Abstract Chatter

January 11, 2019, 1:20 pm
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What could possibly bring me back to write again? Being furloughed for 21 days and counting.

There is article after article that points to the broader impact and trickle down effect this shutdown is having on people’s livelihoods. It’s not just federal employees and contractors who are directly impacted by it, but those for example, relying on social services such as food stamps. It shines light onto the fact that way too many people are just above the line– that with one missed paycheck, they can’t pay their mortgages and rent. There is a larger and more systematic problem to all this that isn’t being addressed. And while we can contribute funds to various charities trying to keep afloat during this crisis, and while the generous donations of companies is heartwarming– what we really should be talking is why so many of us can fall into dark times with one missed paycheck. Including us. While our family is ok at this point in time, should the shutdown continue, we will be calling those credit card companies.

As a society, we are living beyond our means, not saving, and have increased debt. But how can one save when there isn’t anything left to save. How can one stay within our means if we have multiple children with needs or have a single income household? How can we have a rainy day fund when medical bills are beyond outrageous


A furloughed IRS worker in Ogden, Utah holds a sign that reads “We Want to Work.” (AP)

and student loan companies have no mercy. How can we rise above when companies  are also simultaneously contributing to the increased wage gap and paying low wages with no benefits etc. Our system is broken. And the most vulnerable are once again hit the hardest.


My Ramadan
May 24, 2018, 6:05 pm
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0cf22222-99ef-45b2-908c-17e4e34bafdeI love seeing mainstream coverage about the experiences of American Muslims and their relationship with Ramadan/fasting and all that comes along with this month. I guess by mainstream, I mostly mean Buzzfeed.

But one perspective that may be a bit more nuanced and delves into the distinct  generation of American-Muslims that I don’t often year about, is the experience of those who have transitioned from young adults to new parents. After worshiping a certain way for decades on end (as a non-parent), no one warns/informs you of the difficulties that come from understanding what this new type of worship looks like and how you have to transition your understanding of workshop now as person with a young child. Or as a single caretake. Whether it means being pregnant or nursing and thus unable to fast in the traditional sense, or whether it means that the late night prayer sessions in congregation with delicious chai afterward are no longer option because you have a toddler at home. Or whether it means you’re just. so. sleep deprived that a day’s fast is all you can bear.

Even though this was years ago, I so vividly remember sitting in the back of the car nursing while everyone was inside praying. And how I so badly wished I was 26 again. The 26 year old me could hop on over to a local mosque or campus (that allowed women) and just. pray. Pray without the distractions of a climbing two year old. Pray knowing that even though sleep is normally reducing during this month, there won’t be any interruptions such as a crying or sick baby. That worship was easy. It was familiar. It was comforting.

The beautiful silence that came from my previous spiritual journey is only available to me during a very narrow window, if I’m awake enough to take advantage of it. To connect with the Divine in moments of solitude. In Peace. But maybe this Ramadan, my goal will be to steal a few moments. Reset my intention. And Pray.

It probably took me a solid three years to understand that my worship will simply be different than was did pre-Edris. And that that’s ok. While it may not come with the “glamorous” accessories of wild mornings and sahoor at IHOP— it does come with the knowledge that I now have a bigger task ahead of me, one that requires my almost undivided attention, but one that I hope will bear fruit in years to come. His care and well-being I suppose is my new ibadha .

And maybe it’s all worth it when you hear Edris say, “I love You Allah!”

Some things never change
June 24, 2017, 12:04 am
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I’m back in Houston after being away for decades. It feels weird to be back but it’s also perfect timing. It’s Ramadan which means that on most days, we’ve been able to break bread together as a family. Being back has also given me an opportunity to leave Edris at home while I get a chance to attend prayers at the mosque– something I haven’t done in almost three years– at least on any consistent basis.

After taking a hiatus from the mosque community, I saw how some 20 years later–much of our masjid culture is the same. There are the same 10 -feet barriers, the same aunties that love yelling out commands in Urdu (because of course everyone speaks Urdu), the children laughing and playing throughout the night, guest speakers, boys trying to ball by the courts, and the countless water bottles dispersed for us dehydrated folks.

But it’s interesting to see the changes as well. Women– both young and old following along during prayer on their phones! I! Never! Aunties readying Quran on their ipads. The massive screens that are placed in the women’s section so we can actually see the Imam. It’s crazy to see the integration of technology in peoples every day lives. There also seems to be some organization to the daily chaos which didn’t exist before. Volunteers have badges and people are requested to put their shoes in designated spaces.

Through this month, I’m reminded that it takes a village to care for the next generation. No one can nor should raise these babies alone. And as much as I miss the DC community during this beautiful month, I feel grateful to be at home, where baby E can be surrounded by light and family. May we build beautiful traditions together. May he fall in love with this month and may we all be blessed by God’s mercy during these last few hours of Ramadan. Ameen.

I’m a “Ramadani”
May 26, 2017, 9:59 pm
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Yeah, I said it. I memorize the Quran… during Ramadan.
I go to the mosque… during Ramadan.
I watch my language… mostly during Ramadan.
My heart softens…during Ramadan.

And each Ramadan, I’m reminded of some of the most beautiful, fundamental, and basic components of the religion. Without going too far into the Quran, you can find the simplicity that surrounds the religion.

We believe in Allah and that which is revealed unto us and that which was revealed unto Abraham, and Ishmael, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the tribes, and that which Moses and Jesus received, and that which the prophets received from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and unto Him we have surrendered. (2:136)

Worship who you may. So pure. So basic.

But every time I hear of an attack by a “Muslim” on the innocent, a sense of confusion clouds my understanding of the beauty that I previously saw in the religion. It might not happen the first time, or the second or third… but eventually I ask– why is the religion that I hold so dear being snatched away from me? Time and time again.

I move further and further away from something that I want to love—  I become more distant as the interpretations get misinterpreted , as the people of the religion become misguided, and as the religion gets represented by men and women who bring terror to the innocent.

Maybe, this year I’ll start with gratitude. For all the things we can see and can’t see. I pray for everyone this Ramadan to be under Your protection and light.

Allahumma innaka ‘afuwwun tuhibbul ‘afwa fa’fu ‘annee (O Allah, indeed you are a Pardoner, and you love pardon, so pardon me.) 

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He turns Three.
May 11, 2017, 10:56 am
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They grow up so fast. No, really. Edris is almost 3 now. You read the development charts, but watching him grow is incredible to see. At first, you want them to everything quickly. To be advanced. But then, you just wish they would slow down.

He said, “what the heck” the other day. It coulda been worse. This kid is picking up every mannerism and word we say. every. single. one. He isn’t being taught anything, But he’s learning everything. Correctly. He’s saying everything in its proper context. I don’t understand how he understands so much. They say birth is a miracle. But life and growth is just as miraculous.

He’s a social baby. Craves being with friends and cousins. Loves that he’s so loved. He misses friends. He had so many. He calls every kid on the street his friend. I don’t want to burst his bubble so I play along.

The parks here are amazing. He could live at the park if we let him.

He’s accepted that adults drink coffee. And tea. And that he can’t have any.

He knows how to get what he wants when he wants it. And for now, that seems to be the ipad and milk bottle. Don’t judge. Uff, that’s going to be a tough habit to break.

He says his prayers and has memorized the part where you say Ameen. He still says a prayer for all the nannies back in Chennai. And for all of his family members. He loves the word family and for every three items he sees (such as 3 cars), he calls them mama, baba, and Edris. If he sees two items, he labels them OliviaScreen Shot 2017-05-11 at 12.53.54 PM and Edris. Because, naturally.

He’s the light of my life and I pray that God continues to to guide and protect him. To keep him healthy and happy. May he be blessed with a caring and generous spirit. May he continue to be the light of our eyes. Ameen.

“One day you will ask me which is more important? My life or yours? I will say mine and you will walk away not knowing that you are my life.” K. Gibran 

Coming to America
April 12, 2017, 10:08 pm
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Cab Driver: This sh*tty enough for ya?
Prince Akeem: Yes, this is perfect. 

Oh, we’re back. To the land of the free. Home of crawfish, BBQ, queso, and tacos. Back to Texas, the only state where the flag flies as high as the flag of the US of A. But before writing about this reverse culture shock, I wanted to be sure and jot down some of my final experiences in India.

While in Bangalore (sometimes referred to as the Silicon Valley of India), we were waiting for our Uber ride early one morning in the rain standing next to a mini-temple. Almost everyone who passed by gave a little dap to the shrine. Some simply acknowledged the shrine with a nod while others stopped for a few minutes to say a little prayer. I don’t know how many of these pop-up temples there were around the city, and how often people felt inclined to say a prayer before every temple they walked by– but it was so interesting to see this level of spiritual consciousness in one of the fastest-growing metropolis of India.

Flight attendants in India remind me of images from the period show Pan-am. It’s interesting to see women enter the labor force and the types of positions that are made available to them. I say, “made available” because there are still so many barriers to entry that I suppose women are tackling the “low hanging fruit” which seem to be defined for them. Positions include those in childcare, education, and hospitality. Oh, and maybe the grocery store. While at the supermarket, there was a job description calling for females under the ago of 30 to apply. Now, I might have viewed this as discriminatory, but maybe on the local market, they’re viewed as opportunities to allow women to break into the various industries.

I came to India with very little background on Tamil culture and tradition. I’m leaving with more questions than answers. One thing I do recognize is that we all protect our culture and traditions. And defend them with our lives.

I loved seeing women in India ride motorcycles. That type of mobility really opens up access for women to work building autonomy an independence. Before we left, a policy was being debated which would provide a 50%+ subsidy for women to buy mopeds. Of course, this might just mean that the men buy  (and keep) the vehicles, but it seemed like a thoughtful gesture.

We’ve been through a lot. So much has happened here from the 2015 floods to the cyclone, to the denomination of currency, to the death of the chief minister, to political unrest. All in a matter of a 18 months. But the privilege of money and blue passport has shielded us from most of it — minus some of the announces and inconveniences.

But its all mental. It’s crazy what you’re able to deal with when your mind has accepted it. We had an end date in sight for leaving India and my mind starting to think about what’s next. Maybe it was premature, and it felt like one foot was in India while the other was in America.

The dichotomy of the rich and the poor seems greater in India. For once, I experienced what it meant to be an expat. A completely different experience that that of Egypt where I had little connection and very little wealth. But I can say that being an expat teaches you humility–if you let it.

I never imagined that i would be allowed in .. to see the country, to explore and travel to the historical sites, and to eat the amazingly delicious food. But as the marketing campaign states, it’s incredible India.

So long. Until we meet again. If the Ministry of External Affairs deems it so.

And in the blink of an eye…1/2 year has gone by
October 14, 2016, 12:32 pm
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…not quite half a year, but 5 months since my last post. Can’t believe that it’s about to be monsoon season all over again. The weather has calmed down (a bit)  once again. The festivals and holiday season will begin yet again. The lights. The parades. The endless fireworks that begin at 12am. The smoke that remains in the still air. Until the next rain.

It’s transition season. People have come and friends have gone. Is it easier to stay behind, or be the ones to go? Either way, how does one maintain a sense of continuity in a life of utter fluidity?

As quick as we were to paint the walls and prop up our picture frames – our time will soon come when we’ll have to pack them all away. Only to not know if we’ll receive them in one piece on the other side. Will our items get boxed up and remain outdoors in the rainy season until the next boat arrives?  I suppose either way, we won’t be seeing our stuff for a year. No amount of insurance can protect memories attached to each picture.

*Must back. up. my. pictures.*

to our final months of tropical humidity and cocnut trees.


Backwaters of Kerala, India