Tickle me pink! ‘The Big Sick’

Before anything else, I should mention that anything I say about this movie is extremely biased and emotional. 18216607_1775033269476423_1145837994894948498_o

After arriving in a world where being brown makes you an Other, I find myself constantly looking for opportunities to make myself less of an Other, while still shamelessly maintaining my identity’s novelty in the areas where it counts (eg. diversity quotas in workplaces, colleges).

And so ‘The Big Sick’ came as a great ‘Let’s please go look at this amazing, positive representation of brown, muslim, Pakistanis!’-opportunity. It helped that I could boast about how Kumail Nanjiani and I came from the same high school. It also helped that I had been waiting for and looking forward to this movie in general. How many times is it that I see a guy from my high school in Karachi, Pakistan make it to Hollywood?

I dragged my Nepali friend with me, promising that she wouldn’t be disappointed. We found the theater surprisingly full. Either I’ve made it a habit to catch the last few shows of any movie, so I’m used to finding empty theaters, or a lot of people actually wanted to see this movie. We were still the only two brown people there, though, which was a nice thing in this context; we might get to laugh at things nobody else would understand.

The movie was deliciously American-Pakistani. It wasn’t confused with Indian culture and this mattered a lot to me. For once, it wasn’t ‘South Asia’ being talked about – it was just me and my Pakistan, and our interaction with Amreeka. My personal favorite scene was the one where we see Kumail acting in his one-man show, earnestly explaining everything he can about Pakistan. The separation from India, cricket culture, the Muslim-ness, even the usage of the word ‘khansama’; I understood this sentiment completely because I’ve felt the urge to do the same so many times too. It was so pure and so real.

I did find it a little weird that they had Anupam Kher playing a Pakistani dad (Could they not get a Pakistani actor? Is it really necessary to drag India in somehow or the other?) but he’s one of the few Indian actors I like so I didn’t mind this as much as I did the choice of an Indian actor for Kumail’s mom. This was partly because she brought nothing extraordinary or exceptionally fun to the role (like Kher did, to some extent) and partly because she acted quite Indian. And contrary to popular (and convenient) belief, Pakistanis and Indians differ in their ‘isms. There’s a lot of overlap, but enough differences that I would have liked to see it in the acting.

The actors playing Kumail’s brother and sister-in-law (Adeel Akhtar and Vella Lovell) were extremely believable and I loved the dinner-table banter! (Notice how I wasn’t bothered that Vella isn’t even vaguely South Asian. I don’t know! I enjoyed her on-screen and couldn’t tell the difference! Also I’m weird and un-objective about this movie.)

I appreciated how the story-line didn’t dwell too heavily on explaining and justifying things. They didn’t put a non-desi at the dinner-table and create conversations explaining things, using them as a prop to spell out the culture to the wider audience. They just went ahead and said it or did it or showed it. It helped drive the point home that, all of these cultures are quite rampant in America and have been for a while. All of this being said though, Kumail’s one-man show was a very smart way of stuffing in some explanations. It was funny, it was endearing and it rang true with Paki-American audiences.








Return to Innocence

I tried to trip my father once.

I was seven and we still lived in our suburban Faisalabad home.

We had a big garden with burnt grass (the summer temperatures were scorching), I was only allowed the last three sips of Baba’s daily coffee and we did not have cable television.

Instead my father – an avid movie collector – would let us watch one movie every Sunday, which me or my brother would pick out from his extensive collection of VCDs. (DVDs were not yet as big of a deal.) He and I would alternate turns; some weeks he would get to choose, and some weeks I would.

Life had a beautiful symmetry to it. It was like a children’s story-teller had fashioned our reality, because I see now that children’s stories require an intense attention to detail and logical patterns. It is so important for story-tellers to establish logical relationships and maintain their consistency in fairy-tales, so that a child truly believes in what they read.

And so, like in folklore or fairy-tales, like clockwork, we would watch a movie on Sundays.

The day I tried to trip my father, we were watching a 2002 Italian version of Pinocchio.

For once, Baba was also sitting and watching with us. It is important to mention that the bothersome part of watching a VCD was that every movie came divided up in two discs – Disc A and Disc B. And since Baba did not trust us with handling any electronic equipment, he would be called upon 45 minutes into the movie, so that he could change the disc.

And sure enough, 45 minutes into Pinocchio, as the screen went black, he stood up to change the disc. I was sitting on the floor, my back against the sofa’s foot. And I remember a strange curiosity overcome me as I shifted my leg just enough so that, if he did not pay attention as he walked over to the television, he would trip.

He did not, in fact, trip. He was a grown man with two children. He easily stepped over my small leg, adjusting his stride.

In my mind’s eye, it was the first “bad” thing I did. And the memory fascinates me to no end because I see this moment as the one in which I lost the colloquial, characteristic innocence associated with a child. It was the first time I remembered doing anything wrong for the sake of doing something wrong.

This begs the question: is there such a thing as losing one’s innocence in a moment? Do we all have that one instance in which we cross the line and from then on, it all becomes gray area? Or is it more like a steady erosion of innocence as we go through life?

But then the situation complicates itself, as all I felt immediately after he stepped over my leg, was creeping guilt. I was so sure he knew what I had been up to. Why else would he lengthen his stride? I wanted to apologize. But apologizing would mean admitting I had done something wrong. And I hated the idea of having done something wrong, of being a bad person.

Bear in mind this is a seven year-old overthinking.

I remember consoling myself, promising I would never do anything of the sort ever again and that promise made it okay not to tell on myself. In a twisted way, my first wrong strengthened my conviction to do right.

Perhaps you do lose your innocence. But you trade it in for something more valuable.



Winter Breaking

For starters, I am done with my first semester at college and it went by pretty fast, as promised by my sophomore friends.

And I have this delicious longer-than-a-month break stretching ahead of me and I don’t know what to do with myself. For once in my life I feel energized and not-lethargic during a long break. I feel like taking back my life.

Segway to a moment in New York City a few weeks back–

It’s a nice dinner and small talk is being made. We are midway in a group conversation and a nice boy asks me what my hobbies are/what I like to do. And I shrug and list off my staples. “Reading, writing, music, movies..”

And he pauses and comments, “Oh, so the usual. Nothing special.”

I wasn’t in the mood to elaborate so I said, “Yeah, okay.”

This conversation came back to me a few nights ago and started to bother me. Is that list of activities really all that I am? Probably not, but I still needed to map it all out to convince myself.

Do I even have the right to call myself a reader anymore? For the past 3 years, I have only been able to read a handful of novels and those too only in the summers, when schoolwork is not grating on my nerves. And even when I read, it’s nothing to write home about. It’s either trashy YA or something ordinary and un-amazing. I have not read majority of the staples that a well-read person should have checked off ages ago.

Can I honestly call myself a writer? I update this blog maybe thrice a year and I write nothing besides that, although I do dream up things to write every single day and every single car-ride, hoping I’ll build up the will to start someday soon.

So even if I were to stretch the truth and insist on being considered a reader and a writer, I still cannot assert that I am well-read or that I’m a committed writer.

But let me not take all this completely lying down.

I do have real interests. All that time and energy I put into theatre during high school was not for college applications – it was all because I loved it. I can sing. I host a radio show on weekends at college, I like going to watch plays and I have a specific taste in music. I don’t just listen to whatever comes on – I pick and curate playlists for myself.

It’s not all bad and bland.

However, all that being said, I think it is definitely time to explore some new interests.

I want to try tennis. I want to start reading classic novels, something I ran from as a kid. I want to start writing stories, another thing I never properly pursued. I would always leave stories half-finished when I was younger. I also want to get a nice camera and start photography. Also filming shorts. (This last one I really want to try.)

I think I can start on the photography pretty soon because college lets you borrow professional cameras from the media center.

All I hope for now is that I am able to maintain my motivation and will-power and actually go ahead with all of this.






Third Week of Classes

I can’t believe I’m already in my third week at Smith College.

Now I think I’ll fall back on my trusty method of just listing down the barrage of thoughts and feelings I’ve been holding back and haven’t had the time or mental presence to spew.

So here goes:

  • I am taking a Logic class, an elementary German class, a 200-level Development Econ class and a writing intensive Theatre class called Film and Performance Criticism. I also managed to squeeze in this lecture series called Global Financial Institutions.
  • I am working 7 hours a week and planning on taking it up to 8 or 9 hours a week.
  • The experience of ‘missing home’ is very strange and half the time I don’t realise I miss it. I honestly don’t think I do. I might occasionally miss my little brother and my parents, but that too only when I think really hard about life.
  • I miss junk food from back home. I keep converting packs of Cheetos into PKR prices and it gives me a sinky feeling. Because why the hell would I want to pay $1.25 for a Cheetos?! That’s about Rs 130! It hurts.
  • Lamont is a nice place to work. It’s pretty and one of the workers keeps offering to make me smoothies out of the weirdest combinations of fruit and vegetables.


  • Tuesdays are great days. I have just one class, and a 50 minute lecture and I’m done and it’s blissful.
  • My roommate and I have started to open up to each other and the conversation gets longer every day. She likes Doctor Who and comic books and I plan on being mostly educated about the comic book universe by the end of this year.
  • I feel like I’ve experienced a shit-load of this college already. I’ve studied in two libraries, I’ve booked myself a study carrell, I’m toting around six library rental books and I have eaten at nearly half of all the dining halls on campus. I have also lost my phone twice and my Campus ID card once. (All three instances were terrifying, particularly the first instance, because I was without my phone for 14 hours, through the entire night.) I have complained about assigned reading loads, about papers, about professors, I have added and dropped classes and made use of the ‘shopping period’. I feel like such a typical college kid. When did this happen.
  • I met a friend from 1st grade! This is one of the craziest things that happened. We hadn’t met in about 7 or 8 years, ever since I moved out of that city. And I thought it was ridiculous that we hadn’t been able to meet up in our country but were reunited in a foreign country, at colleges just a short bus-ride away from each other. I’m looking forward to spending a night or two in her dorm on some upcoming weekend. Sleepovers like old times.
  • I got caught in a rainstorm last week. That was a mess. I haven’t been caught in heavy rain in years. There are many reasons for this, primarily because it rarely rains heavily in Karachi and whenever it does I am always conveniently at home. And so at college, where I have to walk everywhere and don’t have a car – it really rained on me. Thank everything good – I am a responsible child and was carrying an umbrella in my backpack. But my leggings still got pretty wet and my socks were partially soaked.
  • I had a typical online shopping experience! This was exciting and I probably sound super sad talking about it this way but whatever. I finally have my own plastic to flash.

I have a ton of other updates, but I really need to get on with my German homework. I realise this ended up sounding like a really long diary entry but I’m proud of myself for finally sitting down and recording my thoughts. So much happens every day and I have had so many thoughts these past weeks which have already been forgotten and wasted. As long as I am writing, I’m happy.

Day 3 In My New World

Let me start off by saying I am grateful for family.

Now that I have officially left home for the first time, successfully traveled internationally on my own for the first time – switched flights successfully and gone through a three-hour long immigration – and basically just experienced a bunch of other first times – I feel a bit weird.

As if there is a rope tied around my waist, but its connecting me to nothing anymore.

I’m definitely not experiencing the full effects of moving abroad yet because I had family a few hours from where my college is, and they were kind enough to take care of me for a few days before international student orientation.

breakfast view

I’ve never met these relatives before, but I feel so at home. Day 3 is going good so far and I didn’t have to deal with too much jet lag. There was definitely exhaustion after the 48 hours of no sleep while I was traveling, but I made up for some of that with 11 hours of sleep at night, all according to US timings. That was a win.

And while I am recording my first few days’ experience here, can I just say my favorite part is the TREES? I did not expect that.  I’m in a cute town in New Jersey, and all I stared at on the drive from JFK Airport to New Jersey was the greenery. Also let me put it out there that the spaced-out roads and open space reminded me of Islamabad and the greenery was somewhat like Lahore. The traffic was like a more civilized version of what I endured on roads in Karachi for the past couple of years.

Other noteworthy things include:

  • JFK airport staff is surprisingly unhelpful even if they see you are close to tears because you haven’t slept in 36 hours, just came out of a three hour immigration line where you were fighting to stay awake, and can’t find your luggage and are terrified you will have no clothes for college and collapse in exhaustion. They are quite unhelpful and tell you to wait for someone from your airline to attend to you. Even if you have to wait the whole damn night (I’m assuming.)
  • JFK TSA (if that’s who they were) folk are nice to you if you look half-asleep and like a weakling who can’t shove your baggage onto the security ramp.
  • It helps to have both origin times and destination times on you for at least a few hours after you land. I kept referring to my phone for US timings and to my watch for Pakistan timings and to be honest, that was all that kept me busy during immigration. Just thinking about how my parents were up at 3am back home, waiting to hear from me after immigration was done.
  • Jersey sweet corn is actually sweet.
  • All the houses and motels along the highway look like something out of a storybook or a movie, with small, raised front porches and triangular roofs from my kindergarten drawing pages.
  • I saw one of these houses and imagined a shirtless man with a paunch and rolls under his neck, staring angrily at traffic and THEN I SAW HIM TWO HOUSES DOWN. Movie depictions are real, so far. Amen.
  • The Point Pleasant beach and boardwalk is so picturesque. It would probably be wild if you were on a hallucinogenic drug or something and roamed among the arcade games and small kiosks set up.
  • Martell’s has great fried calamari finger food. I would go back there if only it served in a quieter environment where I could dig in, with a propped-up book and a view of the beach. I would probably still go back there despite the noise – God bless finger food.
  • Outdoor outlet malls are so pretty?! I don’t know the name or exact location of the one I visited but it was pretty and that’s all that’s important.
  • Sheep under your window can be quite loud if you live in a quiet neighborhood with little or no traffic.
  • THE DISCOUNTS ARE INSANE?? Remind me to grab all the discount and awards cards. Bargains are bloody thrilling. My winter boots went down from 55 bucks to $20 or something. (?!)

That should be about a good run-down of my first three days. Maybe I’ll keep updating here, just to document my transition into this new life with college and culture shocks and crazy-ass discounts.

Oh and if anyone decides to read this and lives in the US, hit me with any advice you might have for an international kid in the US!