C for Consistency

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“Homeostasis”- the tendency toward a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological processes.

In simpler words: Things must stay the way they are.

I am a big homeostasis fan for everything in my life- while every single day is different for me, I like to maintain some form of homeostasis or another. I am the type of person who doesn’t get bored with the same food or the same routine everyday. I rather freak out when things deviate from the normal.

Which happens often, I must add.

I relate to Sheldon Lee Cooper quite well as a person. While my friends might say I am Amy Farrah Fowler I beg to differ. I am Sheldon Cooper. With a v-jay-jay.

Anyways, one thing that has been engraved in my brain since day 1 of training is that in order to get results, I have to be consistent. A few cheat meals here and there is fine, and there are rest days but it is very important to go to the gym almost everyday and do something. And eat clean.

Now, for a person with eating disorder eating clean may be a challenge. I used to (still do sometimes) eat uncontrollably, and I enjoy eating crap a.k.a food-I-am-not-supposed-to-eat. My World’s Best Trainer not only trains me but occasionally tells me what to eat and what not to eat. And guess what? I actually listen to him.
One thing I have realized about succeeding in health battles is that I have to maintain homeostasis as best as I can, and today I am going to share a few things that I have been doing and how they have helped me.

First things first: C.O.N.S.I.S.T.E.N.C.Y
It is important that you give yourself pep-talks everyday to keep going and not giving up. Giving up can be alluring and one day can easily become one week and all your hard work can vanish just like that. So make sure you have your charts/documents/files/folders/Google Doc ready and updated. For me, I maintain a Google Doc to keep track of all my workouts, including weekly progress, weight increments, body mass etc. For my food intake, I use the MyFitnessPal app on my phone. But I am at a point where I can easily eyeball things, or commit my calories to memory and know how much I am consuming. So step 1 is just to become that nerd with a color-coded schedule who sticks to the routine. You will feel a lot better if you can stick to things. At least I feel accomplished every time I finish a certain set of workout and update my progress in my Google Doc.

“I actually listen to him.”

There are 3 things I strongly believe in life:
1. Praying is very important, God listens;
2. Study Chemistry everyday, leave it for a day and it will leave you for a month;
3. Always listen to your trainer.

And I follow mine religiously. He is the best!

My World’s Best Trainer has taught me a lot about staying healthy and I feel obligated to share them:
Having taught him what ‘Bhuri’ is (bhuri is the Bangla for pot-belly/bulging tummy/tummy with rolls and everything), I have been reminded several times that “Bhuri has more to do with diet than exercise!” This means that while working the core muscles is important, losing belly fat is a more diet dependent process than anything else. So what happens to a person like me who has a love/hate relationship with food and has the wildest food cravings? What can be done? I clearly lack in self-control whenever I see curly fries, or any fries for that matter!
My World’s Best Trainer told me something that has become my motto now. I was telling him one day how I’ve been good with my diet except I couldn’t resist eating curly fries at Pollock Commons for dinner the night before. He explained to me how curly fries- fries– are big NO-NOs. “Every time you feel the urge to eat fries, go and grab a plate of broccolis. I want you to grab all the broccolis in the world and eat them, but DO NOT eat curly fries!” he said. And I decided to take it to my heart. It was hard. It was difficult. It still is. I mean come on! We are comparing curly fries to broccolis. BROCCOLIS! So being the fat girl at heart that I am, I certainly had to convince myself a great deal to accept the deliciousness that is broccoli. Since then my World’s Best Trainer and I have own hashtag: #TB #TeamBroccoli!
Here’s to all the ‘fat at heart‘ people: It is difficult. Trust me. It is a torture seeing those curly fries ready to be eaten, and then having to walk away from them. It physically hurts. My hypothalamus screams in pain and curses me ten million times! But here’s the thing: you don’t have to change overnight. It never happens overnight. I cheated for weeks until I got used to it. I went from a bowl of curly fries, to half a bowl of curly fries and half a bowl of broccolis to all broccolis. It’s very tempting to cheat. I know. I am always tempted to not eat those veggies. I am always attracted by that bowl of Jasmine rice. I want to go eat those burgers and what not. But then I remember all those times I cursed myself at the gym for letting go for so long. I think about all the times when my World’s Best Trainer had to pull me up from the floor after an intense circuit. It helps.

Accepting is winning half the battle. I accepted the fact that I had an unhealthy lifestyle. I accepted the fact that I needed to work on my body. I accepted that I am obese. It made working hard and sticking to it easier. Accept your flaws boldly. Accepting doesn’t mean hating yourself. I love myself- whether a size 14 or a size 10! The way my World’s Best Trainer puts it, “You’re just becoming a better version of yourself.” And that’s all it really needs to be. And know that we all have different body goals. You might see someone at the gym working with a 50-lb weight and you’ll be there holding a 5-lb, don’t beat yourself up over the fact that you can’t lift that weight yet. You both have your individual game plans. Just go out there and be the best you there is!

Remember: Acceptance, consistency and broccolis. They’re all in this together!
And until next time: wear teal with pride, fight like a girl and… eat broccolis!

#TeamBroccoli

#TeamBroccoli

C for Cyst, C for Courage

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After such an enthusiastic response from all the readers worldwide on PCOS, I have decided to publish a series of blogs about my PCOS journey hoping that it would help others like me living with this condition.

As a PCOS patient, something that I always struggle with is my weight and staying fit. It is normal that PCOS will cause weight fluctuations and will also result in lethargy, and my story is no different. I am the kind of person who always tries to eat well and I have been relatively active throughout my whole life- swimming, dancing, golfing or recreational walking- I have always tried to incorporate some kind of activity in my life although they never helped me too much (mostly because I kept switching around so much!). So, long story short: I had never stepped inside a gym. Ever. In my whole life.

When my Papa suggested getting ‘strong’ by graduation and that it should be my thing for 2017, it is needless to say that I was scared. I knew the basic treadmill and elliptical but I had no idea what to do inside a gym. I hated gyms and I hated people who’re gym rats. I was too conscious to ever step inside a gym, I always wore the wrong clothes and mostly looked around at other people while huffing and puffing after 5 minutes on a treadmill. So it is needless to say that deep down inside I was screeching paying for the gym membership I was never going to use. My mom suggested getting a trainer to get myself started, which sounded like a good and bad idea simultaneously. Good idea because it was going to get me started and someone would actually be there to help me. Bad because I was too conscious, lazy and not brave enough.

The day I first met my trainer, I went prepared with my list of Don’ts and Can’ts. In short, I was not ready to give my 100% and with all my health complications I was pretty sure he was no going to help me out in day 2. However, his contagious positive attitude towards every little thing I did encouraged me so much that I decided to have him train me for the whole semester- and from here onwards, he’ll be referred to as the World’s Best Trainer.

C is for Cyst, ergo Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). C is also for the word Courage. When you’ve heard ‘fat’, ‘fatty’, ‘fat ass’ or similar words growing up, it is very natural for a person to be overly self-conscious and not have self-confidence. For a girl who projected confidence all the time, I had zero confidence with my body. And even worse, I refused to do something about it. In order to bring about a change and to actually make it effective, it would require me to get my ass out of my couch/bed and head to the gym- which was not my thing! And for a person with zero body confidence, I was not willing to wear exercise clothes that emphasized on areas I was out of shape in, areas that needed work done and areas that are good for nothing. So to actually put myself in exercise clothes- my grey leggings and a black performance t-shirt, for the first day when I had to go see my World’s Best Trainer– it required me to gather all of my courage. I had a melt down, an anxiety attack, an-exaggerated-almost-heart-attack, a bout of depression and some very questionable thoughts about my existence when I saw myself in the mirror. It took me a new supply of courage to put on my running shoes and fill my water bottle. And then I had to look around and gather more courage to start walking towards the gym.

Stepping inside the gym and looking around scared the crap out of me! If I were a cartoon, you’d see my eyes popping out and my heart pushing out of the ribcage! As part of my ‘orientation’ when my World’s Best Trainer asked me to ‘try’ the rower, I forgot to breathe. I was smiling because that’s my default face but clearly I was not about to get on that machine. Deep down inside, I was scared, overwhelmed, terrified and mortified already and it was just the first thing he asked me to do. I had to force myself to gather all the courage in me and sit on that machine. It felt crazy that I was about to try out a machine. Inside a gym. With a trainer (who has the body of John Cena) next to me. I don’t think any word exists in English language to express how I felt at that moment. The next thing I knew, I had just rowed 800 meters on a rower at my first go! The rest of the orientation, then, was pretty smooth in terms of my anxiety, embarrassment and mortification. I tried tricep extensions, some low rows and leg press. I even tried planks! My planks were awful but I tried them anyways.

That day I walked out of the gym with a big smile on my face- having done something I’d never done before, and having acquired a new friend in the form of my World’s Best Trainer.

I got home and looked at myself in the mirror. I still saw those rolls, those cellulite and the bad posture, but I also saw a brave girl. I saw someone who had the courage to fight back the negativity she grew up with. I saw someone who had enough courage to step out of her comfort zone and try something new in order to bring a positive change in her life. I saw someone who had the courage to smile despite the throbbing legs and arms. I saw a girl who had courage.

And the next day I used all those courage to walk back into the gym ALL BY MYSELF to ‘workout’.

Courage.

A small word that can bring mammoth changes in a person’s life.

The first C, that I believe, all PCOS patients need to have is courage. Have that courage inside you. I know it is easier said that done. Trust me I have been there. It is the worst feeling to have to fight so many things and gather that courage. It sucks. It drains you. It takes time. It takes several counseling sessions with yourself while taking showers. It takes even more counseling sessions with yourself as you look in the mirror. I have done them all. But once you can gather that courage and redirect it towards something as constructive and positive as trying to make a change for your own self, it can move mountains. Think of it this way, we are already brave enough to deal and live with PCOS at a regular basis. We freaking have the courage to look those damned ovaries in the eyes (!) and scream ‘Bring it on!’. So why can’t we have the same courage to start taking small steps towards doing something good? And it doesn’t have to be joining the gym or getting a trainer. It can start with something as simple as substituting your side of fries with a side of broccoli or green beans. Or, may be just doing 5 squats in your bedroom. The important thing is to have the courage to fight back urges and cravings- the urge to crawl back to our cocoon of safety and accept that we can’t help ourselves, and the crazy cravings for food that might make going slightly difficult for us. Hence, just try to make sure your C for Courage is always higher in the scale than your C for Cyst. It is difficult but not impossible. Just trust yourself.

This was my first C in the journey. As the time progresses, I will be revealing my other C’s I use to combat my PCOS. ‘Til then, fight like a girl and wear teal with pride. Blessings. xx

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HOPE
Ramisa Fariha, September 2015
Media- Chalk

Fiction: She Complained

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I am a modern guy- I go to rock and heavy metal concerts, I drink and party hard. I have a lot of female friends. I have one night stands. I drink and smoke. I am a software engineer working for Epicor Retail Software in Montreal, Canada.

Sure my story started in a small town back in India, but I am not your typical Indian man.

I hated being in my small village of Ahmednagar in Maharashtra, and I worked hard enough to reach where I am. Ever since I moved to Montreal I had been home only once, and I wasn’t thrilled with all the heat and pollution. With my father in a critical condition, and the immigration paperwork still stuck in the pipeline, I rushed home to my village to move my father to a better location for proper treatment as soon as I got the news of his first heart attack.

It was the year 2010, around November. We were in Mumbai hospital: the walls had several marks on them from spits and foot prints and I even spotted a few betel leaf spits on the faded sky blue walls of the hospital; a few candy wrappers were seen on the corners, hidden behind potted plants that needed proper grooming. Doctors and nurses- male and female- in their ‘once upon a time white but now dirty in pollution’ outfits were running frantically. My mother, Aai, sat on a chair, with worn out leather and spring peeling through the covers, and covered her mouth with the anchal of her saree as she sobbed. I paced back and forth outside the Emergency unit while the doctors took care of my father. This is the best they have, I wish I could just take Baba to Canada with me right now! I thought as I walked back and forth in frustration.

After waiting outside the Emergency unit for what seemed like forever, Dr. Shetty walked up to Aai and I and informed us that everything was safe, and we didn’t have to worry about anything. Baba was safe. But little did I know that I wasn’t going to be safe following that incident! Here’s an important lesson from the book of Indian Children- Indian parents will emotionally blackmail you whenever they are unwell. Tried, tested and proven. As Aai and I walked in once Baba was conscious, both Aai and Baba cried in unison. I couldn’t help but tell them it was all my fault for not being able to take them with me to Montreal. I wished I could speed up the immigration process but I certainly couldn’t do much about it. That’s when it happened.

“Beta, we are both old, and it gets harder for us every outstanding day to take care of each other,” Baba said, with much difficulty, losing breath in almost every other word.
“I understand that Baba, but the immigration process isn’t in my control. I certainly can’t move back home, so tell me what else can I do?”  I tried so hard to be a good son, and controlled myself from snapping, how could I snap at a person who just had the second myocardial infarction within the span of a month?
“Beta, we have been thinking…” Aai started the sentence, wiping away the tears and brining a soft smile to her face. Just the sound of it sounded like trouble.

And I was forced to hop on to the train to the crazy town called “vivah”- marriage.

“Beta, I understand you feel terrible about not being able to take care of us, and with my current health, I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fly to Canada. My last wish before I die is to see you happily married,” Baba spoke laying in the hospital bed, when Aai started sobbing again, her anchal fixated on her mouth as she sobbed.
I looked all around me- the dirty floor, the fading walls, the hopeless ceiling with the plaster falling off in places- everywhere except looking at my parents straight in the eyes. I was being emotionally blackmailed into something I was not ready for. As a man, it was important that I protested for my freedom, “But Baba, I am not ready to get married, and I didn’t come prepared to get married. I just don’t want to do this!” I voiced my opinion, hoping that my voice was firm enough to deter Aai and Baba from their stand.
“Listen to this boy, Madhavi, this is the day we brought him up to be a man- to refuse his father’s dying wish! Do you hear this child?” my father spoke, still struggling to voice his words properly, grasping my mother’s fingers tightly. Aai had started crying loudly by then, and took all the blame on her for ‘spoiling’ me with all her love.
Because I was desperate to make my parents happy and the guilt in me for leaving them behind piled up to a mammoth size in my chest, I threw in the towel. And that is how I got stuck marrying Sandhiya. Of course I was a person of morals and called and broke up with my then girlfriend Isabella, the drop-dead-gorgeous Mexican co-worker, the beauty with brains, I was dating.

Sandhiya was the neighbor’s daughter who took care of my parents when I was away and that’s how my parents decided that she was going to be their daughter-in-law. In my absence, my mother explained, Sandhiya helped my mother clean the house, chopped vegetables, read books to my father and made, to quote Aai, “the world best Aam rass and poori” (tortilla chips with mango dip). I first saw Sandhiya the night of our engagement. It seemed like she needed major reconstruction- she was nothing like any of my ex-girlfriends. She walked in wearing a neon orange saree, a little to bright for her complexion. Sandhiya was very dark skinned- while I am a modern man with modern values, and I claim to not be a typical Indian man, but generational habits die hard. I am that typical Indian man in certain aspects- I incline towards women with lighter skin, and Sandhiya definitely wasn’t my cup of tea. Her hair was dripping of coconut oil and was tied back in a ponytail underneath her transparent head scarf. It looked like she had never been to a beauty parlor- her eye brows were all over the place, her hands were not waxed, and she had crimson lipstick on her teeth from the excessive use of it. Her face was almost plastered with white makeup- a little too uneven and light for her tone. I was almost embarrassed and angry that my parents thought she was eligible enough to be my wife.

I mean, I know I wasn’t expecting to see some Miss World at our small Maharashtran village, but I was expecting someone better than…well, her!

So I basically became the Lamb of God for my parents in an attempt to return their favor to this innocent neighbor girl, who was definitely doing somersaults in her heart getting to marry me- the 5-foot-9 tanned creation of God, complete with 6 pack abs, a goatee covering the chin dip, and intelligent hazel-brown eyes.

On our first night I made it very clear to her that I wasn’t going to touch her, ever. I told her I was flying away in a few days and may be come by once a year but I basically married her to take care of my parents. And that she shouldn’t expect a husband’s love or affection from me. Of course I had to spit the words out in Maharashtran because this girl didn’t know a word of English.
“Soonn (listen), you are going to sleep there tonight. And away from me, always, got it?” I commanded my new bride, wearing a bright red wedding saree, and her usual terrible makeup, staring at me with her bright brown eyes. I realized I was being a jerk, but I had to establish my territory for future references. The floor was at least clean, although would be slightly chilly at night for a local girl; “Here, take this,” and I handed Sandhiya only a pillow, and no blanket or comforter because there was only one in the room that I wanted for myself- just in case it rained and I got cold. “It’s okay. I am fine,” and I saw her walk slowly towards the corner of the room, still in her bridal wear, and lay down on her side using her henna painted palms as a pillow. She never complained.

I hadn’t talked to her once for almost up to three months since I moved back to Montreal. It wasn’t until my parents started coaxing me, and then emotionally blackmailing me with their “We are old and we want to see our grandchildren before we die” card. As a spouse, Sandhiya’s immigration was much more accelerated than my parents and I travelled back to India in a year to bring her back to Montreal with me.

As we travelled on the plane, Sandhiya looked at everything with amazement. What else could I expect from a girl who had never stepped out of the small village. I was very embarrassed to be seen in public with her, and I made sure she didn’t have that hideous make up on, or didn’t reek of coconut oil.

“Do you watch movies?” I asked her as I strapped on the seat belt for her in the plane, because I was not ready or willing to entertain that mess for 20 hours on air. “I like Ranbir Kapoor,” Sandhiya whispered in a quivery tone, as if speaking louder would have angered me- I was angry already. “Hmm,” I replied, and put on some cheesy romantic film of Ranbir Kapoor on her seatback television, and concentrated on my favorite Mila Kunis on Friends with Benefits playing on my screen.

It was a beautiful summer evening when we landed on Montreal. Once we got home, I had to establish my boundaries with Sandhiya, again.

“Listen, you will stay here, in this room. And that over there is my room. Don’t come and bother me. I am always busy, okay?” I made things very clear, in my male dominating voice, in a rather derogatory tone to her the moment we stepped inside my house and I took her luggage to the guest room. She nodded in agreement. That night I ordered in some sushi, ate and slept following my usual routine. I took a nice hot shower before I went to bed. She didn’t know how to work the shower. Sandhiya later told me that she showered in ice cold water and went to bed hungry, shivering in cold, but that night she didn’t complain.  

I had given Sandhiya clear instruction on how she was supposed to always refer to me as Sir and with respect- but I certainly didn’t respect her enough, didn’t respect her at all– and she always followed those instructions. She cooked and cleaned for me and she never asked for anything in return. She always waited for me to get home, served dinner and ate only after I was done eating. She reminded me of the perfect Indian housewife on one of those cheesy Hindi daily soaps. She had curious eyes, but they trembled in fear once in a while- of doing something wrong and being yelled at by me. I didn’t thank her the night she made her “world best Aam rass and poori,” I didn’t thank her for packing my lunch every day, I didn’t thank her for the special dinner she made on my birthday. I didn’t even thank her the night she struggled to make the chicken I brought home, because she remained true to her vegetarian God unlike me, and it was equivalent to a murder for her, but she never complained.

My friends knew about this little accident of mine called marriage and that my wife had moved in with me from India. So they demanded a party from me as a celebration and as an excuse to meet my wife. I agreed to it and went home with a bunch of groceries, and some beauty products. I realized Sandhiya hadn’t asked for a thing from me since she moved in with me. I had never checked to see if she needed body wash, shampoo, soap, toothpaste or makeup. I hadn’t asked her how she was doing; once. As I returned home that night, Sandhiya smiled at me when I handed her the items I bought for her.
“Here, take these. I have some shampoo, soap, makeup stuff and a dress for you. Use them. For tomorrow. Don’t ruin them. And don’t do any crazy oily hair, or white makeup. Okay?” I said, as I handed her the Walmart bags.
She nodded her head and smiled at me for the first time since we got married. I had never noticed until that moment that Sandhiya had a beautiful smile. Her smile had the innocence of a child, and yet flaunted the beauty of a woman through her dimples. And she actually looked decent when she smiled.
“Thank you,” she said, in her soft, husky yet melodious voice, trying to suppress her joy, too afraid that I might take it away from her.
“Let me know if you need anything else, okay?” I offered, trying to be nice.
She almost walked away, but returned hesitantly.
“Is it okay if I do puja (pray) in the morning?” she asked, not looking at me straight in the eyes.
“Hmm…” I replied, that could have translated to a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ had it not been my nodding in agreement, with my eyes glued to the sports section of the newspaper. If I had looked up from the newspaper at that moment, I would have noticed a victory smile on Sandhiya’s face, as she stood there for a minute appreciating my kindness that night, tracing my presumably perfect face. Sandhiya, months later, told me that she loved watching me read the newspaper from afar, “You seem to forget the whole world, all your tension and stress,” she said. She said she loved watching my thick dark eyebrows crinkle occasionally as I’d read a bad news, and she loved watching me smile at the sight of a good news.

The next day I instructed her to not call me Sir in front of my friends but call me by my name.
“Call me Taran, okay? In front of them. Okay?” I tried easing her into the situation and making sure she understood my words. “Okay,” she replied softly.
Later that night she referred to me as Taran for exactly three times, and never had my name sounded sweeter. Ever. And surprisingly she didn’t embarrass me in front of my friends. If anything, she surprised me, and looked presentable in the grey dress I bought her.
“So Sandy, what’s your favorite movie?” Alex, my co-worker and best friend, asked Sandhiya, completely butchering her name. She didn’t seem to mind. As I parted my lips to translate Alex’s question, I heard her reply, “Friends with Benefits” with a smile, “Hey that’s T’s favorite movie too!” the astonished Alex replied. I was surprised, and yet oddly satisfied by her response. We had never talked about any of our likeness, hobbies or anything in particular. I was surprised Sandhiya understood Alex’s question. I was surprised she remembered the movie I watched on the plane.

Later that night I gave her the permission to call me Taran at all times. I saw her smile again.

Months later during the winter, I got home late one night. It was David’s farewell party at work and then a bunch of us went out for a few drinks. I came home to find Sandhiya asleep on the couch, crunched up in cold. She didn’t know how to operate the heating system. I went straight to bed. At 29, I had been working hard to support my family for years, made sacrifices and chased money; I was mechanical and the human inside me was almost dead. Or so I thought. Laying in bed I couldn’t fall asleep. I knew she always ate after me, and I wasn’t sure if she ate that night. So walked up to the living room couch. Sandhiya looked beautiful sleeping. Her dark skin shined in the dim light from above, and she had a sense of peace and calm in her face as she slept. I woke her up and asked, “Did you eat?”
Puzzled, she looked up at me, with her hair flying in all directions. I repeated my question, “Did you eat, or nah?” “No,” she finally replied, “I was waiting for you,” her voice lingering in lumber. “Hmm,” was all I said before I went to the kitchen and started microwaving some food for her. With my gaze fixed at the rotational movement of the plate of rice, vegetables and rice inside the microwave, I recalled all the other nights when I had returned home and went straight to bed, without checking on her, without asking whether she had eaten or not. That night she finally got the permission to eat without having to wait for me. For a change, that night I served her the food and watched her eat with her tiny hands. She smiled hard as I stared at her while she ate. She later told me she went to bed the happiest that night, although she had a fever. I wasn’t aware of the fever because she never complained.

It was first day of snow of the season that I first took her out with me for a non-grocery reason. I wanted to show this little village girl her first snow. As it started to snow and the snow fell down on her head, it was as if a 110 kilowatts power energized her. She seemed the happiest I had ever seen her. I bought her jeans and boots and a bunch of ‘Western’ outfits. In her jacket, jeans and boots, she didn’t look like the Sandhiya I married a year and a half back. She looked like any modern day Indo-Canadian woman, playing in the snow. She couldn’t contain her excitement and she started running back and forth with her arms wide open. The pink-purple glow of the twilight sky tinted her face in a beautiful aura of red and pink- the kind you would only see when a light-skinned girl blushed. As a husband, I never made enough efforts to make Sandhiya blush, and may be that’s why I never knew how she’d look if she’d blushed. She was elated, and her body motions exaggerated. It reminded me of my first time seeing snow- I was jumping around like a baby too! I stood afar and looked lovingly at my wife; for the first time.

And then I saw her standing still, with her eyes closed, facing the sky. She held her arms wide open- welcoming the cold snow, that I only imagined was piercing through her cold intolerant dark skin. Her lips were slightly parted. I noticed she was wearing a light pink shade of lipstick. I was also able to trace the hint of kohl she had on her eyes; closed at the moment. She embraced mother nature, with her arms wide open. She didn’t hold grudge against mother nature for punishing her with the extreme Maharashtran heat and then the brutal Québec cold. She woke up every morning to pray and thank God. She never complained, to God, for putting her through so much; for making her leave home and getting stuck with me thousands of miles away from home, alone for the most part. As Sandhiya stood there, unaware of my aching heart- overwhelmed in guilt- I admired the dark-skinned beauty that’s my wife.

I realized she was beautiful; may be not in the most conventional way- she didn’t have the most perfect features, except her expressive big brown eyes; her nose was rather too small and rounded, and her forehead pushed forward like tulip petals, and her rounded face wasn’t the most feminine. But her eyes- still closed- said a lot. At the spur of the moment, I realized that I had never admired anyone’s eyes as much as I admired hers at that moment. I loved seeing her eyes as happiness and joy cascaded through her pupils occasionally. And her ample delicate lips contributed much to her beauty. As she stood there, her lips still slightly parted, I noticed the opaline snowflakes make their way towards my beautiful wife. For the first time ever, I felt the mechanical robot inside me transform to a human. I noticed the intricate shapes of the tiny snowflakes as they moved and admired this creation of the elephant-headed God, Ganesha, I had long forgotten but only remembered because the girl who stood in front of me believed in him whole-heartedly and prayed to him every single day. As I saw the snowflakes fall, one after another, on her face, I tip-toed towards my wife. Sandhiya, still absorbed in her first snow moment, didn’t feel how close I had gotten to her.

As my ice-kissed wife stood with her eyes closed, I held her by the waist and pulled her towards me. She stood frozen in astonishment. I tilted her face down towards me, holding her chin between the index finger and the thumb of my right hand and placed my lips on to hers. We kissed for the first time as the twilight changed into a dark night sky and the snow kept falling. Sandhiya, surprised in the moment, didn’t understand what was going on, until I paused, let go of her lips and cupped her beautiful face with my hands and looked straight into her beautiful brown eyes.
“You are beautiful, and I love you, and I am glad you are mine. Forever.”

And continued to kiss her until she finally kissed me back.

Sandhiya, or Sandy as I occasionally teased her, still continued to be the timid Maharashtran girl even though I encouraged her to be wild. However, following her first snow evening we embraced our relationship and continued to learn more about each other. She would often mention how much she loves my nose, “Your nose is like a koala bear’s. I like koala bears,” she would tell me, stroking the tip my nose with hers. The more I got to know Sandhiya, the more I respected her. She had to give up her university education because her father could only afford to send one child to school which was her younger brother following the heavy dowry he had to give at her sister Bindiya’s wedding. Sandhiya wanted to study Astronomy in university because she loved the stars, they mesmerized her.

“My Aai-Baba were always worried that I’d be a burden on them- I couldn’t finish my education for financial reasons, and I am not pretty,” she would often tell me over our morning coffee, “They never thought someone would marry me without a huge dowry. Thank you, Taran,” she would add, with a smile and a glint of tear in her eyes. And every time she thanked me, I apologized to her for being a jerk all along, “Honey I am so sorry. I never gave you a chance. I was a fool! I was a stupid!” I would growl in self-loathe, which she often took as her queue to hug me. The more I got to know her, the more she amazed me. She grew up being bullied for her complexion, for being ‘ugly’, and I was nothing but a bully to her the whole time.

“I am happy Mishu is getting the education. He is a very bright boy,” Sandhiya would smile thinking about his younger brother who was in 11th grade then. I admired her more and more as days went by. My wife was a strong woman- being bullied her whole life, being called names and always called ‘ugly’, she never complained; despite being a bright student she had to give up her education and her dreams for her siblings, but she never complained; she had to work odd jobs to support her family and had to live with the mental pressure of being a burden, yet she never complained; and finally, when she thought she found her way out of the misery, she was stuck being ill-treated by me for months and still she never complained. I was proud to have her in my life, and with every passing day her smile became the reason for my existence. I found myself loving her more and more every day, it was as if I woke up every day trying to make her happy and considered it a successful day if she went to bed with a smile.

I never said no to anything she wanted, because she never voiced her demands. She would giggle like a child if I would ever pick up some flowers for her on my way home. Unless she really needed something, my Sandhiya never asked for anything. She was 32 weeks pregnant, and I was too busy with work following my recent promotion to stay home and take care of her.  Sandhiya wanted to be with her family in her crucial time of need. Although I was strongly opposed to having our first child born in India, I couldn’t say no. It was the first time she had ever asked for something.

“Taran, may I please go? I really want to be home. Your Aai Baba will be there too. I will feel better if I am there with everyone,” she pleaded, her beautiful eyes lined with kohl projecting how much she missed home.
“Fine,” I replied with a sigh, and grabbed her hands, pulling her close to me, “I’ll make arrangements for you to go home, but promise me you’ll take care of yourself, okay?” to which she nodded with a grin, “And I promise I’ll be there as soon as I can get my days off approved, but most likely closer to delivery,” and I kissed her on the forehead.
“I love you,” was all she said in return before she buried her head in my neck.

“Honey, I promise I’ll be by your side in a heartbeat whenever you need me,” I told her, implanting a kiss on her forehead as I dropped her off at the airport. Her decision still seemed crazy to me, going to India at such a crucial time for our first child’s birth, but everything was about her happiness then. Sandhiya, gradually and eventually, became the core of my being- the gravity that held my entire universe together. And in her words, “Soon we are going to have the Sun that will hold our solar system together,” referring to our unborn child.

As promised, I was there by her side when she went to labor. It was the same filthy hospital where Baba decided my future with Sandhiya, where I was blackmailed into marrying someone I didn’t love. And I was back there, holding the hands of the most beautiful girl in my life. Life had come to a full circle.

They say childbirth is the most painful experience in the world, and I hated putting her through this. I couldn’t bear to see Sandhiya go through the pain, but I held her hands as she screamed in excruciating pain. Sweat welled up, in her forehead and neck, and the lower half of her body was covered in a sheet, the same shade of white as the doctor’s nasty jacket. I hated the idea that she wanted to do this in that crappy hospital but I stood by her side. Despite the pain, and the screaming, she didn’t complain.

Breech birth. Complications. More screaming. More pain. I was asked to leave the operation theatre at one point. I sat outside with my parents and my in-laws praying to Lord Ganesh, for the safety and well being of the girl who believed in him the most. I saw the panic stricken faces of the doctors and nurses as they moved in and out of the operation theatre, and heard Sandhiya’s piercing screams in the split seconds that the doors opened and closed. Anxious, and angered, I demanded to be inside the operation theatre with my wife, but they wouldn’t let me in.
“This isn’t your Canada,” they said.

After what seemed like the longest two-and-a-half hours of my life Dr. Shetti walked out of the OT, with Sandhiya’s screams silenced in the background.

“Hey beautiful!” I made it a ritual to call her beautiful at least twice a day. I tried to keep my voice as steady as I possibly could, being careful to not express how shattered I was too from the inside. Sandhiya and I had spent weeks and months planning our lives around this child. Back in Montreal, in our home, was a nursery with lime-green walls and cartoon animals drawn on them, filled with toys, waiting to welcome someone. How could I take her back there knowing now that the mere sight of that room would kill us both over and over again?

She laid in the dirty looking hospital bed, almost lifeless. The pain and the screaming were all gone. Sandhiya’s face was blank, and her eyes wide and expressionless, staring up at the hospital ceiling. I noticed the ceiling- it must have been white initially- but now was a filthy shade of yellow-beige. I stood next to her motionless body, and stroked her hair and forehead. She often told me it calmed her down and made her feel safe.

The entire room was silent. The only audible sounds were the urgent voices of doctors from the outside and patients’ panicking relatives, dampened by the doors; and the sounds of the machines hooked to my wife’s stationary body. Beep Beep Beep.

With a blank look on her face, and her eyes fixated on the dirty hospital ceiling, Sandhiya spoke in a dead voice.

“Why me, Taran?”

I looked at her, not able to answer. She wanted an answer from me. I stared at the strongest girl I knew through the tears welling up in my eyes; her image, then, nothing but a blob refracting through the tears, she repeated the same question in the same dead voice. For the first time ever, I heard Sandhiya loud and clear; she complained.

White Joy- Ramisa Fariha 2017

   

Let’s Talk Taboo: Living with PCOS

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I have been contemplating for years to sit down and write about my ovaries, struggles with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and about women’s health in general. With my 2017 resolutions being doing something I like, and trying something new, I have decided that it’s high time I come clean.

Being originally from a rather conservative society, I grew up knowing that all feminine health issues are meant to be hush-hush, a big time taboo. Everything happens behind closed doors, and we just don’t talk about it. And that’s how life had been for me, until I reached high school where I was the only girl in a class full of boys and all male teachers. Our Biology teacher had to teach us human reproduction and we had to learn the entire menstruation cycle. I came to understand that as uncomfortable as I was being the only girl in class, the boys were even more embarrassed about it. Mr. Moula did a great job in easing us all into the social ‘taboo’, but it wasn’t until one afternoon when I was recalling the menstruation cycle out loud and mixed up estrogen and progesterone. One of my male friends corrected me, to which both my feminine ego and ovaries got pissed, and I replied, “Hey, I am the one who gets ’em!” and we both started laughing. And just like that we shattered all social barriers. However, outside my classroom I still had to keep my bigmouth shut.

 

Around 2011/2012, I was first diagnosed with PCOS. To those who are not from the medical world, this is a condition where the eggs are not released from your ovaries but they just sit in there and swell up the ovaries. This is in fact so common that 1 out of 10 to 20 women of child bearing age have PCOS, and there are 5 million patients diagnosed in the United States alone, with some patients as young as 11 years old. It is the most common hormonal and endocrine disorder in women. PCOS can be pretty complicated and it is different for each patient. My first 6 months of being diagnosed I was put on a wrong medicine, and I was at a state where I hated myself. “You had one job, ovaries!” was all I would tell myself everyday, behind closed doors.

Still in high school, I was too young to understand a lot of the health complications that came with PCOS. I have always been on the heavier side when it comes to body weight, but I had no idea why I was experiencing an unexpected and uncontrolled weight gain. Here’s another thing about the ‘Brown world’- if you are slightly overweight, you have to put up with being called ‘fat’ at a regular basis, and if you are underweight, you are always teased for being ‘skinny’. I was used to my ‘fat/fatty’ tags, but it felt strange getting pointed at for my thinning hairline or growing facial hair. I remember when I got my first pack of birth control as a medication in India. I couldn’t talk to anyone about them, I had to always hide them, and it was so difficult trying to reason my extreme mood swings to the ex-factor. The only way I could remotely talk about ‘ovaries’ was my dream of artificial human ovary fabrication but that’s it.

Now, fast forwarding to my time in the United States. It took me a few months to realize that it was okay to talk about periods, sex, pregnancy and my ovaries in this country. It was good to know that most of the girls around me- for different reasons- were on birth control pills. While it eased my situation a lot, I had yet to know and learn more about PCOS. PCOS is very common, however, it is important to know that the combat with PCOS is not same for everyone: not everyone is good at handling depression, not everyone can handle severe hormonal changes, not everyone can finish everyday work and go to the gym without getting burnt out. Not everyone can withstand feeling ‘less of a woman’. Talking about my battle with PCOS, some of the things I deal with are: thinning hairline, excess facial hair, uncontrollable weight gain, acne, lethargy and depression resulting from hormonal changes. In terms of treatment, PCOS patients are mostly given birth control pills- and trying to find one that suits the body is a struggle in itself! And those who are not aware of it- please go look up some of the side effects of birth control pills. Other treatments include progesterone supply and metformin. Treatment methods vary based on patient’s preferences and tolerance. Because we undergo various hormonal changes, our food habits tend to be strange as well. Being PCOS patient at times is like being a pregnant woman- craving all kinds of random and weird foods at weird times (at least for me), and while some are great at controlling their urges, it can be very challenging for others. But ’til date, I couldn’t- CAN’T- talk about my PCOS journey with anyone back home.

I get judged.
We get judged.

Believe
Ramisa Fariha, February 2017
Media- chalk

I still don’t understand where all the judging comes from but it’s always there! Some of the things I have put up with in the past are remarks like:
“Yeah, my dad’s cousin’s daughter in law’s nephew’s granddaughter (or some similar crap) has it, but she didn’t gain any weight!”
“My cousin’s uncle’s friend’s daughter had it, and now she is married and has 3 daughters. You will be fine!”
“Oh so the birth control has you covered I see!” (In the ‘Brown culture’, sex before marriage is frowned upon, and people just assume you sleep around in the US and hence, the birth control snigger.)
“May be you have it because you are fat!”
“Oh please, all these are just in your head. What do you have to get depressed over?”
“You’ll be fine once you get married” (hint: have sex)
etc.

And you can’t respond to a male’s ‘fat’ remarks with ‘I have PCOS’, because “You don’t discuss those with a man!”

I am discussing body image issues because I believe it is highly linked to PCOS for us patients. One of the drawbacks we have is that we struggle to lose weight. PCOS patients are gifted(!) at gaining weights, but our bodies act against us so bad that we have work ten times harder to maintain the present weight, forget losing any! Exercise certainly helps, but exercise is good for everyone. PCOS patients have to ration the food, have to watch calories a hundred times harder than a regular person, and forget those Starbucks frappuccinos- can’t drink those! And what is frustrating is looking at that damned scale stay unmoved despite all the rationing and exercising. Losing weight helps PCOS a great deal, but at times we just struggle to lose a few pounds!

Here’s what PCOS patients want others to know: we know PCOS is very common. We know so many women combating PCOS with us. We look just like normal human beings, and we certainly are not pregnant (that is those who practice safe sex and everything).  We eat, sleep, walk and talk. We know we will be fine. We know we are not dying. When the time comes, we will figure out whether or not to push a baby out of our uterus. We are well aware of the fact that you are staring at our girl-stache (which is why we bother waxing). We are aware that we shed worse than your cat. We know we may be overweight. We are well aware of that. We try our best to control that and maintain our weight. We know our mood is like London weather- sunny and rainy the same day. We know we can snap at you right after hugging you, and we feel awful about that. For all we know, we can be freakin’ Disney Princesses and still be depressed over the most insignificant things. We honestly wish we could control our depression bouts, but unfortunately they spiral up and down. We are well aware of our faces bursting with acne well past our teen years. We know we get tired much quicker than others no matter how many cups of coffee we drink.Yes we are women. Yes we know we are supposed to have functioning ovaries and get periods every month. But our ovaries are their own rulers- they do whatever they feel like doing! We honestly wish we could do more than we are already doing to fix our ovaries but there’s only so much we can do. We don’t want your shallow empathies, or an assurance of how we will be fine and will be able to have children. We don’t honestly expect to make a big deal out of it either. PCOS, slowly and eventually, becomes a part of us, and despite our hatred for it, it is there with us. The only thing we expect, though, is that you listen to us. We expect to be heard through the social barriers. We expect you to not judge us- not our bodies, not our birth control pills, not our periods, not our ovaries. And that is applicable beyond the area of PCOS- don’t judge anyone!

While I am stating ‘we’, I am taking the liberty to speak for my close friends who are combating PCOS with me. Certainly, we all have a different story, so if I am missing out something that I didn’t experience first hand, my apologies. I am not speaking for ALL PCOS patients, but mostly for myself and PCOS patients in more conservative societies with culture different than the US.

To my fellow fighters: Don’t be ashamed. Don’t be scared. Be bold. Be brave. Eat ice cream. Always stand up for your ovaries (and yourself). Feel free. Don’t wax if you don’t feel like it. Flaunt that dress people think you are too big to wear. Wear teal (to those who don’t know: teal is the PCOS awareness color). And always fight like a girl!

Blessings xx

Senior Year Shenanigans

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Ever since I started university, I have been told that I was too uptight by my friends here. While regarded ‘responsible’ for the most part by those back home, being a control freak and ‘not-a-party-person’ certainly helped establish my ‘uptight’ image at the Penn State circle. I have spent my weekends either doing homework, or volunteering or attending some organization related event. And on weekdays? I would never leave my books alone.

After spending three years responsibly, and having a rather rough junior year, a cousin of mine advised me to have fun. He said, “Yes, education is important, but you only get to attend college once. It is important to have fun!” Not that I wasn’t having fun my first three years, but I was having fun in a moderate amount. I think.

When you are a ‘brown’ girl, you are brought up responsibly, and if you are anything like me, your definition of fun is ‘halalified’- halal, that is. To those of you who don’t know, halal to Muslims is what Kosher is to Jews (in terms of food). But halal in general means acceptable. So basically, halal food is the food that’s acceptable, halal dress is the dress that’s acceptable to wear, and halal fun is the ‘fun’ you are allowed to have. Not that my family ever enforced any of the halal rules and regulations on me, but I have just always been a goody two shoes. Hence, I still have halal fun. I think.

Anyways, so as a freshman, if you had asked me to go to a concert on a week night of a favorite band, chances are I would have ditched it for homework, which wasn’t the absolute worst choice, given my regular 19/20 credit loads and organizational commitments. But as a senior, I have finally come to realize that I am never getting any younger. I might have to leave the U.S soon after graduation- if no graduate school or company would take me- and I am basically a grandma (by age and maturity), as I like to believe. So it’s ‘Senior Year- all out’ for me!

So far, I am celebrating each day as if it’s my last, and trying to smile through everything. And no matter what I am spending my money or energy on, I am making sure that I learn something out of it. So just what exactly have I learned so far? Here:

  1. WWE in State College: Up until my brothers and I started fighting over watching TV, we all watched wrestling in peace and harmony together as a family (oh the irony!). Even after my mother fumed over my fight with my brother and chopped off our cable connection (she literally chopped off the wires with a scissor), my brothers (my biological brother and two first cousins- since we were born and raised in the same family house, we all refer to each other as brothers and sister, and not cousins) and I gave our heart and soul to watch professional wrestling. We would be watching months old telecasts of Raw and SmackDown on BTV (Bangladesh television), and to us, it meant the whole world. The excitement and adrenaline rush pumped us through all the boring advertisement breaks (Keya beauty soap, Molla salt and what not!), and we were lost in the WWE (then WWF) entrance songs. From The Rock asking us what do we smell, to The Undertaker showing us how to be an American badass, the excitement of 1 hour wrestling show (of which 40 minutes was solid advertisement) lasted for a week among us, until the next show. We would rename ourselves after superstars, based on our characters, and needless to say, being the baby and the girl, I got stuck with the crappiest superstars. I was the self-proclaimed Chyna, but with my overprotective brothers over their dead bodies was I ever going to be named after a female ‘inappropriately dressed’ wrestler. Papa and Baba (my uncle) were cool with me being Chyna though, given how I was always fighting all the boys in the house! But anyways, with Attitude Era in full swing and everyone wanting to be the good guys, here is how we ended up with our superstar titles: My brother was The Rock (he does a very good Rock impression)- forever the rebel; my cousins were The Undertaker and Kane (with the 6 foot height and everything)- always bold and big; my dad’s assistant, who is a family member to us and stayed with the family growing up, and I were the Dudley Boyz (I was Bubba Ray Dudley, thanks to my complexion). It was a fun time, because we didn’t rely a lot on technology much like the kids today, and discussing every show after it was done, for a whole week, was a lot fun. We even fought while discussing them! And as soon as our parents got involved, to us it was as if McMahon and his posse came up against the good guys. We all teamed up and reassured our parents that we were fine (in our heads we’d already had our fantasy Wrestlemania matches of parents versus us). Growing up as WWE fans was fun, and having that passion build in you (despite all the kayfabes and setups- to those who like to argue- yes we know it’s fake) is exhilarating. For me, WWE means ‘home’, ‘happiness’, ‘memories’ and ‘love’. The latter applicable solely to Batista for my sexual awakening (yep).
    Therefore, it is needless to say I flipped out (in a good way) when I found out WWE was coming to State College, right at my home of Penn State at our very own Bryce Jordan Center (BJC). I just had to go! I mean, sure none of my ultimate favorites were coming but this was the closest I was ever going to get to WWE in my lifetime. And because my best friend and adopted brother Timo was on board, I got us front row seats to WWE State College. It was surreal to watch all the superstars walk right before my eyes! With my luck, getting to touch Dolph Ziggler, Jack Swagger, the American Alpha, Nikki Bella, Becky Lynch, Dean Ambrose, John Cena, and getting to hug Naomi- everything made the event so much more special to me. During the show, SmackDown, I won a quiz (won Attitude Era unreleased volume 3, wohoo!) and after the show got to chat with Mike Rome- the ring announcer- all the stars just lined up for me that day! While I never saw myself cheering for Ziggy or Swagger, watching them wrestle was a whole different story. The Miz was Mike Mizanin- the swimsuit contest host- growing up, and watching him as a title holder and wrestling was different, and fun. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the ‘It Couple’ walk out. The craziest moment for me was watching Kane come out! I was beyond ecstatic. For a non-wrestling comparison, I would say it would be similar to: say you grow up looking up to Shahrukh Khan or Tom Cruise, and bang he is in front of you! I counted my days ’til the event, and weeks after the event, I can still feel the rush. I am so blessed to have experienced it.
    So what’s the point of all these backstories and event day remembrance? As a senior, and an almost adult, I realized that it is always important to have a passion and drive. For me, wrestling is a passion. I am not just a fan, but I am a fan who can argue with wrestling facts- how old is Batista, how are the Rock and Roman Reigns related etc. To a lot of people, it is bizarre that a brown girl is that crazy about wrestling, but that’s the beauty of WWE. You will find everything in WWE- from a 7 foot Indian, to a 3 foot Irish, to some weird people wearing goat masks actually looking like goats! WWE has everything in store for you, and you will somehow relate to one superstar or another. To my readers who may not share my passion in wrestling, hear me out when I say this: it doesn’t have to be wrestling, it can be anything! Batista collects vintage lunch boxes, my brother collects shades, my cousin is passionate about cricket etc. We all just need that one weird obsession that fuels us, and connects us to a happy place- something, which when remembered, will bring out a grin so big that we’ll have a hard time hiding our teeth. Amidst all that is stressful, it is important to have something that will rekindle our driving force, or help us destress- it could be Harry Potter, the Game of Thrones, or as in my case WWE. But always have an outlet for letting out that stress and be yourself. For the three hours that SmackDown lasted, I forgot everything in the world- homework, school, life. I remembered my family, wishing they were with me, and all my greatest childhood memories. As a college senior, I realized that it was going to be one of the few memories I will carry with me from college and pass on to my future generation- “Yeah, that’s your grandma wearing ripped jeans (I designed them especially for WWE) and ‘Evolution’ skeleton t-shirt standing at BJC. I was cool too, you know!”
    Sometimes it is okay to spend money as long as we are making memories.
  2. Disturbed live in concert: Over my dead body would one have caught me going to a heavy metal concert on a school night freshman through junior years. But like I said, I am a senior and I am trying to ‘go big or go home’. So I just had to go watch Disturbed play live, especially when Penn State’s giving tickets for $10! Given my parents and their weird parenting style, they let me explore and experiment with my personality (outfit inclusive) as a teenager. From goth, to emo to retro, I had experimented with almost everything. I even had a Malala Yousufzai phase (only Malala wasn’t famous back then, but I had similar style with similar rebellious mindset)! As a part of my altering ego, I ended up becoming a metal fan, thanks to one of my aforementioned brothers (one who was The Undertaker). He was big time into metal songs, and all about being cool, and among us four (my three brothers and I), we were the closest based on our personalities. I would often find myself head-banging to some heavy metal classic with him in his room, and pose for pictures that are embarrassing to look back at now (deep kohl, Devil’s horn and all that). Among all the bands we listened to, Disturbed became very close to my heart. It was solely because of the song Prayer that I fell in love with this band and I still have the track on my ‘favorite’ playlist ten years later. I wasn’t necessarily a troubled teen, but you know how girls be confused and have that ‘I don’t know why I am sad’ pre-teen and teenage vibes! So amidst all those crazy afternoons of me scribbling nonsense on my journals, getting upset over something someone had said in school, or an argument with mom, I always found Disturbed in my earphones. And Prayer just gave me a sense of directionality and perspective. But never in my wildest dreams had I thought I was going to watch David Draiman sing it live before my own eyes! As a big Disturbed fan, I was singing along and grooving to every single track but I forgot to breathe during four moments throughout the entire concert- first was when David started singing Prayer; second was when Draiman held out the microphone and entire BJC bursted out to Stupify; third was during The Sound of Silence and last, but not the least, was when they ended the concert with Down with the Sickness followed by a ‘We Are’ chant!
    Now, what is so special about a brown girl head banging at a heavy metal concert at her own university arena? I took away so much from that concert and here they are:
    – As I sat there watching the concert, I remembered something that happened earlier in the day. We were experimenting at the lab and due to miscommunication with my lab partner, the tape measure hit my finger super hard that it swelled up. I was teasing my lab partner (what else can you do when you are stuck with a distractingly good looking lab partner) for hurting me and whining about it, when he teased me back questioning my ‘sensitivity’ as a girl since I enjoy wrestling and attend heavy metal concerts. I ended up going to the concert by myself since none of my friends enjoyed heavy metal, and sitting there I realized that as a person I was not limited by my gender, color or career choices. Sure I am a ‘brown’ girl, and quite small too, but I can very well listen to heavy metal and enjoy wrestling, while also preferring to stay indoors curled up with a good romance novel. I realized that none of us have to abide by stereotypical rules, and that listening to the Jonas Brothers doesn’t mean we can’t be Disturbed or Lamb of God fans. And as a person, we should never be ashamed of any of our choices- from music, to food to lifestyle, we should flaunt it with much pride, without the fear of being judged. For a girl who wear a Jonas Brothers pendant, I very well head bang to heavy metal songs, and dance to Beyonce!
    – It is sad, yet true, that the crowd was pretty dull the night of the concert. I mean, clearly it was a school night in the middle of mid-term week, but the crowd comprised of a huge number of non-college adult fans, who preferred enjoying the concert while munching on fries. So when Draiman asked us stand up and give him all the energy, I was 110% on his side. But despite the dull audience, Disturbed gave their 100%! Their commitment to entertain the crowd and the handful of loyal fans amazed me. I was sitting up on one of the ‘senior citizen’ sections (as I called them that night), and I could feel the heat from the fire on stage (actual fire on the stage), and the band kept going on and on! This taught me that greatness comes from being professional. We must always give our 100% despite the task at hand- whether it’s for a 2 credit class or a 10 credit class, whether it is for a big publication or a personal blog- we must always do our best and not think about the consequences. Success most certainly comes from giving your 100% and doing your best at all times, and Disturbed is the living proof. Even I got tired of all the head banging at one point but they kept going! And from that concert, I am definitely taking away the fact that I must do my best at everything at all times, and success will follow through, and that there is no alternative to hard work- whether you are scientist or a heavy metal singer.
    – I also realized what makes America great sitting at that concert that night. In my motherland, I’d have to think twice before wearing ripped jeans, denim jacket, a heavy duty badass necklace and smokey eyes on a school night for a heavy metal concert at night, that I was going to attend by myself. In the US, my parents- well aware of what I was doing- and I never gave it a second thought. My mom only advised me to call Safe Walk (Penn State auxiliary police service that walks students at night around campus) if it got too late, but that’s about it. I am a brown Muslim girl, who doesn’t smoke or drink, is a biomedical engineering student, is from a small SE-Asian country, and is attending a so-called white institute. But the way I see it is that America has always allowed me to be myself at all times, more than I could have ever been back home! I don’t get judgmental remarks or snarky comments on my lifestyle choices- whether it’s pro or anti-drinking, I never worry about being sexually unsafe as long as I am on campus, and I can go out wearing flip-flops and pajamas, or ripped jeans and denim jacket without worrying what others think of me. America is a huge melting pot and more importantly, it allows you to be yourself (so far it has allowed me *knock on the wood*) without any fear. Yes, being a Muslim in America can be difficult- I have had my fair share of experiences in that area- but Penn State has been pretty positive so far. So what makes America, and in turn us all, great is our diversity. We are allowed to, and shall always have the privilege to, be ourselves without worrying about being judged or being unsafe- and yes dear ‘brown aunties’ we do feel threatened by your judgments and your marriage proposals are no less than heavy machine guns pointed at us!
  3. WE ARE: This is going to sound bad, but I am a senior and I only went to first ever Penn State game today! It was my first game and it was a homecoming game where we won. So that made everything a little more exciting and memorable.
    Here’s the thing, to me football= soccer and I totally understand that game. American football? Not so much.
    As a result, I never had the urge to go to a football game all these years. I created a bucket list where I had “Go to a Penn State game” at the top 10, and with Timo planning to attend this game, I was all in!
    The experience at a Penn State game, cheering for the Nittany Lions is amazing! Words can’t begin to describe how I felt, and with my poor descriptive abilities, I won’t bore you today. But here’s the thing, the best part about being a Penn Stater is our unity in ‘We Are’. Despite all our differences, when we cheer, we cheer with all our hearts! We all stand hand in hand, cheer when we score a touchdown, and boo when the opponent is winning. Through the wind and the rain, we all unite for Dear Old State and cheer- all voices, genders, race, religion- all united. To be honest, I did not understand what was going on the entire time until the last 1 5 minutes. All I did was cheered and booed with the crowd. It will probably be a while until I realize how this American football works, but as of now, to me, it is about getting that ball and running. Run!
    My take away from this game is that it is important to have school spirit. Up until today, I didn’t understand all the hype with the game day and tailgating (We didn’t tailgate but still), but today I felt it. I could feel the jolt of energy and contagious passion for State and how it unites us all. And I was never prouder to bleed blue and white.

I will be updating my blog with more senior year shenanigans and what I learn from them. Yes, I am that annoying nerd who finds education in everything fun and sucks the fun out of it. And I will continue my experience saga with you all as I transition from a college senior to an adult with no job…

Until then, stay tuned and remember to have fun! 😀
Ciao!

Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them!

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“Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them”- this is what one of the posters read in one of my best friends’ residence hall room freshman year. She went to our campus poster sale and bought that poster and placed it right above her dresser. I thought it was brilliant.

I still think it’s brilliant!

As a senior in college, I figured now would be a good time to talk about being single and its pros and cons. I was just talking to my ‘American mom’ who told me that I can be a feminist and still like boys and stuff. And that 20s suck. Everyone’s 20s is the worst time, apparently.

And that I am an intelligent and beautiful young woman. But that’s what parents are supposed to say. It’s written in the “How to be a Good Parent” handbook, I can tell.

As big of a “I am an independent young woman, who is happy to be single, and I don’t need a man in my life” person I am, I have decided to spend my amazing Saturday night (when my friends are either studying to go to amazing graduate/medical schools or get amazing jobs; or partying and drinking because it’s fun) writing about ‘singlehood’ and college.

College is supposed to be one’s prime time, right? College is where you either find the love of your life, or have way too much fun (and then 10 years later marry the geek you ignored in college, who has magically transformed into a hottie), right? Or that’s what movies have taught us. This morning I have concluded for the 100th time that I hate movies, or at least sitting through them, and yet I’ve seen a lot of movies in my life. And most of them being chick flicks, I have had the idea that I was going to meet the love of my life in college.

Yeah just the idea. Didn’t happen.

I have been single almost the entire time I have been in college, and honestly, I can’t use my ‘International’ status to say I didn’t find someone. I have seen international freshman girls finding ‘love’ (trust me). So just this once, I won’t hold my brown-ness against me. But as a person of logic, I have concluded a few things about myself today:
1. I am too Muslim to date a non-Muslim, and yet too non-Muslim(ish) to date a devoted Muslim.
2. I am too international for an American and yet too ‘bideshi’ (foreign) for a Bangladeshi
3. I am a raptor who wants an Indominus Rex
4. I am too satirical for a serious person and too serious for a standup comedian

And all these make me wonder if there’s any ‘customized’ guy at all for people like me!

I keep thinking if pop culture is to be blamed. I mean, I have never seen a protagonist in any movie I could relate to. I somewhat related to Tina Hakim Baba in the Princess Diaries, but even Tina was open to Doing It and was rich and girly. May be I should just quit engineering and start writing and making a movie where the protagonist is a feminist who is plus-sized, watches wrestling, hates dressing up, has upside-down Yield-shaped hair, is brown and makes poop/fart jokes with guys. Also, you know how in movies the really ‘ugly’ one becomes the really ‘pretty’ one? Yeah, I am sitting here like ‘Yo puberty, I am still waiting on my miracle here!’

As much as you are laughing, or getting annoyed at me with all the ‘bringing down’ talks, admit it- we have all felt that way at some point in our lives. And why? Because someone out there decided s/he was too good for us, friend-zoned us pretty bad or something similar. I grew up being body shamed and I still am body shamed. Sometimes I blame it on my body when I sit down and wonder, “So she’s cuddling with ‘bae’ and I am sitting in my room staring at the beige wall for no apparent reason.” But then I think that may be media keeps setting too high of a standard for men: Michael Moscovitz, John Cena (Total Divas, duh!), Nick Jonas, Prince William (okay he is legit), Ashton Kutcher etc; and women: Hermione, Brie and Nikki Bella, Angelina Jolie (hey, I love her!), HRH Kate, Mila Kunis etc. I swear I tried filtering the great ones, but let’s all be honest: we all want a good looking (in my case, cute-in-a-geeky-way) guy/girl, who will love us. I was once asked, “What do you look for in a guy?” and I replied, “I don’t care how he looks but I want him to love me like no one’s ever loved anyone!” And he couldn’t stop laughing and I was being 110% serious! But then an adult explained to me that, ‘the whole “no one’s ever loved anyone” shit doesn’t happen in real life, hon!’

So I kinda gave in the idea of ‘getting myself a guy.’

Also because, I typically get no time to eat, or sleep, or visit the girls’ room, in my regular routine. I am too caught up in studies and research. So I think, “Meh! I am good being alone. Ain’t nobody got time for that (boyfriend)!” But then when I scroll down my Facebook seeing people ‘In love’ and all their PDAs, I am like ‘Awh man! I am dying a single virgin!’

If you could plot girls categorically in a statistical spread, I’d probably fall between Q1 and the median. And people like me either get too lucky, or don’t get lucky at all. So is there really a ‘Mr./Ms. Right’, and if so, where? And until we find that person, what to do? Especially in college where everyone is having fun, and you’re the chaperone grandma who is a party pooper and doesn’t drink?

Here’s what I have done so far (and I am a college senior): I always keep a standby crush-a celebrity for the most part, and occasionally a real-life person; I always have frozen yoghurt or Penn State Creamery ice cream in my fridge; I’ve always had a good book nearby and my blog.

Girls, and ladies, it is okay to let your guard down sometimes, even superheroes take a break from saving the world! We are enjoying singlehood where we have the guilt-free ‘gawkability’ for hotties, and more importantly we are free. We can wear whatever we want, we can eat whatever we like, and we never have to worry about ‘Why hasn’t he text back?/What could he possibly be doing?/Baby, you miss me, right?’ Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever be able to not-be-single! But at the end of the day, we are human beings and we are allowed to feel sad and lonely. The sooner we accept it, the happier we become in turn. Former Miss Universe Sushmita Sen once said that the key to her happiness is accepting that she is not perfect. She is a single mother of two girls, and while ‘some people’ judge her, I think she is doing a brilliant job and I look up to her.

My American mom advised me to use my 20s to make intelligent decisions and make the most of my life. That’s what I’m passing on to you.

And if you still keep feeling worse (or feel like punching me right now for making you read this long post for no apparent solution), print out ‘Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them’ and place it next to your dresser. I have a sticker on my laptop that reads “Chanachur>>>Boys” (chanachur is basically a more delicious Bangladeshi version of trail mix).

Your pick! 😉

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One and a Half Days of Travel

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“Sometimes I just want to leave everything, hop on a bus or train, plug my headphones in, open up a good book and just go somewhere!”
“Where do you want to go?”
“I don’t know, to be honest. I don’t really care. Sometimes I enjoy the journey more than my destination?”
“I thought ‘people’ always care about the destination!”
“I look at the journey as writing a book. It really matters how you overcome circumstances to start writing a book and actually finish it. Whether it becomes a NY Times bestseller or not is a whole different story.”
“No one I know ever said something like that. So you write, I suppose?”
“I read.”
“What’s your favorite book?”
“It’s like asking a mother to pick the favorite child to send to college!”
“Okay…which book are you reading now?”
“It’s this hopelessly romantic book I just can’t seem to put down. It’s called Cheesecake and a Half Hazelnut Latte by Terrance Jefferson.”

He smiled sheepishly.

“What’s the matter?”
“Nothing.”

That’s how I first met Terrance, of course he didn’t tell me that.

“Mom calls me Sebastian. Friends call me Bash. And you are?”
“Misa. That’s what friends call me, mostly because they can’t pronounce my real name. Nice to meet you, Bash!”
“So it’s established, Misa and Bash are officially friends!”

I laughed. Harder than called for.

“So Misa, what do you do besides reading ‘hopelessly romantic’ books?”
“I solve problems that people don’t realize they have, in ways that they don’t understand.”
“Whoa! Someone is feisty!”
“I am not feisty. It’s just that I am doing something I like, but I would much rather do something less stressful for a living. What about you?”
“I don’t do anything stressful or useful for a living. I am a cartoonist at a local newspaper.”
“That sounds fun! Wish I could do that for a living, instead of coming up ways to improve the existing medical devices in the market!”
“See, what you are doing is saving lives. What I am doing is…well, doing nothing.”
“Not true! You’re saving lives too! I remember when I have had the worst-of-days and looking at the cartoon section of a newspaper had cheered me up, made my day in fact! See?”
“You are too positive of a person, do you know that?”
“Am I? I guess I am less stressed today since I am getting to travel. To go home. Otherwise I would have my resting bitch face. I’m typically awful when it comes to travel, unless my travel buddy is nice. You’re okay, Bash.”
“That’s a compliment, and I’ll take it, Misa.”

For the first time, in my years of traveling 7897 miles in the air per trip, the distance seemed to fly by quite literally.
Bash and I talked about all kinds of things: from books, to travel, to music, to sports, to politics and more. It turned out that we were both traveling to the same city, which was the strangest thing ever. I have never met a person traveling about eight thousand miles to visit my 293 square miles’ city.

“What’s taking you there? Or are you messing with me?”
“I am going there to see the relics. They’re pretty famous, y’know!”
“Of all places? On Earth?”
“Yes. I need a few images, talk to a couple of people and enjoy the food.”
“Where are you staying at?”
“One of my friends was from college was from that area, and I will be staying with his family.”

Terrance really was traveling to get the aforementioned items for his new book. Although it was a fiction, for him writing meant being legit and real. He needed to experience to start thinking like his characters. Terrance knew he was about to produce his next best seller and he had to go big on it.

An hour and a half into the flight, we found ourselves reclined on our respective seats with both of our screens synchronized to the same movie. We argued a lot about which movie to pick, until we settled on Big Eyes by Tim Burton since he wanted to see how badly Tim had ‘Burtonized’ it, and I read about Margaret Keane back in college and simply wanted to see the movie. We almost went for Shrek or even Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. I know a comedy or cartoon would have been the best bet to sync-watch with an almost stranger, but I had to root for Burton.

Five hours into the flight, and Bash had me at…

“Misa, wake up. They’re serving dinner.”

Title: Up and Above
Photographer: Ramisa Fariha
Captured: June, 2012
Location: Unknown

(to be continued) 

 

 

The Biriyani Saga

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To those of you who don’t know what ‘biriyani’ is, you might want to google the recipe and make it with your meat (or tofu, or vegetables) of preference, and taste it.

Biriyani is basically a southeast asian dish with meat (often marinated in yoghurt and cooked) and rice mixed together- with a ton of spices, of course. I am making it sound a lot less interesting than it is, but biriyani is like the best thing in the universe! Chicken, beef, mutton or even vegetable biriyani, everything about any biriyani is heavenly. Yummm!

So what’s the point of writing an entire post about biriyani?
Biriyani is more than just a dish. Biriyani is something that ties all the cultures who enjoy it together- sure they each have their own versions of it but at the end of the day its biriyani.

For us, biriyani is a mark of celebration- welcoming a newborn, graduation, wedding, birthday, Eid or anything amazing, you will smell the appetizing aroma of biriyani miles and miles away from the actual location of the event. Biriyani is also cooked in the 4th day prayer ceremony upon someone’s demise (in Bangladeshi Muslims), or at any prayer ceremony held following a tragic incident.

To sum up: Biriyani is a luxury- either marking a milestone of success and happiness, or used to lessen the grief of an accident by giving grievers a full stomach. While the rich have several options to avail this delicacy, the poor can only dream about biriyani and the only time they ever get to taste some is typically upon the demise of a very rich person. It is assumed that the poor will pray to God with a full stomach for the departed soul. I just think that it’s nice that they finally have something to relish after days of starving.

As I am sitting thousands of miles away from home, in this holy month of Ramadan, I have realized how quickly time is flying by. I had set summer goals for myself, and so far I have successfully achieved two-out-five and I have less than two weeks to achieve the other three. So before my final push, as a mark of celebrating the existing achievements I cooked some beef biriyani to break my fast with.

As a ‘cultural’ food, biriyani is as brown as it will ever get. Looking down at my plate of rationed biriyani, with a side of chopped cucumbers and a homemade potato kebab I reflected upon some cultural aspects I have been discussing with a few friends lately. While we claim to be so different, the southeast asian countries aren’t all that different either. Besides the usual language difference and the staple recipes, we have a lot more in common than we think. Biriyani, for starters, is something we can all relate to. Not just the dripping clear butter off of the meat chucks in the biriyani, but this dish emanates pure ‘brownness’. With every spoonful of the biriyani, I reflected upon a few things that intrigues the latent traveler in me-
Okay so just how different is your version of this dish? 
Tigers are negative to you? How come? That’s like our national symbol!
We have autorickshaws too! We call them tuk tuks!
You have tamarind chutney too? I love it!

All these and much more. As a traveler and writer, I personally enjoy the language and food bit about any culture. I enjoy learning the differences in language simply because I find languages fascinating, and food speaks volume about a culture and its people more than anything else. Good food= good people. Or that’s just my analogy.

As I went for another spoonful of my biriyani, I realized that I am also curious about the social, religious and political stances of different places.
Is body shaming a legit thing there?
How open is your society to the LGBT community?
How different is Eid there? Do you celebrate it at all?
Do they practice dowry system still?
How does your society treat women? 

Unlike my other non-fictional posts that often have a moral or purpose, this post is simply an outlet to unclutter my mind- taking a break from my usual style and pace. This is just an appreciation of a foodie for a specific food of her choice- the ‘star’ of all the foods in the brown world- biriyani, and realizing how food makes you think about other cultures. With a spoonful of rice and small piece of savory meat, I let my mind wander about Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal for the time being.

“You are only limited by your imagination”-  who knew biriyani was powerful enough to make you take a trip to southeast asia sitting in the comfort of your living room in the US?

Fiction: The Recurring Dream

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I woke up, sweating. Vigorously shaking my head side-to-side I tried shaking that feeling off.
I checked the life tracker on my left wrist. 4:03 a.m. I was up at 4 in the morning, thanks to that recurring nightmare.

I was in an abandoned mansion with Dave, cruising through it, God knows why.
As we moved from the ground floor to the first, Dave and I kissed passionately standing next to an old pillar. I assumed that pillar held the entire foundation of the mansion.

“What are we doing here?”
“Surprise!”
“Oh c’mon Dave! Tell me already!”
“Nope. You have close your eyes and count to ten facing the pillar.”
“What are we? 6?”
“C’mon honey! Don’t ruin it for me!”
“Fine!” I agreed reluctantly.
“No peeking!”

“1….2….3….4….”

I opened my eyes as I finished counting.
“Dave? DAAA…AAVE?”

Dave was nowhere near my sight.
He liked giving me surprises and I loved getting them. Our first ever Christmas as a couple, he showed up to my place a little before midnight because he knew I wanted nothing more for Christmas than seeing him before he left for vacation with his family the following morning. Of course he told me they were leaving that night so I was blindsided, but in a good way. That was 9 years back, and even though we have been a couple all these years, the idea of getting married is something we have never discussed. It’s just not that important to us as long as we are happy. I wondered whether he was going to propose or something. It wasn’t something we talked about, but given Dave, anything was possible!

I kept thinking about all those times he filled my life with the euphoria of surprises, but soon realized that it’s been a little too long since Dave has been hiding.

“Dave?” sounding anxious, I yelled.
“Dave, this isn’t funny anymore. Come out already! It’s past sunset and I am scared.”
Everything was dead silent. Dead still. I could hear nothing but the screeching bats and hooting owls.
“Honey? Where are you?”
I started moving, browsing through the mansion briskly.
Ten minutes later I realized I was all alone. Dave was nowhere to be found.

Scared, cold and abandoned, I looked out through one of the windows on the first floor, with a rickety wooden frame hosting who knows how many woodworms. It was pitch black outside, and all of the sudden freezing ghastly wind started blowing. It seemed as if the wind had intended to blow away the entire mansion in one go, and blow me away with it.

I wrapped my black poshmina scarf around my bare shoulder and held it closer to my chest harder than ever before. I fooled my brain into thinking I was trying to stay warm but what I was really trying to do was stop thinking about the burn in my chest. I felt as if there’s a crater in my chest, with edges burning worse than a third degree burn. I told myself that holding the poshmina scarf was going to make that pain go away.

Then I realized that Dave was the one who had given me that poshmina scarf on my last birthday because I absolutely love scarves. Earlier that day the weather was so beautiful I decided to wear a dressy white tank top with black boyfriend shorts. The black poshmina scarf was a last minute addition that seemed to tie the entire ensemble together.

“You look beautiful, honey.”
“I know. Tell me something new!”
Part of our everyday banters.

As soon as I realized that it was Dave’s present, I threw it away, and started running, trying to get away from it. I kept running in the dark and soon found myself falling down from the first floor. I don’t know how, but I knew I was falling down, and the fall seemed really elongated for a floor height.

And that’s when I jumped up.

I looked at the empty side of my bed. Gently, I stroked the bedspread. I rested my hands on the unoccupied pillow for a really long 20 seconds. A sigh, perhaps one of the longest ones, later I pushed my comforter away and got off the bed.

The Old and Abandoned – Ramisa Fariha, May 2015, Sonargaon, Bangladesh

For the Unloved

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It is not about a pretty picture
Not about birds’ chirping, not about children playing
It is a saga for those with a raven heart
It is a saga for those with a riddled brain
‘Tis for the unloved.

Love, they say, is beautiful
Love, they say, is precious
Love, they say, is pure
Love, they say, is true.

But no one warned me love isn’t about what they say
Love is about how they act
Love isn’t about holding hands, walking down a starry path
Love isn’t about magical kisses, drenched in the rain.

Love is a test: of patience, and compromise
A test of endurance, grabbing a straw of the once-upon-a-time passion
A test of acceptance of reality
And failure, monetary hardships and battling the cancer of depression.

Love is about having and receiving, and sharing and giving
Love is about holding his hands when all that is left is an amputated arm
Love is about not leaving the wilting geranium forlorn
Love is also about not giving up on yourself.

And yet, we fail to see all the screaming, the yelling and the fear
Fear of failure
Fear of being stranded alone
Fear of being hurt.

We fail to endure, and compromise
And be patient, for he can’t hear me
Or may be can’t see me
The fear of the society labeling him different from me

We fail to love, others and ourselves
We proceed with what is ‘normal’
And fail to embrace what could be labeled love
For love shall prevail, breaking barriers
But alas! We let them stay the unloved.

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Title: I am She.
Photo by: Ramisa Fariha
Captured: June, 2015.
Location: Aatpara Upzilla, Netrokona, Bangladesh.