Tag Archives: family

2016 Sucks

The level of anxiety and stress I’m experiencing over this election is unbelievable. It hasn’t been a good year for many reasons, mostly to do with health issues throughout the family (except for my older son, thankfully). The election has only added to the miserable cloud raining crap over everything.

In this bleak look back, there’s one bright moment of light, and that was our Irish vacation – it was a lovely country to explore, and I was very sorry to leave when we did. Dublin is a wonderful mixture of the modern and antique, while the countryside retains a primordial and elemental beauty that I haven’t seen since I visited Scotland an age ago.

But I returned to these shores, and plunged headlong into the most banal and mundane problems, each of which deserves its own essay, but age has also made me more private so I sequester those thoughts rather than letting them out to play on a blog, like I once did, many years ago. This privacy is also rather isolating, as I found that airing out gloom is a good way to banish the bats of depression. There’s no solution to this problem, I’m merely acknowledging its existence.

I’m naturally voting for Hillary – and I’m happy to do it. I think she’s liberal, pragmatic and no more or less stained politically than any politician with as much time in the public sector as she has. Reports claim that she’s rather more honest than the median politician, which is good, and the fact that she’s embraced socially progressive politics is hopeful to me. Yes, she’s got a hawkish demeanor, but I think that’s something I’m willing to compromise on, and I’m also able to accept that a country like America sometimes will need to intervene in international incidents. I’m not an isolationist.

All of that said – my biggest issue with this election (like all others) is that it diminishes the actual issues I want to see addressed.

  1. I want someone, anyone, to talk about Global Warming in detail, I want to hear what they want to do about it in concrete steps, I want to hear about carbon extraction from atmosphere, I want to hear about a plan to reduce ocean acidification. Tell me about a massive move to clean grids, scaling back private transport use at least in clustered American urban centers… something. Paying lip service to the existence of Global Warming doesn’t come close to what I need to hear about what I think is the most pressing concern of our time.
  2. Someone needs to step up and talk about minimum living income. Whether its a negative tax rate below a certain threshold or a check that goes out to every citizen – at some point, there needs to be a realization that we’ve moved from a manufacturing industry to a data industry, primarily because of automation. And we’re heading towards a second wave of automation that will put the majority of the world out of work. What’s their plan for when unemployment hits 50%? Clothing, feeding, sheltering and providing medical care for every human being on the planet is within our means. The fact that we don’t do it in the interest of corporate profits is a crime against humanity.
  3. Education needs to become more affordable because the vast majority of people who’re being left behind in this automation are people who have little to no education, people with no options to move on when their blue-collar job vanishes never to return. Part of the Trump wave are these people aggressively ignored by the Democrats or pandered to without any follow-up. Trump is lying to them about bringing back industry – we know that’s a dead end. They clearly want to work – what do you have to offer them?
  4. On a more modest note, adding single-payer to the ACA to cap insurance costs shouldn’t take more than a simple vote. It will force insurance companies to compete beneath the level set by the Federal government while VIP plans can cost whatever they want. If it leads insurance companies to scale back their employees, then so be it – but to allow industry to hold citizens healthcare hostage is disgusting. The boogeyman of “this hurts industry” is smaller than the wraith of extinction hanging over humanity.

Everything else is behind these issues for me. I guess I want a technocrat in power who’s capable of working with science and industry leaders to move aggressively on topical concerns. One of the things I don’t care about is security – I don’t understand the American mindset of fear. Maybe it’s because I lived in India through race-riots, political turmoil, street violence and so forth, but I kind of accept the uncertainty of life as a given – I’m not willing to sacrifice the multi-generational concerns over a guerrilla proxy-war with Russia half-way around the planet. The last two times that happened, it was Vietnam and Afghanistan, and we all know how those turned out.

I don’t hold out any hope of these concerns being answered at the debate tonight, or any point between now and the election, but I hope I can get some sleep once President Hillary Clinton is sworn in. And I’m already hoping for a better 2017 while it’s only mid-October.

A Late Night Chat

My son, who’s in the later half of his third year of life, is pretty good about sleeping through the night in his own room at this point. Most nights, I don’t hear anything from him till the sun comes up, and he usually comes to wake us up for water or bathroom or if he’s really hot or cold in his room or something like that.

Last night was an exception.

He kept waking up crying, and my wife went to see him and would come back frustrated, she couldn’t make out what he was saying or why he was up. This happened two or three times, and eventually her patience broke. The next time he woke up, I went to see him – it was about midnight, and he was crying a bit.

Some pointed questioning and interrogation ensued and he eventually settled on complaining about his night-time water cup. “It’s too small,” he said, as if the reason was self-evident, and I was the child that needed to be educated on the matter. There are fights worth having and this wasn’t one of them. Rather than argue about the value of various cup sizes and the importance of a closed top versus an open one, I shrugged and swapped the small cup out with a larger one that we use during dinner, and he was content with it after a long drink.

Since he was already awake and sleep didn’t sleep likely to come anytime soon, I hung out with him. We were both sitting on his bed, and he kept talking to me about the kinds of stuff that three-year-olds find interesting. The alphabet, whether he was still thirsty or not, what he’d be doing this weekend, the imminent arrival of his baby brother, what was that sound, could I keep the cat out of room somehow, and I listened to him and answered what questions I could between yawns.

Among the exchanges, I had a moment when I realized I was hanging out with my son and we were talking, and I wasn’t mad about being up, and he wasn’t being cranky and sleepless, he just wanted to hang out with me. We chatted for about 15 – 20 minutes and then I asked him if he ready to sleep. After a bit of tossing and turning, he found a comfortable spot (he’s still getting used to his new bunk bed) and I patted his back for a while before heading to my room.

It reminded me of when he was very young, less than 6 months, and one night he just couldn’t fall asleep. He kept crying, and my wife gave up eventually. I went in to hold and rock him to sleep, and he was just so uncomfortable, or cranky from being tired, or whatever it was, that he just squeezed his little eyes shut and wept and wept and wept. But a half hour of rocking and walking and singing later, he quieted, put his head down, and eventually fell asleep.

Another 15 minutes later, I put him down in his crib and sneaked out. I’ll never forget that night, something about it just really shook me up, and I kept tearing up afterward, as if I had never felt quite so much emotion before. The powerlessness of the situation combined with the desire to help him get to sleep made for an incredible cocktail of emotion.

I’m sure all parents have had a moment like that, over something simple like this, or seeing their kid sick and feeling so helpless and useless, when the most you can do is hold them and give them medicine and comfort them through their pain.

But this was a different kind of interaction, it would have been easy to go in, tell him to go back to bed and leave no room for discussion. There are nights where I have done exactly that, if I thought he was just being a brat. But last night, I think he wasn’t being a brat. He was just… confused and tired and and maybe he just wanted a friend for a little while to chat with to help him get back to sleep.

It was the kind of interaction I’d never had with my dad. He was very distant and aloof. When I had my kid, I was worried I’d be like that. I’m also the primary disciplinarian in our home, so he sees me as a sort of ogre sometimes, and is quick to obey me but is definitely his mother’s son.

Sharing a moment like this meant so much to me in more ways than just connecting with my son. It gave me hope that maybe I’m not a terrible dad, and maybe I’ll have a better relationship with him than I had with my own dad.

Of course, we got hit with a major thunderstorm last night with bright sheet-lightning and booming thunder, so he wound up in our room anyway, but that’s neither here nor there.

91 Years

On the morning of Friday the 14th of March, my mother’s father, my grandfather, Syed Moinuddin, passed away. He was 91 at the time of his death.

In 1923, he was born into an India that was held by an imperial foreign power. King George V of Britain claimed to rule a land he visited but twice, and that was enough to brand my grandfather a British subject. The Mughal dynasty had faded away long ago, and along with it, the last barrier to foreign rule. The last Muslim ruler – Bahadur Shah Zafar – died in 1857, exiled in Burma, denied the right to be buried in his own homeland.

India was very different in 1923, stretching from the Hindukush in the west, buttressed against Afghanistan and to the east against China, in the north against Russia and Mongolia, it stretched to the south all the way to the very tip, standing on one foot on the rock of Sri Lanka. There was no Pakistan, no Bangladesh, just India. But India was not really Indian anymore.

My great-grandfather, it’s said, was a man of wealth and means, and my grandfather received a princely upbringing and a fine education. There is a legend I heard as a child from my grandmother. Whether it’s about my great-grandfather or not, I don’t remember.

Once upon a time, she said, a rich and powerful land lord with great swaths of land and villages to his name had no children. He lived in a manor surrounded by great orchards, where peacocks would preen and show off their feathers and the family gathered on the high veranda surrounding the house to look out over their vast properties. Traveling between villages in his carriage one day, the land lord came across a beggar walking in the road. For whatever reason, he offered the beggar a ride, and gave him the two pomegranate seeds that he had remaining to eat. Reaching the village, the beggar stepped off the carriage and smiled at the land lord, “May Allah grant you as many sons as the seeds you have given me.” Two sons were born then, to the land lord.

My grandfather had one brother who died in the late 80s, I think. It doesn’t matter if the story is true in fact, it’s true in other, more important ways. It was the story I told my son the night he was born, while my wife slept, and I walked him in the dark of the hospital room, trying to shush his crying. He listened attentively once I  began speaking in Urdu, blinking his new-born eyes at me, and then fell asleep. The next day, my grandfather came, and held him.

I visited those ancestral lands once, twenty years ago, and all I remember is a warm clear blue sky, fields of golden corn, orchards hanging low with mangoes and guava, and a thin blue stream bubbling down to the Ganges somewhere to the west. An old, peeling, one-room brick mosque stood among the trees, with small minarets, graves behind the prayer wall, names fading on the tombstone. Who knows if any of that still exists.

And, I know, these aren’t the true ancestral homelands, that would be the water-starved town of Gardez in Afghanistan, or before that, maybe even the deserts of Arabia. Who knows, really, and how greedy can you be with cultural appropriation? Indian, Afghan, Arab…

70 years after he was born, in the mid 90’s, he visits me in my college dorms and tells me of his hazing in college. “They made me stand up on a chair and recite poetry.”

His love for Urdu poetry and writing was, I think, his great personal joy. He wrote in Urdu, and kept his long handwritten notes in a cupboard in the living room, and sometimes I looked through them but never quite understood the twisting, convoluted truth that writhe in Urdu poetry. Words with double purpose, phrases that turn on each other, devouring meaning but illuminating revelation. It was far above my head.

Sometimes I wonder if my own doubt and shyness about my writing isn’t inherited from him, why I write and put away things instead of showing them to other people. A few years ago, my uncle collected my grandfather’s materials and printed a collection of his poetry in India under the name my grandfather assumed for his poetry. My grandfather was so happy to hold the book in his hands, hear the poems read aloud.

His appreciation for English literature was also a deep and passionate thing, one he passed on to me. He frequently read Charles Dickens and Walter Scott; Great Expectations and Ivanhoe being the books he read me the most often when I was little. I think while he appreciated the Victorian novel, he loved the medieval stories best, stories and poems of knights and battles in far away lands he never saw. My son Samir is quite blond and when they met, my grandfather – his great-grandfather – called him Sir Samir. “You look like a knight,” he said. It’s easy to picture the kid’s shaggy blond hair in a suit of armor atop a horse with lance in hand. They shook hands with great solemnity.

Last year, his eyesight was too far gone to make out words on a page and so I read aloud the Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Tennyson. I don’t think I did it any justice, but he smiled to hear it anyway.

Half a league, half a league, half a league onward…

In 1947, after the freedom and during the partition of India, he was living in North India. He was married with one son. The country was violently tearing itself apart as Pakistan split off. They lost everything – the lands, the villages, the mansions, the wealth (if it ever really existed), all reclaimed by the Indian socialist government from those they considered to be British collaborators. The family broke in two in a desperate bid for survival, his younger brother went to Pakistan and he moved south to the city of Hyderabad.  In that city, three year later, my mother was born. Three other children followed and 27 years after my mother, I was born.

My brother and I grew up in the modest house my grandparents had built for their children. It was a lovely place, surrounded by walls with doors into neighbors yards and fruit trees, vegetables and herbs in the back. The bougainvillea bushes covered the front wall with purple flowers alongside tall trees that I can see but can’t remember the names of. There, he taught me to read and write in English, Urdu and Arabic, he helped me memorize long Arabic passages for prayer, passages I still remember, though I seldom if ever put those memories to use anymore. The house is gone now, sold to a land developer who knocked it down, and built condos where where… well. So much happened. The house was called Jamey Gulshand.

When my grandfather died a week ago, it was after a long, bitter, cold, and cruel illness that left him a shadow of the active, energetic, passionate person I knew. The man who laughed frequently, and would lie in bed, singing Urdu ghazals to himself in a deep tone, occasionally he would speak in Farsi and my grandmother would laugh, asking me if I knew what he said, a man who would rather walk than take a bus, no matter the distance or the heat.

That man was long gone, and the one left behind was a pale, pale ghost. I was grateful for the end to his suffering. He never had many possessions but in the end, he had very few belongings left to him. Among them was a small ball of dried mud that he would hold sometimes, mud collected from the Ganges delta, the river that gave life to the verdant valley of his youth. I wonder what he remembered when he held that ball of dirt in his hand.


He was born an English subject in a rural, occupied India and died a celebrated patriarch with 5 children, 13 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren in his son’s home in America. He was buried the next day in a foreign land but alongside his wife of 65 years. He was a man who prayed 5 times every day even when I hated the thought of him bowing to a god who would allow him to be in so much pain. His faith was absolute, while mine dissolved and ran like water colors into the gutter of disbelief. Even so, he never begrudged me anything, never asked me why. I loved him for that.

Now with both my grandparents gone, it feels like the most decent, honest, humble, good people I’ve ever known are now lost and I’ll never know anyone like them again. It feels like the end of something big. Though my parents are both here, I can’t help feeling like an orphan. A piece of history ended last week.

Quada-hafiz, Abba.