Stories about life abroad

My selfish desire to not be a stereotype

At the documentary production company where I worked over the summer, one of our ongoing projects was a film about four Senegalese teenagers chosen to come to the U.S. on basketball scholarships.  At the end of the film, the boys return to Senegal, and one of them says, “We were the lucky ones. Now it’s our turn to give back.” “Ah, that noble, selfless spirit!” my boss once remarked with an ironic laugh, as we had just finished watching a fresh cut of the film. “Isn’t that just so African?” “No,” I thought to myself, slightly annoyed at her levity. “There’s nothing ...

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The Burberry that stole my heart

Walking in the streets of London a month and a half ago, Q and I decided to eat at Wagamama’s. After devouring the chicken katsu, I miraculously managed to convince him to take the side street with me and head to Oxford instead of back home, like he had hoped. It was while we were walking past Selfridges that I fell in love! I stopped dead in my tracks, much to Q’s puzzlement. “Handbag…dangling from her arm, cell phone…in her hand, sunglasses…on her head”, he quickly did a mental check. “What, now?” “Have you left the keys at Wagamama’s?” When he got no ...

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Guess who’s coming to dinner

If you are dragged feet first to a dinner your intuition is warning you against, what are the chances of it actually turning out to be a fun evening? Zilch. Especially if you’re coaxed to go not because of your scintillating company, but just to make up the numbers. One lone Pakistani woman at a restaurant table in a Pakistani joint should be chaperoned by another female desi, especially with the other diners being men. In case you’re thinking that these men must be in the league of Brad Pitt/Johnny Depp or even Ali Zafar, please disabuse yourself of that delicious notion. ...

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Celebrating Eid with Aisam

Watching Pakistan’s Aisamul-Haq Qureshi almost win the Men’s Doubles Final at the US Open in New York was not a bad way to spend Eid. Throw in a velvety lump of gulab jaman gratis the Bengali uncle at Spice Corner, beaming from behind the counter in an embroidered black kurta; some papery pista-encrusted bakhlava from the toothless Palestinian landlady, her troop of grandchildren hurtling through the building in a jumble of satin and plastic wands; and a cup of spongy ras malai from Curry in a Hurry, served by a waiter in a Jinnah cap with a retro Shahrukh Khan-Madhuri Dixit video playing on the TV – I’d say Eid was downright unforgettable. We hadn’t planned on it. I was expecting ...

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A Pakistan with no hope

A few days ago, for the second time in three years, I came face to face with Karachi’s violent alter ego. It was a pretty decent day with nice cloudy skies and more or less everything going my way, until I was told that we had to attend a wedding function in Gulistan-e-Jauhar. Now, I’m not saying I loathe the nonsensical rituals that govern a Pakistani wedding, no. It’s just that I’m not a big fan of leaving home an hour before midnight to go to a fancy dress show to fight over greasy biryani and lukewarm 7up.  Especially because ...

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How to dhamaal in New York

The Sufi Music Festival organized by Pakistani Peace Builders (PPB) in Union Square was the closest I’ve gotten to Lahore in three years. And was it a treat. Think food street, Salt N’ Pepper, faludas, kulfis, funny but poignant commentaries on rickshaws, naani force feeding you, freshly picked jaaman, all thrown in one – then, multiply this by a thousand. And add in some jasmine and rose necklaces and bracelets. And that still doesn’t compare. Despite the sweltering 90-something degree heat and the sun beating down on the New York concrete, hundreds if not thousands of people showed up for ...

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A few American brats you know

Alarmingly large numbers of Pakistanis are heading to colleges abroad. It’s become a status symbol. Parents dole out ridiculous amounts of money to make sure their kids – especially their sons – get a degree from a foreign college, however bad, or expensive. Experiencing life at a college in the US makes it easy for me to see what becomes of most of them. Forgive me; I’m going to take the liberty to generalise. The way I look at, if you place the typical Pakistani male at an American college then he’ll be sure to fall into one or more ...

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