Post 155.

If you are right in the middle of balancing recurrent expenses, savings, insurance policies and a mortgage, it can be hard to know whether to make decisions based on where you are now or where you will be in twenty years. I think about this a lot, wondering if it’s short-sighted to plan based only on what I can afford or unrealistic to budget on a future expected income.

This isn’t only about good financial advice. It involves making decisions about what kind of life I want and what my sacrifices are intended to achieve.

The house I dream of living in is beyond my current capacity, but won’t be in ten years. I could give up that dream for something more manageable and less perfect, and in ten years wish I had found a way to hold on long enough despite the nightly stress and the fears of not making ends meet.

Alternatively, I could walk away from the home and yard where I both got married to Stone and gave birth to Ziya, and start fresh, learning to let go, and living with less time spent thinking about money, enabling that sacrifice to earn me a better quality of life, marriage, motherhood and career in the decade ahead.

It’s not a question of house size or grandeur, it’s ultimately about what I hope to leave for Zi when I’m gone, and the effort I’m willing to invest into securing that gift for her, with my best wishes that it improves her own quality of life. But, sometimes, getting there feels far, overwhelming and exhausting.

A voice in my head also wonders if she’ll look back and say that I sacrificed my relationship with her in the present to leave more to her later, having spent too much time working as hard I can, and being distracted by financial demands in ways that she would not have chosen for me.

For us workers without a trust fund, leaving your children with at least a house that they can call theirs, and a little yard to grow fruit and food, is not just a work ethic, it’s a life ambition that we’ve inherited from each generation that came before, a plan held close and tended with care since enslaved and indentured workers started being able to put aside a little, make some into heavy gold jewelry, and add slowly to a hidden tin’s contents. Our parents did it by doing without, giving all to their children, and living through that hope and for that dream.

However, times have changed and that’s now not so easy. The cost of living seems to increase daily, and I’ll also admit to not wanting to give up the freedom I have to buy books when I want or eat dinners with my friends or, when Zi is older, travel with her as much as I can. It’s not possible to have it all or even get what you want when you want it. Sometimes, something has got to go.

Watching women fall to cancer around me, I also wonder if it’s better to find whatever resolution comes with the most leisure, the least pressure, the lowest costs and the shortest time to achieve. What if I plan on thirty years ahead and illness leaves Zi with neither house nor me?

Judging types will say that the worries of job and mortgage, then death, make for a wasted life, but they are stereotyping this moment of weighing responsibilities. Mostly, it’s another chance to realistically reflect on my potential and, insha’allah, be true to my priorities.


Post 134.

Born on November 14, 1913, my father’s mother, Taimoon Hosein, daughter of Kapooran and Shah Mohammed Hosein of Balmain, Couva may have been the first one in the world with this name. It was a misrepresentation of Tayammum, the kind of linguistic and historical mangling that clung to many who crossed water and entered the world in new locations across the British empire.

In the year 1946, my grandfather, himself born in 1901 and the son of Sapheeran and Nazar Hosein, went to register the birth of a third daughter. My grandmother wanted to call her Zairee, but my grandfather named her Taimoon, after my grandmother. Disregarding both my grandfather’s ultimate decision and the official certificate, my grandmother called her Zairee anyway and, eventually, so did everyone else in the family.

Such small acts of defiance are the legacy left for young Indian women like me. There were also large acts of insubordination and self-definition in the histories of indentured Indian women who bravely came to Trinidad as independently waged workers, who unapologetically left men who did not satisfy them, who participated in workers’ public resistance, and whose confrontations with inequality led them to be seen as the wrong kind of woman, deserving of shame, punishment and even death.

Indian great-grandmothers had to be pushed hard by the combined forces of Indian men, religious leaders, local planters and British colonial authorities into forgetting decades of increased autonomy so that now we think that they were naturally and always dependent, docile housewives.

I know that narrative is false. So, every time a contemporary mouthpiece of Indian authority, justified by religion, race, a belief in natural gender inequality or some invented history of female obedience, gets upset by Indian women’s choices that they haven’t approved, I’m without fear. We’ve been making decisions about our bodies, our beliefs, our money and our labour for almost 170 years.

Drawing on the history we know and knowing there are stories like my grandmother’s still to be told, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be an Indian feminist in our region. It’s a risky location. On the one hand, we are without authorization by religion, the state or men, whether here, India, the diasporas or even Mecca. On the other, we are aware of how Afrocentrism has dominated woman-issues consciousness, mobilizing and writing in the Caribbean. It isn’t that we don’t draw on all of these connections, it’s that daily-Quran-reading, name-I-chose-insisting grandmothers cannot be entirely understood within or determined by them. Neither can I.

Indian womanhood now is even more complex than three generations ago. Unapologetically, I’m in solidarity with the young Indian lesbians from South, the well-educated Muslim mothers not ready to marry, the young Hindu women who have chosen to terminate pregnancies because of unreliable partners or income, and the girls whose decisions about love may cross racial lines. I’m all for the ‘good’ Indian girls too, whoever and wherever they are. We all draw on religion, history, ancestry, mythology, cultural diversity, modernity and sisterhoods that cross ethnicity in ways we creatively combine. Regardless of how we choose to weave together our best, most fulfilled, most equal selves, I think it’s our right to decide.

There have been Muslim, Hindu and Christian Indian great-grandmothers and grandmothers, aunts, mothers and sisters who at one or another time agreed. I hear you all nodding quietly as you read. Being an young Indian feminist in the Caribbean is about continuing such resolute negotiations and deciding what to name our own stories.

Note: CODE RED for gender justice is hosting a Caribbean Blog Carnival. This post is published there and I hope that the Caribbean receives it with love.

Postscript: A reflection on the post’s receipt can be found here.

Post 121.

I was surprised to hear her experience, though I suppose I already knew inside why we need to attend to the truths of women’s lives.

In my Women’s Studies class, we were reading Catharine MacKinnon’s classic piece on consciousness-raising.  A woman quoted in the article said, ‘I am nothing when I am by myself…I only know I exist because I am needed by someone who is real, my husband, and by my children. My husband goes out into the real world. Other people recognize him as real, and take him into account….I stay in my imaginary world in this house… The work I do changes nothing; what I cook disappears, what I clean one day must be cleaned again the next…”

A housewife in my class, articulate and passionate, read this excerpt to us because it described how she feels every day.  Then, she began to cry. Don’t worry, forget it, she said, dismissing her feelings and her voice.

Not in my class. Knowledge should touch not only our minds, but our hearts. It should rattle the cages we peer through. It should teach that our silences will not protect us, and it should turn our fears into language and transformation.  Invisibility and inequality hurt, and we can also get cut by the shards when we shatter those glass walls. It’s totally okay to cry.

Another woman suggested that the first not let anyone undervalue her contribution as a mother to her family and to society. However, it is not that housewives must discover self-validation from within themselves.  It is that our values must change.

Housewives live in a society where their labour has no visibility and no value. CSO does not count the number of hours spent on cooking, cleaning or caring for elderly or children. It is as if the care economy, for which women remain unequally responsible and without which the waged economy would collapse, does not exist. The government has no clue what the these many thousands of hours and skills add to Gross National Product (GNP). Yet, we know they have value because a price can be put on that work when it is not performed, mainly by women, for free.

When a woman leaves the paid workforce to mind children, she cannot put any skills she uses or gains on her resume. She is not only considered unemployed, she is considered a cost.  That’s damn untrue. The majority of housewives are home-based, non-unionized, unwaged labourers for whom negotiating access to power, status and resources may not be easy. 

Housewives subsidize the cost of reproducing workers for the economy. This is why unions used to fight for a ‘family wage’, not only because men were seen to be the family breadwinners, but because those producing and being paid are like a two for one deal.  

Of course, the women in the class then began to debate whether housewives should get ‘wages’ from their husbands, whether there was an income to which they were due. These wages are not a sign that the wife is the husband’s employee, but that his income includes her contribution. After all, the hand that rocks the cradle, labours, sometimes night and day.  

The personal is political precisely because it points us beyond our own individual experience to women’s shared social and economic realities. Consciousness-raising aims to enable women to find the words to identify the annihilation they must resist, make the connections they need so that they always struggle collectively, and enable even, or especially, housewives to name the problems that rule the world, and which must still be changed.

Post 117.

A woman’s experience of domestic violence is best not dealt with through the press. It might sell papers and make a good story for a reporters’ by-line, but it doesn’t help any woman to be further battered by headlines.

If you are a woman experiencing violence, you should have the support of family, friends, your communities and the state in order to escape it in a way that doesn’t leave you feeling more vulnerable, ashamed, fearful, exposed or blamed.

Family violence is not private, in the sense that it takes place in an overall society that wrongly continues to accept male domination, in the sense that women’s greater inequality is not an individual issue but an economic, political, religious and legal one, in the sense that violence against women constitutes a crime, a human right violation and a contravention of international conventions which the government of Trinidad and Tobago has responsibility for responding to, in the sense that we are all our neighbours’ keepers.

However, family violence is personal, in the sense that broadcasting a woman’s experience only takes control of her own story away from her, in the sense that it creates intrigue and gossip rather than the kinds of collective support and open dialogue which it is her right to choose, in the sense that it is now the media, the lawyers, the radio callers and everybody else who is speaking, creating fewer confidential spaces for a woman turn to.

I suppose being in national life puts you in the public eye, but a society or a newspaper that decides that what happens to a woman’s body is their right to publicize is not much different from the man who says her body and her life are his to decide what to do with. Forget rights, let’s just go with what seems right. Is a woman being beaten a journalistic opportunity or a moment for sensitive intervention in ways that protect and empower, and can press drama about domestic violence create that kind of sensitivity?

When people are visibly engaged with the state and society, it doesn’t resolve that tension between respecting the sanctity of a woman’s privacy and understanding that family violence is not simply private man-woman business. Because the careless chatter spreads further and faster, it should make us stop and ask about our purpose and our responsibility in breaking silences regarding a woman’s story.  

We have to talk about family violence, and especially women’s experiences of violence. We have to speak about the fact that it is experienced by women of all classes, all religions, all ages and all ethnicities. Yet, it also seems that we have to talk about how we talk about it, when and why we make it news, and what it means for those women who may be speaking out, but who also have to face being talked about, potentially for the rest of their lives. Even these women will want to protect their families and children from the violence of public scrutiny.

I had to really sit and breathe this week because every time I hear of violence against women, I get sad and I get angry. I also had to take a moment before writing this because I would not have wanted any media conversation to be about me.  True or not, would you want the news to be about you? Even if I was experiencing violence, even if some feel that others should know, I’d end up feeling violated and even more alone.  Surely this isn’t how we enable women to feel safer in our own homes.

Post 102.

Having not grown up in a two parent household, it’s a whole new experience for me to reflect on Ziya’s experience of living with both her mother and father. Understandings of how children connect to their fathers, which should be obvious to me, are only now part of my own learning as I observe the ways she relates to her parents and constructs her idea of family.

Her connection to me as her mother is intense and intimate, even overwhelming for us both. That has resulted not only from the kind of quality time I’ve consciously devoted, but also to from more than two years of continuous breast-feeding and, therefore, physical attachment. Yet, when we are reading books, and I point out the mummy lion or hippo, or when I tell her about my plans to take her on an outing, she’ll insist on looking for the daddy lion or asking whether daddy will be going on the outing too.

In her world, both mummy and daddy are present and necessary, and they are together. While she loves spending time with each of us, she loves spending time with both of us more. This isn’t the kind of daddy-struck adoration that seems to characterize girlhood. She’s invested in our nuclear family beyond the influence of socialization and even my own expectations of her capacity at two years old.

Dads are a vital and irreplaceable part of children’s lives, but some part of me thought that mummies could also be enough if they gave their all. Politically, I also don’t want to reproduce anti-woman views that argue that all families should have a mother and father living together, and that each must be playing some rightful role, for children to grow up fulfilled and functional. Heading their own household by choice or necessity, and with dads participating to various degrees, women have raised happy, productive and contributing members of our Caribbean. Dads can do the same too, on their own if they have to. Moms and dads don’t have to live in the same house to wisely cooperate for their children’s best interest. Even daddy-struck girls can figure out how to get on with life in the midst of separations, and how to renegotiate love across new family formations. Don’t doubt that they, we, survive and thrive.

Nonetheless, I see how Ziya would be confused, unsettled and heart-broken at the loss of having both parents with her. It makes me think back to myself at two and the complex, formative emotions that I forgot existed in me then. It makes me realise, not that break-ups are bad, because they can definitely be for the best, but how much adult partnerships define children’s sense of self, safety, stability and social space. When Ziya wants to know where the daddy hippo is or decides that two of any animal represents a mummy and a daddy, it’s a visceral statement that your relationship profoundly matters and is accountable to someone else besides the two of you.

Seeing us through her eyes has made me more greatly appreciate the role Stone has to play, whether we stay together forever or go separate ways. That role and its significance is his responsibility, not mine, to treasure, nurture and ensure. Still, I mature as a mother from recognizing that Ziya will have different feelings about and experiences of motherhood than I did. I improve as a partner from openness to learning anew about fatherhood and its value. Ziya is not the only one growing. She’s making us, as individuals and as a family, grow too.

Post 99.

It’s a dilemma. Often, though not all the time, when Stone is putting Ziya to bed, I can hear her yelling for me. I asked her why she prefers me to him when she is going to bed and she says that it’s because I sing her songs she likes. These are songs I’ve written over the years, songs he doesn’t know the words to. He plays her a whole range of beautiful music, but he’s not a committing-words-to-memory kind of guy, and she likes to sing along. She also tells me that she misses me and that’s why she cries when I’m not there, although he’s doing everything right and he’s a great dad, and you think it’d be enough.

What to do? Leave him to sit through her bawling for me, knowing it’s important that she learn to be content when I’m not around or go rescue them both, and myself from sitting upstairs stressing that she just wants me and wondering why I’m holding back from running into her little arms. It’s hard. I wait awhile before going, but inevitably I go because I miss her too and I completely connect to why she misses me. All moms know that one day such dependence and desire is going to melt into autonomy and less affection as children grow and establish their individuality and boundaries. I know it’s important that she have strong relations with her dad, but I also adore that I’m still her final comfort and her closest love. I’d feel more like I’m being selfish if it wasn’t so much to simply cherish.

All this missing means that I work hard, really hard, but I’ve stopped wanting to go much further in my job than where I am now, at least for now. Moving up may mean more seniority, influence and pay, but it would also mean more responsibilities, longer hours, greater stress and less time for Ziya. What would be the point of that? I feel like I’d just look back on these years spent advancing a career and only be able to focus on how quickly this time in her life passed, never to return. How many memories of sitting in meetings and sending emails do I really need? As a mother, can you ever make enough memories of time with your baby?

This isn’t a family-career quandary. I’m not choosing one over the other, but aspiring to both. I also already know – or maybe I’ve decided – that investment in my family beats my career priorities hands down. The predicament is how to handle this understanding wisely, given that work and family are each important for women’s confidence, power, contribution and identity. Each must be charted in a way that makes personal sense. That may mean investing less in your job that people have come to expect or making imperfect decisions in your family because you want to squeeze every drop from those moments when you are able to be present.

I’m not lying, sometimes I could shed unprompted tears that I spend so little time with this swiftly unfurling little sprout or that being tired from work compromises quality time at nights and on weekends. Sometimes, just as I love my job, I also know that I need to be absent so that Stone and Ziya figure it out together, without me. Still, when she insists that no one else matters, rightly or wrongly, and only because I’m actually able to be there, I am also guilty of making sure that love up from mummy can’t be replaced by anybody.

Post 98.

Just as you think that fourteen years of relationship has led you to that point where the original excitement has settled into routine, your husband buys two turntables and you remember what was insanely cool about him in the first place. You remember that even though you were both surviving on virtual shoestrings, the guy could mix music into a cocktail that made you thirsty for more. You remember that although there was barely enough room, in fact, not enough room for a desk, a cupboard, a bed and a chair, there were still two turntables, and in even in cramped conditions, music flew free around the room and out of the windows. You remember, as you now dance with Ziya while her daddy throws tunes and you watch her make her first, totally two year old scratch, that CDs were once scratched, filtered, remixed and pitched in DJ sessions played just for you.

You thought it was the toasted cheese sandwiches brought to you at midnight during those tough years of working full-time while finishing a PhD or maybe the Monday morning mix tapes sitting by your keys and ready to turn up as you turned on the car or maybe just some one-on-one connection that felt calm and safe, but really it was the two turntables, because now that they are back, you realize you only married the guy to get the DJ, put him in house and have him for yourself.

With fourteen years of hindsight, you look at your life now and wonder if that was shallow or youthful or such a typically girl thing to do, and despite age, maturity and present lack of a social life you still understand why all good DJs  – even bad ones – have groupies. You had it bad for a boy with two Pioneer turntables, and you wonder if it was him or them, or both, that made you fall in love.

You sit looking at those two Pioneers with their blinking lights on either side of the mixer, while Ziya’s daddy puts her to sleep in the next room, and you think that all those books about keeping romance alive in marriages and all those TEDx talks about the psychology of long-term love really miss the main point. It’s not so much about planning dates or remembering to communicate or making sure not to take the other for granted, it’s really just about finding that one thing that you knew and then forgot did it for you. That thing that might have gotten lost amidst work and bills and mortgages and traffic and tiredness. That thing you wanted to take home, turn on, rock out to, feel young with and love.

I remember now. It was a DJ, two turntables and music sets so smooth that, like the songs, everything seemed to happen right on cue, one year seamlessly blending, in pitch, bpm and key, with the next. Funny how two turntables that took you back fourteen years could do what no conversation and mutual effort was now going to do. I guess there is that one thing in every relationship. Imagine when you see it spinning in front of you.