Iftaar Chronicles: Love in the Food Line

iftaar love

by Naila Sheikh

As we are approaching the end of Ramadan while the countdown to Eid has begun, we are to conclude this spiritual journey in much contemplation and inner thoughts. Some of them, spiritually uplifting and some, mundane such as the described, rather comedic scenario below.

Where there is good food in the presence of hungry onlookers or the suppressing of the wandering eye and lustful thoughts, the opening of Iftaar must make for an unspoken conversation amongst the daydreamers, the hopeless romantics, especially when delirious of fasting. ?
Scenario: the Ramadan FOOD LINE
Scene: larka larki.    (transl: boy, girl).
[Larka stands in stiff pose, not moving an inch.]
Larki ?: Observant of broad shoulders, but lowers gaze immediately. “Nice shirt,” she thinks.
Larka ?: “Say Hi,” say it already. “Hey” or “Hi” and I’ll turn – what’s so damn difficult?
Larki ?: Can’t he say “Hi”? Why should I say it first? Hmm, well I do see him right here. Oh god. RIGHT. HERE.
Larka ?: you’re seriously gonna let go of this chance? The line’s moving.
Larki ? why oh why did I NOT style my hair properly. Argh. From all the days in my life, it had to be THIS day…
[Aunty intersects.]
? ?: “AssalamoAlaikum (may peace be upon you) beta! Long time no see! How is your Ammi doing? She didn’t call me back! I heard you graduated valedictorian! You’re so smart! I tell my daughters to follow your example. Beautiful and intelligent!
[She pinches my cheek]
My son is going to Med School. You know him right? Mohsin is tall and handsome now and soon he’ll be a doctor. He’s also very outdoorsy, loooooves to hike! You should talk to him!”
[Nudges me while pointing at her superstar son]
Larki ?: Wow. Is this really happening? Aunty is so loud. I bet “he” is being entertained. Oh god. Worst. Timing. Ever!
[Aunty blabbers on.]
??:  “I’m on Facebook as ‘Nargis Jee’ – just add me. I’ll send you my friend request. It is so good to see you, beta. Your hair is nice and long, very pretty.”
Larki ?: “Jee”
[She smiles and nods all the while thinking.]
Larki ? : Hell no! I ain’t adding her! I’d be the latest gossip around town. Pffff, probably wants to show Dr. Mohsin my profile pics. He’s so obnoxious, thinking he’s all that. Ugh. I wonder what “he” is thinking? Did he listen to all this nonsense? Oh man, I hope my friendliness towards Aunty didn’t mislead him into thinking that I’m interested in her son!
Larka ?: Haha, she’s cute under pressure. She’d love my mom.
Okay, well… now I’m moving, putting food on my plate. I’m still slow motion, though. Woman. Hurry. Say salaam or something. Anything. What’s wrong with her. *Grinds teeth*
Larki ?:  What’s wrong with me?! Argh. Is it my dignity, ego or am I really shy? Okay. He’s moving. Great. I’m usually so witty. I could’ve poked one shoulder and said, “Hey, it is against Sharia Law to stand in line before women, you know that right? Now you must repent and ask serious forgiveness for your grave food line sins…” I’d keep a poker face on while being calm and collected, then he would smile. A big smile, I imagine. Maybe say something witty back? And if not, then I would’ve teased a bit further or pursue a regular/civilian/boring small talk, with a twinkle in my eye.
Larka ?: Great. I’m now plating some salad, it’s the end of the buffet. Perhaps I’ll stand here and see if she notices.
Larki ?: I notice! I see. What can I do now? Okay, I get it. I didn’t say “Hi.” But don’t just stand there. Maybe pretend you just saw me? Walk up to me? Or maybe not? Ohhh. He left. Justtttt great. Wasted all this time thinking when all it took was the utterance of a three letter word…”Hey!”

NailaNaila Sheikh resides with her husband and two kids in Houston, TX. Born and raised in Holland, she has a keen interest to keep up with the current affairs around the world. Her everyday life, apart from playing mommy, also consists of Food Blogging on her website: NailasKitchen.com.

By Brown Girl Magazine

Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South Asian womxn who believe in the power of storytelling as a … Read more ›

Reflection Comes From Within, not From Others

“Confessions to a Moonless Sky” is a meditation on the new moon and guilt. I wrote it when I was living in Dallas and was driving back from a dusk prayer. The new moon terrified me on that drive. I was diseased by the knowledge that my partner, at the time, had seen the worst parts of me. There’s immense shame in this piece—it seized my self-image. If the moon could become brand new, then I could start over.

I often ponder on the moon’s reflective nature and pairs of eyes. I’m hyper-fixated on how I am seen by others. Unfortunately, the brilliance of seeing your reflection in another person leads to negativity. After all, those who are too keen on their own reflection are the same people who suffer from it. It is possible to use shame to fuel one’s retribution and personal growth, without becoming consumed by it.

We can look to Shah Rukh Khan succumbing to alcoholism in his own sorrow and then later imbibing his sadness in Chandramukhi. “Confessions to a Moonless Sky” is a lesson for us: Don’t be Shah Rukh Khan in Devdas, instead embody pre-incarnation Shah Rukh Khan in Om Shanti Om!

[Read Related: Uncovering the Brown Boy in Hiding Through Poetry]

Confessions to a Moonless Sky

Sometimes when the moon abandons the sky, I wonder if I drove her away.

If she comes back, will she be the same? How I wish she would come back new, truly new! That way she’d have no memory of the sin I’ve confessed to her. You noxious insect. Sin-loving, ego-imbibing pest. You are no monster, for at least a monster has ideology, it sins with purpose. You sin just to chase ignominy.

But the moon won’t say that, she never does. She’ll just leave the sky and return days later, slowly. And I’ll wonder if she’s new, perhaps she won’t remember my past confessions. What does it matter? Were the moon replaced with one from a different god, I’d drive her away, too.

[Read Related: ‘headspun’ — Bengali Muslim Boy’s Poetic Journey Through Himself]

By Umrao Shaan

Umrao Shaan is a short storyist, poet, and ghazals singer. You can find his songs on his Instagram. His other … Read more ›

Fireside Chat With Debut Author Sophie Jai

sophie jai
sophie jai

 I grew up in a household of strong Trinidadian women. I wanted to write about strong Trinidadian women, the roles they play, their histories and their backgrounds. — Sophie Jai  

“Wild Fires” by Sophie Jai is a story about one Trinidadian family’s journey through grief, identity and memory. Jai’s debut novel takes readers on a journey of a past Trinidad and present-day Canada. 

 

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In conversation with Jai, we talk about Caribbean stories, the psychology of a house and what makes a family. The following answers have been abridged and edited for clarity and concision.

[Read Related: Author Kirtie Persaud on Representation for Indo Caribbean Girls, Motherhood and Balance ]

 What inspired you to write “Wild Fires?”

I first started writing it for submission to a competition with the Borough Press. I wasn’t sure what story I wanted to write because I felt obligated to write certain stories or write in a certain style. I pretty much got fed up and started questioning myself. When I put pen to paper and got serious, the story that came out was a story of grief not necessarily specific to my life. I knew I wanted it to be about a family going through grief for decades, and how grief can arrest and impact the family structure.

When you first started writing, which part of the story came out?

It was the very first chapter. The first three chapters of the book came naturally. What you read in the book is untouched from the first draft that I submitted. I knew it was about a family that was going through grief. I knew I wanted it to take place between Trinidad and Toronto because I was born and raised in Trinidad and lived in Toronto. I wanted that sort of cross-generational mixture of family in the book as well – to see how each generation dealt with grief.

Did you always want to be a writer?

I don’t think I knew. It’s just one of those things that you think is impossible, so there’s no point dreaming about it. But when I was a young girl in Trinidad, I imagined myself carrying a leather briefcase and I don’t know why, but I knew I was going somewhere important, and I had something important to do. I always loved writing, but the truth is people get in the way and they dissuade you. It’s all around you – that the arts is not a viable career and if you pursue it, you have a 95% chance of failure. But after working 10 office jobs in three years, I’m like, ‘I’m not happy,’ so this is actually the failure. I knew I needed change.

How do you navigate the space of being told that art is not a viable career, especially in the Indo Caribbean community?

Those challenges were around me all the time. It wasn’t even my family, but it even comes from friends and acquaintances. When you’re young, being an artist is hard, and you’re told there’s no point in doing it. I listened to people who said that, and got office jobs and did what everyone else was doing because apparently, that was the way to be happy. Five years passed by and I realized I wasn’t happy and I should have never listened to those people. I started writing. I started doing something that made me happy and treated it as a serious craft. I did not treat it as a hobby, but as something that was going to pave my path. I really worked in a tunneled vision. So I never told anybody what I was doing – I didn’t want to be dissuaded. I had to be my own champion. I know that doesn’t sound healthy, but back in 2012, I didn’t know about community. 

Cassandra, the main character is a writer, like yourself. How much of Cassandra’s story is your story?

My family is very supportive of my writing and it took some time for them to get there. Like many families, they kind of saw it as a hobby. Once they saw that I got published, they took it more seriously. Now, they are supportive of my writing and I think in the book, Cassandra’s family is not that supportive. They just weren’t interested in her writing, which is why she didn’t talk about it. It is a little bit reflective of my own experience. 

 

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Is the rest of the book based on a true story?

It wasn’t based on a true story. That is something I get asked often – a lot of people say ‘she’s Trinidad and you’re Trinidadian.’ The places I wrote about are from my memory, but the plot itself is fiction. I wanted to challenge myself to write something truly fictional. I grew up in a household of strong Trinidadian women. I wanted to write about strong Trinidadian women, the roles they play, their histories and their backgrounds. The characters aren’t necessarily based on anyone particular in my  life. Overall, it was a joy to imagine and write it because each one of these characters are very different from the other.

The novel has nine major female characters and at most three major male characters. Why did you want to tell a female-driven story?

I grew up in a family of predominantly women, and most of my Caribbean friends also grew up in families of predominantly women. They really are, in my experience, our caretakers. For me, my family and my friends, our mothers are our worlds – we love and admire them. Family is their priority; raising their children is their priority. I wanted to write about Trinidadian women because I wanted to tell each of their stories. I want more Indo Caribbean and Caribbean women in fiction. I think anything that I write will always be about Caribbean women. I want to contribute to that field of literature. I have such enormous respect for them; all the sacrifices that they’ve gone through to bring their kids to new countries – some of them single moms. There’s nothing else I really want to write about, to be honest.

One of the other things I noticed was keen attention to the setting. How many of these precise details came from your own life, if any of them?

For Trinidad, a lot of it is based on my memory of the island and my home there. But I did have to turn to my family for specific details that I thought I may have imagined. Because I grew up mostly in Toronto. I was insecure about writing about Trinidad, so I went back to my mom and my family, who lived there for over 40 years. In terms of the house in Toronto, some of that is from my experience and some from imagination. I’ve written and talked about this book before, “The Poetics of Space” by Gaston Bachelard, which examines the psychology of houses. I tried to construct a house that would accommodate the psychology of the characters. If the house seems very detailed, it’s because I made it so, to accommodate certain secrets and people’s personalities.

Why explore the psychology of a house?

It’s not an original thought, but I think the way space is organized around us, or the way we organize ourselves in a space dictates physical behavior. If you’re in a wide open space and you don’t know anyone, that can seem intimidating. If you’re in a closed space, that can also seem intimidating. I tried to organize the space to give each character privacy from the other, but then once they were in a common room, it really changed the dynamics of their interactions.

What makes a family?

I think people who have been through challenges with you for years make a family. That’s not even a blood thing – I have friends that are like family because we’ve been through things together over decades. It’s people you’ve experienced highs and lows with, but managed to stick with throughout the years. But ‘family’ can also be people who you haven’t talked to for years, who you’ve had a fragmented relationship with. For those sorts of relationships, it can be an unhealthy loyalty or a wondering of what could have been.

The book doesn’t have a happily-ever-after ending. Why?

Not ending the story in a neat little package was very important to me. I think there’s a certain expectation in storytelling by readers that a story needs a conclusion. And, to me, this is not what actually happens in the real world. The reasons people read a book are different – some people are reading for escapism, others are to better understand cultures and other people – so it depends on the reader and what they’re looking for. In literary fiction, readers are more open to an inconclusive ending because literary fiction can take things to a darker, more serious place than other genres. If I wrapped up the story with a nice little bow, it would be untrue to what this family has gone through. I wanted to show how unsolved issues can pan out. I didn’t want to take the story from a sad beginning to a happy ending. Not all stories end happily.

 

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What do you want readers to take away from “Wild Fires?”

I set out to write a story that had a universal theme. I wanted to feature a somewhat normal story with Caribbean characters. It wasn’t centered around race or indentureship because a lot of the Indo Caribbean literature that I’ve read has been – and rightly so. That’s where I learned about our history and our stories. But that was not a story that I wanted to tell first because it was not the story that was closest to my heart. When I started writing, I realized the story was really about grief. I wanted to show Caribbean women and Indo Trinidadian women, in a universal light. We are a result of  these histories yet go through normal things like grief, secrets and family dysfunction.

Following the publication of “Wild Fires,” Jai is pursuing her Master’s at Oxford University as a Kellogg’s Scholar. While attending school, she’s looking to write a short story about Caribbean joy to contrast the dark themes of her debut novel and portray Caribbean women in unrepresented ways.  

“Wild Fires” is available in Canada and the UK and will be available in the U.S. in Spring 2023.

Featured Image Courtesy: Sophie Jai

By Usha Sookai

Usha Sookai is an undergraduate student at New York University, studying Journalism and Social and Cultural Analysis. With a passion … Read more ›

‘About the Author’ – A Short Story

In celebration of Kirthana Ramisetthi’s second novel “Advika and the Hollywood Wives,” BGM literary editor Nimarta Narang is publishing this short story by the acclaimed author. This piece chronicles the evolution of a writer’s life through their ever-changing author’s bio. In the details, from the change in last name to the new address, we observe how Gigi grows into Genevieve and the life events that make her into the writer she becomes. 

“My Picnic,” published in the Oakwood Elementary Storytime Scrapbook

Gigi Maguire loves strawberries, “Smurfs,” and being a first grader. Her favorite word is ‘hooray.’ This is her first short story. 

“Sunshine Day,” published in Oakwood Elementary KidTale

Gigi Maguire is a fifth grader in Ms. Troll’s class. She loves writing stories more than anything in the whole world, except for peanut butter. 

“What Rhymes with Witch?,” published in BeezKneez.com

Gigi Maguire is a high school junior living in the Bay Area. Her favorite writers are Sylvia Plath and J.K. Rowling. If she can’t attend Hogwarts, she’ll settle for Sarah Lawrence or NYU.

“On Her 21st Birthday,” published in LitEnds

Gigi Laurene Maguire is a writer and recent graduate from Sarah Lawrence College. Her favorite writers are Sylvia Plath, Alice Munro, and Mahatma Gandhi. She is making her big move to New York City in the fall.

“Valentine’s Day in a Can,” published in Writerly

Gigi Laurene Maguire is a freelance writer who loves the written word, Ireland in springtime, and “La Vie En Rose.” She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.

“Unspoken Ballads of Literal Heartbreak,” published in Weau Dunque Review

Gigi Laurene Maguire is an assistant editor at ScienceLife.com. Her work has appeared in Writerly and is forthcoming in Pancake House and Schooner’s Weekly. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey. 

“The Mistress of Self-Loathing,” published in Story Day 

Gigi L. Maguire is the editor-in-chief of Small Business Weekly. Her work has appeared Writerly, Story Day, Pancake House, and Schooner’s Weekly. She’s currently working on a novel about witches. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, with her tabby cat Sabrina. 

“The Distance in Your Eyes,” published in The Canton Review

Gigi L. Maguire is a freelance writer and digital marketing specialist. Her work has appeared in Writerly, Story Day, and is forthcoming in Idaho Centennial. She’s working on a novel and a short story collection. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.

“Auspicious,” published in BookWorks 

Genevieve L. Maguire’s work appears or will appear in The Canton Review, Mark’s End, Bishop Quarterly, and Idaho Centennial. A second runner-up for the Imelda Granteaux Award for Fiction, she is writing a novel and a memoir. Genevieve lives in Brooklyn. 

“Meditate, Mediate,” published in Ripcord

Genevieve L. Maguire’s fiction appears or will appear in BookWorks, The Canton Review, Berkeley Standard, and elsewhere. A graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, she is an MFA candidate at New York University. She lives in Brooklyn with her boyfriend and their two cats.

“Chaat & Chew,” published in The Carnegie Review

Genevieve L. Maguire’s fiction appears in Ploughshares, Ripcord, The Cambridge Review, and elsewhere. She received her master’s in creative writing from New York University. Her short story “Meditate, Mediate” has been optioned by Academy Award nominee Janet De La Mer’s production company, Femme! Productions. She lives in Brooklyn with her fiancé, their three cats, and a non-singing canary.

“Urdhva Hastasana Under a Banyan Tree” published in The Paris Review

Genevieve Maguire-Mehta’s fiction has been hailed as “breathtakingly lyrical” by Margaret Atwood. She is the recipient of the Whiting Prize for Short Fiction and an Ivy Fellow. Her fiction has appeared in The Carnegie Review, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. She lives with her husband Manoj in Park Slope, Brooklyn. 

“Reaching New (Jackson) Heights,” performed by Lana Del Rey on NPR’s “Shorts” series

Genevieve Maguire-Mehta’s fiction has been hailed as “effervescent” by Alice Munro and “breathtakingly lyrical” by Margaret Atwood. She is the recipient of the Whiting Prize for Short Fiction and an Ivy Fellow. Her work appears or has appeared in The Paris Review, Elle, The Carnegie Review, and elsewhere. She lives with her husband in Park Slope, Brooklyn with their feisty menagerie of animals.

“The Bhagavad Gina,” published in The New Yorker

Genevieve Maguire-Mehta is the recipient of the Whiting Prize of Short Fiction and is a McClennen Arts Colony scholar. Her work appears or has appeared in The Paris Review, Elle, and elsewhere. She is currently working on a novel. She lives with her husband and daughter in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

“When Two Becomes None,” published in American Quarterly 

Genevieve Maguire’s writing has received dozens of accolades, most recently the Luciana Vowel Prize for Female Fiction. Praised by Alice Munro as “effervescent,” her work has appeared in more than twenty publications, including The New Yorker, and The Paris Review. She lives with her daughter Priyanka in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

“The Day We Learned Desire is a Winding Path,” published by Capricorn Rising Press

Genevieve Maguire is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in more than thirty publications, including The New Yorker and The Paris Review. She lives with her daughter in a 100-year-old farmhouse in Woodstock, New York. “The Day We Learned Desire is a Winding Path” is her first novel. Visit her website at genevievemagauthor.com.

“Hairy Arms and Coconut Oil,” published in MotherReader

Genevieve Maguire Dunblatt is a novelist, homeopath, and part-time yoga instructor. She has seen her critically-acclaimed short stories published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. She lives with her husband Benji and daughter Priyanka in Jacksonville, Florida.  

“Priya Pinker’s Mother Gets a Life,” published by Capricorn Rising Press

Genevieve M. Dunblatt is the author of two novels, including “The Day We Learned Desire is a Winding Path.” An aura reader, faith healer, and yoga instructor, she has seen her critically-acclaimed short stories published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. She lives with her husband in Jacksonville, Florida. Visit genevieveauthormag.com to learn more about her writing, and genevieveauthormag.com/hearthappy for her wellness services. 

“Comma, Coma,” published in Read-A-Day Journal

Genevieve Maguire is the author of “The Day We Learned Desire is a Winding Path” and “Priya Pinker’s Mother Gets a Life.” She has seen her critically-acclaimed short stories published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and elsewhere. Alice Munro has called her writing “effervescent.” She lives in Jacksonville, Florida.  

“Next Stop New York,” published in The Lunar Reader

Genevieve Maguire is the author of “The Day We Learned Desire is a Winding Path” and “Priya Pinker’s Mother Gets a Life.” She lives in New Jersey.  

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By Kirthana Ramisetti

Kirthana Ramisetti is the author of Dava Shastri’s Last Day, a Good Morning America Book Club selection which is in … Read more ›