Eid-al-Adha 2016/1437: Eid Mubarak

I’m a bit late in posting this but a belated Eid Mubarak! It’s was a lovely long weekend for us, filled with good food, three different cakes, and lots of naughty toddlers, presents and sweets.

Here’s wishing you all a blessed celebration, and Hajj Mubarak to those of you who were lucky enough to make it this year.

 

Daughter: The things your children don’t tell you

Jane Shemilt’s debut novel Daughter encapsulates every parents’ fear – the day that their child doesn’t come home. Jenny seems to have the perfect life – the perfect neurosurgeon husband, three high-achieving children and the perfect career – until her youngest child, 15-year-old Naomi goes to her school play one night and never comes home. As the hours turn into days and months, the police don’t seem to be getting anywhere, and Jenny is forced to re-examine her relationship not just with her daughter but the entire family. Fresh-faced, education-focused Naomi who apparently doesn’t like the taste of alcohol, doesn’t smoke and barely wears makeup is soon u51GCAP+U-qL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_nravelled throughout the course of Jenny’s memories and the investigation into the disappearance as not being all she seems. The fact that her daughter has been keeping many secrets from Jenny is just as painful as her disappearance, and likewise, Naomi’s twin older brothers, Ed and Theo, seem to be hiding a few secrets of their own – and what of Ted, Jenny’s perfect surgeon husband?

As Jenny discovers more secrets about her daughter’s life, we see how she begins to see her own failings as a mother, and even the problems she has having with her career and marriage. I had a little bit of a gripe with the approach of this novel, which is intended to make us question the idea of parenting, although this perhaps may be to make the reader see the age-old question of whether a working mother can be a good parent – and the guilt that comes with this. Throughout, Jenny asserts that she has been a respectful mother who has given her children space and privacy, and yet there are glaring signs that this has gone wrong, her children have felt neglected, and that she doesn’t have a clue who her children really are. Again, there is a suggestion that it is never easy to know which is worse, being a ‘helicopter-parent’ or being a laid-back parent who gives their child too much freedom and independence.

The only thing which lets this narrative down is the structure – which alternates between the days leading up to and the immediate aftermath of Naomi’s disappearance, and a year later when Jenny is spending her Christmas in an isolated cottage, still searching for her daughter. While this is designed to explore memory and make us see scenes from difference points of time, it also was a little disappointing because it meant that every clue and lead found in the weeks following the disappearance led nowhere a year later. The Then and Now structure works for some novels but not this one – mainly because it makes the build-up slow and undermines the tension.

Without writing in any spoilers for the book, I will say that there are a lot of interesting twists and turns in the novel, although I wasn’t satisfied entirely with the ending of the story. A lot of other readers have agreed with me that the characters and their actions aren’t entirely believable, and that there are times when the characters don’t feel realistic in their actions. At times Jenny becomes a spoilt, middle-class trope for the modern parent who is too neglectful, which makes it a little harder to sympathise with her – yet it also seems that she is vilified so that she is made out to be a bad parent. This is also underscored by the fact that we never really meet the missing teenager herself – Naomi comes across as moody, secretive and mysterious by the people who think they know her.

Overall, this novel is fairly thought-provoking – can we ever completely know the ones we love? Jenny’s seemingly perfect life is only that on the surface, making us question whether it is possible to have it all – the perfect career, family and marriage. The general message of Daughter is that we don’t always know our families – particularly our teenage children – as well as we think we do.

Eid-al-Fitr 2016/1437

We had a fab Eid this last few days, which was spent with the close family – great food and good company!

I didn’t get to take too many pictures of the day as I didn’t bring my camera, but I did take a few on my mobile (so apologies for grainy quality!) but thanks to my sister Everyphototunity for sending her shots of the day!

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Every year we always take Eid as a great opportunity to put on mehndi on our hands the night before Eid, which looked great on my sister and on the nieces. I wanted to put some on myself but was too tired to by the end of the night – but there’s always next Eid!

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A little snap of our outfits – Eid always gives us a chance to channel the fashion bugs in us, and we all looked pretty colourful together on the day; I loved that there were different styles and colours while looked fab together. I think the toddlers in the family probably out-dressed us all in mini outfits from Pakistan, I wish I had taken a picture of their dresses with matching embroidery!

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And of course Eid wouldn’t be Eid without the scrumptious food, which was cooked by my eldest sister, and later by my aunt. We were all pretty stuffed by the end of the day (which is why I don’t have a lot of food pictures – we were all busy stuffing our faces.) It was also really nice to spend lunch and dinner with all of the family, after a month of quiet iftars between myself and my husband!

And of course, after the main course, we finished off with amazing chocolate cupcakes from my talented baker sister, as well sweet-dishes like rice-pudding and mithai for everyone.

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My sister knows we all have a sweet-tooth, and gifted us all a sweet-tub (adults and children!) to enjoy, which were a mix of chocolate and halal sweets, prettily decorated.

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There were also plenty of presents and chocolate for everyone (including a 1kg slab of Dairy Milk given to my husband by my sister, which I am now ‘looking after’ for him!). I remember when we were kids, my parents used to make visits to several friends houses within the day, and still cook a 3 course meal and have every extended relative visit the house – it was hectic and manic but fun because of all the family friends and cousins we would see. These days as we get older, our Eids tend to be a little more chilled out, and we spend our Eids with close family and the kids (and see our friends later on in the week!), which makes Eid more intimate and easier for some of us. It’s also always a treat to see how much the little children enjoy Eid – it’s one of our few religious holidays which really mean something to us, and it’s great to see this celebrated across the world by all generations and in such beautiful ways.

We spent about 3 days celebrating Eid (before the inevitable return to work, although my work colleagues and I are still having Eid samosas on Monday!), and it was a really nice way to end a blessed Ramadan month.

 

A Chunky Chicken and Potatoes Curry Recipe

I thought I’d post a quick chicken and potato curry recipe that we made yesterday, which I thought would be quick and easy to throw together! I’m looking to be more creating with recipes this Ramadan, so will post any new dishes I make!

Cook Thangs

Ingredients:

  • Chicken (we used half a kilo)
  • 4-5 potatoes
  • 3-4 tomatoes
  • 1/4 spoon of chilli powder (use more or less according to your preferences)
  • 1/2 spoon of salt (use more or less according to your preferences)
  • A pinch of saffron
  • Pinch of garam masala
  • Pinch of black pepper (optional)
  • 3 cardamoms seeds
  • 3-4 green chillies
  • 1 tsp of mashed garlic paste
  • 1 tsp of mashed ginger paste

Method:

  • Warm some oil in a pan
  • Chop the onions (it’s up to you how big/chunky you prefer them) and cook in the pan until golden brown
  • Once they are brown remove from the pan and drain. leave the oil in the pan
  • Roast all of the spices together with the garlic and ginger paste and the cardamom seeds in the remaining oil for about 10-15 mins
  • Peel and chop the potatoes, wash the chicken pieces and chop the green chilli – we trimmed the chillies at the end and left them as whole pieces
  • Chop the tomatoes – again you can keep these chunky or blend these like we did. We also put the onions in with the tomatoes for a smoother sauce, but you can leave them chunky if you want a thicker sauce
  • Add the chicken pieces to the spices and cook in the sauce until half-cooked
  • Add the green chillies to the pan
  • Once the chicken is half-cooked, add the tomatoes and onions mix back to the pan
  • Add the chopped potatoes to the pan
  • Cook in the sauce for a little while
  • Add water to the pan and cook for a few minutes
  • Put the lid on the pan and let the steam cook the potatoes
  • Once the potatoes begin to go soft (about 15-20 minutes later) the dish is ready
  • Serve with rice or with naan/pitta/chappatis and enjoy.

A Fragmented Mind – Following Mystery and Memory Loss

But I believe above all that I wanted to build the palace of my memory, because my memory is my only homeland.
Anselm Keifer

It’s not often that I find a book which strikes a chord with me, even if it’s not a topic I don’t know much about or can relate to as well as others. It brings me to mind similar novels, simple yet amazingly written stories like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime’ and ‘Room’, both which handle sensitive issues well yet still engages the reader to a level which makes us think about the book long after we have finished reading.

EIM-pb-jacketElizabeth is Missing follows the narrative of 80-something-year-old Maud, who has been forgetting things more often lately, suffering from a growing but unnamed problem (which could be dementia, Alzheimer’s or just elderly senility), that makes her forget where she puts things, how many tins of peaches to buy (even though the cupboard is already full of them) and at times, who her daughter and granddaughter are. But Maud has her good moments too, gossiping with her friend Elizabeth, her love for her daughters and her granddaughter Katy, and the fact that she still has her own house that she can walk to the local shop from.
Lately Maud has been concerned with her friend Elizabeth, who has gone missing and which no one is telling her about, which causes ripples further than the questions she asks. Despite being told not to worry by her daughters, Elizabeth’s son, her caretakers and even the police, she becomes more and more convinced that Elizabeth is in danger.

As we follow Maud’s investigation into this disappearance, we see that she is hampered by her inability to remember things which happened just a few seconds ago. Yet there are some things from her past which come much more vividly to her, most importantly the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of her older, newly-married sister Sukey when Maud was a teenager 70 years earlier, and the subsequent incidents following her disappearance and the fact that she was never found. Remembering back to her sister’s life following up to the time she went missing, Maud also examines the strange behaviour of the people who knew her, such as her husband, her parents, their lodger and even the crazy lady who lives up the road.

As we follow both of these mysteries, we see how Maud’s obsession with Elizabeth’s disappearance parallels her memories of her sister, interconnecting past with the present so that her quest to find Elizabeth begins to overlap with Sukey in her mind and her memories as the book goes on. While we may not necessarily be able to understand how dementia feels, it’s beautifully written so we are able to sympathise with Maud’s fragmented mind, drawing us into the story even when the scenes feel so every day.

I read this at the same time as The Girl on the Train, and although both feature mystery, missing memories and a feeling of disorientation, the results are a lot more striking in difference. While in The Girl on the Train can made me feel a little lost and even disappointing at times, Elizabeth is Missing successfully lets us see the effects of old age and dementia even while we are lost with Maud. Throughout the novel, whether it is the elderly Maud we see or her 15-year-old version, her character is unforgettable – funny, warm and even at times unexpectedly impressive even when her frustrating memory loss lets her down.

This sounds like a depressing novel, but it’s not – there are comical moments in the mundane, ordinary events of Maud’s life, beautiful moments in the midst of heartbreak, and her character is one we embrace, rather than be embarrassed of. Not only does it address everyday routines we take for granted, it unwaveringly presents the embarrassments, the small frights, the patronising attitudes and remarks, and the simple limitations that comes with old age. And whether it is funny at times, embarrassing or even moving, these little stories all ring true to life. It’s worth a read to see another view of everyday life, even if it’s to answer that age-old question “Where is the best place to grow marrows?”

Keeping Our Hijab

Keeping my Hijab

I’ve never really struggled with my hijab the way some of my fellow Muslim sisters have, mostly because I’m generally quite comfortable in my self-identity, and it also strongly helps that I live in such a diverse multicultural society. I have heard plenty from fellow sisters though – stories of girls who feel that they have lost their identity once wearing the hijab, girls who want to prevent harassment they get because of it, even those who were made to feel like they had to wear it as young girls and feel a lot of anger and resentment towards it. Personally, I’ve been fortunate enough to have enough support around me to never make me feel that there was anything that I lacked or which made me less of a person than anyone else around me. If you’ve read my hijab story, you may understand why I chose to wear it – it was a symbolic act for me as well as a form of progression, and it definitely signalled a stage of life where I looked forward to the person I wanted to be.

In the last few months, or even perhaps year or so, I have felt a little unease – not with my own self-image or internal struggles, but with the external pressures – world events which have increasingly put the spotlight on us, the attitudes of people around us and even the growing islamophobia and fears a lot of us have begun to come across.

For me personally, it’s not so much the big things, but the little things which have made a difference. I remember my sister telling me about attitudes after the 7/7 attack ten years ago, when a few Muslim women in London were spat on, attacked or had a lot of racial abuse – there were some instances of this but on the whole, a lot of London rallied around and refused to call their fellow citizens terrorists. Certainly, myself, I didn’t feel excluded or as if I was treated differently, although perhaps it was a little different for me as I was in university at the time and was surrounded by peers who understood I was just a simple east London girl, and not a terrorist.

These days, I’m feeling a little differently. I think the recent Paris attacks, the ‘Charlie Hebdo’ incident and various terror incidents around the world have caused some sensational headlines and reactions, which is understandable but also a little scary. I’ve noticed it, as I have said, in the small things – the rude comments when going home on the train from white, male strangers, the dirty looks from an older couple who don’t know who I am or what kind of person I am, even the younger generation who have perhaps heard their parents talk about ‘Pakis’ and what we ‘do’, and feel that it is okay to call someone a name. It doesn’t happen a lot, but it has happened. I think my sister described it best – sometimes these people think that it is okay to treat someone like this because they don’t know how to express themselves, and they don’t know how to say to someone ‘I am scared of you because you are different.’ Perhaps too many of them have read dramatic headlines from The Sun and think that because it is printed, it must be right, and perhaps, some of them just need an excuse to channel their frustrations.

And of course, this isn’t just restricted to hijab scarves worn on the head – it’s any form of hijab. I’ve had sisters tell me it’s so much harder projecting a positive image, whether it’s from the turban hijab, the burqa or the niqaab (face-covering veil). All of these have an influence on people’s first impressions of us, and it can be a little depressing that some people may revert to negatives when seeing it.

It puts me in mind of a colleague of mine, who I have known for a few years – she joined my team from another department a while ago, and it fell to me to train her. This was a sister who wore not just the hijab, but niqaab (face-covering veil), although she opted not to wear it in the office until she went out, partly because of office-policy. It was easy for me to treat her normally because the niqaab is not a scary thing to me, and I have grown up understanding it. But when it was time for her to go out for lunch, or make routine visits which required going outside, and she would stand up to fix her hijab and put on her niqaab on top, there’d be a slight drop in conversation, a lull where people in the team tried not to notice. Speaking to team members on separate occasions, I heard a lot of comments about why she chose to wear it, about how it was a little off-putting, and the assertion/reassurance that ‘oh but you’re alright, I like you’ because I was more relatable and less scary than someone who wore a niqaab and covered her face. It made me see that although there isn’t a deliberate intention in this attitude, there is a little ignorance, and it’s too easy for those who don’t understand to resort to rude comments or hostility.

I had a conversation recently with a colleague of mine, an older man with two daughters in their late teens. He said that his eldest daughter wore a hijab and had chosen to do so herself, and it was something she didn’t have any issues with either. However, as a parent he was concerned about her safety travelling around London after the Paris attacks, and suggested to her that it would be okay if she wanted to take it off.

“I told her that if she wanted to, if she thought it would make her feel safer, she should remove her hijab. I know why she wears it, but as a parent it’s also worrying that she may face harassment because of it, we all want our children to be protected. Of course, she straightaway answered ‘Dad I’m not taking it off, don’t be silly, I would never do it’. She doesn’t understand that I just want her to be safe. But in my heart, when I heard her say that, it made me feel so proud. I was so proud of her because of her strength and her faith, even though I do still worry.”

This isn’t an unfamiliar sentiment, and it’s also not the first time I’ve heard from fellow Muslims about the idea of taking it off – even my husband tentatively suggested to me once that perhaps for safety, I shouldn’t wear my hijab it to a European holiday we went on earlier this year. I answered that the best way to educate someone would be to stick to your beliefs and show that Muslims are people too, and can have fun on holidays, rather than conform to someone else’s fears and feel restricted. He’s never asked me since whether I would do this (perhaps he knows how stubborn I am), but I know I am certainly not alone in this feeling.

I won’t deny it is worrying – my eldest niece has worn a hijab at a pretty young age, and as fierce as she is, she is still a young girl. She has her own influences – hijabi bloggers, her mother, Youtube tutorials, friends at school that she shares her hijab tips with – and while I know she is too strong to be put off the hijab, I hate the idea that a stranger can treat her differently because of it. It makes me angry and it makes me upset that a first impression can be almost callously created like that – but it also makes me more determined.

Determined because I know that we can do our best to prove the opposite, so that our fellow Londoners can see the best of us, and because for every ugly, ignorant person I can met, I have encountered dozens of kind-hearted, open people. Perhaps I love London so much (I did do my University dissertation about the city, after all!) and because I have lived here my whole life, it makes me believe that it really is a multi-cultural society which embraces our quirks and differences and makes us proud to have them.

I’m waiting to see how things change in this new year – perhaps I’ll see more patience from people who are willing to see us and not the skin colour, hijab or ethnicity we have. Certainly I’ve met enough bloggers, fashionistas, artists, chefs and charity-runners recently who have done everything they can to make a difference. I point you to Maha, a friend of mine who not only went out to Turkey and Greece last summer to meet Syrian refugees and raise money for them, but also went out to Calais during her Christmas holidays to visit more of the displaced and homeless, in order to give them food and clothing. I point to someone I met a few days ago, Nabila, who ran an event to raise money to sponsor orphans. A long-standing acquaintance of mine Rahima, who has endlessly been running a charity to help minority groups such as the Rohingya over the last decade. Farrah, a radio presenter who holds charity events to raise awareness and money for little-talked about issues such as Asian women with depression, or suicide.

In the end, I’m hoping that the anger and anxiety around us gives way to a more sensible mentality. While there have been ignorant views and unkind words from some, it does cheer me to see a lot of people defend us hijabis as well, and show their common sense and compassion. I hope my (not-so-little) rant makes sense to you, and I’m definitely hoping there’s readers out there who see my concerns. Perhaps one day I’ll be proved wrong, heck, I’m hoping my nieces and those of the younger generations will wonder on on earth I’m thinking about because it’s never cross their minds : )

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Image source