By Faisal Pakkali
I used to write poetry. Don’t worry, I’m better now. During the days of angst and poetry, my life consisted of Tumblr posts, Instagram, little pastel graphics I’d make that were nothing really (but got quite a few likes), quirky romance movies with oddball characters and guilty pictures of actors on the ipod touch that I begged my parents to buy for me. And of course, poetry. My secret was Pablo Neruda:
“I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.”
Ah, how my heart flutters even now. Of course when I read my own poetry from back then, it is not such a pleasant experience for my heart or my ego. But in those days poetry was my one weapon against the world. And the world, looming large, was my mom. When you are a fifteen-year-old girl in an orthodox Tamil Muslim household, you don’t spend much time going out of the house. Thus by this time I had developed acute cabin fever against my house and my mom. At least my dad came home late. But my mom would always be there, sharper than my conscience ever was.
Once I was in my room on my laptop. I was watching a Jonas Brothers live performance on YouTube. I was watching Joe on the mike and all the girls screaming. It seemed that each and every one of them was more beautiful than I was. None of them had the inflamed red spot I was sporting on my nose just then. None of them had to hide their hair under a scarf. Speaking of which, none of them had my frizzy hair. My mom was beautiful with fair clear skin and high cheekbones and full lips. I am on the other hand oily skinned and acne prone with chubby thighs.
Just then my mom entered my room with some clothes to arrange in my cupboard. I closed the window on my laptop, but she had noticed what I was watching. I could not prevent myself from looking shifty even though, technically, I hadn’t done anything wrong. She did not prevent herself from flaring her nostrils and nodding her head. She quietly arranged the clothes in my cupboard and went out. Then she came back in with some more clothes that she started stacking in my cupboard once more. As she did so she murmured:
“You know Neimat, you’ve changed a lot these days. So much Ibadah you had. Now you’re starting to change.”
“What?’ I asked. I hated the high pitched petulant tone of my voice.
“These days your mind is not where it should be. That’s all.”
But then she went on, “What are you doing all the time on the computer Neimat? Hm? You know your aunts and all don’t even allow your cousins on Facebook. What are you doing chatting all the time?”
“Just be careful Neimat. And remember Allah is watching. All this is natural.”
There was a vague, ominous tone to her words, cocked and loaded with menacing implications. She would have done well as a member of the Mafia.
“Shaitan will put these thoughts in your head at your age. But you must be strong.”
I sighed. “Yes mom.” I said.
She turned around and the severe look on her face softened. She smiled and, coming closer, took my face in both her hands, her cool fingers stroking my cheeks.
“My Neimat is strong I know. At least you have Ibadah and pray five times a day. As long as you do that Shaitan will stay away a bit.”
“Ya Allah help me purify my thoughts and my body. Keep the devil far from me and help me be a good Muslim.”
I imagined my mom nodding approvingly as I did so. But I feel like we pray to different Gods. Her God had flared nostrils, his hands were on his hips and he took account of each action and thought, nodding his head vengefully and biding the time when he could punish you.
My Allah, when I imagine him in my head, has the face of my grandfather, wrinkled with time and smiles. As a child my grandfather always used to take me for trips into town back in Tirunelveli. He would get me these red apple-shaped lollies at one of the stalls in the junction. I didn’t know him well after those days and when he died (when I was around eleven) I didn’t feel particularly sad, but from my early childhood Allah has always had the face of my grandfather.
And my Allah wept for me when I did stupid things and was happy for me when something nice happened to me. He was loving and forgiving and above all understanding. He understood how bad my day was when I don’t respond to mom’s attempts at a conversation. He understood the fears mom felt when she saw her daughter growing up.
Sometimes I just go through the motions when I pray. But he understands. Allah has ninety nine names in Islam. I gave him a hundredth: “The Understander.”
I once showed my mother a poem I had written specially for her. It was a bitter, symbolic interior monologue that dealt with the relationship between the two of us.
I gave my mom the iPad in her room. I had posted it on my poetry blog (I have since deleted the blog). The olive green drapes were drawn against the sunlight and a warm green light rippled throughout the room. She read it lying on the bed. It took her nearly ten minutes to say anything. All the while I walked around the room excitedly trying to occupy myself. I picked up and set down knick knacks from the shelves while giving sideward glances to my mom’s impassive face lit up by the blue glow of the iPad.
What kind of a reaction did I expect?