Friday, December 26, 2014

Death of a Father, The Cruelty of Borders, and The Geometry of God


Today is my father’s fifth year death anniversary. It was December 25th where I was living at the time (Hawai’i), but it was the 26th in Karachi, Pakistan, where he died. Each time I tell someone that I was not there, they say, ‘Ah, that is our nightmare.’ There is nothing you can do to take back the two absences – the death of a parent, and not being able to say goodbye.


I wasn’t just far from Karachi. I didn’t even have my passport with me. And as it was Christmas, every one was away, including Dave.

The passport was in the UK Consulate in Los Angeles. I’d submitted it for a UK visa just a couple days earlier, as I was scheduled to be in London in March/April 2010 for the UK release of my book The Geometry of God.

My father was in hospital when I sent the passport. He had pneumonia. Every day, I’d call the hospital, wondering what to do. I’d already been fingerprinted (before he got sick), which is what all Pakistani nationals must do before submitting a visa application. There is an expiration date on how many days after fingerprinting an application is valid. The clock was ticking.

My father would say he was getting better, and that I should submit the passport, go ahead with my plans, and have a beautiful book launch in the spring. I still kept waiting. Then on the 22nd he sounded so cheerful and we made each other laugh and I thought, “Okay, now or never.” The consulate would close for the holidays, and by the time it reopened, my fingerprints would have expired.

So I mailed off the fingerprints form, the application form, and my passport.

The next night, when I called him, he was not in his room. The morning after, I was told he was in ER. It was Dec 24th. The consulate had closed that very day. How was I to get my passport back now? There was NO direct number to the UK consulate. I had to go through some agency that charged an absolutely obscene amount per minute to speak with some total moron to get the message across that they just weren’t getting: send my passport back now. I called obsessively. I also sent faxes. And I called everyone I could think of in case they happened to know a human being who could help retrieve it. That was the 24th.

On the 25th I got the call: he had died.

On the 26th I finally found a kind person who’d once met someone who worked at the consulate and had her direct number. Luckily, she still worked there. By the time I left her voicemails I was a crazy person. She did call me back and I have little recollection of what we said, except that she had a Scottish accent, and that when I begged her to send it via Fed Ex overnight mail she said they only used UPS, but I was not to worry, it would be with me by the 30th.

I booked a flight home for the night of Dec 31st.

The passport did not arrive on Dec 30th.

UPS said it was due Dec 31,st during business hours. I did nothing that day but go online, to track it. I also called repeatedly to make sure they knew it HAD TO come today. They assured me they were on schedule. By 6:00 p.m. when it had not arrived, I again called. Their office had closed. I don’t know how I managed to get hold of someone at whom I screamed and swore more than I’ve ever screamed and sworn, till Dave (who’d returned) took the phone from me and told the guy what had happened. The guy on the line eventually promised to find out more. When he called back, he said there was a “mistake.” The driver of the delivery van they thought my passport was on did not have it. It was on another van, and he’d try to find out which one, but it might not be this evening...

The language I discovered at that moment involved not only swear words in at least three languages never heard before but a whole lot of scenarios along the lines of, What if it were your father. That usually changes them, if they’re human, which this guy turned out to be.

He found the truck. My passport was delivered at 9:00 pm. I left for the airport soon after.

When I got back from Karachi, I couldn’t find the strength to go through the whole wretched process of being fingerprinted again, in order to be “eligible” to apply for a UK visa to promote a book that took five years to write. It meant that I did not travel to London – or anywhere else – for the launch of The Geometry of God.

It is only this year that I found the courage to part with my passport again; for five years, I have clung to it like a limpet. I still live in absolute terror of being without it.

Those who’ve never had their mobility snatched from them because they happen to be the wrong nationality cannot understand. Those who’ve never missed kissing a parent goodbye because they’ve never had their mobility snatched from them because they happen to be the wrong nationality cannot understand.

I’m glad he got to read the book before he died. It had come out in the US, India, and Pakistan the year before, so he knew it well. He was excited for me, and would have been devastated to know that I missed the launch. But that would have been a small devastation compared with all the other grief that has taken hold of our country. He was a religious man and a Hafiz-e-Quran and some of his most serene moments were on Friday mornings, when he read from the very same Quran that he memorized as a six-year-old boy. (His mother’s brother was a book-binder; he bound those pages for him when they began to fall apart.) I’m glad he was not here on December 16th, to see what those who spit on all faith, all love, and all peace, did in Peshawar, when they killed those 132 children. It might have killed him.

If it is possible to quote one’s own work to the spirit of a beloved one, then it is this passage from The Geometry of God that I send him now, five years after he left us. “At one time, faith meant devotion to multiple pleasures – mathematics, poetry, music, anatomy, calligraphy. Knowledge was holistic. It had to be tasted. The mosque in Cordoba reflects that vision. It could not be built today. Tell me, how can an eye so penetrating have grown so dim?”

RIP.










Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Where Are the Women Tabla Players?

http://www.dawn.com/news/1103287/where-are-the-women-tabla-players

A partly autobiographical piece that asks why there aren't any well-known women maestros of the tabla. I drew upon my own conflicted history with music teachers and music lessons and posed the question a few days ago to a famous male tabla pandit from Benares. I didn't care for the answer. It inspired me to write the article.

(Many folks have written to me since reading the article to share their knowledge of one or two women tabla players. While it’s incredibly heartening to know that the handful exists, the point I was trying to make was bigger…)

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

THINNER THAN SKIN is Longlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2014!

Got the happy news yesterday:

http://dscprize.com/global/updates/2014-longlist-dsc-prize.html

The road to and through a book is hypnotic, but it's a lonely hypnosis. Perhaps this was even truer with Thinner than Skin, my fourth book, than with the others. 

So this feels good. Yes it does.






Friday, August 16, 2013

TRESPASSING is released in Romania!

With this lovely cover:



And seems to be receiving quite a bit of press, including these recent interviews.

http://filme-carti.ro/slide/uzma-aslam-khan-interviu-in-exclusivitate-pentru-filme-carti-ro-36192/#more-36192

http://bookaholic.ro/uzma-aslam-khan-scrisul-e-compulsie-trebuie-s-o-fac-nu-e-o-alegere.html
(The English version is also available: http://bookaholic.ro/uzma-aslam-khan-writing-is-a-compulsion-i-have-to-do-it-it-isnt-a-choice.html#more-36917)



The book was also featured in Elle May as 'Book of the Month,' and there's an interview with me in Elle July. So if you understand Romanian, or know someone who does, or even if you don't, yet, take a look. 


Friday, June 28, 2013

Horror On Nanga Parbat

My article on the massacre on Nanga Parbat, presumably to avenge the death of a Taliban leader by a drone strike, went up today on CounterPunch:
http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/06/28/horror-on-nanga-parbat/

An extract from it:


On the night of Saturday, June 22, 11 men were slaughtered on Nanga Parbat’s base camp by a group of militants. In order to reach the camp at 4300m, the militants forced two local men to guide them. Even the trek to the camp is a treacherous one; it has one of the fastest elevation gains in the world, is encased in melting glaciers that hide deep crevices, requires crossing streams that can be high and bitterly cold, and maneuvering narrow paths bordered by giant boulders and ice walls. It is not a walk that can be taken without somber awareness of the smallness of human size. Unless you think your mission is greater. So great that local men with a level of skill and expertise that is in fact a kind of greatness should be threatened into playing a part in it. Before Saturday night, never had a murder been committed against foreigners here, let alone one in which local inhabitants had been made complicit. In bloodying their mountain, and their hands, an entire history and culture has been defiled.
What no self-appointed avenger of the US-led war has ever said is that these attacks primarily hurt Pakistanis. And on every level: through murder, the sacrilege of a land, the dishonoring of a culture that for centuries has survived peacefully on the land, as well as through the destruction of a tenuous economy... Add to this the toll the war has taken on other parts of the country and around 52,000 Pakistanis (have been) killed since 3,000 Americans were killed on 9/11. Or 17. 3 Pakistani corpses for every 1 American corpse.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

More love for Thinner than Skin

Another lovely review. Thank you, Matthew Todd, for reading the book, for taking the time to think and feel on it so thoroughly.
http://matttodd.wordpress.com/2013/01/06/thinner-than-skin-2012-uzma-aslam-khan/

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Jordan Times reviews Thinner than Skin


Was thrilled to see this review of Thinner than Skin in The Jordan Times, my first appearance in the journal: 

http://jordantimes.com/vulnerable-on-all-sides

Am I really being mentioned in the same breath as Gabriel Garcia Marquez?!?! Wooheee.

Happy and safe holidays to all.