What We Talk About When We Talk About Life

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'Over dinner one night your mother calls the pretty girl a slut. You are so angry that you leave the room without finishing your egg, not hearing that in your mother's otherwise excoriating tone is a hint of wistfulness, and perhaps even of admiration.'How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

'Over dinner one night your mother calls the pretty girl a slut. You are so angry that you leave the room without finishing your egg, not hearing that in your mother's otherwise excoriating tone is a hint of wistfulness, and perhaps even of admiration.'

How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

There is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves, we feel that no one else has a right to blame us. It is the confession, not the priest, that gives us absolution.

—Oscar Wilde

'I'd arrived in New York from Karachi four years earlier to attend college, which I completed swimmingly in three, and, though I was the only expatriate among us liked to believe I'd since claimed the city and the city had claimed me'Home Boy by H.M. Naqvi

'I'd arrived in New York from Karachi four years earlier to attend college, which I completed swimmingly in three, and, though I was the only expatriate among us liked to believe I'd since claimed the city and the city had claimed me'

Home Boy by H.M. Naqvi

'She wanted to know all about me, what I was like, who I was. I was worried, there wasn't much to tell. I had no preferences. I ate anything, wore anything, sat where you told me, slept where you said. I was infinitely adaptable. Claire wanted to know things like, did I like coconut soap or green apple? I didn't know. “No, you have to decide,” she said.So I became a user of green apple soap, of chamomile shampoo. I preferred to have the window open when I slept. I liked my meat rare. I had a favorite color, aquamarine blue, a favorite number, nine. But sometimes I suspected Claire was looking for more than there was to me.’White Oleander by Janet Fitch

'She wanted to know all about me, what I was like, who I was. I was worried, there wasn't much to tell. I had no preferences. I ate anything, wore anything, sat where you told me, slept where you said. I was infinitely adaptable. Claire wanted to know things like, did I like coconut soap or green apple? I didn't know. “No, you have to decide,” she said.

So I became a user of green apple soap, of chamomile shampoo. I preferred to have the window open when I slept. I liked my meat rare. I had a favorite color, aquamarine blue, a favorite number, nine. But sometimes I suspected Claire was looking for more than there was to me.’

White Oleander by Janet Fitch

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart: I am, I am, I am.”The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart: I am, I am, I am.”

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

"you chose books, I chose looks"

So I have been on kind of a reading binge lately… Ever since about a month before work started (February 16th), I basically traded tv shows and youtube for reading because I enjoyed it more, somehow. I used to be a bigggg reader as a child (hence the Matilda quote as a header for this post), and an active reader in my high school years. During college, I read on and off, when my schedule allowed it. But I still managed to read a few good books regularly because I traveled regularly, and I like to read when I travel, and because the university had a great library so the minute I’d have a free moment I’d check out a bunch of books.

I kind of stopped reading after, though, and only started again just a couple of months ago. I have been going through book after book after book, I read while I eat, before I sleep, on the train, etc. So I thought it might be a fun idea to post a picture of every book I read (I will take and edit them myself) with my favorite quote from the book—I thought about doing book reviews but I don’t want to review something brilliant and literary in a rush and not do it justice. I guess these are sort of book recommendations, though I am posting almost every book I read, not just the ones I like. Enjoy!

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
and before the street begins,
and there the grass grows soft and white,
and there the sun burns crimson bright,
and there the moon-bird rests from his flight
to cool in the peppermint wind.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
and the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
we shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow
and watch where the chalk-white arrows go
to the place where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
and we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
for the children, they mark, and the children, they know,
the place where the sidewalk ends.

—"Where the Sidewalk Ends", Shel Silverstein

I hear the drizzle of the rain
Like a memory it falls
Soft and warm continuing
Tapping on my roof and walls.

And from the shelter of my mind
Through the window of my eyes
I gaze beyond the rain-drenched streets
To England where my heart lies.

My mind’s distracted and diffused
My thoughts are many miles away
They lie with you when you’re asleep
And kiss you when you start your day.

And a song I was writing is left undone
I don’t know why I spend my time
Writing songs I can’t believe
With words that tear and strain to rhyme.

And so you see I have come to doubt
All that I once held as true
I stand alone without beliefs
The only truth I know is you.

And as I watch the drops of rain
Weave their weary paths and die
I know that I am like the rain
There but for the grace of you go I

We Are Not Poets*

It’s hard to speak about an entire generation, though there are things that bring us together, threads that connect us in such a way that we could not even argue if we were lumped together as one. Articles I have been reading lately have been referring to us as the Selfie Generation, and I could not imagine a worse way to define us, to define our time. That being said, it is probably the single thing we all have in common, just something based on statistics. Is it that the development of the front-facing camera induced the naturally self-absorbed traits we all have all carried for hundreds of years now, the vanity that is not novel in any way, but one that has found a quick and easy outlet? Or have the technology mavens tapped into and are exploiting the single thing that is different about us, the frightening heights of self-obsession, of recording not our deeper thoughts but our changing faces and micro-ideas? What is a hash-tag anyway? Some people use hash-tags to be funny, but that is not the purpose it serves at all. In fact, the hash-tag is not for the one who posts it, but for the anonymous reader who searches the interweb using the hash-tag as a filter. If you search ‘TBT’ on Instagram, you will get thousands, maybe millions of pictures of people experiencing and consequently representing the exact same thing. If Buzzfeed created a list about us in 30 years, something like ‘100 most 2010s thing that ever happened’, will it just be 100 selfies of people wearing clothes that can fit into absolutely any era, drinking Starbucks, hating on people who drink Starbucks, hating on whiny white boys with guitars? Are we really that non-specific? Are we really that boring? Is what moves us and brings us together really that meaningless?  I would rather be brought together by passionate hatred for something than impassionate love for nothing. I think we have a problem here.

The 6-7 months of unemployment/boredom I faced following graduation was a defining time for me, on account of the fact that I probably won’t ever have that much time ever again. Ever. I knew this at the time, yet the pressure of valuing it did not move me enough to do anything remarkable. An example of what I am trying to inarticulately capture is the following exchange between Jessie and Celine in the 2013 film ‘Before Midnight’. I could not find the exact quotation, so I will just try to quote what I remember. During their heated fight towards the end of the movie, Celine points out how lucky Jessie is to have time to have his existential crises—spoilt even. She (hilariously) says that the only time she gets to think is when she is pooping, so she is started to associate pooping with deeper thoughts. ‘Existential angst’ is what my friend accurately called what I was experiencing during this long drawn out time. I was fortunate, yes, to be able to experience this wondrous gap in my life where I could not stop thinking and questioning everything but I refrain from saying lucky because it was anything but pleasant. Some of the similar internal debates I waged on myself (not generally, only with regards to my own personal choices of course, completely self-centered) were art versus science, writing versus engineering, academia versus the corporate world, painfully hip non-conformism versus slightly ironic and therefore excruciatingly hip conformism. Of all the things that I was trying so hard to be inspired by, writing stood out to me the most, as it always has. I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t make a mental note of the thought that I had just had—an allusion to the sentiment that every thought is a memory because you can only form it once the moment has passed. And making these mental notes was my way of writing. Years before I put pen to paper, I started to divide my thoughts into two: an instinctive response to my surroundings and the consequent, purely objective reflection of that specific instinctive response. This phenomenon to me, was writing. One disturbing realization during this free period of my life was of my lack of context, not context in general (well, that too I suppose), but context of reading and writing—this moment came when I was reading the biography of Anais Nin. Anais Nin (one of the most celebrated female authors in recent history) was a fan of DH Lawrence—such a big fan, in fact, that he inspired some of her greatest works, arguably even her entire writing career. Now this may not seem like a fact that could mildly traumatize a random reader, but here is why it should traumatize all of us. In order to be so inspired by someone that they dictate an entire chapter of your life, not only do you have to know their work very well—you need to know their work as well as the works of their contemporaries in order to conclude that they are, in fact, the best for you. This was a daunting realization for me, because I don’t know the entire life’s work of a single writer, artist, musician etc. much less the works of others as well, enough for me to draw a fair comparison. I am not young; time is not a good enough excuse. I am uninformed and uninspired. By my age, John Keats had written an entire life’s worth of poetry, not to say I should be comparing myself to John Keats, but I mean, it’s kind of sort of something to worry about. So those days when I roamed around the city piazza (does it sound better when I call Uptown Mirdif a piazza? I thought so), a life sans schedules and sans alarms, letting my mind wander and allowing myself to really understand: I felt nothing extraordinary, and I didn’t accomplish anything. Nothing came out of that existential angst and that in itself is a bit of a catch-22, it makes the existential angst pointless—which is a derivative of the fact that the existential angst itself is concluding everything else to be pointless. It was at this point when I came to the complete realization of a nagging thought I had been pushing aside for a while: we are not poets. A writer’s life is inconsistent—periods of productivity followed by endless pockets of unproductivity, desperately trying to be inspired, writing as an end game and not a by-product of my experiences. And while it might work for some, this was not the life that I wanted.

So when I started work a few months later (not as a writer), my days changed suddenly and drastically. My daily routine, once open-ended/wonderful/daunting became comforting in its repetitive nature and transformed into planned, organized chunks of time. I might not be drinking the Kool-Aid but I am certainly drinking the same fluoride-infused mineral water everyone else does. Without intention, my life became defined by electronic key cards. I have a key card for everything. I am always buzzing myself in and out of places, a constant reminder that I am now a part of the system, just like the beeps before me and the beeps after me. I am no longer wandering and my ins and outs are governed and monitored by forces outside of me. I have a key card for work, I use my metro card multiple times a day, and an all-access key card for my gym. I am one of them, in spite of the fact that I am unable to define ‘them’, or us, except for this ambiguous yet still somehow clear realization that we are not poets.

Still, when I make to-do lists on post-it notes (so many hyphens, so many ways we are all the same), I sub-consciously doodle hearts and stars, just like other (little) girls. When I ride the metro back home, I lean my head against the window and listen to David Byrne and think about weird things, or normal things, or nothing at all. I may have buzzed myself in, but I cannot turn my mind off.

*Or Are We?

A list of Some of the Wisest Things Ayesha Has Ever Said

I have known my friend Ayesha since the 7th grade. She is now getting her MBA in India, while I have settled into work life in Dubai. She is one of the smartest people I know, and practically everything she says needs to be recorded and saved. This is a list of some of the wisest things she has ever said:

On Diwali

Saw 4 hrs of pretty diwali lights on my way back home and a car full of skanks tht said: small girls play with toys, big girls play with boys

On the division of wealth in India

Today i saw a poodle being pushed arnd in a stroller then put into a RollsRoyce, to think 41.6% ppl are below poverty level in this country

On being in good company

I think my laptop is having its very own breakdown. welcome to the club, bitch.

On being intellectually superior

Let me handle the Tolkien references, dumb jock

On great business ideas

Dreamt about Twin Peaks and I haven’t even started watching it yet. There was a guy with detachable chest hair.

On looking on the bright side

Reasons why back to uni isn’t so bad: One of my stalkers has graduated.

On unintentional insults

Referring to someone’s spouse as “your better half” is kinda creepy and also condescending.

On functionality

Does the woman? RT @GoogleFacts The pen that was lost inside a woman’s stomach for 25 years was taken out via surgery. The pen still works!

On instincts

whenever we see a minor accident on the road my dad chuckles involuntarily but then suddenly becomes very serious and says “Astagfirullah”

On contemporary fashion statements

When coco chanel said “take one thing off before you leave your house” i really dont think she meant underwear.

On philosophical self-awareness

I feel so awkward when the doorman greets me every time i leave/get home and i wonder if i’m really smiling at all.

On unfair labels

Pretty sure the term “laziness” was invented by someone being a jerk to people too tired to do anything.

On Hitler’s broken heart

I really hope all that wasn’t over a broken heart RT @googlefacts The 1st love in Adolf Hitler’s life, was a Jewish girl.

On her namesake

This is getting creepy RT @googlefacts There have been an elephant who died from having a broken heart, her name was Aisha.

On New Delhi daily life

Thoughts on my way to uni: “these cows are gonna make me so late”

On all the best movies ever made

In the #90s every movie started with a red convertible, driven across a bridge with blaring music and actors wearing sunglasses and smiling

On sensitivity

I can feel it RT @GoogleFacts Because the earth is slowing down, today is actually 0.00000002 seconds longer than yesterday

On Keeping Up With the Kardashians

Omg the kardashians are going to a store launch in this episode?!? You just never know what to expect from this show

On friendship

It’s not friendship if it feels like torture

On the most terrible things in life

Wet sleeves are the worst

On our shared, earnest reaction to Lindsay Lohan’s evolution

being a lindsay lohan fan means endless disappointment

On making choices to attract the opposite sex

Smothering love or smouldering eyes?

On the finer things in life

All I want is a good burger, it doesnt even have to be good

On understanding

Just had a confusing conversation with the grocery guy who insisted they only had “hot meal” bread (oatmeal)

On men

whiny boys #ew

On reasonable expectations

someone play the piano while i eat my cookies


Dont get too attached to anyone on game of thrones because THEY WILL DIE 

On existence

-Are we still waiting for our lives to start?

-This bed is so soft like is my back real? am i? is anything?

On heat

-Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Because i hate you

-I’m not blushing, i’m having a heat stroke

-i hope it doesnt get any hotter cause my bun cant get any higher

On the perception of Indians in Western media

To the director of the best exotic marigold hotel: Indians are real people

On the trials and tribulations of placing a food order

When I say no to up-sizing my meal, my heart is breaking

On repercussions

Complimented my khala’s roses and she made me eat one #realtalk

On recognizing one’s true place in the world

"These hands weren’t meant for slicing apples," I sigh. Mother looks formidable.

On self-pity

Drifted to sleep for a sec & dreamt of a sandwich when I woke up I realised my mouth was open to take a bite, never felt more sry fr myself

On rishtas

-When you get a rishta you think aww so sweet this boy likes me! False. His mummy likes your mummy. #KeepingItReal

-My aunt was like so there’s this boy, r u ready to get married? & I said the real q is HE ready to be married to ME? & my dad & I high-fived

On making mistakes

Dude saw me confuse my headband 4 shades & leave it over my eyes 4 a sec, been staring at me since trying 2 assess how crazy I am #whatevs

On solving problems

How to stop having to wake up early in the morning: stick a dagger through your heart

On the foresight of Persian poets

Rumi knew alot of things but he never would’ve imagined he’d be this cool in 2014

On her style

So unintentionally soft grunge


I have adopted a random sleeping trick, you should try it

If you are the kind of person who simply rolls out of bed with tremendous ease after 5 hours of sleep, then this isn’t for you. I also want to post a disclaimer and say I am not qualified in any way to dole out clinical advice, but I doubt any harm could result from what I insist is a foolproof, awesome trick. I have, however, taken an Ergonomics class (Ergonomics of Occupational Injuries: so what I am about to say is a combination of intuition and what I learned from that class about the skeletal form).

To start by giving a short background of my personal sleeping habits—I am a very deep sleeper. I have always been the kind of person that sleeps as soon as my head hits the pillow and wakes up the next morning without stirring in the night at all. I don’t wake up for water, the bathroom, people, I have even slept through the most ferocious of ice storms, with the winds pounding against the panes of my basement window. (I am not counting periods of unemployment/sadness when I became nocturnal). I also sleep an average of 6 hours every day but can go up to an even 12 on my days off. Straight 12 hours through the night—I don’t like naps.

Those of you who have read a little bit about the value of a good night’s sleep paired with the significance of sleeping positions know that the clinical hierarchy goes as follows:

Sleeping on your back > Sleeping on your side > Fetal Position > Sleeping on your stomach.

I alternate between sleeping on my side and sleeping on my stomach.

I should also point out that one of the vaguer problems I on a daily basis have is back, neck and shoulder pain due to fatigue, exercise, long hours being completely sedentary, awkward bed+laptop posture and during peak midterm season, stress.

It is not a medical problem per se, sort of how some people feel exhaustion in their legs more (esp at night. women who are top-heavy with slim legs especially have a stretching leg ache through-out the night), some in their arms, etc. I feel the tiredness in my neck and back, and I know a lot of other people do too. 

Sleeping on my back is a great solution to back and neck pain, but no matter how hard I tried, I cannot change my sleeping position. Even if I try, I end up sleeping the way I am most comfortable, it is not a change I can force on myself.

At the beginning of last year, or some months before, I discovered a really random trick which helps me feel great when I wake up in the morning. I don’t mean mentally—I am pretty hyper in the morning. I mean physically.

[Note- By default, I always wake up 10-15 minutes before my alarm goes off. I always have. I never actually wake up to the sound of the alarm because I hate being jolted out of sleep, so the fear of being jolted out of sleep is what wakes me up every day. I wake up 10 minutes before my alarm to turn it off. For those of you who don’t have this odd habit, you need to set your alarm 10 minutes earlier than you do for my tip]

This is what I do:

10 minutes before I absolutely have to get out of bed, I lie down on my back, and slowly, completely stretch my spine (which had been arched all night). I sort of lie down the way Snow White does, I even bind my hands across my ribs. 

So what this does is it aligns your vertebrae and stretches your spine slowly from an arched position instead of suddenly jumping from a crumpled pile of bones into a standing position. [Note-your spine/body is in the exact same state when you are standing as when you are lying down]. In addition, it helps with circulation. Sometimes I find that I have pooling of blood in my knees when I wake up. Doing this ‘exercise’ restores my circulation and consequently, when I climb out of bed, I feel great. I don’t even need to stretch, because this is sort of a preemptive stretch. It also helps me start the day with a clear perspective— I try to meditate/not think and it’s quite relaxing. By the time I hop out of bed, I am good to go.

Good luck and sweet dreams, everybody.

we are sharks

SENIOR DESIGN: A Biomedical Engineer’s Perspective On Being Humored in University and Then Venturing into the Real World

The Assignment
As a part of my undergraduate biomedical engineering experience, I participated in a mandatory senior design project. The entire senior class of BME was divided into groups that were randomly selected (though we later joked that this was definitely not the case, as ours seemed a little too culturally diverse, a little too ideal in the case we were ever featured in a university pamphlet) and each group was assigned a different design project. This assignment or choice of project was done by some kind of mentor— this was a pretty vague definition. The “medical mentors” ranged from medical doctors at the Uiowa Carver College of Medicine to electrical engineering professors to members of the hospital nursing staff. how they made the cut as mentors was unclear and irrelevant: the board comprised of people with potentially meaningful ideas and some kind of influence. The mentors presented the teams with their saplings of ideas and we picked our favorite or least least favorite and took it from there. the process was not laid out to us in a very step-by-step way; this was deliberate. We were to take a very ambiguous thought or initiative presented to us, and in one year, have something physical and operational to present to the faculty, staff, students, and board. A demonstrative prototype that you could touch and use, if not necessarily in a sterile environment that required medical-grade equipment only.
Iowa Medical Innovations Group
In addition to senior design, I participated in a program called Iowa Medical Innovations Group (IMIG). Students from all departments applied to this program, which was organized by the College of Business. It proposed an alternative (what turned out to really be additive) approach to your senior design project. To form an inter-disciplinary team of students who take the project a step further from simply designing it—by marketing it and filing for a patent. So our adorably culturally diverse team expanded to include MBA students from the College of Business (who handled the product development, marketing, and financial analysis), College of Law (patents galore), and College of Medicine (didn’t do anything—i never met the medical student on my team. In an entire year. I guess medical school is really very preoccupying). The engineers worked separately in our smaller group on the technical aspects and had bi-weekly meetings with the other members to discuss the rest. This project was generously funded by the College of Business and we had a variety of resources available for us at any time.
The Resectoscope Project
After a few obstacles, our team chose to work on what was them very vaguely titled “the resectoscope project”. The business students called it “Dick Needle, LLC”. which was surprisingly fitting, given the functioning of the resectoscope, a medical device designed to remove, or resect the cancerous tumors of a bladder. The device also consisted of a small camera, scope, and input and output valve for irrigation which was a necessity owing to the elastic nature of the walls of the bladder, and an electrically powered coil. The method of insertion was via the urethra, hence the apropos, if somewhat crass project name “Dick Needle LLC”. The problem statement was as follows- design a device that eliminates the need for the surgeon to mechanically operate the input/output valves for flow and instead maintains the volume of the bladder while keeping it continuously irrigated with clean flow. This was especially crucial as the cavity (or the inside of the bladder, visible to the surgeon on a screen because of the small Olympus at the end of the device) would get dirtier as the cancer was resected, fill with blood and eventually distort the camera view, making it impossible for the procedure to be accurate or for the surgeon to even continue searching for tumors to remove.
Finding a Solution: The Birth of ModuFlow
We spent what seemed like forever trying to come up with a solution. i personally recall hours and hours in the offices of EE professors (there has to be an electrical solution), in the IIHRF (forget electrical, this is a fluids problem, we need to solve it using CV and schematics!) and finally, with our engineering mentor (sketching possible solutions, deciding parts, moving the parts around, writing equations, figuring out what values were needed for what parts, only to find out the entire set-up failed because of one minor flow calculation, or because a single flow meter cost 4000 dollars, a solution perfect on paper but impossible to execute due to budgeting). Right when we declared the problem “unsolvable” and started to turn on each other because of deadline stress and the emotional stress of leaving our crushes/signficant others behind in college after graduation (haha), we found a solution. A mechanical solution. Closed system. That’s it. That is what our solution was— a closed system. The solution was a lot more neat on paper and a lot more complicated to execute.
Prototyping: Body Cavity Volumetric Control Assist Device
We ordered the parts, which took a while. Figuring out the materials, the valves, the tubing, etc. was a long and tedious process. It required hour long conversations with manufacturers of medical equipment, trips to factories and stores, and endless days in the engineering labs reading product descriptions. We finally found everything we needed, ordered and searched for someone who could build it for us. We found a workshop at the hospital where they kindly put everything together (we could not do the actual building). And we were done.
Does it work? Did we get a patent?
Theoretically, yes. It worked. Practically, too. But was it a practical solution? No. It would have taken many more months than we had to fine-tune our prototype to make it more practical, user-friendly, and ready for sale. We filed for a patent and last I recall we were in the “patent pending” status. We probably still are.
As I attended my first product review for work in the “real world” (so to speak), i was fascinated at the depth of each biomedical device and how it was manufactured. I had a warm jolt of familiarity as I was presented with boxy schematics outlining the complicated function of each device. It was only during the presentation that a thought occurred to me: we had been humored. Although there have been cases of students successfully patenting their device and even going onto small business ventures and making money off of their inventions, that was not the intention of IMIG at all. Perhaps I was ridiculously naive in thinking that they were funding us and training us and feeding us (IMIG had elaborate bi-weekly meetings that were catered by all awesome IC restaurants. Sometimes Dominoes but we were pretty hungry) in the hope that one of the teams will be their next golden ticket, their next moment of glory. They did it simply to provide us with design experience. to make us sweat for one year and go through the wonderful process of starting with a question mark and ending with a solution, figuring out how to build the device, what parts were required, what mathematical calculations needed to be made, how the device should be sterilized and finally manufactured. ModuFlow is probably still in the underground senior design lab in the plastic bin which we filled with parts, stationery, and rather inexplicably, bottles of glitter. Gathering dust and providing no more inspiration to the next group of seniors as the group before us did to us. But we had possibly the most invaluable experience, one i can only anticipate I can revisit years from now, slowly working my way up to a day when someone will trust me enough to fund my ideas to produce something real. And not just to humor me, because i doubt I’ll ever be that lucky again.
Haniya Khalid
[Click here to see our final IMIG Presentation for ModuFlow]

in space we’re here a million miles away

"but for the common wages of their most secret heart.”