Judgement Day, or the more politically correct term, Election Day.

Do it for the countless children of immigrant parents, poring over books late into the night so as not to render their parents struggle futile.

Do it for the voiceless, in every sense, who yearn to be heard.

Do it to send a colossal stop in the face of hate, and force it to come to a screeching halt.

Do it even if you don’t care for our two party system, because taking a stand during the most vicious election of our time won’t be dismissed. We live with consequences.

Do it because the outcome of the other side would result in utter, abysmal chaos.

Do it for the victims of every hateful slur uttered in this past year: for the ones in the minority, for the people who choose what they love, who they love, and how they love. For the ones who will never allow their beliefs to cloud their ability to be good and kind human beings.

Do it even if you feel the Bern–that ship has long sailed (I know, I voted him too.) Do it because he stands with her, too.

I’m with her, for the sake of this great nation. Because knowing the kind of suffering the rest of the world undergoes, there’s only one thing we can do: be grateful to be who and where we are in the United States. We are great, we are against hate, and we will prevail to fight for what is right. No matter how ugly the politics are.

The decision is yours, today. Vote.

 

Overheard in New York.

Perched high on the list of “Things I Would Rather Die Than Do” communal experiences of a New Yorker is the daily commute to work or school *cue collective groan*. Plagued by constant service delays, carts overflowing with people shoulder-to-shoulder whose combined stench provides for an unpleasant ride in an airtight express train,  as well as everyone’s worst nightmare in the middle of a tunnel –“we are being held momentarily due to train traffic ahead of us”–I think it’s safe to say hell might be a better alternative than the inside of the 6 train during rush hour.

09commute-2-600

Image Source: The New York Times

The upside, however, is that the rides are hardly boring. Nauseating, maybe, but you can always count on at least a few minutes of entertainment–be it the Earth Angel (though his sightings have been rare in recent years), a lone adolescent selling candy bars, or the occasional break dancers whose pole swinging act is a little too close for comfort.

Take this morning, for instance. The Manhattan-bound B train was moving along at less than snail’s pace. I had forgotten my headphones, a staple in my morning commute, in my coat packet, having neglected to wear the coat in favor of the surprisingly warm November day. My phone was buried in my backpack, and my fellow commiserate/boyfriend was falling asleep before my eyes.

I cast around for something to fix my attention to, and it wasn’t long before I began eavesdropping on the two Russian businessmen beside me engrossed in an animated discussion on their beliefs, namely religion versus science.

Isn’t it illegal or something to discuss age-old controversies at 8 in the morning? I digress.

Though the conversation began in their native tongue, the tone of their conversation flitted between earnest and heated, each determined to drill in the other the solidity of their personal opinions. The more pious man, who at one point revealed his Jewish heritage, made a valid argument against the other, which went along the lines of this.

“In the end, you are being hypocritical. Why? Because our beliefs are both backed by faith. You can dismiss religious theories, but you are ultimately using your convictions in science by the same faith that I have–relying on the fact that all your theories and concepts are factual because of scientists who have done the research, even though you’ve done none of it on your own. You base your belief on the handful of experts with niche scientific backgrounds who say all these things about Earth, and the idea that there are billions of galaxies out there…but how do you know? How can you dismiss religion without giving it the same regard, the same amount of attention and research?”

Barring the question of who made the better argument throughout the train ride, his point was a good one. Having blind beliefs with no ability to back it up is a conflict within many of us, be it religion on any other set of beliefs. Support for a political candidate without possessing deeper knowledge of their platform, ideals, values and plans can lead to disaster.

Whoa, where’d that one come from?

Morning Prompt…

Describe an account of an adolescent first kiss.

 

“Ahhh, you guys kissed!” Alex squealed.

Laura frowned. “More like, he assaulted my lips,” she corrected.

Alex rolled her eyes. “Whatever. As if you didn’t love every moment of it,” she countered.

Laura shrugged, but said nothing. If she were to be honest with herself, she did love every moment of it. Who doesn’t remember their first kiss for the rest of their lives?

She had panicked as the late bell rang that morning, slamming her locker shut as she hurried to second period class. Bending down to lift her messenger bag off the tiled hallway, she looked up to see a pair of bright, mischievous brown eyes staring at her at knee-level.

As fourteen-year-old boys go, Evan was certainly charming, not to mention extremely attractive. He was tall at 5’9″ and had nearly every girl in the year swooning over his dark  curls and perpetually appealing bad boy image. Laura remained mystified as to why had he chosen to pursue her, a self-proclaimed plain Jane, in recent weeks.

“Hey,” he said quietly. Before she had a chance to respond, Evan slipped his hand into hers and tugged her down the hall, towards a narrow space that served no purpose on the third floor other than being called the Sexscape–for obvious reasons.

As soon as he managed to drag her around the turn that led to Sexcape, Laura yanked herself free from her grip. Plain Jane aside, Laura was known as a confrontational girl.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” she demanded. “You’re making me miss my chem quiz!”

He wasted no time. Clapping his hand over her mouth, he glanced around furtively before removing it and pulling her body against his to melt into a long, deep, and admittedly aggressive first kiss.

 

 

The elephant in the room, addressed.

I bite my lip. Fidget around in my seat with my legs tucked into a vague lotus position.

Released a stifled coughed, scratch at the skin around a budding pimple and mentally cursing its appearance the day before Homecoming Weekend.

I shift uncomfortably. There is a sense of unease, a constant presence that weighs itself down upon my chest. I’m well aware of how to remove it, in fact I possess a manual that provides meticulous instruction on its removal. But I don’t use it, except to cast a cursory glance into the pages every now and then. Perhaps flip a page, engage long enough to lull the weight into a false sense of security, tricking it into believing that change was coming. But it wasn’t.

And even though I know what I should be doing, what I must be doing, I allow for time to lapse, only to look back in horror. It traps the oxygen into my lungs, asphyxiating me until visions of shattered glass, a painfully obvious metaphor for broken dreams, lines the bottom of my eyes.

There is no point in pretending there is potential. Potential exists so long as the individual is willing to earn it. There’s no coddling in adulthood, no parents to pat you lovingly on the back, reassuring you that there’s time, that you can do it if you try. It is the oddest feeling, the strangest sensation, this new life. Some seem to ease gracefully into the period after college, when true life begins. Others, many others like myself, only pretending.

“It’s true: we’re all a little insane.”

Adulthood is a sham. You never truly know what you’re doing. The fake it till you make it facade represents the entirely of one’s adult life. How is 23-year-old me any different from 18-year-ol me? Do I know more? Am I more conscious of my surroundings, can I say that I am more observant?

I’ll take a stab at defining this new life: it challenges your self discipline. You are no longer compelled to glide to and fro in accordance to a structure, a structure that you have practiced as long as you have been breathing. Schooling. Parenting. Rules. Repercussions.

You can do whatever you want now, and therein lies the truth: who have you been this whole time? A cog, following orders? Now that you have your own say, now that you can define who you really are with no constraints, does it scare you a little?

Yes, yes it does. It scares me. What if I have no idea what I’m doing?

What if I never did?

I came across an interesting AskReddit thread yesterday that posed the question: “If you could call yourself from five years ago and had 30 seconds, what would you say?”

A simple inquiry, but it haunted me: what would I say? Would 18-year-old Tania be proud of who she became today? There are some days, when the sun overhead matches the mood I am in, where I would confidently say, yes she would.

Those days don’t come by too frequently.

I can’t say whether this is a testament to confronting reality, and having the bubble finally burst. 2016 has been a year of changes, of hardship and guilt, and overall–growth. I have grown faster than I anticipated. It’s been a hard year. It will leave scars, both physical and invisible.

Sometimes, I cannot breathe. I want to be somebody, but these shackles won’t let me. Or maybe I just won’t let myself.

Cheers to disillusionment. In the meantime, how do I remember to breathe again?

 

 

Two Muslims murdered in Queens over the weekend in a “not-hate” crime.

Though I haven’t explored the depths of Queens as far as Ozone Park, I am aware of this diverse neighborhood along the A line that borders Brooklyn–it could be a twin of my own neighborhood in the Bronx in terms of demographic.

Teeming with Bangladeshi immigrants, many of who left behind a wealth of life experiences and memories in their mother country for the sake of pursuing their hopes and dreams in a vastly different environment. A story told and retold many a time. A story that I play a role in, having lived the first year of my life in the city of Dhaka before my parents made the move to the United States.

90782789_mediaitem90782788

Source: BBC

Which is why, upon learning the story of 55-year-old Maulama Akonjeea nd his 64-year-old friend Thara Uddin being shot point-blank in the head to death by an unknown assailant following afternoon prayers at the local mosque in Ozone Park, thrills of fear tremored across countless Muslim communities citywide.

Mr. Akonjee and Mr. Uddin may as well have been one of the many friendly, devout uncles I grew up with, learning the wonders of Islam at their side. Though I cannot call myself a particularly religious person, word of all peril occurring in this world in the name of Islam and the slander of the religion these days sings a different tune than the one I was taught.

My mother, my grandmother, even my high school tutor in Jackson Heights were among some of the individuals who taught me how a concept as hotly contested and zealously protected as religion can be a wonderful thing, so long as the observer appreciates their beliefs for the its goodness and focuses solely on that. I experienced none of the negativity that is framed on our televisions and newspapers daily when it came to Islam.

But in the eyes of a killer, strife, struggle and passion are meaningless. It doesn’t matter how desperately one swam to reach the shore; never mind family and friends, loved ones and life. In a matter of seconds, this killer–hardly any leads on tracking him as of yet–made all that disappear. Forget the word of any God, because according to this man, he gets to call the shots and decide who lives and who dies.

Sincerely hoping against hope that the families and communities affected will persevere, and do not allow terror to shape their own lives.

 

 

 

To the man who sells bananas.

It’s been a few weeks since I last saw you, maybe longer. I hope you’re doing okay.

Every day when I get off the 6 train at my stop, I breeze out the doors of the station and cast a quick, curious glance at you before heading home. This action became perfunctory as I grew accustomed to seeing you daily, patiently hoping for a customer or two out of the throngs of people exiting the train station in the late afternoons and early evenings, with a box of bright yellow bananas perched at your feet.

I watched, a bystander whom you probably never noticed, as you waited vigilantly day by day. You keep odd hours, banana man; I’ve seen you at your spot when the handful of stars that belonged to the city glinted overhead, wind swirling through the crunchy leaves that lay on the ground in the dead of autumn. The nights when I would return home from a late shift or an evening out, I noticed you.

Sometimes, I wonder how you can stand it. On some of the coldest nights, you wore a threadbare jacket and sandals. I’d hoped against hope that you would go home soon, because the sight of your bare toes poking through the top of those shoes made me feel cold in places where no clothing could warm.

It wasn’t often that I looked into your face. In fact, so rare an occasion it was, that it is highly unlikely that I would be able to recognize you in a crowd. It is your presence, ever prevalent and doggedly determined, that makes you stand out. But I could tell, by the brown of your rugged skin and the tired lines etched into the corners of your eyes and mouth, that you are one diligent man. Your face, the few times I’d absorbed it, was often expressionless. But I say this not in a derogatory manner, but because you are still, yet accepting. You are content in your space, because you recognize that sometimes life simply is.

I know that this probably isn’t what you were expecting, growing up in whatever country you did. Maybe you were an educator, or involved in politics overseas. So tried and true is the immigrant story in the United States that you likely could have been anyone abroad, only to arrive to this country to start all over, but this time with a heavy setback. Perhaps you never pictured yourself at whatever age you are, eyeing folks in the Bronx in the hope that somebody would give you a second glance and purchase a bunch of bananas from your stock.

I hope you know you have the ripest bananas I’ve ever seen. I look forward to seeing you next, so I no longer deprive myself of those beauties.

As the Brock Turner rape case unfolds and expands, I offer a different perspective.

A thought crossed my mind while I busied myself the past couple of weeks reading up on the case of Brock Turner, a former student athlete at Stanford who was convicted (or half-heartedly scolded, rather) for raping an anonymous young woman behind a dumpster.

Well, many thoughts raced through my head and none of them pleasant, but this one uneasy feeling that was only vaguely related to the case nagged at the back of my head like an itch I couldn’t scratch, until I finally touched upon it.

brock-turner-mug-shot

Reading the victim’s court statement in an article posted by Buzzfeed earlier this week sent waves of sorrow through my body as I stepped into the woman’s shoes. Her words, at once empowering and yet full of despair, shed light upon the case in a way that Turner’s feeble statement had nothing on. She relays in great detail the impact of what he had done to her–her physical and emotional state be damned, she had become a shadow of her former self during the last year. Her anguish at Turner’s laughable punishment, a mere three months, and his steadfast refusal to acknowledge the wrong he had done, struck chords of fury within me that I didn’t realize existed. Such a detailed account that reverberated among millions around the country; I am proud of her for boldly speaking out.

One beacon of light the woman pointed out–and I say woman, because she is an individual before she is defined as a victim–is the amount of support she received from her family and friends. The ever-present shoulder to cry on, being able to yield such emotion onto one’s immediate family, no questions asked, is, in my opinion, a tremendous and unrivaled source of comfort.

But what if a victim is unable to convey the horrors weakening their spirit due to cultural boundaries? What if it had been a victim from my own background?

Before I go on, I’d like to preface this by saying that no, I am not insinuating that all, or even most, South Asian families are frigid to such an extent. I speak only from my own experiences growing up in an immigrant Bengali, Muslim household, and nothing more.

Sexuality has always been and still is an oppressed topic in the South Asian community. There is no “birds and bees” talk to sit through in discomfort, no discussion of birth control for young woman or safe sex practices for young men. Despite the fact that our populace expands at an alarming rate every year, many Bengali parents refuse to touch upon such a taboo topic.

As such, us Western-influenced kids are left to our own devices when it comes to exploring sex. Whereas a white, American girl could come to her family in terror of having been a victim of rape and look for support, many South Asians like myself would never be able to entertain such a thing, for a variety of reasons.

jyoti-singh-pandey

First, victim blaming. If you think Turner sympathizers are bad enough, it’s nothing compared to immigrant communities in Western nations who harbor outdated, traditional schools of thought. I’d like to turn your attention to the well-publicized and horrific rape and brutal murder of Jyoti Singh, the victim of gang-rape and torture on a public bus in India. Her crime? Being an unmarried young woman who was taking public transportation with a male after the sun set. An event that would hardly raise eyebrows in the US, but was apparently an act that rendered a group of inhumane individuals so thunderstruck that they decided it was up to them to dole out punishment.

When the case spread like wildfire across international media, people were doubly outraged–not only because of this terrible crime committed upon unsuspecting woman, but also by the response of several Indian officials and one of the rapists himself, all of whom found the audacity to express the idea that Jyoti had it coming.

 Describing the killing as an “accident”, [the rapist] said: “When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they’d have dropped her off after ‘doing her’, and only hit the boy.”

 

Second, her attire. It is a widely-known fact that one of the most invasive questions a woman is asked during police interviews after rape is what she was wearing that day. No doubt that a woman’s ensemble is reason enough to commit such a heinous crime. Should’ve known better than to prance around scantily clad in a….wait, Jyoti was wearing a salwar? Turner’s victim was wearing a Grandma cardigan? Something doesn’t fit this tired monologue. Because even if a rape victim who happened to be a Bengali, Muslim person was wearing a mini skirt, part of the fear that might prevent her from reaching out for help would likely lie in her family discovering what she had been wearing that night.

Third, the shame it would bring upon the family and community. I have witnessed time and again, within my family, friends and other Bengali people where individuals have gone great lengths to cover up horrible occurrences, tragedies, lies and drama in the name of saving face. The amount of publicity the woman in the Turner case received would not have been met with warm reception had this happened to a brown girl. Family and reputation is highly regarded in South Asian culture, for it alludes to potential well-being, good marriages, wealth, etc. Any potential threats are often shut down immediately, even if is at the expense of a family member.

To end, I implore Bangladeshis to do their part in destroying these cultural boundaries and start putting our people first. It does not do well to save face for reputation, to point fingers, to make nasty remarks, because the aforementioned serve only one purpose–to destroy our otherwise beautiful  heritage.