Family Life

My grandfather showed me the power of stories and the value of my own

When I was a child, my family would travel to visit our relatives in India every summer. For the most part, I dreaded these trips. We would fly for 20 hours to spend weeks in the sweltering Kerala heat, and sometimes I’d wonder whether it was worth it. But it always was.

There was always one person in particular whom I looked forward to seeing again.

Traveling to meet my grandfather was always the highlight of our Indian trips for me. It still is. When my siblings and I visited my grandparents, we would sit by his feet as he told us stories. His words held our attention for hours, often late into the night.

He’d reminisce about his childhood, recount traditional folktales, and summarize deep philosophical narratives that somehow became palatable to our young minds.

He was always armed with the perfect story.

Once, when I complained to him about my grades, he smiled and told me about the lengths my father would go to hide his bad grades as a child. These stories and so many others have formed my warmest childhood memories, ones I’ll cherish forever.


The last time we were in India, our schedule was packed and we went almost the whole visit without a story from my grandfather. So on the last night, my siblings and I sat on the porch, asking for just one story before we left. But he surprised us and flipped the script.

This time, he asked us to tell him a story. My sister and I glanced at each other and laughed. We told him we didn’t have any stories to tell, that all the stories we knew were his.

He insisted. “Just tell me something that you did or something that happened to you. I want to hear what you have to say.”

This was perhaps the first time that someone had expressed genuine interest in my narrative. My parents had always been there for me when I wanted to talk, but this was different. When I was little, I didn’t entirely realize the power that my grandfather’s stories had; I just knew that they meant everything to me. Now the man whose stories had defined my childhood wanted to hear mine.

Listening to his stories was only half the journey; the other half was understanding that mine has just as much power.

It took me years to understand, but my grandfather’s stories didn’t just carry strong messages and morals. They were power themselves. I am so lucky to have my grandfather in my life. To have someone who taught me the importance of my narrative, even the stories I believed to be mundane. But the same can’t be said for everyone.

In our society, it’s easy to fall into the oppressive idea that only some stories matter, that no one wants to hear yours. But that’s simply not true. Each of the narratives that we consume helps to form our worldview. But so do the ones we don’t hear. And narratives we don’t hear are exactly the ones we need to be talking about – the ones that have been unjustly devalued.

I finally understand the value of my narrative, and I couldn’t have done it without my grandfather. Even as I sit here and write this piece, I owe it all to him. The confidence I have to put my stories out in the public for all to view, I owe to him. I don’t think that I’ve ever told him how much I value him, his stories. How he’s empowered me to claim my voice. I guess this is my way of thanking him.

Culture Life

Why I am constantly drawn to lavender

I find that my most blissful moments remind me of the strong, calming scent of lavender. For one reason or another, I relate it to a lot of the more meaningful aspects of my life. To me, lavender is like a feeling; like the wind brushing up against your skin.

While I think that lavender is largely optimistic, I also find a certain sorrow that is comfortable, even humble, in its presence. I’ve come to appreciate it in every shape and form – the color, the flower, the scent. Its hard to place; not sweet or bitter, but rather musty. 

Lavender manages to incorporate itself into my life seemingly on a whim and in the most fleeting of moments. We have a peculiar relationship. I am stomach-knottingly anxious in the presence of many, especially when I first meet them. But, with some, I sense lavender, and I know that something great is about to happen. It is more of a feeling than anything else. Just talking to some people can be rejuvenating, and perhaps it is because our meeting reminds me of that warm, soft smell of a mid-spring day when the sun is bright and pure, and the entire day lies ahead.

Nowadays, when I am feeling an emotion that is simply beyond words, I say that I am overflowing with lavender. 

According to etymology, the English word “lavender” is derived from the Latin “lavare,” which translates to “to wash.” It is a necessary refinement – a cleanse. I am purified with every utterance of the word. 

Perhaps it’s not just me. In literature, lavender has been used significantly as a token of love. To me, it’s more like a notion of love at first sight. Shakespeare offers a bouquet of “hot lavender” in The Winter’s Tale. Cleopatra also roots lavender with love, as she is said to have used its sultry perfume to seduce both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. Christians are also known to have used it as a repellent of evil. The plant is said to have been taken from the Garden of Eden and is sometimes found hanging in a cross shape above the doors of some Christian households as a means of protection. There are so many songs with the title lavender, my favorite being by The Beach Boys, and there have also been many poems written about it, too. Take, for example, this quote by an anonymous writer, “as rosemary is to the spirit, lavender is to the soul.” 

Lavender is swift, like a movement, carrying me in and out of perfectly imperfect moments. The vision of it is rather uplifting as well. It stands delicately tall among the rest, but it is not intimidating either. I adore its confrontation. In fact, I look forward to it. 

Editor's Picks Culture Love + Sex Love Life Stories

Will getting married really make my life complete?

I love, love. I just don’t love marriage. The married people in my life have always adored each other, but something was definitely missing. Something was always wrong. Someone was always upset, one way or another.

This constant irritation gets old after awhile.

It’s the fights over bill payments, disputes over the most trivial matters, mistakes from 20 years ago that are brought up again and again, and just plain stagnancy. I can tell that some of my family members feel stuck in their marriage even if they are too embarrassed or terrified to say it. This is not love, or at least it is not the love that I’ve always dreamed about. Marriage might be too co-dependent, and too predictable for me.

Many people marry to fill the void that society tells us our lives would not be complete without. For some reason, our relationships struggle to be considered valid if there is not a diamond ring to be accounted for. When love is real and meaningful it is also eternal, so why do we feel like we need to march declaratively down the aisle to prove its validity?

Marriage might be too co-dependent, and too predictable for me.

For me, it seems that marriage has become an economic institution in which you are given nothing more than social status and succession. It is so easy to become blinded by the conceptions surrounding traditions like marriage that there appears to be no other choice than to join in.

At this point though, most of the romance and novelty has already been sucked out of the tradition. Perhaps this is because when you get married, your relationship becomes a need rather than a want. This is not to say that true love can’t fuel a marriage, but that factors other than love are increasingly becoming a reason to get, and to remain, married. Not to mention that those reasons have the potential to diminish whatever love already existed. 

I am afraid to get married because I don’t want to make a mistake.

Marriage is meant to be a fairytale, or so we are told. Yet so many people are in unhappy, even toxic, marriages. There are marriages that have strong power dynamics which make it nearly impossible to leave. Once married, couples are viewed as parts of a whole, rather than as whole themselves. I don’t need my “other half,” I can stand on my own.

Reluctant to divorce because of societal pressure, many people know that the love that they had for their partner was far more profound before marriage put a label on it and boxed it up. Genuine love is built with patience and tenderness. Love should be natural, compassionate, and without barriers. 

I am afraid to get married because I don’t want to make a mistake. I don’t want things other than love to get in the way of my relationship, but I also know that from the moment I say “I do” it is inevitable. There is a tiny, and very exclusive, narrative of marriage that all people are supposed to fall into when they take that leap into tradition. I am not saying people shouldn’t get married, but I am saying that I don’t think genuine and ageless love requires such an archaic label.

What I want is love, not a marriageI think that is the main difference.

The problem here is that if I don’t get married, I know that I will be making someone disappointedmaybe even myself. When I think about these life-defining moments, I often remind myself that love will live forever, whether you are married or not. What I want is love, not a marriageI think that is the main difference.

The couples that fall out of bounds, though, are sometimes the ones that put so much effort into focusing on what their relationship “should” look like, rather than its reality. The ones that do not get married are often viewed as being abnormally strange, and in some societies as having lost their way.

Marriage is apparently that guidance.

But, when we get married, we are so willing to accept that not everyone is the exception and can have a miraculous, long-lasting, and passionate love story.

We are so willing to accept that the love dust has settled and that since every marriage is built on the same foundation, we have made it to the peak. That the wedding day is the best day of a young couple’s life and the rest is downhill from there.

I think we all deserve a better narrative.

I think every single one of us deserves to be swept off of our feet every day for as long as we loveand true love, while it may ache, never dies.

Culture Family Gender & Identity Life

I was only 8 when my father told me he was embarrassed that I was a girl

It was my eighth birthday.

We were at a clothing store to buy my birthday outfit. I started to survey the store and inched slowly towards a cute little pink dress, and held it up against myself, making sure that my father was out of sight. I looked perfect, just like any little girl aspired to be. Suddenly, I shuddered as I heard my father call my name out.

I dropped the dress and ran to him guiltily.

My father instinctively turned toward the boys’ clothing section and fished out a pair of Batman overalls. I put it on and looked at my reflection in the mirror. I looked just like Dev from kindergarten, whom I dearly adored. He was admired by all our classmates and the teachers, and I’d wanted to be just like him.

I was a skinny pale girl who knew that she was born in the wrong body, and my parents made no effort to prove me wrong. I spent the next few years of my childhood trying to emulate my male classmates. I cut my hair short and didn’t wear earrings.

All my clothes were two sizes too big, to make sure my feminine curves didn’t hinder my confidence. I would even let my facial hair grow to appear more masculine. I watched movies so I could practice the way men walked with their arms flailing and the false bravado. I joined the basketball team. I took up karate on the weekends and bragged to my friends about it.

When my male classmates talked about the latest football match, I wanted to be a part of their team. I thought it was cool and they would accept me as one of them. My father discouraged me from hanging out with my female friends, as he was afraid I’d become like them.

Whenever I was asked out for a birthday party, I would say no instantly, as I knew I wouldn’t be allowed anyway.

I was the short-haired girl who spent her weekends reading the classics in her room, while my girl friends went to the movies to watch the latest chick flick. I became very introverted.

At 16, I was determined to get a sex change operation as soon as I could sum up my funds. I’d even started saving up the little pocket money I had. I knew that I didn’t belong to the body I was born in.

Everything I’d experienced until then pointed towards this. I would be more confident if I just changed everything I was.

It wasn’t until I started researching gender identity and sexual orientation that I understood why I felt this way. I read about trans individuals and the process they underwent to get to where they felt comfortable in their bodies.

It slowly dawned on me that I really had no inkling toward becoming a man. It was something I’d wanted since I was little but never understood why. Now I understood that I’d always harbored an innate need to please my father. I had subconsciously understood that he would be proud of me only if I transitioned to the boy he always wanted.

I’d been living my whole life as a lie. Everything I’d done until then was to please my father.

In the process, I had almost ruined my life, and whatever little self-esteem I had left. My wardrobe was a cross between baggy men’s’ clothing and short crop tops I’d always wanted to try. I realized that I hated football; although I’d spent years watching it.

It wasn’t until I’d turned 20 that it dawned on me why I was subconsciously trying to mimic everything my male counterparts did.

I’d thought that in order to be successful, I’d have to become a man or as close as I can get to being a man.

I stopped wearing clothes from the boys’ section and realized that I’d been repelled by women’s’ clothing for no reason at all. I started to embrace my body and every curve I was blessed with.

It took me years to finally come to terms with my body, and I couldn’t be more grateful that I was born a woman. I wear clothes that make me feel confident about my body.

It took me years to finally come to terms with my body, and I couldn’t be more grateful that I was born a woman. I wear clothes that make me feel confident about my curves and unashamed to hide it. I am also in a loving relationship with a man who makes me feel special.

My parents still tend to bring up their preference for boys over girls, but I’ve learned to stand up to them.

Being a woman is not a fault and I will not apologize for it.

Tech Now + Beyond

South Africans are using Facebook to publish in isiZulu, so why is the language still seen as “backwards?”

isiZulu is the most widely-spoken language in South Africa, specifically in the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. It is one of 11 official languages in the country. Despite being meaningful to many people in South Africa, not much has recently been published in the language.

Since this is the case, Facebook groups are being used as sites for self-publishing isiZulu short stories. Sites like Izindaba Ezimfishane Nosondiya (Short stories with Sondiya), Ekujuleni Kwenhliziyo With S’phaphalazi (The depths of the heart with S’phaphalazi) and isiZulu Short Stories have been contributing to the growing isiZulu writing community in South Africa, making creative outlets more accessible for writers’ work to be read, commented on and shared.

Many of the stories are serialized. Each story will be uploaded chapter by chapter, and readers will get a chance to critique the story, contribute their thoughts about the plot, and even speculate on what will happen next.

As we know, language is an important tool for communicating the way cultures can change and grow over time. For languages like isiZulu that are seen as less important and even less intelligent than English, having space where they can be appreciated is undeniably important. It gives writers and readers the chance to take control of their own narrative, specifically that of Zulu culture and how it is perceived.

Historically, Zulu culture has been deemed as ‘backward’ and ‘savage’ by first the colonial authorities and then the apartheid system. Zulu people were seen as ‘noble savages’: unrelenting and disciplined warriors. The stereotype still persists to this day. To be able to take control of the way Zulu culture is spoken about is so important for people whose culture has been twisted.

Although these Facebook groups are revolutionary, they also highlight the lack of support that African languages receive from publication companies. Many of these companies claim that there are not enough isiZulu writers and that even if there were, the market for isiZulu literature is small.

Despite this belief, the numbers show a very different picture. Business Tech states that only 600-1,000 copies of a South African English book will be sold in the author’s lifetime. In comparison to international books, this is shockingly low.

But what this illustrates is that there is a lack of understanding from publishers around the demographics that South African society represents. Business Tech also states that English speakers make up around 4.89 million people, whereas isiZulu speakers make up 11.58 million people. The fact that these isiZulu Facebook groups can have upwards of 50, 000 writers and readers attests to the reality that there is a potential for isiZulu literature to flourish and even outperform English titles.

It is clear that publishers are not only neglecting the most widely-spoken language in South Africa, but also refusing the reality that isiZulu speakers want to read in their own language. Since isiZulu is predominantly spoken by black people, this refusal is racist. It shows that African languages have no place in a so-called ‘post-apartheid South African literary scene’; a scene that claims to be progressive.

There are a few books in isiZulu that are published by educational book publishing companies. But what this means is that the only isiZulu books given the opportunity to be published are set works for schools and language guides. Most of the work, therefore, does not cross into mature themes above the level of matric or senior year of high school. What this indicates is that isiZulu is not valued artistically, but just as a somewhat necessary language to learn.

To negate the existence of African languages is to negate the existence of black people in South Africa. It is shocking that we are halfway through 2017 and still have to argue for something so obvious.

The truth is ‘indigenous’ languages across the whole world are being excluded in the same way. But what remains important is that we realize how technology is now so much more accessible and can, therefore, be used to promote writing in our own languages.

The existence of these isiZulu Facebook groups is integral to the reclamation of isiZulu as a language worthy of publication. It shows South Africa and the world that our languages are valid and beautiful and need to be heard. What it also shows is that it is time for companies to step up their game and actively seek out isiZulu writers.

It shows that we need a surge in black-owned publications to publish in African languages. Of course, there are so many factors to consider, such as the persistence of white capital in a definitively white supremacist world.

But it is important to understand that in the place of black-owned African language publishers, we can create our own platforms using social media.

Gender & Identity Life

I hate it when people tell me my religion sucks

I am not the first person, nor the first Muslim, to confront ignorance. But I think it’s important to share this story anyways.

This past summer, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to study in Morocco through my university. I was there for nearly two months, and it was an incredible experience. We learned so much about the language and the culture, and were fortunate to travel to different cities and witness so much of what the country has to offer.  We met a lot of other international students through a center which we studied with and also which organized weekend trips for students.

The night before we rode camels farther into the desert to sleep in tents and gaze at the starry sky, we stayed at a cool hotel. The place was beautiful and the food was awesome, and we were really thankful for the night. In the morning, many of us wanted to squeeze in a little swimming time before we left. And some girls who were hijab-wearing Muslims asked to use the indoor pool for a while, because they don’t get an opportunity usually to freely swim (and there was an outdoor pool for everyone else). It’s a totally reasonable request, and I stayed with them for a while because they’re my friends, and because the privacy was nice. After I was done, I went to sit outside with some friends.

We’re just chatting, enjoying the nice morning when a student from another school approaches the table. He asks if the girls are finished in the indoor pool yet, because he wants to use the hot tub. And I tell him they are just going to be a little while longer, and I appreciate his patience. It’s quiet for a moment and then he says, “It’s a shitty religion, isn’t it?” Because these girls think they will “burn at the stake” if a man sees them.


I’m so taken aback I don’t have words for a moment. I think everyone is pretty shocked, but someone else at the table says, “I don’t think that’s how it works.” To which this student adamantly snaps back, “I think it does.”


Let’s review.

We are in Morocco. We are all there for this culturally immersive experience. We’re there to learn about a society different from our own, to gain new perspectives, respect, and understanding. We have been living with Moroccan families, getting to know our Moroccan teachers, laughing with Moroccan students, almost all of whom are Muslim.

This student has had every opportunity to move past his ignorance, to see the humanity in people. But he chose to remain so close-minded, and, dare I say, rude. And when he barked his ignorant beliefs at us with such conviction, I could not stay quiet any longer. Because who was he to act as if he’s some expert on Islam, as if he’s some moral superior to everyone else?

So I snap back and tell him that I, too, am a Muslim. And he stumbles over his words to justify what he said, saying I must be a different sect or I must not practice or whatever excuse. He’s mumbling and I don’t really let him finish because I basically tell him what he said is offensive. I’m calm, but I’m infuriated. I say that religion, and practice of that religion looks different for everyone, and that however anyone wants to demonstrate their self-discipline and their relationship with God is significant.  Valuable. Beautiful. That they only deserve our respect and that anything else he has to say is unnecessary. And I tell him that he’s in no place to judge.

He stands there for a good minute, silent, unable to form any response. And then he just walks away.

Very cool.

And whatever, people are jerks. But it was just so frustrating. I mean I rationally know that hateful people are everywhere but in this instant, I was just so caught off guard. I didn’t expect that someone who had all the resources this fool did would still make such an asinine statement.

And I guess it just speaks to this greater theme of media really enforcing a divide between Islam and the West and I’m tired of it. It only creates more conflict. It only fuels and feeds both extreme sides. It encourages disillusioned individuals to join militant extremist groups. It also promotes a violent agenda on the other side, to isolate and attack any Muslim communities.

Stop telling me that Islam and the West are inherently at odds. Stop crying out that the two cannot be reconciled. Stop saying that by nature of my faith, I cannot be a true American. Stop declaring that there is an innate divide, an innate war, between Islam and the West. Because I am Islam. I am the West. I won’t be coerced into the identity crisis you so fiercely want me to endure. I am not confused. I was born in this country. I was born Muslim. I feel both Muslim and American to my core and I won’t be forced to deny either facet of my identity. I will not fall into your narrative to advance your cause to incite hate and violence and ignorance. I will use my voice, the one I am constitutionally given the right to exercise, to tell all my stories. As in plural. As in I am not one story, I am many. And so are you.

I want to say that this one experience was my one and only with an ignorant jerk. But it wasn’t. And it certainly won’t be the last. But at least I’ve been lucky that I’ve never dealt with a violent confrontation. At least I’m safe, and alive. I can’t say the same for many others. I can’t say the same for Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha, three students fatally shot in Chapel Hill. I can’t say the same for Alauddin Akonjee and Thara Miah, an Imam and his assistant, shot to death in Brooklyn. I can’t say the same for Mohamedtaha Omar, Adam Mekki, and Muhannad Tairab, killed execution style in Indiana. I can’t say I’m not afraid that these incidents will become more common. Because they might. At the very least, I can guarantee that almost every Muslim has experienced some kind of hateful interaction. And that’s already a problem.

I don’t have the answers to fix any of this. I can only hope for people to be good and kind. I can only live my life as the best person I can be. I can believe in goodness and justice. In the end, I only have my words and my stories which might touch at least one person.

And that would be enough.