Sometimes when I meet family, I am uncomfortable with the version of myself I become. I am expected to be funny and irreverent, and I am, within clear and unsaid boundaries. I do not question their attitudes—about caste, women, class. I do not question their jokes that are in fact insults. The rules demand my pretense, so I act. I hide my distaste, almost too effectively. Later, when I am no longer performing, I feel this distaste for myself, for playing along, for not saying what I think. I try to take away some of the blame—maybe it’s not my place to challenge everyone I meet. But what if it is?
I did something out of character: I bought a few books. I got a bit carried away looking at the Remainders—discounts work on everyone apparently, even people like me who claim they don’t indulge in shopping as a recreational activity. A remaindered book to remind me of a trip; why not?
Someone once told me I don’t understand money, they assumed I’d either grown up with too much of it, or possibly too little. The reality is quite dull. I grew up with everything I needed, and I didn’t want what I didn’t need. I do not know why. Shopping has always left me feeling guilty, receiving gifts continues to make me awkward. I enjoy picking out gifts for others though, and my mother pointed out to me that this might be an indicator of my hypocrisy.
Fatima Farheen Mirza’s debut novel A Place for Us gave me company during a recent flight journey. A saga about a Hyderabadi Muslim immigrant family in California, this book is designed to hit all the right notes. Hadia, the eldest, is getting married to a man she chose, a significant achievement for someone in her position. She asks her brother Amar to return home for the wedding; he left three years ago, unable to reconcile with the expectations of his pious parents. The other people that populate this novel include Huda, the middle child, and the parents Rafiq and Layla, who were married off after one supervised meeting.
The author’s passion for the subject is evident—she writes with warmth and empathy about these characters, all the dimensions of their faith, the rebellions of children growing up in a religious and conservative household. She knows and understands her setting. It is a pleasant and predictable novel, emotional when it needs to be. It should suffice, but it constantly made me feel like I was reading a book that was crafted with the purpose of moving me. The phrases were studied, careful, as if guided by a writing instructor. Problems are returned to again and again, so we don’t forget their significance. Chronology is jumbled on purpose, encouraging us into to think of the story as dreamlike. Events are revisited, without new perspectives. I haven’t come across anyone disliking the book though. Am I being hard to please; is that okay?
Here’s another unusual thing: I am going to be attending a couple of film festivals as a Media Person. I assure you I am excited, and a little anxious—what if I have nothing meaningful to say after watching all these films? Also, I am yet to learn to ignore the voice that tells me I’m going to be outed as a fraud. Is it possible I may forget about it, if I disregard it long enough?