had helped me secure recordings in Pakistan, leading interviews for my programmes and had, most significantly for me, taught me so much about the city of my soul and how it had raised/nurtured him. I admitted I’d been living up there on the fourth floor, and confessed to him that I had absolutely no idea where I’d go or what I’d do from here! He calmed my nerves and if I remember correctly, distracted me by talking about the day he’d spent recording a video with Noori! I ended the call and went off to make some coffee to get me through another restless night of faked sleep and fretting! But when I came back to my computer to log off, Ali had Emailed! His note said “Roshni, I don’t know what you are doing there and why you are doing this to yourself! I don’t know if I can help you but …, Come to Karachi! You have a home here, I can find you work if work is what you want! There is clearly nothing keeping you there, and you are so obviously not happy! I know this man has hurt you, but I wonder why you are hurting yourself like this? think about it …”. His words shook me to the core! They were all true, but so obvious I’d only seen the abstract till then. Why was I hurting myself, and why was I staying! His words haunted me constantly over the following few months, during my 21st Birthday and my frantic job search. Ali mentioned Karachi a few times, and I always said I’d (probably) come for a holiday or something, but I remained non-committal! I’d come out of such a huge trauma, I felt too weak, too incapable of making another life changing decision that could go so wrong, just as my marriage had done! I got myself another job; and managed to secure another apartment in the building I’d lived in before! So, I was settled; or so I thought! The fact is, I hated the new job! Even on the day I accepted it, I cleared out my BBC desk in floods of tears, and even told my producer I knew I’d made a big mistake! But there was no going back; my contract was going to end any way! by the end of the first day, I knew I couldn’t stay! The workload was impossible, the manager was evil; the environment was stifling! This was not a place of late nights and creativity; and the stress of it seemed to drag out the pain of my divorce and situation; things I’d kept well controlled till that point! I sensed my loss of control over myself, my reality; of all that mattered to me; and I knew I had to act fast! Strangely, while all this was going on, Karachi began to play an increasingly significant role in my life! I was writing for 2 Karachi lifestyle websites, was editing a chat forum about Karachi and interviewing artists for a Music column on Pakistan for the Scottish addition of Eastern Eye! These distractions kept me sane; and I took a month or so sick leave from work to relax and concentrate on the fun stuff which paid little and brought great pleasure! As my sick leave ended, the boss from hell began a manic phone campaign, stocking me to try and ascertain whether or not I was going to return! I had no where to go, but going back wasn’t an option either! And so, on the last day of my permitted sick leave, I washed, dressed, and went to the Asian Travel Agency near my house, and bought a one-way ticket to Karachi! Why one Way? simple; that’s all I could afford; …, but maybe not that simple! Maybe there was wisdom in all of it; maybe, if I look back on it now, the message about where I should be was clear! I bought my ticket, dropped off my paperwork to secure my visa; and went to pray Jummah at Glasgow Central mosque, for the last time in my city! I went to the library and did some writing, including printing out my resignation letter! 2 weeks later, I’d emptied my flat, given away all that I owned bar a box of sentimental items which I left at my parents, and the suitcase I took with me! Very few people knew I was leaving! And as far as my parents knew, I was going for a month or so, for vacation, and I’d be back! That’s what I believed then, and that’s what I told myself! I didn’t know where I was going; what I would gain or what I was leaving behind! All I know is that nothing has ever felt so right as the moment when I waved my bangle covered hand behind me, and, dressed in a dark purple salwar curta; stepped on to PIA flight 787 for Karachi; leaving the past behind!

***To be continued in the next post! ***

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Radio Rukhsati; The End of an Era

A red lenga, gold bangles, ornaments, mendi, music, laughter and tears! These are the accompaniments to any bride/dulhan as one chapter closes and another begins! Only, not so of a legendry radio presenter!
Instead, Sonia Deol wears a lenga woven out of fun, frolics and amazingly well-made radio! She wears ornaments of praise and accolades legitimately earned through-out her glorious media career. The mendi on her hands maps her journey from unknown teenager from Birmingham to passionate radio/TV presenter, compare, journalist and voice of the Asian Generation, the songs sang for her span 3 decades of brilliance she has shared with us, and the flowers at her feet are the hopes, dreams, wishes and prayers of all those she has touched with her talent. I’m sure that neither Sonia nor the BBC were prepared for the incredible stirring of emotions her leaving to get married has evoked, after all, radio presenters come and go, and the Asian media scene is arguably more fragile in this regard than its mainstream counterparts! In spite of this, radio possesses a unique talent to connect with hearts and minds, spanning the workplaces, homes, cars, light and dark spaces of its listenership, and Asian radio existed long before the era of facebook, twitter, blogging and Television! Perhaps that explains Sonia’s popularity (in part at any rate!), for in truth, our emotions run much deeper. I have spent the last 2 weeks in floods of tears whenever I hear Sonia Deol present her flagship show on the Asian network, knowing she will soon be leaving. I never expected to feel this way; most of the time, I don’t know whether I’m articulating or projecting, but I’m sure I speak for many when I say that saying goodbye to Sonia is like saying goodbye to a family member! Yet for those of us with an overwhelming affinity to radio, the kind of affinity that gave birth to Sonia in the first place, the loss is even more stark! Losing Sonia means losing our youth, our generation, the force that sustained us and created milestones within radio for some to listen to and others to follow!

Aspects of Sonia Deol’s career mirror my own. She was born out of obscurity, beginning her radio career in the curious backwaters of Radio XL and Sunrise! Radio stations long forgotten now, yet once served as the essential/only entertainment for Asian Britain! I started in local radio too (Awaz FM), yet didn’t get very far with Sunrise! Despite many interviews, CV exchanges and worked demo programmes, a 14-year-old visually impaired gori was not really what Asian media needed then, (or now it seems!). I continued at Radio Awaz however, and each Saturday morning, I’d watch Sonia Deol, presenting Network East, a magazine show which marked the BBC experimenting with a new genre of Asian/Ethnic programming! “I want to make media like that”, was all I could say! In Sonia Deol, I saw the person I desired to be! I saw youth, talent, creativity, innovation and a desire to succeed! Sonia was funny, flirty, an extravert with her finger on the pulse and, above all, a unique ability to spin humour and personality out of the mundane happenings in every day Asian life! Sonia Deol shot to fame at a time when Asian media was new, opportunities were thin on the ground; and thus, the media she made back in the late nineties is a living history, creating the backdrop to the sector we have today. Back then, The Asian industry was close, but not exclusive. It was easy to talk to people, to reach out and make things happen for yourself. People like Sonia wore their dreams in their eyes, so that aspiring hopefuls like me held firmer to our affirmations than we do today! And though I never did get to Sunrise, I did make it to the BBC; I produced some decent radio and spent 3 of the best years in Pakistan making the radio of my life; something the Blind Gori never imagined was within her grasp! Out there, I saw Many unknown Sonia’s, with aspirations beyond their circumstances. These ranged from the boy who worked as a child mechanic and had practised reading Dawn for one week before coming to audition for me, to the young assistant Danish Saeed who supported my production team and is now planning to launch a radio station of his own! All of them have come and gone, and some remain within the sector; and others, like me, have lost their way, station and opportunity. Sonia remained; and that too, within a time where the industry she joined back in the nineties was changing beyond all recognition. The culture she created through Network East, the BBC Asian Network and even her pilot magazine show for Channel East! All formed a subculture, and later a culture which empowered the youth and nurtured new talent, but with the expansion of the BBC Asian Network, these cultures were replaced. Bangra was replaced with street, Hindi with English, Punjabi with Urban, Hindi with Rap, Film songs with Fast, Fusion sounds which talk of everything and nothing. I don’t know Sonia well enough to guess what she made of these changes, though she has indirectly hinted at her disdain during her closing shows this week! Culture, by nature of itself must grow, change and evolve; but the outpouring of sorrow at Sonia Leaving the network hints that all may not be well! The essence of both what she created and represented is fast disappearing! The Live traditional music, arts and chat she has celebrated during her remaining days with us, tugs at the heart strings and makes so many of us recall our own youth, dreams and how Sonia was the soundtrack to so many. Her laughter, smiles, passion and ingenuity drove so many, whether to radio or to more conventional careers and journeys. Culture might evolve, but where Asian radio is concerned, change appears to have only induced stagnation! The Asian Network loses listeners daily, as the channel struggles to develop a sound which says any thing but “Asian Britain”. I could use this space to talk about how the Asian Network might well be synonymous with the double-edged integration debate raging within our government, but this is all about Sonia; and tomorrow, the queen of our airwaves will leave the land of her birth. Sonia closes one chapter, and will travel to Canada to live and marry the man who finally captured her heart from the radio that long-since held it captive. She begins her married life; (though, hints that a radio career might follow suit one day!). I don’t know what she has planned for her last appearance on BBC Asian Network tomorrow but I, for one, will be in pieces! This is, without a doubt, the hardest rukhsati I’ve ever witnessed! With Sonia, I send away my dreams of a place in this industry, I played the Asian media game when it operated according to the rules and styles I knew, but Sonia and the brand of journalists like her have left, either by force or by their own volition, and what remains is a generic, unfamiliar neutrality which neither interests me, nor offers me openings. While we might cry for Sonia, those of us concerned with Asian talent wonder who our rising stars might emulate? “have you listened to Sonia Deol?” was always the opening line I used when coaching my radio trainees about media awareness; and while they might find mentors in the mainstream, who now raises the bar for their sector? It amazes me that the Asian Network which Sonia Deol shaped with a selected few, seem less and less concerned with brand identity and about the pathways now closed to talent of the future. If Sonia’s brand of radio lives on in Canada, we will indeed be truly blessed!

This post seems negative and selfish, though it is not meant to. So many mixed emotions live behind these words! But Sonia, if you read this, you have my heart-felt congratulations for the journey ahead. For one like you, giving your heart is not easy, it means losing one identity and blending with that of another, trimming the edges to a place where they fit; and trying to accommodate radio in all of that will be challenging! I wish you health, wealth, happiness and peace, but above all, I wish you love in your new home! Married life can be tough, and so, when the mendi fades from yellow to brown, remember the beauty of these days and those traits which stole your heart from the airwaves. Remember what drew you magnetically to this man; and remember too, the values radio taught you; that it is your beautiful spirit and soul that make you; that draw even those who cannot see you towards your aura. My prayers, dreams and remnants of a career and time travel with you. Go forward and shine as only you can Dearest Sonia, thank you for the years, and for sharing the intimacy of your big day through Radio with us all. Who knows; in another time, another space and another set of Canadian waves; we might just capture the magic again!
Radio stars are not made, they are born; and in you Sonia the best was truly born, and will live forever!

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

It began at 14! ...

Yesterday marked a full 15 years since my reversion to Islam! Its hard to believe, and feels somehow significant. 15 years, that is, since the day I read my shahada, formally! In truth, I probably accepted the faith a long time before this date, and the day itself was a sort-of inadvertent formality! Talking to Reza about it, I realised that though I’ve posted allot about changing faith, I’ve not referred much to this day; and perhaps not even reflected enough on the years that have followed! These 15 years feel significant because, whatever is to come in my life ahead I doubt it will contain the colour, the fast pace, the energy, passion and diversity of these 15 years; the older you get, the less you want chaos, the more you strive for some degree of certainty. Things that mattered to me in my younger days, seem to matter less now, and things I never thought I’d crave for, suddenly swell in their importance! A failed marriage, career changes, homelessness, ill health, trauma, faith (or lack there of), questions, crisis, happiness, sadness, love and tears, all have filled this space, the absurdity not unlike the day itself! A group of girls, who had welcomed me at radio Ramadhan, invited me to their home for dinner! I remember travelling from my home in white suburbia to their inner city apartment, coloured by excitement and trepidation. I climbed to the 4th floor of their building, passing Chinese women who sat outside their apartments peeling potatoes, and 2 African boys who were trying to ride their bikes down spiral stairs! The house, with a carved wooden ‘Allah sign on the door, greeted me formally. An old woman measured me from a great visual distance. As I drank tea in her kitchen, chatting about Islam and Hindi films in equal measure, I’m sure I was more of a curiosity for them than the redemption job they were doubtless seeking. I have always followed my intuition about life, so am not very eloquent when it comes to justifying my actions, plus, who has that level of eloquence at 14 to even begin articulating spiritual questions! All I knew was that Islam clicked; and made the most sense to me! That was good enough for me, and to this day, I don’t understand why people seek out so much more! There is only so far you can take faith reasoning in any case, after that point, you either believe, or you don’t! as we ate pizza in their front room, the questions grew, and so did the audience around me! I had no sense of anything unfolding, I didn’t even make connections when gifts of jewellery and headscarf’s were given to me! The girls asked me several times if I planned to accept Islam, which I did, maybe I already had, but ceremony was what they wanted, and after teaching me the ritual allusion, I was called before their father to recite the shahada, and pronounced a Muslim by the 20 strong contingent of women who fought each other to hug and congratulate me! I felt happy and bewildered, in the way you might do if you wake up too late and suddenly register that today is your birthday! I remember the group were attending a bangra protest that evening (back in the day the fundamentalists didn’t bomb each other, they objected to daytime bangra parties, as though eradicating Punjabi music from the streets of Glasgow might change the world!), and when I sample some of the modern offerings in that department, I wonder if they might have had a point! So, new headscarf ironed and safely pinned, I held up a ban the bangra banner, praying that no one from the Asian Radio Station where I worked happened to see me on such a 2-faced mission! I came, I converted, and I went home, not at all prepared or supported for the aftermath of protest I’d face at home! Had I known, I might have got more in line with the anti-bangra brigade! You might detect a degree of cynicism from the above lines, and that’s not my intension at all! This is my life after all, my journey, my story, the paths I chose and those which were pre-destined for me and me alone. Whether filled with laughter or drowned in tears, I don’t regret any of them, but reflection is an interesting thing, because for all we claim reluctance to say ‘If Only, the truth is that so many things could have been different in my case. 15 years on, I realise that I am the last in a dying breed; of men and women who came to Islam in groups and made it all alone, if we made it at all! So many quit their faith in the old days due to lack of support and a sense of belonging! We have more defined support structures now and, in theory, more of a revert community for the new and the lost to cling to, yet I wonder if you were to carry out a benefit analysis of the current system, just how much real change you’d be able to quantify. We have the theory, yet not the practise, we have huge numbers of reverts, yet they still cannot get married, cannot belong and more often than not, find more companionship in loneliness than in community! At 14, the community I craved acceptance in, taught me to fight, for a place to belong, for equality as a blind woman and from those who tried to separate me from my non-Muslim family. My parents taught me to fight too; for my faith; and for a sense of self which was from them, though not of them. Reconciling these 2 worlds is something I’ve never been able to do to this day, my life remains fragmented and disjointed, so that many of my relationships feel empty and insincere, because speaking Urdu doesn’t make you Pakistani, and having Scottish parents doesn’t make you a gori (at least according to the stereotypical notions of what a gori might be). I think its easy to become obsessed with puerile questions like; how many Muslims have both the qur’an and a Krishna statue in their house? how many people have ziyerats along with pink Floyd on their Mp3 players? And if these indirect confessions make me a hypocrite, then perhaps that is just another label for me to possess, either with pride, or indifference! I am grateful for the fact that in these 15 years I took my faith from its intuitive beginnings and translated it to something all my own. I lost it along the way, sometimes to myself and many times to my community, yet I never lost it completely. I don’t claim to be the best Muslim in the world, by any standards, but I do strive to be the best that I can be, and only I know what that means, or how that might evolve. Contrary to what I used to believe, I do know how to fake it, very well in fact! When I look at some blogs and twitter feeds I wonder if some people over play religion; ‘the convert doth protest too much! for stating popularly acknowledged facts/professions of faith can sometimes generate rank. It can also instil a sense of pride and assumed knowledge from both the revert and the admirer! ‘is he religious? …, obviously! Look at his twitter feed! In some ways its sad that something as uniquely personal and profound as faith is reduced to this, yet we have each played a part in generating it; and whether justified or not, I do take pride in the fact I can admit when I don’t know at least 30 rulings on the permissibility of joining prayers; or the fact that I still seek guidance when calculating zakat on jewellery, mortgages and the like. I don’t know how many Muslims there really are behind the books and the lectures, but behind every sincere, seeking heart there is surely a purified soul. If anyone had told me 15 years ago that I’d be where I am today, or that I’d hold even a fraction of the views I do, I’d never have believed you! Hailing from a closed extremist Christian/middle class upbringing, I had to struggle against Muslim extremists on the other side before I could find my own spiritual home, and that has taken some doing! I now look for questions to explore, rather than answers as I once did. The next 15 years look set to hold a completely new set of challenges; marriage, children, nest building. My feelings about these fluctuate between joy and imprisonment, happiness and foreboding. Anyone who knows me well, knows the context behind these remarks. I chose well when it came to marriage; and Allah (SWT) blessed me with more than I could have imagined! But Islamic culture is riddled with communities of people who believe that motherhood, femininity and domesticity are things that come naturally to women, a patronising belief with which I take issue! Women and converts are not homogenous! And my challenges are great! I will, Insha Allah, pass on a great many things to my children, and I can only pray they are positive for the most part! That said, I rejected faith when it was marketed to me, and I’m not sure I want to go for a generic sales pitch to my kids! I want to equip them with an understanding of faith as a necessity, as something elemental and pivotal to their existence, so that they can objectively explore how it manifests in other people; through churches, temples, mosques, music and meditation! If/when they return to Islam, I pray it is because they genuinely see its light, they choose to be there because it is the way, their only way; their path of choice and tranquillity! This looks a bit flowery and ethereal written down, but its one of the few things I am absolutely certain about! Inherited faith freaks me out! Too often it feels stale, like a well rehearsed family tree or a family fable held on to for far too long, with significant loss of context over the years! I know this might sound like a dig at born Muslims; its not meant that way! and I know that all families of faith do the best they can, but somewhere in the middle of these 15 years, I found myself, in between the support and the lack of support and the groups and the books and the solitude, all of it played a part! Preserving faith feels like it will be more of a challenge in the years to come than it was for me growing up. If ever you needed justification for not believing, not carrying on, it is now! Human nature is for the most part unrecognisable, and all manner of people from activists to terrorists and the silent majority try to give Islam their own stamp of truth as they see it. Preserving faith in this context, forces the believer inward, to a place of sanctity that doesn’t appear to exist in community any more! Its not for me to state whether this is good or bad, it is only for me; and for all of us to look ahead, carrying with us whatever feels light enough and sensible enough to take forward in to the future.
Last night marked another turning point; the end of our mourning, a conclusion upon Muharram and Safar for yet another year. As we prepare to enter a joyous, celebratory, spring type period within the Islamic calendar, we wonder if it is realistic to stop mourning? Will a time really come where we can stop crying? Where tears have no resonance or purpose in marking the tragedy of Karbala? I used to believe this was impossible, that to cry for all eternity was not enough, could never be enough, now my views somewhat vary. Tears have their place, but the challenge for contemporary shias is to know where the tears end and the work starts! Sayeda Zeynab (A.S) cried, but she also spoke out in the court of Yazeed! She began the legacy of azadari, but she maintained a family life when she returned to Medina! She cried, but worked for the Imam of her time, and she (A.S) marked the eid and the festivities, while never forgetting what she had witnessed! By my own admission, I have hidden behind these tears, as I have hidden behind the past. What is familiar is often easier to tolerate! There has to come a point where we evaluate and prioritise, and this post only scratches the surface of what that means! We wait; and we wait for Imam-E-Zaman (the imam of our time!), that is our time, not that of our parents, or that of our children! My challenges will differ from those of my parents before me, and my children ahead of me. Living in the present isn’t easy, it’s a balancing act between baggage from the past and priorities for the future! My years as a Muslim lay splayed out before me, sparkling ahead of those I spent in childhood and in searching, the needle is sharp, waiting to thread new strands of grey and gold through this tapestry of life. I’m here on the edge, almost ready, to jump!