Part 2 – Breswana

Kulsuma, Class 5: *forcefully took her hijab off during class*

Me: What happened?

Kulsuma: it is very hot ma’am!

This wasn’t an uncommon feature in Haji Public School, the school hidden in the mountains of Jammu and Kashmir. Many girls wore the hijab. The only compulsion was for it to be clean. The girls took it off without any hesitation when they felt like it. Some of them wore it on some days and didn’t on others. Sometimes it would fall off their heads. Without a sense of panic, they would readjust the hijab whenever the task at hand was completed.

I remember a mixed cricket match when Muneeza, Class 7 (piece of my heart) was  batting. The hijab plus the heat and helmet bothered her so she took it off and continued to play in style. She wore it back when she was done. Star.

If you follow @Imsabbah (who runs the school) on Twitter and glanced at her mentions, you would be shocked about the perception people have about children wearing the hijab. Though, visiting the school would tell you how diversity flourishes on its grounds. The girls and boys have school uniforms; girls wore salwar and kurta, and boys wore pant and shirt. On Fridays, the children wore their colourful best.

Most of the girls dressed in salwar and kurta. Ifra, Class 5 on regular days wore a shirt and pant to school. But on Fridays she dressed in salwars, flowing dresses, colourful prints and – wait for it – sneakers. Obviously she couldn’t be bothered by our narrow minded vision of fashion and dressed in comfort. Plus, I suppose sneakers are easier to run up and down the mountain, which the kids indulged in despite our frowns. She had jumped over the perceived pressures of choosing between what is understood to be feminine and masculine and explored the diverse items of clothing available to her.

I think back to my school days when I HAD to wear the pinafore. I hated it. I was ridiculed endlessly about my hairy legs and it was cumbersome to be my unfeminine self in it. It didn’t stop me but it felt tedious. I would have loved to have the option to choose something else. 

As an adult, my access to this choice has been liberating. I dress in loose kurtas purchased from the ‘men’s section’ in stores. I also wear tight kurtas stitched by a ‘ladies tailor’. This diversity in my dressing was always looked at with bewilderment in the city. I would hear comments about how I don’t dress appropriately or didn’t have a style. I dressed this way even while teaching at the school. The kids in the school didn’t notice an anomaly. In fact, going by their goodbye letters to me, they were only worried about the smile I wore or didn’t wear. (I cried a lot on the last day.)

When I began teaching there, Sabbah encouraged me to play sports with them. I loved it. After they read my essay on playing baseball, the curious fellows wanted to learn. I spent an hour teaching them the rules, explaining how to run, hit and catch. They were enthusiastic but bored in no time.

“What do you mean I need to run when I hit?? What if I become out?” – Ajaz, Class 7

It was hilarious. Soon after boredom reached its maximum point, we began to play football together. I was chosen on one team with Humeera and Muneeza was on the other. I was awfully gentle while tackling them. But I stopped for a moment to watch Humeera try to take the ball from Haroon and I realised, this girl is absolutely free on the field. There is something that was ingrained in me that she hasn’t learnt yet.

It was a moment of happiness.

The hijab has begun to occupy our mindspaces in a very powerful way. We tell women to not wear them; to wear them and obsess about what it means when we see them wearing it or not. These might have valid arguments in there somewhere. But, reducing muslim women and girls to the hijab is not helping anyone. If not wearing the hijab/niqab means no access to education or sports, would that be a better option? Yay we have freed the women and girls. Victory at last? The world unfortunately is not black and white. It is lived in the greys. Here are these beautiful girls learning about the world, learning sports and kicking ass at them. Expose them to ideas, to worlds and words, to sports and women achievers – dressed in varied attires. Teach them they can be among them. That is where I would put my effort.

With countries banning the hijab in public spaces and burqini on beaches, countries where women are forced into them, we really must stop and check why we are obsessed with the hijab.

Till then, I take cue from Ifra, Muneeza, Humeera, Kulsuma and many other lovely young girls.

Advertisements

Choose kindness

I have a 12-year-old dog. She is a gorgeous Labrador. Two years ago, she had a paralytic attack and lost movement in the back legs. Slowly with therapy and medication she fought her way back to walking. A little while ago, she had some trouble again; but if you see her sitting down or sleeping you will not be able to tell. She is one of the happiest, kindest, most loving souls I have ever met. Her tail is a whacking device she uses often when she meets strangers or loved ones.

We take short bathroom breaks outside the house a few times a day. Walks are not really possible because she has to be assisted even for short distances. We always sit down below the house for half-an-hour or so after our evening walk. The footpath is wide enough for both of us. The weather is usually pleasant and sitting down is a good unwinding session for me. She watches the vehicles go by, her street friends come visit us and we sit in silence. Occasionally, people stop by, pet her and talk to the dis-interested human sitting with her (mostly me or my dad).

Off late, I hate most of the people stopping by (with a vengeance). They offer their priceless nuggets of wisdom each time. I have forgotten how many times people found it necessary to tell me, “Your dog is in great pain. You must put her to sleep.” There is that extended stress on the must. Like a doctor advising the terminally ill. I don’t always have the time, patience or energy to explain to them that I would know this far sooner than they would. My dog, though very old, has a spirit to live that I cannot always explain in words. I usually snort and drag her back inside. “We do not need this negativity,” I tell her. I wonder if people offer my dog this wisdom. If they don’t maybe I should consider wearing a grumpier, more intimidating face.

Layla has never really complained about the pain she is in. But we as a family have always known and rushed to her aid. We have done doctor visits, stayed up odd hours and been there for her in the myriad of ways each of us is usually there for her. But it isn’t really about that. This whole unsolicited advice has gotten me thinking. How easily do we hand out advice to others? Their advice doesn’t make me question how I treat my dog because I know I care very, very much. (In fact I perhaps have a serious case of separation anxiety right now because I am leaving her for a few months.) But it hurts me. It hurts that we as a society don’t always think about the harm we might be causing. How little we have begun to think before making these well-meaning, concerned statements. Or that we are somehow experts in this matter and know that death is the only way. This is obviously not a one-off experience. I have friends who have been offered such advice too. We brush it off and move on. It seems to be a pattern especially with ageing, sick dogs. I don’t want to be crude and draw a comparison on when else would anyone offer such advice. But it upsets me.

So, I want to send out a message into the universe. Hoping that people would think before they callously utter these words. Without realising that the family is already well aware about the short life that dogs live. They are grappling with the sheer magnitude of such a loss. They are willing to do as much as possible to ease their dog’s pain. They are more uncomfortable seeing their dog in pain than anyone else. They are already doing the best they can. So if you ever encounter someone with an old dog: Let the dog shower love on you. Pet him/her. Whisper lovely things about treats and flowers. Leave a little happier.

Choose kindness.

Don’t. Talk. About. Euthanasia.

Self care 101

I have been struggling a lot lately, both mentally and physically. I have preferred to hide in bed away from most activities and people. My body has, of course, decided that it has had enough with my nonsense and demanded some attention.

While talking to my fellow INFJ who understands me so well, I realised I needed to give myself permission to do certain things. I have always known I’m very harsh on my self. These past few months I have spent many hours questioning why I feel the way I do. What I could have done better? Could have I known better? Am I really so naive? These questions often resulted in anger and shame turned inward. Bottled up inside. It isn’t a surprise then that my body is now reacting the way it is.

This art work (which took me a good two hours) was deeply difficult to do but very soothing. I gave myself permission to feel all these things. To be these things. Like my therapist said recently, you need to allow yourself to be emotional and human.

Apart from this escape, I have also taken to doing a lot of art. I play with colours, paints, material and sometimes even prints. These have greatly helped with the anxiety and depression. It isn’t new for me that art and words are my rescue horses. Time and again they help me find my feet. Helping me centre my self and energies. I forget once in a while how much I need them.

Sanity and full energies must be around the corner. But for now, self care is essential. Some colours, words, chamomile tea and most importantly, kindness – a safe place to be and fall apart. What are part of your safe place?

image

Lessons

I have been in therapy for a while now. After much difficulty, I was able to find a therapist who I could be vulnerable with. I did not realise earlier that one of my problems was I wasn’t being honest in my sessions. Even to myself. I needed to be honest and allow her to ask questions which will in turn help me. I believed that the best process for me was when I was asked questions that encouraged me to introspect my behaviour/reaction and hopefully hold my hand through the chaos.

During this year of on and off sessions (mostly cause I slink back into ostrich mode), I found out that I had a lot of accumulated baggage. These were my triggers for anxiety, panic and depression. I had trouble identifying and dealing with the triggers. Much of our work together was in helping me deal better and in turn being the best version of myself.

Some days, I deal with triggers of past trauma or pain very well. I know to breath, to gradually untangle the mess and to work on the negativity. On days like today, everything feels like a trigger and overwhelms me. Most of the trouble arises from my own high expectations.

I am still working through this but my most important lesson might be to be kinder to myself.

Be kind to self.