Recently, we interviewed author Maheen Mazhar about her recent book “Through Her Eyes”, Maheen Mazhar was born in Lahore, Pakistan and moved to New York with her parents at the age of three. Growing up as Pakistani-American there was always a clash between both of her identities. She graduated from New York University in 2019 and currently calls New York home.
Q&A with Maheen Mazhar
1. If you had to describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
Headstrong, Passionate and a Dreamer
2. How did you come up with the title of your book?
This book is about my personal viewpoints and experiences in life. Although there are certain rules one must follow to write a book for any audience, I wanted this book to reflect my true honest voice, opinions, and philosophies in life above anything else. I didn’t want to just share a story that anyone can write, I wanted to share a part of myself with the world. This book is not only about Pakistani culture or American culture, or society and its expectations. This book is a girl’s journey through all aspects of life and through the title, I wanted to convey that despite being in a world that constantly tells us how to be, the main character of this book (me) still chose to follow her own voice, her own heart, and her own mind. “Through Her Eyes” suggests that the book is being told through my perspective and how I see the world or how I see the two cultures that I grew up in. I think that’s the most powerful thing about this book, it’s an honest reflection of who I am, instead of what the world wants me to be. We are constantly surrounded by expectations in this world of how to be, who to be, what to say, how to act etc. The Pakistani culture says something, the American culture says another thing, while society and the world always say something else. In general, the world at large will always have something to say or a category to fit you in. But in Through Her Eyes, I wanted to say things my way, describe how I see the world, break away from what people expect me to say and say everything that I felt and experienced in life, the good and the bad. There is always a reason why we write, and sometimes it’s because we want to break away from the ideas that the world or society always teaches us like how to be, what to be etc. or sometimes we write because we don’t feel understood. I mean think about it, if you always agreed with everything that is happening around you, why would you ever feel the need to express your opinion? And if you did agree with everything in the world around you, that would be boring as hell, that means you have no voice of your own. “Through Her Eyes” breaks away from everything worldly and honestly depicts how a young girl truly feels while growing up in two cultures and finds her sense of self. Despite the world always giving me definitions of who I am, throughout my own journey I define who I am and what I think in life rather than the external world around me. Every culture, society and the world at large will always have expectations of you, the world will always tell you how to be or who to be, but you have an identity which is above the categories that this world puts you in. The identity of being an individual who can have his/ her own way of seeing the world. Also, everyone doesn’t have the same opinions in life, we all go through our experiences in life and those experiences form our opinions and views in life, so why shouldn’t we be free to express those opinions and viewpoints in life? Imagine just agreeing with everything everyone ever told you in life, that’s the worst, that means you have no voice of your own. I am not saying other people’s opinion or definitions are wrong, they aren’t, but you as an individual should voice out your own thinking instead of always listening to the noise of the world. You are a human being, an individual with your own mind and heart before you are part of any culture, society or the world at large, therefore find yourself, what you believe in, what your heart and soul believe in. define yourself before fitting into the different definitions of you, created by this world. And how do you define yourself in this world? By firmly standing by your thinking and beliefs in life and openly embracing them in front of this world.
3. As your book title is ” through her eyes ” where you have discussed a lot about observation? So what was the most striking observation which made you feel like you really want to write this book?
As I started getting into my teenage years, I began to realize that I think too deeply about everything in life. This realization did not happen overnight, it happened in middle school when my family moved from one city to another. All my friends went to a different middle school, while I went to a different middle school where I had no friends, and I became the new girl. As the new girl at school, I began spending more time with myself because I realized that the social circle at school was already formed. Everyone knew each other since elementary school and the same groups stayed consistent in middle school. I did make friends in my classes, but they were not because I got along with them, or we shared the same mindset or values, it was because I had to be part of some group at school at least if I didn’t want to be completely isolated. My observation skills deepened during this transition into my teenage years, and I started to think deeply about everything. At school, why are we always expected to be a part of a group? Why are we always expected to follow the crowd or do what everyone else doing? Can’t we have a mind of our own? I began observing the world around me. I didn’t want to fit in anywhere or be the popular girl at school, I wanted to be myself.
When I got to high school, I felt my sense of self getting stronger and once again I felt like a misfit with the culture around me. I remember walking into my high school first day of ninth grade, sitting on the bench in front of the office, waiting for the morning bell to ring and seeing couples making out in every corner. Even when I would walk to class, I would see couples making out in the hallway. I know that as a sixteen, seventeen-year-old in the American culture this is quite normal, you can call me old school if you want but I never agreed with this. I don’t even think those teenagers even knew what love meant. To me, love wasn’t about kissing, making out or all the temporary shit that teenagers do. To me, love was so much deeper. It’s like your soul wanting to be with someone for the rest of your life, through thick and thin, and in high school, people switched partner as if they were changing clothes. Six months with one person, then break up, find another and repeat. I could never be part of this temporary relationship/ hook up culture. I wanted everlasting love, which no one my age understood. So, I began writing my life philosophies on paper because I felt that no one my age understood my point of view. Looking at all the temporary relationships/ hook up culture in high school made me not want to be in any relationship because I craved a deeper connection with someone, one that wasn’t only based on physical intimacy or making out. That to me was disgusting, I mean how can you just get physical with anyone or everyone you date? That was beyond me. I was called “old school “or “inexperienced” because I didn’t have a boyfriend and I didn’t want one either if it meant being part of this superficial culture. Experience? Why the hell do you need to have experience with ten boys just to be with one? Never understood that concept in my life and never will. Also, if a girl wants to be loyal and faithful to one guy for the rest of her life, isn’t that something to be respected? Then in mainstream American culture, why is it looked down upon? Everyone used to tell me “Oh you are not dating; how will you know what you want in a relationship if you don’t try or experience? But what if you got me all wrong. What if I wasn’t in a relationship because by looking at what everyone else was doing, I already knew exactly what I wanted or didn’t want. I did not want a superficial connection with anyone based on temporary feelings and pleasure. I wanted a real connection with someone, an emotional and spiritual connection more than a physical one so I was willing to stay single and wait for it, but no one around me understood this. I constantly felt like I was being dragged into the hook up culture or being judged for not being part of it. I never cared in life which direction the world went in, even if everyone wanted to go right, and I wanted to go left. I would still go left.
I was in eleventh grade I think when one day I was sitting at the lunch table in the cafeteria with my friends and we all started playing a game called “Never have I ever” whoever did whatever was being talked about would have to eat a piece of cake. So, we all started going around the table saying things we have never done. The first person said “Never have I ever been physical with more than two girls in a day” all the guys at my table took a bite of their brownies. The questions kept on getting weird and weird like, “how many people have you done the deed with? “ What’s your body count etc. Everything somehow came back to some sort of sexual topic, and I felt disgusted sitting there with a bunch of teenagers talking about their relationships/ sexual experiences. I had nothing to say because I hadn’t done anything with anyone because I hadn’t found my person yet. And I wasn’t embarrassed about this at all. In fact, I felt proud that my standards were not as low as teenagers around me made it sound like. Relationships are so much more than sexual stuff, your partner can be your best friend, they can be emotionally connected to you too, but no one around me cared about that stuff, everyone just talked about the superficial things. This incident made me want to write about temporary relationships and hook up culture even more. Why didn’t anyone my age talk about their future goals, ambitions, passions, and career goals? Why was every teenager so obsessed with discussing their relationship/ sexual life? I bet a lot of people judged me that day for not having experience or for not saying anything, but I didn’t care. I knew what I was doing was right and I wasn’t going to hook up with someone just because society expected me to do so. No, I respected my own believes and values too much to give them up to please the world. I always knew that temporary flings, hook ups, my generation and their flawed view of love was never ever something I would ever settle for. No matter how much society judged me for not having a boyfriend I wasn’t going to make one for this hook up culture. I rather wait, for the man who understands that love is deeper than this stupid hook up culture, I rather wait for something real than settle for whatever this world wants me to settle for. I rather wait for someone who feels like he needs his soul next to mine rather than someone who just sees me as a fling. I am not a fling, and I will never be okay with being someone ‘s fling. It’s either a real soul deep connection with someone or nothing at all.
4. You have talked a lot about filling others’ expectations but at the same time you are urging readers to fulfil their goals but the question is how to differentiate what we are considering as our goal is really a goal or a mere imitation of others’ goals?
Expectations exist everywhere, we are constantly surrounded by them. Expectations of society, expectations of a specific culture, expectations of our social groups, expectations of family, and expectations at work. Expectations are everywhere, you can’t avoid them. In my book Through Her Eyes, I do talk about and explain all the expectations that existed in my life. I talk about what the Pakistani culture expects of me, I talk about what the American culture expects of me. I lay out these expectations on the table because they are a part of my life. It’s something that affects my life and how people define me. However, never in the book do I say that you need to follow or fulfill everything that culture, society, or the world expects of you. In fact, in the book I do quite the opposite, I speak about what a certain culture and or society expects of me but then I do what I want. I don’t always fit into what is being expected of me, both in the Pakistani Culture and in the American Culture. For example, as I mentioned in the previous question, that I was always bashed or questioned for not being a part of this temporary relationship/ hook up culture throughout college and high school. If I cared enough about fitting into what is expected of me from the American dating culture, then I would have given up on my personal standards and become part of the hook up culture, but I didn’t do that because my core values, beliefs and sense of self was stronger than fitting in to high school expectations. Like I said, expectations exist in every single aspect of life, but there is something that is bigger than all expectations of the world, and that is your sense of self. Before fitting into a religion, culture, or a society, you are a human being with a mind and heart of your own. So first, before ever trying to fit into anyone’s expectations, first find out who you are, what you believe in and what you don’t believe before the world tells you what to believe in. Only then will you know whether you are fulfilling society’s expectation or your goal! For example, in high school society wanted me to date for pleasure / have a fling / hook up etc., if I didn’t know that I want one man only for the rest of my life, I would easily fall in to dating several people just to try or gain experience. But I , as an individual knew that I don’t believe in that , I believe in being loyal to one person forever and I will wait for that instead of falling in the trap of doing what others expect of me. To be honest, it’s super easy to do what everyone else is doing but saying no and standing by what you believe in takes courage and the only way you can do that is by ignoring the noise of your world and listen to the voice inside you more.
Through Her Eyes is a book that talks about two cultures and its expectations but the most unique message I am trying to give with this book is that you should follow your heart, your own voice above any culture or society. Listen to yourself, your own voice and trust me it will tell you, exactly when something feels wrong or when something feels right. Follow that voice. What happens is that everyone has that voice inside them, but not everyone listens to it. Why? Because we are scared, scared of not fitting in. Scared that what if we follow our heart but look like a fool in front of the world because not everyone else is doing what we want to do? If you want to live a fulfilling life, stop being scared, stop fearing not fitting in. Stop being scared of what will the world say. Another example from the book where expectations are mentioned but not followed is on the first chapter, the scene of my birth. Pakistan is a country that celebrates the birth of a baby boy more than they ever celebrate the birth of a girl. Why? Because it’s our social conditioning since centuries, that a girl eventually gets married and leaves her house, while a boy is seen as the heir because he takes the family name forward. My family went against this societal norm since the day I was born. My grandfather had four sons and no daughter. He and my grandma constantly kept praying for a granddaughter even though everyone in the hospital was shocked at them, that how can you pray to have a first-born grandchild be a girl, when everyone wants a boy. When I was born and my family found out that I was a girl, there was not even one drop of despair in anyone’s eyes. In fact, the entire hospital lobby and my family started dancing. My grandma started feeding everyone mithai (sweets) and my grandpa started distributing money to all the staff members/ nurses at the maternity ward of the hospital. This was the best day for them, and even the hospital nurses were shocked because they had never seen a family so happy on a birth of a girl that sweets and money were being given out so freely and people were dancing in the lobby of the hospital. It’s not just me who breaks norms , my family has also been breaking societal norms and traditions since I have known them and I think I get it from them, this whole courage to be able to be different If they were a typical Pakistani family, they would never be so happy on a birth of a girl, but they were. My family is everything opposite of a typical Pakistani family and they are my biggest blessing in life. My family makes me who I am, they are the air beneath my wings, always encouraging me to fly. The reason I am the way I am, talking about fulfilling your goals and not what others expect of me, it’s because my family has always been my support and my backbone, so I always follow my heart instead of caring about the world or its expectations of me.
The world will always have something to say, but it’s your job to say no I am not going to fit into anyone’s definition of me, I will define myself. Just because everyone is going left, doesn’t mean you have to go left too, have the courage to go right if that’s what you truly want. The only way you will know if you are doing what society or culture expects of you or what your heart wants is by asking yourself, do I really agree with this? It’s all about self-awareness, the more you know yourself and what you want from within, the more you won’t give a damn about what the world thinks of you. Therefore, I wrote the book Through Her Eyes. If I always felt understood in my life or if I always agreed with standards, expectations, and the world around me, why would I ever feel the need to write, to share my perspective with the world. The reason I wrote this book is because my inner voice always said one thing, while the world we live in said another and instead of always fitting into the world and its definition, I wanted to create a piece of work that honestly and truly reflects my perspective of life, how I see the world. There are many messages I want to give the world with this book, but the biggest message is exactly this, find yourself before the world tells you who you are. Discover who you are, before settling into the definitions of you created by this world. Once you truly discover yourself it will be very clear to you, whether you are fitting into the world’s definitions of you or following your own heart.
5. Your roots belong to Pakistan and brought up with American culture and as I was reading some of the reviews, repeatedly the word “balance” had been used, do you really think you need to balance both and if yes then don’t you think it’s also fulfilling societal functioning?
I don’t think I have to balance both. That’s not possible because I will not always agree with everything the Pakistani culture says and, I won’t always agree with everything the American culture says. I do discuss the expectations of both cultures in the book because those expectations will always exist but that doesn’t mean I have to follow all of them. There are a lot of scenarios in the book where I feel closer to my Pakistani values and other times there are moments, I feel closer to my American values. It really depends on the situation, but it was important to discuss these expectations of both culture because it does influence the way you think, your actions and the decisions you make in life. For example, coming back to dating in the American culture and hook ups, maybe I never agreed with these things because of my desi upbringing where casual hook ups aren’t always encouraged. I am not following this part of my culture because I “have to”, I follow it because I want to. These are my personal values, for example physical intimacy can only happen for me with one man, I can’t date ten men and then be like sorry it was just a casual fling. I don’t care if this matches what the Pakistani culture says or if get bashed for it in the American culture, this is more of a personal choice, a personal standard , this is something Maheen as an individual will not do.
Similarly, in the Pakistani culture, the concept of arrange marriage is something that I will never agree with or understand. How can you spend the rest of your life with someone that you didn’t even choose for yourself or don’t even know that well? I will never understand or agree with this. I mean, marriage is a gamble already, you don’t know the turns life will take ahead, if I am going to choose my partner for life, I need to know them, I need to know that it’s my decision to choose them not anyone else’s because even if things go wrong tomorrow, I can at least say that it was my decision, and I am paying the price for my own choice. Imagine, getting into an arrange marriage and things don’t work out. You are not only going to be sour to that person but also you will hate the person who got you into the arranged alliance in the first place. You will spend your entire life cursing someone else for something. I rather make that decision myself. So yes, it was important to mention the things and expectations that exist in both cultures, but in no way shape or form do you have to follow expectations or balance them. There will be no balance because, both cultures make your identity and sometimes you will feel more on one side than the other. However, both cultures will still be a part of you. I am influenced by both my Pakistani roots and my American culture, being exposed to both cultures has formed my way of thinking but I have an identity that is bigger than both cultures, that identity is being myself as an individual. Once I know who I am as an individual and what I believe in, then it becomes easy to decide which part of any culture do I want to agree with and which part not to agree with. It’s not balance that you need to find, what’s more important than balance, is finding what you as an individual agree with or disagree with and sticking by your own beliefs. It all comes back to, I hope you know who you are, before the world tells you who to be. I don’t care who agrees with me or disagree with me. I just know that if I believe in something strongly and no one else believes in it, I will still stand by it, because that’s who I am as an individual. At the end of the day, this is your life, so it’s a choice do you want to live it by finding yourself and staying true to your heart and soul or do you want to spend it balancing expectation of others. Living your life trying to please people, culture or society is a waste of life to me.
6. From ancient times to contemporary times there is much more internalization and socialization done within the family than outside. How do you overcome that socialization because it happens without question?
Yes, socialization and internalizations happens everywhere. Sometimes it doesn’t happen in your immediate family, but you face it through extended family like uncles’ aunts, relatives etc. However, my life has always been an anomaly. My life has always been everything but ordinary, maybe that’s why I turned to writing because I always felt very understood by my parents and my family, but I never felt understood by this world. Even by reading this you are probably thinking, how is it possible that you never faced socialization in your family and to be very honest with you, I didn’t. Like I said earlier, I was the first girl child in my family after 28 years of my grandfather wanting a girl in his family, so I was the princess of the house since day one. if I ever fell on the tile floor in my house while learning how to walk, my grandfather changed the entire flooring to carpet, so I don’t t get hurt if I ever fall again. The time that I lived in Pakistan as a toddler, even my diapers used to come from England because my grandma didn’t want me to wear local ones. Spoiled right? I know.
I came to America when I was three and since then grew up here. Since I have been old enough to understand the world around me, I have only heard one thing from my parents “follow your dreams. We came to this country for you, for you to have a fulfilling life, follow your dreams.” Even American parents make their kids do chores at home, like help with laundry, dishes or cleaning the house. My mom never ever made me do chores. I didn’t even know how to use the stove or cook or iron clothes because there was no concept in my house that a girl needs to know these things. You know how American parents make their kids, do dishes or the laundry or make their bed because they want them to be self-sufficient and independent when they grow up. In desi families, a lot of times the girl is expected to learn and know how to cook, clean, take care of the home so that she can do these things when she gets married. Believe it or not I never had to face those expectations in my life. My mom always used to say to me “I don’t want my daughter to learn how to cook just so she can go to her husband’s house tomorrow and cook for him, I want my daughter to study so hard and become successful so that she doesn’t need to look at anyone’s face for anything” I loved that. My mom wanted to empower me, instead of fitting me into the Southy Asian society’s definition of a girl. One time, when I was five years old, I saw that the iron was on and there were clothes on the ironing stand, and I got excited and started ironing them and burned my hand. That day my parents got so mad at me for trying to iron clothes, they told me that they don’t ever want me touching the iron ever again. And that I wasn’t even allowed to touch the stove in the kitchen. Till now I still haven’t touched the stove in the kitchen.
As I got older, there was no difference between me and my brother. My dad never stopped me from wearing anything I wanted to. During high school, he never stopped me from going to a homecoming dance or going out with my friends. Whether I did something or not, It was always my decision. Never in my entire life did my parents ever impose anything on me or my brother.
The best thing happened when I got into NYU, and it was time to go to college. Most South Asian parents would be okay with sending their sons faraway to college but not their daughters. In my case, the story was the complete opposite. When my dad found out about me getting into NYU, he was more excited to send me away to New York City than even I was. I guess I made him proud as the first person in my family to get into NYU. Even then a lot of my parents’ common friends were like “oh why are you sending your daughter far away from him, she’s going to get spoiled and not remember her family values.” This is where my dad supported me and said that either my son or my daughter, I will not stop them from following their dreams. He clearly told his friends that just because Maheen is a girl, I will not stop her from pursuing her dreams far away from home. I trust her. And my entire family helped me moved to New York City. My parents trust me and that to me is extremely important, and it empowers me to do more in life. Even in college or at home, I never had to face restrictions on what to wear, what not to wear, what time to come home or not to come home. Nothing. Even in my college years in New York, I was all by myself for four years, my parents used to call me to ask how I am doing, but they would never ever ask questions like ‘where are you?’, who are you with? What time will you come home? My parents never asked me these things, instead I used to be the one who used to tell them everything myself because my parents are my best friends. I rather tell them everything myself about my life rather than them finding out from someone else what I am doing. My parents have trusted me so much and made me so independent that even the idea of marriage scares me. My own dad used to tell me in college, and he still tells me “baita go live your dreams, marriage can wait, it’s not the only purpose of life.” I was never taught to compromise in life. I understand that’s important in any relationship, but my parents understand me so well, I don’t think any boy in this world can ever understand me the way my parents do, or support me the way my parents do. They are literally my biggest blessing in life and the air beneath my wings, they always help me fly higher.
However, socialization and internalization will always exist. In my case it wasn’t from my parents but from extended family and family friends. My dad’s friends telling him not to send me far away to college was one example but there are many examples like this that I faced. When I turned 21, I took a trip to Italy with my friends because that’s what I wanted to do, I didn’t want a party or anything, I wanted to go to Italy, so my parents sent me since I wasn’t earning at that time and was still studying in college. I usually don’t post my private life on Facebook, because all the South Asian community, my relatives and even my mom and dad’s friends are on my Facebook. But I was so excited for my trip to Italy, that I posted a check in post at Venice Airport. One of my mom’s friends saw my post. Met my mom at a party and started asking my mom questions about my trip. Did you send her alone? Why did you send her alone? Do you know that parents give their girls too much freedom and that’s why girl’s can’t handle their marriages which leads to unsuccessful marriages? Just because I went to Venice, some random aunty gave my mom a lecture on how my mom had raised her daughter wrong. To which my mom sarcastically told the woman that my elder one is already grown up, she can save her advice for someone else and then the woman finally stopped. I. myself have received criticism from an aunty when I was going to college, the aunty asked me what I will be studying in college and when I said Fashion and Business, the aunty gave me a lecture on how I am a girl and one day I will get married, and my husband will be my top priority and I need to choose a career that won’t affect my priorities. Really? As an eighteen-year-old girl trying to study, do you really think that what my husband will think of my career was my top priority? Obviously, it wasn’t. So, I didn’t say anything to this aunty, but I quietly walked out of the room in anger and went for a walk outside. Then my mom came outside and fixed my mood. Mom literally said to me “When we are standing with you in every decision of your life, you don’t need to worry about what people say”. And to be honest, that’s exactly how I live my life. Me, my mom, and my dad are a team, we fight the world, society, and standards together because even when I choose to do something crazy, I know my parents will always be on my side no matter what. And this is how I deal with socialization, people can think whatever they want of me, my decisions or what I wear. It really doesn’t matter to me, because in my life I am only answerable to God first and then my parents. And if my parents trust me and have no issues with what I am doing or not doing then I really don’t care about what anyone says or thinks about me. Even if you spend your entire life satisfying others, they still won’t be satisfied. Whether you are skinny or chubby, a housewife or a working woman, whether you wear glasses or not, whether you are married or not, people will always have something to say and give their two cents about your life. The best policy is to ignore, and like I said I am only answerable to God or to my parents, the rest is just noise. You can’t stop people from talking but you can choose to simply ignore it and still live life your way.
7. You have also talked about “trends” How people have so much unconsciously indulged in these but recently going off-trend or using phrases like “i am following myself” is too a new trend ? How do you differentiate yourself from such trends as not being a part of a trend is becoming a trend as well these days ?
So yes, the world we live in today is all about following trends, it’s always been right. Someone other than us has always decided for us what’s so called “cool” or “not cool” and everyone starts following it. For example, I see so many reals on Instagram’s by bloggers or celebs and once that reel gets famous everybody wants to do recreate it. Like last year, a girl got famous for her “pawri hori hay” (it’s a part here) reel in Pakistan and then the reel got so famous that everyone started creating their own “pawri hori hay” reel. Same happens in the American culture, one celebrity does something and suddenly everyone jumps on the bandwagon and does it. This is my problem, when someone has already done something, then why do you want to do it again? It’s already been done right? So, find something else, do something new, something of your own. Stop following a celebrity’s fashion sense on Instagram and copy her style, create your own. All of us are completely different, no two people have the same fingerprint in this world. Imagine! So, if I can’t be you and you can’t be me, then why do we constantly try to be like each other? Why can’t we be ourselves and promote that?
This brings me to the second point, if “I am following myself” is a trend and in trying to follow it you are being unique to yourself and not just copying someone else than a much rather follow that trend than any other trend. Please let’s make this a trend, be yourself, if you want to share something on social media share something unique to you instead of copying another reel or celebrity. Instead of being a trendsetter, be a trend breaker, I think that would be cool and unique. Just because every other Instagram blogger is wearing UGG boots in their posts for the season, doesn’t mean I have to. I can instead wear my Timberland boots if I want to. It’s your life, your social media, right? So do what you want to do with it, just don’t do something just because everyone else is also doing it. When everyone starts doing the same thing it gets boring, if you are on your Instagram account, please don’t act like Kylie Jenner, Kylie Jenner already has an Instagram account, people come to your social media to see a part of you, not to see you imitating someone else. I think anything that forces us to be ourselves rather than someone else is a good trend and should be promoted more. I rather see everyone’s unique style on my Instagram feed than everyone trying to copy someone famous. And the way we break this whole “trend obsession” is by not caring much about the trend, rather caring more about what we personally actually want to share on social media. It all comes back to the fact that your sense of self needs to be stronger than how the world wants to see you. Be yourself, genuinely yourself, I think that’s where the beauty is. Ask yourself, when was the last time you posted something on social media because you wanted to, instead of posting something because other people were doing it too and you felt left out? Also, when was the last time you shared your own thoughts on social media instead of sharing what the world wants to hear? How ironic is it that social media was made so everyone can express themselves through their posts and picture but we have reached a point where we are just following what others want to see from our posts. Did you post the pictures from your lunch with your friends because you wanted to? Or because you just wanted to show other people that you are hanging out with so and so? There is nothing wrong with wanting to post pictures but do it because you want to do it, not for the comments or likes. If no one commented on your picture, would you still post it? Have the guts to still post it, don’t be a slave to number of likes and comments. Anything that you do, I hope you do it because you want to , not because you want to seek approval from the world. Simple.
8. Discrimination is one thing which is often common for south Asian and so called categorization given races. Would you like to share your experiences where you felt discriminated against or prejudiced?
To be honest, I have been very lucky that in terms of my race, color, or religion I have never felt any discrimination or prejudice. I think this is because I have lived in very progressive, metropolitan cities within the U.S. Since my family moved here in 2001, till the time I went to first grade my family lived in New York City. New York itself is known as one of the most diverse cities in all of the U.S. New York not only has a huge Muslim and South Asian population, but New York represents all races, religions, color and communities, so living there was a very pleasant experience. Then when I turned eight, my family and I moved to the city of Fairfax in Northern Virginia, literally twenty-five minutes away from Washington D.C. This was probably the best decision my parents made because they knew that my brother and I were getting older and New York City was amazing but not the best place to raise young kids, as we had no space in the city to play or visit regularly.
Going to school in Fairfax County was an amazing experience: everyone came from educated, sophisticated families and I always felt that all races, religions, and color were always represented at school. In fact, when I got into fourth grade, i took part in my school talent show, the theme for the talent show was “culture” so of course I was to represent the Pakistani culture in the show. I had two of my friends in my group who were completely American, so for the show I taught them Urdu, they really enjoyed saying “khush hamdid” on stage which meant welcome. My two American friends also borrowed my shalwar kameez (traditional Pakistani dress) and wore it for the show. It was truly so cool to see my American friends being interested in my culture and dressing up in traditional clothes to represent Pakistan. Even my elementary school best friend was Pakistani, her name was Areeba and she and I used to speak in Urdu all the time at school. When an American kid would ask us to teach them words from Urdu, Areeba and I always taught them a bad word in Urdu and then Areeba and I would tell them it meant “beautiful”, and the American kid would believe us. it was hilarious.
But when Areeba and I got to high school, things drastically changed, almost every other kid at school was either Indian or Pakistani so whenever we spoke Urdu, someone would always understand us. We could no longer trick people anymore by teaching them bad words. Every year, the South Asian population in Virginia kept increasing and I literally felt like I was living in mini-Pakistan. There were Indian and Pakistani restaurants everywhere, you name it and we had it. The cinemas in our local town centers began playing Indian and Pakistani movies alongside American movies. Whether you went to the mall, the grocery store or even to the movie theater you would always run into Urdu/Hindi speaking people. Half of the Pakistani community in Virginia was friends with my mom and everyone knew of each other through some common connections, often times I didn’t even feel like I was not in Pakistan. One time I was standing at Subway, in the food court section of a mall in Virginia, talking to my friend in Urdu about what I wanted to order. I went up to the cashier and said “hi”, the cashier was a Chinese man, but he answered me by saying “aap kesi hay?” (How are you?)” And I was shocked that this man knew how to speak Urdu. Then he started telling me about the best options on the menu in Urdu. I looked at my friend, my friend looked at me and we were so shocked because I wasn’t expecting the Chinese guy at Subway to be speaking in Urdu to me. Then I asked him, “how do you know how to speak Urdu?” he answered,” I lived three years in Karachi” and I was so surprised. That was very impressive but after that I made sure to not saying anything bad in Urdu in public because in Northern Virginia Hindi/Urdu felt like a second language and you would never know who’s listening to your conversation. Even at the airport you would Indian/ Pakistani staff members speaking to each other in Urdu.
Even in high school, everyone came from diverse cultural backgrounds and well to do families. Every high school kid had an iPhone and those who drove cars to school drove extremely expensive cars to school. There were Arab Muslims in my school, Indian Muslims, Pakistani Muslims, Chinese Americans, African Americans also White Americans but it always felt like a mixed pool representing every color, religion and ethnicity. I felt very much like all the other kids and though I disagreed with a lot of people my age about high school culture and dating culture etc., but discrimination or prejudice against my religion race or ethnicity was something I never actually faced in life, and I am extremely grateful for that. When it came time to go to college, I moved back to New York City and even living there for four years of my college life, I never felt any sort of discrimination at all. I always felt like I belonged and especially in New York City, I was lucky I found people who i connected with mentally as well. It was a very pleasant experience.
9. One of the interesting things which we found about you is that you work as a PR publicist at a prominent fashion industry and in your book you are criticizing the expectations and trends. How do you see fashion because it’s also one of the most followed trends and even makes society obey the beauty standards set by such industries?
Since I was in high school, I always knew I wanted to go into fashion. In eleventh grade I took a fashion course in high school called Fashion Academy, in which we learned everything from basic styling and fashion terminology to pattern making, draping fabric and how to create your own collection. I really enjoyed learning about the Fashion Business, draping fabric, how garments are made and designing. I had a good sense of the types of designs I wanted to create but I was horrible at drawing. After taking that course but failing in trying to draw fashion figures, I decided that I wanted to pursue the marketing and PR side of Fashion. Marketing and PR side of Fashion include branding, coming up with ways to market new products, coming up with different ideas to present Fashion in different. Like I talk about observing a lot in life, I did make this observation that everything in the Fashion Industry is very standardized right? The model must be a certain size, look a certain size, be a certain color, not have freckles on her face etc., standards never end. When I was in college studying Fashion, my first internship was at a brand called Hellessy, and trust me I did nothing for the brand and I never learned anything at that internship. My only job at Hellessy as an intern was to go to CVS and get milk for my boss’s coffee. I hated that. It made me decide that I do not want to work for a Fashion designer ever again, and I quit that internship within a few weeks.
My next internship was at a Fashion PR agency called Michele Marie in New York. This was the internship that made me fall in love with my job. I no longer was fitting skinny models into their dresses for the runway or buying milk from CVS. Instead, I was analyzing and reporting on different trends on the runway. I was writing pitches to promote brands and their products. My first writing pitch was for a brand called Raazika Cosmetics, which was a cosmetic brand started by a fourteen-year-old girl who was trying to promote self-acceptance through her beauty line, that you should own your skin color, instead of trying to be fair, or fit into a stereotype. It was also a lot of fun writing in the media about this brand because Raazika cosmetics was one of the first cosmetic lines to explore “halal cosmetics” which was very interesting to me. I knew the concept of “halal food” but “halal cosmetics” was a first, the idea was to make the line more accessible to Muslim women who pray, I thought that was very interesting and it was so much fun to write about this brand and promote it to the media because at least I was breaking barriers and standards in the Fashion Industry and not just promoting and writing to sell a beauty product. After this project, I fell in love with Fashion PR. PR itself was the perfect mix for me because I was doing something in fashion which I loved but at the same time I could use my writing skills to convey a strong message in the fashion industry, I could write about brands and trends I agree with or didn’t agree with, but I could also talk about breaking beauty standards through my writing and write articles about it in the mainstream media to covey my message to the world. Whether that be on culture, my book or my work related to Fashion, my writing is how I choose to break all kinds of barriers and standards in this world.
I have been working in the Fashion PR industry for the past three years, mainly focusing on the beauty PR industry. Within the last two years, I guess you can say after the pandemic, I have noticed a huge shift in the beauty industry where the industry is no longer promoting a clear skin, fair complexion flawless make up model. Instead, there has been a huge shift in the beauty industry to promote beauty from within, to accept your skin color, texture, freckles as it is rather than changing it. For example, I have worked with Neutrogena for one of their campaigns where my team and I had to find influencers to promote the brand but instead of finding make up models or fashion models to promote the brand, Neutrogena wanted us to find normal actual people like surfers, or swimmers to promote their product, anyone who spent a lot of time outside was what we needed for the brand. I loved working on this campaign because at least I was working with influencers who were just like me on a day-to-day basis, the only difference was that they had more social media following than I did. Now I think standards in the Beauty Industry are being broken, and we are showing more people in campaigns who are more relatable to the average person in real life. I love working for such brands and I do hope that in the future, l I keep working with brands that are breaking barriers instead of fitting into them. And I do think that writing and a strong story telling of a brand or what it stands for, can break barriers in this industry. It just depends on what message the brand is trying to give. I haven’t worked for them, but Aerie by American Eagle is another brand that is trying to break barriers in the fashion industry. Aerie does not photoshop their models promoting their lingerie. Whether the model has curves, stretch marks or freckles, they keep the images as is because the idea is not to promote a certain body type or shape. The idea is to promote being “real’ and real doesn’t always have to perfect. I love my work and how I can research such new trends that are breaking typical fashion standards and I hope and pray that in the future I keep working with brands who are not afraid of telling powerful stories and “being real.”
10. Feminist writer Naomi wolf in her book ” The beauty myth” largely emphasized how with the growing feminine expectations like going on diets, makeup and maintaining a psyche and all, Do you think there is gender biased towards expectations as women are more obliged to follow rulebooks?
Yes, there is gender biased and it mostly all falls on women because women are always expected to be a certain way and act a certain way. Think about the concept of high heels, yes, they are fun to wear but they hurt. If you think six-inch pencil heels don’t hurt, that’s a lie. Do you know that high heels were created and are glamourized because men thought that a woman’s legs look more attractive when they are wearing heels? Why? I mean why do girls have to always be objectified and why do men get to decide what’s attractive or not? I mean, make a man wear six-inch-high heels and tell me how he feels afterwards. The human feet were designed to bare weight, some parts of the feet bare more weight than other parts of the feet and that anatomy falls completely out of balance while wearing high heels. A lot of times you must practice walking and balancing in heels because it’s drastically changing your natural way of walking. But it’s considered sexy? What the heck, I am not saying don’t wear heels, I am just saying that whenever we do wear heels, society and people start thinking that we are trying to impress someone. Or in other words, don’t wear heels, because a book, magazine, a movie, a man tells you that they are sexy. Wear something or do something because you won’t do it, not because the world is telling you to do it. Sneakers can be sexy too , it all depends on the person wearing it, not the person setting the “standards.”
The same thing is true for make-up: movies, books, fashion magazines, and media influences women in so many ways that we start thinking that we constantly must look or dress a certain way. All throughout my high school years there was one thing that bothered me a lot. Every single morning when I would go to the girl’s bathroom before class, there would be a line of girls standing in front of one long mirror on the wall, trying to fix their hair or do their make-up. A few girls would be sitting on the floor and have their whole make-up box out in front of them. And all the girls would crowd up behind them just so they can find at least some corner of the mirror to look at and fix themselves. There was only one long mirror and twenty girls trying to use that one mirror at once. This irritated me, because this was school not some fashion show and honestly who cared if you had make-up on or not? It was seven in the morning for God’s sake, I would be more concerned about sleep than make-up. Seeing girls do make-up in the bathroom mirrors made other girls want to do it too and then everyone started jumping on the bandwagon. That’s what annoyed me. Frankly speaking, I came to school to learn not to be part of a beauty contest, so I didn’t care about putting make-up on at 7 AM, but even if you do want to do make- up, do it for yourself. Don’t do it because other girls are doing it or because you want to impress a guy. Impressing a guy with your looks is so superficial to me if he can’t get to know you and respect your mind and heart. Attraction to me can’t only be physical. I am not saying I never used to dress up for school, I did, and I also did make-up on special days like my birthday, but I never felt the need to do it every day. I am just saying, put make-up on because you want to do it, when you do it because everyone else is doing it , you are actually fulfilling the so-called expectations that society has of you. When you do it because everyone else doing it, you’re becoming a slave of society’s expectations of you, and that to me is wrong.
Similarly, when I got to college, I had a roommate who used to get up at 5 AM to do her make-up for her 7 AM class because none of her teachers or professors had ever seen her without make-up. on the other hand, I used to have a 7 AM class too but I used to wake up 6:45 AM, wash my face, change my clothes, and get to class on time. I really didn’t care how people saw me because my confidence came from within, not any make up. I did make up too, but only on the nights where I was going out with my friends, I did at times I felt like doing it. And when I didn’t feel like doing it, my friends still used to hang out with me and they knew how I looked without make-up and it was still fun. Make -up or no make-up, it never changed my self-image, confidence, or my relationship with my friends and that’s the message I am trying to give. Make-up is fun, have fun with it, but don’t make it part of your identity, don’t let make-up define who you are. Don’t let any beauty standard ever define who you are. I love make-up, but all these beauty standards and images are all a trap. You don’t need make- up, or creams, or anything to feel beautiful. Real beauty is you knowing who you and being yourself, that is true beauty.
11. What other authors are you, friends, with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
When I was in college at New York University, that’s when the idea came to me that I wanted to write this book Through Her Eyes. To help me with this goal of mine I started taking writing workshop classes at NYU. These classes soon became my writing community. We had to do workshops in class, where every student would bring a piece of their writing to class, share it with everyone and then receive feedback. The form of giving feedback was that you had to say one good thing about everyone’s writing and then also mention one thing about the writing that can be improved. This was the best way to become better at writing because when you are writing you are only thinking about what you want to put on paper, you don’t have the reader’s perspective on how other people are understanding your writing. Is your messaging coming across the right way? Does the reader understand what you are saying? Are you giving enough information for the reader to understand the story? Or can you say it better? These are all things that I cannot answer for myself as a writer, I need someone to read my work and tell me what they think of my work and that’s where my writing community and classmates were super helpful. While critiquing each other’s writing in class, we were usually put in groups of eight. So, let’s say I was sharing a chapter of my book and three people understood everything but then five people have the same question because they were confused about the same thing . For the next class or workshop session, I now knew that I need to work on the part of my writing that five people found confusing. This feedback and critiquing technique was very effective in pointing out my areas of strength as a writer and pointing out my areas of weakness, because as a writer, you cannot judge your own work. You don’t have the perspective to judge your work, because you already know the story that you are trying to tell. But while writing anything it’s important to remember that you are not writing the piece for yourself. Your work is for the world, it’s for the reader, so are you giving enough information to the reader in the story to get the message? This you will only know when you let others read your work and give you feedback. So, my NYU writers community helped me become a better writer by pointing things out in my writing good and bad, that I could not see as a writer.
12. In the book you mentioned that you are the one who believed in one love with one person lifelong. Can you please elaborate on this idea because how do you realize that love happens once without any mistakes?
I am so happy this questioned was asked and if there is one thing, I could scream out loud and tell the world, it would be the answer to this question that I am about to tell you now. The one thing I hated about growing up in America was this temporary relationship/hook up culture. To be honest, hook up culture exists everywhere in the world, but no one glamorizes it the way the western culture does. We celebrate having multiple partners/ relationships and sex before marriage like as if it’s an achievement. I hated that. When I was in sixth grade, seventh grade I too had crushes. There was a guy named Jared in my sixth-grade class who I liked very much, he had blonde hair and blue eyes, I found him to be cute and my friends knew I liked him but other than that there was nothing between me and Jared. Never. It’s okay to like someone as we grow older, it’s a normal part of growing up but as I got into middle school and high school, I observed that the meaning of relationships became very dirty and disgusting. Couples kissing and making out in the hallways of my school was a visual I used to see every day when I would walk into my high school. We had a school dance during the winter time called “Homecoming, where all the guys used to ask out girls to this dance but after this dance a lot of things would happen, couples used to go home together and end up having sex. This used to blow my mind, I can’t even imagine holding hands with a guy I don’t have feelings for, and such young kids were engaging in this type of relationship culture. It literally felt like everyone in high school was more obsessed with the physical part of a relationship, sex, making out etc. , than anything else. No one my age ever cared about everlasting love. The love that I believed in was way deeper than sexual and temporary pleasures, I believed in a love that looked at your soul and your mind, a kind of love that supports you, a love that knows how to give. Hook up culture or temporary pleasures that only pays attention to your body were not “love” to me, it was lust. And lust is not going to wake up in the middle of the night to make sure you are doing ok. Lust is not going to be there staying by your side in your deepest grief. Lust is not going to stand on your side when the entire world is against you, and still say “no I am here with you. Lust won’t last till your ninety. Lust won’t do that, but true love will. But it amazed me that American high school dating culture related everything to sex, literally everything. The conversation I mentioned in question #3, where I am sitting at my lunch table with my friends, and they are all talking about their relationships and sex life and how many people they have slept with. These conversations are the ultimate sad reality of the American High School culture and yes, these things exist. Since high school to even people in their twenties it exists everywhere. High school boys only discussed girls in sexual ways, and they only wanted girlfriends for sexual pleasure and this reality and mentality of boys in my high school led me to the conclusion that I do not want to be part of this disgusting hook up culture. The way guys talked about girls in my own friend circle, made me not want to be in a relationship ever. If you are sitting at the lunch table and your own guy friend is telling you that he took a girl out for dinner and he wanted her to sleep with him, but she didn’t so he called her “bitch”, that’s not cool. I am sorry but as a girl I will not respect a guy who talks about a girl like that, let alone be with him. If a man can’t touch my heart and soul, he has no right to ever touch my body. Ever.
In high school within my own friend group there were two best friends, Kate and Samantha one of them was dating a boy named Rob who was extremely popular and on the school’s basketball team. Kate was Rob’s girlfriend and in the beginning of the year Samantha helped Rob ask out Kate for the homecoming dance. It was such a cute proposal that the whole school talked about it for days. Six months later, we found out that Rob and Kate had broken up and Rob was now dating another girl. Guess who that girl was? Samantha (the best friend). This shocked me more than anything, firstly, how can you say you are in love with someone when six months later you don’t love that person anymore? That’s not “love” in my definition, that’s infatuation which young people always confuse for love. Secondly, it’s disgusting how Rob decided to date his ex-girlfriend’s best friend so casually. I was never in a relationship in high school but looking at this disgusting crap happening around me made me not want to be in one either. I mean, to me relationships had value, if changing your partner was as easy as changing your clothes, I didn’t want that in my life. God forbid a real relationship cannot be based on sex or temporary pleasures. It will never last. What are you going to do with a sexual connection when there is no mental or spiritual connection involved? And, why would you give away your body to someone, when they can’t even respect your mind or get to know your soul? I can never even imagine this; I rather die than God forbid have sex with someone casually. These things were never casually to me, and they never will be. Sex will not stay with you when you are eighty, but companionship will. Why can’t we look for that companionship at a younger age instead of being so obsessed with physical and temporary pleasures? Also, I think that physical intimacy is sacred, it should only happen with someone who you feel like your soul belongs to. Why have we made it so common, that in the American hook up culture, sex without love is actually celebrated? I find that extremely disgusting. Literally I felt like every guy in high school only wanted sex from a girl. You will read in the book that I saw this happening so many times and I got so scared, that some guy in my math class asked me out to the homecoming dance and I said no to him. Why? Because looking at all the examples around me at school I was terrified that this guy would want the same thing from me at the end of the day and I didn’t want to entertain that, so I clearly told him no I am not going out with you. In fact, this hook up culture made me not want to be with anyone. I wanted people to respect me for my mind, not objectify me as something they could “easily get.”
So many people in my generation engage in this random hook-up culture that it often feels like old school love is dead. Let me tell you something, it’s not. Old souls like me still exist, who believe in loving and wanting to be with one man only for the rest of their lives. I don’t know if I will find that in this generation but if you can jump around from one person to another so easily, that to me is not love. When you truly love someone, it’s hard to get over them. When you truly love someone it’s not even about physical intimacy anymore. It’s all about that one person and you always want the best for them. Love is just so much deeper than what I saw happening in my generation while growing up. I still believe in a kind of love that fuels your fire, one that encourages you to become a better version of yourself. A love that nurtures your soul instead of looking at your body. To me, physical intimacy can only happen with the love of your life and without love, it makes no sense to me at all.
My parents had a love marriage, they have been happily married for 25+ years. When my dad said yes to my mom, he was only 21, he hadn’t even fully enjoyed his twenties yet, but he knew my mom was the one. That to me is commitment, something that is so rare to find in my generation because everyone is so obsessed with the temporary stuff like hooking up, and if sex is the first thing, then there’s nothing much left because you never wanted to get to know each other. You got what you wanted and end of story. Maybe it was South Asian values that made a relationship more than just physical stuff, but the American culture made everything seem like it was about sex. That’s what scares me the most because my generation thinks sex and love are the same when in fact, they are very different. People can have sex with whoever they want to, but you only fall in love with the one your heart choses to fall in love with. And love is such a pure emotion, one that is embedded in respect, that by attaching sex to it, we end up killing it. Love with mutual respect will last forever, if your relationship is only based on physical needs, it’s not going far at all.
There was another incident that I describe in the book where I am sitting at school and people are making fun of these two YouTubers who talk about how their boyfriends have been with them for several years and are okay with waiting to get physical because the girls are religious and do not want to have sex before marriage. A bunch of guys at my school started making fun of these couples saying things like “What do you do with your partner for five years then, just stare at their face?” That made me so mad, and I turned to writing my thoughts down on paper again. I in fact would have so much respect for a man that is with a girl for so long without wanting physical intimacy from her. That means he’s invested in something beyond the physicality of the relationship. That is something that is not to be made fun of. Rather I would have an infinite amount of respect for such a man because nowadays that is rare to find. Anyone can want you physically but if your relationship is only based on physical needs, it’s not going to last forever. You need to have a deeper connection with someone, and love is not sex and sex is not love, these are two very different things that I felt my generation confused.
Therefore, I felt like such a misfit, and I began writing about these experiences. I wanted to be honest about everything and the way I felt in certain situations at school, and I wanted to explain my point of view that to me love wasn’t just physical, rather a soul deep connection. When I got to college, I thought things might change because we were all a little order, but sadly nothing changed. Guys still wanted only one thing from girls and once they got that it was over and if they didn’t get it then they bitched about her. Still there was no one who believed in old school love the way I did. So, I continued writing. Writing became my way of true self-expression. I am not ashamed to say that I have never been in a relationship, and I am still waiting for the one and only who deserves me because I respect myself and I know that I want something that will last forever, not just for a season. I will not lower my standards and engage in this culture of having multiple relationships because that’s not who I am. I am an old schoolgirl living in a modern world. I want to fall in love with one man and stay in love with that man forever. I believe that if you love someone, it can’t happen again, like if you care about them, you will always care about them. It’s sad that no one believes in the “one person forever” kind of love anymore, but I do, and I will wait for it no matter how long It takes. I hate how in this world of hook ups and temporarily relationships, when I say that I am not in a relationship, this hook up culture looks at me like what is wrong with you? I hate that , I still believe in loving and staying loyal to one person and I won’t let this generation take that away from me. Nor will I settle for anything less than a soul deep connection. Yes girls like me still exist, yes people who believe in wanting a “forever “with someone still exists , but there is so much importance and attention that we give to the hook up culture that people who believe in old school love and a “forever” with ONE person , we feel like fools because everyone in this world seems to be running after the superficial pleasures.
I am not saying that when you fall in love with someone, everything will always work out and it will be flowery or like a fairytale. No , that’s not how life works. Obviously even real genuine relationships will have highs and it will have lows. But that’s the whole point of a relationship, to have someone to walk with you on the good days and the bad days. It’s easy to be with someone on a good day, what’s hard is to be with them on their best day. Similarly, how having sex with someone is probably the easiest thing to do right? Get what you want in leave, but feeling someone’s pain like it’s your pain? Now that’s hard, isn’t it? To me, that’s love, being there for someone even when it’s inconvenient. We have glamourized the “easy stuff” so much that no one sticks around when life gets tough. Have sex and leave, no consequences of commitment, right? That’s wrong. What we are doing is normalizing the fact that be selfish, get what you want and as soon as things get hard , leave. Why leave? Because you have options, if someone isn’t giving you what you want, leave because someone else will. That’s wrong and selfish. Love and relationships cannot be selfish, love is giving. I am not saying love is perfect but two people who never gave up on each other can make it perfect. The problem is that we don’t stay in one place for too long and instead when things get hard in a relationship, people get out of it instead of even trying to make it work. You can’t live your whole life getting into things and as soon as things get hard get out and walk away. Because the sad reality is that anyone will stand by you in your good times but not everyone wants to stay when you are down on the ground or need a shoulder to cry on. And I don’t know, I think mistakes can happen in love, but love cannot be selfish, you cannot stay when it’s convenient and walk away when life gets hard. A relationship is not going to be a perfect fairytale, no one wants that, there will be good days and bad days, but if you are going to be in it, be in it with someone’s who’s worth fighting for, who’s worth compromising for. Be with someone who’s going to fight circumstance and this world with you instead of fight against you.
I see so many people in relationships who are in relationships for all the wrong reasons. Sex, temporary pleasures, attachment etc. in the South Asian culture I see a lot of people in marriages who are so called “married” but have no connection whatsoever with their partners. Either they are in it for families, parents, their kids, society or what will people say etc., but I know that they are not in it for love or friendship. I don’t want such a relationship or marriage if it’s going to be for the sake of having a “in a relationship” or “married” tag just to show the world or because society expects me to do it. I don’t want it. I don’t want to be with anyone just to show the world that I am with someone. I rather wait for the one who genuinely makes me feel like I want to be with them, and they want to be with me. I want to wait till it feels right, till I find the one who makes me feel like “Yes, I want to spend the rest of my life with you”. I do not want to be in any relationship just for the sake of being in a relationship. This is the one thing in my life I will not compromise on, I will not settle for anything less than a kind of connection that sets my soul on fire. It’s either everything or nothing at all for me, and it will always be. The generation I have grown up sadly doesn’t believe in the kind of love/ relationship I am talking about, but I believe in God. If such a connection is made for me, I will find it one day, but I will never be with someone, just for the sake of being with them.
13. In south Asian countries festivals are like part of the human essence how do you celebrate festivals in American cities? What do you think that you miss about motherland festivals here.
My family and I celebrate every holiday, but nothing brings in our Pakistani culture and traditions to life, the way Eid does. Eid is celebrated at the end of Ramadan, a month where we fast from dusk till dawn, pray and try to stay away from all sorts of sin. The one thing I miss about Ramadan here, verses Ramadan in Pakistan is that all the restaurants in Pakistan are closed during fasting hours and open all night. I think that makes fasting more fun and easier because food places are closed anyway so you won’t get tempted during your fast. The whole concept of fasting is not only about staying hungry from dusk till dawn. The concept of fasting teaches us patience, patience to not angry when you are hungry, patience to not lie, engage in bad doings while fasting because all of this can break your fast. The concept teaches us purification of the mind, body, and soul. Fasting 8-10 hours a day is good for detoxing your body, but during this time knowing that you can’t lie, cheat, get mad at someone for an unjust reason all helps us practice patience in every aspect and purifies your mind, body and soul because not only are you staying away from food, but you are also trying to stay away from lying, cheating, sinning etc. A lot of people also quit drinking alcohol during this month to stay away from “haram” (forbidden things), kind of like lent when you give up something you love/ or for the sake of God for a certain amount of time. Ramadan lasts for 30 days and the first day after fasting ends is called Eid Al Fitr. Eid is a celebration of all sorts of things, love, family, culture dancing, meeting all your extended family, tons of eating, praying, and getting money or a gift from your elders for fasting the entire month. Usually that gift is money, and we call it Eid. The celebrations start on the last fasting day of Ramadan, which we call “Chaand raat” meaning “full moon night.” After breaking the final fast on chaand raat, the celebrations start. Usually, the women get together at someone’s house or at a festival to get henna applied to their hands. The Henna artist from our local South Asian salon usually comes over to whoever’s house we are celebrating at to apply henna to everyone. I don’t usually do this because I don’t like when henna turns yellow when it starts to fade. But my mom and sister love getting henna. We usually celebrate Chaand Raat at my mom’s friend’s house where all my mom’s friends and their daughters get together for dinner, henna, dancing and just a night of fun to celebrate the end of Ramadan. We wear traditional outfits called “shalwar kameez”, it’s a long shirt or dress that goes a little bit below your knees, paired with bell bottoms or leggings, depending on whatever style you like. The gowns or long shirts called a “kameez” is usually full of embroidery, thread work or stonework, depending on how fancy you want to get. Everyone dresses up to the fullest as if we are going to a wedding with jewelry, full make up and colorful sequined bangles that we call “chooriyan”. The night goes by dancing, eating, and catching up with friends. The following day is EID. In the morning my mom wakes up the earliest because she makes everyone “ dhoood seviyan” which is a traditional Pakistani dessert which we eat on Eid for breakfast. Dhood seviyan is, made from milk, condensed milk, sugar, and angle hair noodles. I know the concept of noodles dipped in milk and covered in sugar sounds weird when you first hear it but when this dish is burning fresh off the stove, it’s divine. The best way to eat it is when it’s warm and fresh off the stove but since my mom makes it early morning when all of us are sleeping, she puts it in the fridge so it could turn into more of a rice pudding kind of texture. I guess you can call it noodle putting.
Only on Eid it is that as soon as I get up, I get into the shower and get ready right away instead of coming straight downstairs in my PJ’s to wish my family “Eid Mubarak”. I guess you could do that if you really wanted to but it’s a tradition in our family that on the day of Eid everyone gets dressed up first thing in the morning. My shalwar kameez is usually already ironed and laying on my bed the morning of and I just shower, do my make-up, put on all the jewelry I can and get ready with my high heels as if I was literally going to a wedding. Our Eid outfits are always pre-selected every year because that’s the only time of the year I would wear something like that. I usually order them from Pakistani designers by just browsing online. As soon as I am ready, I come downstairs and meet each member of my family to wish them Eid Mubarak. When we are wishing each other Eid Mubarak we hug them thrice and say Eid Mubarak. The hug is more like when you are meeting friends and send them a kiss on each side. I wish everyone in my family first and then my dad and my grandpa because I know that’s where I will be getting the “Eidi” from lol. My dad usually just hands me hundred dollars and cash and my grandpa always puts it in an envelope and hands to me. The idea is that, until you are not dressed up and wish your elders a happy Eid Mubarak, you do not get the “Eidi” lol. After all the hugs, kisses, Eid Mubarak’s and Eidi happens, then comes the Eid Prayer. The Eid prayer is just like a regular namaz prayer but on Eid everyone prays together at the local mosque in our area, the Eid prayers at the mosque have certain timings. If we miss the prayer at the Mosque we usually just gather as a family in our living room and perform the prayer at home. Either way, praying as a family on Eid is a must! Praying for peace, love, prosperity, happiness, and success as a family. The entire day of Eid is all about family, friends and relative. Around mid-day, all my cousins, aunts, uncles, family friends, relatives, mom and dad’s friends, my brother’s, even some of my neighbors, literally everyone we know in Virginia gather up for an open house lunch/tea at my house. I call it open house laughingly because from 2pm to about 10 pm I constantly have people coming and going from my house, to eat, talk, have fun and wish each other a very happy Eid. My mom usually decorates the corner of the house underneath the large spiral staircase with an Eid Mubarak banner and balloons. Once all her friends come over and my friends come over the decorated area under the staircase turns into our picture corner. First my mom spends fifteen minutes taking pictures of me and my friends and then I must spend around thirty minutes trying to take pictures of my mom and her friends. Lol the aunties are never happy with their photos, it’s always “can you take another one”. We have an open kitchen with two dining rooms and two living rooms attached to it. The kitchen counter is decorated with a buffet of all sorts of food that my mom gets catered from a restaurant usually and then our breakfast table in the corner gets decorated with fancy table mats and turns into dessert table with soufflés macaroons, a chocolate fountain, cake, rice pudding and traditional Pakistani sweets. The entire day is spent talking, eating, and eating some more. And the funniest moment to me is when me and my friends are sitting at one of the dining tables, trying to eat food, one of my mom friend’s will come up to our table and say, “can someone take a picture of us?” and all of us at the table look at each other thinking who’s going to go. Because this isn’t oh, I took one picture and I am done, this is literally you are taking one billion pictures till all the aunties in the group are satisfied with it (laughs). And that is how my family celebrates Eid, a day of thankfulness, love, peace, friends, music, food, prayer, and lots of gratefulness for life in general. I feel like that’s the entire of concept of Ramadan, learning to be grateful for not just food but everything that you have been given in life. Because staying hungry for so long teaches you patience but it also teaches you to feel for others. To feel for those people who can’t get food when they want, however they want. In general, it’s a time to get grounded, be humble and realize all the blessings you have in life and be thankful to God for those blessings.
14. You have also mentioned in your book about belief, faith and how it is important to unite yourself with higher spiritual power. As in contemporary times questioning religious beliefs is often more common so How do you see and understand these questions?
My faith, religion, belief in God is something that I don’t let this world dictate, this is one thing in life I feel should be completely detached from the world. My faith and my relationship with God is a very personal and direct one, I don’t need a third person to tell me how to run this relationship. In the relationship between you and God, no third person should even exist. Everyone has their own idea of what it means to have faith or be religious. A lot of people even like to judge you by your clothes or actions about your faith and your relationship with God and then people make a discussion out of it. A lot of people also tell you how to be religious or what to believe in or what do to prove that you are religious. Just the way society has standards or expectations of how you should live your life, society also thinks that they can school you on how your relationship should be with God. I disagree with this. I think your faith and relationship with God is a very personal thing and there should be no space for the world or society to come in between you and God. To me religion and faith is not what someone else tells me it is. For me religion and faith is based on my personal connection with God and it’s something that comes from within and cannot be measured by this world. No one can judge how close or far you are to God, that’s between you and God. For example, just because you tell me to cover my head or read namaz and I go and do it but after reading namaz I end up hurting someone or harming them, to me that’s not religion. This world will tell you cover up, its religion, do this or do that because it’s religion. If I am doing something that the world is telling me to do instead of what god is telling me to do then even in my spiritual life, I am letting society and the world dictate my relationship with God, which is wrong. Each person has their own relationship with God and God is the one to judge so people shouldn’t even have right to speak about other people’s religious beliefs or practices I think. At the core, every religion teaches us to be a good human being. I don’t focus on what people have to say or don’t have to say about religion because why should I let people even enter in my relationship with God. I am not here on earth to prove to the world whether I am religious or not, I am here on earth to please God. And I think the relationship between you and God is a very direct one and it should stay like that. Everything in life has a place, right? Your relationship with your family members, your relationship with your friends, your relationship with your spouse, your relationship with your kids etc., no two relationships are the same, each relationship is unique and holds its own place. Similarly, your relationship with God or the higher spiritual power also has its own special place and I believe that this one relationship should be the center of your heart. When you make your relationship with God the center of your heart, trust me everything else in life always falls into place.
I think we often get confused about what religion and faith are, religion is not just covering yourself or showing the world how religious I am. To me faith and religion are basically how you chose to connect to God daily in life and for everyone that connection may look different. Some might read the Quran or pray namaz to form a connection with God. Others might read their religious text or go to a temple or a church or you can just simply talk to God and make him your best friend and talk to him every day about everything, the good and the bad things in life. I keep God with me in every single situation in life. I talk to God more than I even talk to people. I pray for the things I want, not just during namaz but in general too. You hear this saying often, and it’s also said in movies that god is always with you, always around you, you don’t have to go to the church or the masjid or the mandir to find him. I truly believe that I feel that even if you are sitting in your car, talking to God about your day or how you wish to get somewhere, God is still listening. He will listen to you no matter where you decide to remember him from. You just must make sure you are calling out to him. This world has disappointed me so many times that I feel like God has become my source for everything. When I am happy, I talk to God, when I am sad I cry on the prayer mat, when I am worried or upset I ask for God’s help in taking me out of that situation. For me, God is everything, God is the reason why all the good in my life exists and when things go bad, God is where I find my hope to keep going. Faith is very beautiful thing to have in life Faith makes miracles happen and it also gives you the courage to get back up on your feet when you fall. Without faith and a connection to God I feel like this world is useless. If you think that you got where you are in life, without God’s help, you are fooling yourself. This world is too mean and disappointing for you to get anywhere without God.
I think faith is crucial in life, it’s the one thing that gets you back up even when you fall. For example, when we went into lockdown back in 2020, the entire world came to a stop. People lost their jobs, their businesses that they had spent years working to build, people even lost their family members due to COVID 19. In times like these it’s so easy to give up on life and feel like it’s all over. This just shows you that all the worldly things we obsess about , like careers, jobs, travelling etc. are all superficial pleasures and can be taken away from us with in seconds. Your dream job can be taken away from you within seconds. In times of despair of being home or losing a job or a family member, it’s faith that keeps you going, it’s the believe, the hope for a better future that keeps you going. It’s prayer that keeps you going. And even though everything materialistic that we as humans obsess over can be taken away from you, your faith and believe in God, or him providing you with a better future is something no one can take away from you ever. Faith stays with you till you die and as long as you have faith you can get back up from anything. You can recreate that business or find a job that’s even better than the one you had previously. Having faith in life makes the tough times easier to get through because your faith strengthens your hope. For me, I think I wouldn’t have made it in life this far if it wasn’t for God. People all throughout my life have tried to tell me what they think I could or couldn’t achieve. But I never paid attention to people. Whatever I wanted to do or achieve in life I have always looked up to God for it and he’s helped me every step of the way. I did everything in life that people once told me I would never do. How? Because I relied on my faith in God more than believing in what people had to say to me. You know in this world superficial relationships are not just romantic ones, superficial relationships exist everywhere. Even that coworker at jour job that you smile at but can’t stand in the inside, that’s a superficial relationship too right? The one relationship in life that is not superficial and will never ever disappoint you is your relationship with God. If you genuinely call upon him, it doesn’t matter what time it is not, or if you are at a mosque or a temple, or on your prayer mat or not, no matter when and where you call him, God always listens, always. And that’s the kind of relationship one should have with God, because even when the world fail you trust me God won’t. God listens to your every prayer, to your every pain, maybe the world doesn’t see it because we have become heartless in so many ways but God sees everything and that’s why your relationship with your creator should be above every worldly relationship in life. Ironic right, that God created this world and sometimes we get more concerned with pleasing the world than God himself. That’s where we go wrong. Nothing worldly should ever come above the one who created this world.
One thing I have realized through my experiences in life is that you cannot navigate the life of this world without being connected with the higher power. Whether that is through believing, praying, or whatever, that connection with the higher power is super important in life. Because not every situation in life is in your hands. And the more you pray to God and leave things in his hands the more you see him helping and guiding you through life. I have literally seen my prayers become reality. Yes, nothing happens without hard work, but hard work backed up by faith is the ultimate key to success in life. I completely believe that everything good or bad in my life comes for a reason. The blessings are God’s reward to me, and the trials are opportunities for me to get closer to God, either way, if I always rely on God for everything in this life then I win. And nothing in life can break a woman who relies on God more than she relies on this world.
15. Do your family or relatives have memories concerned with the partition of India and Pakistan ?
My Grandpa from my dad’s side was born in pre-partition India, Lyallpur which is now modern-day Faisalabad. I think he was four years old when Partition happened, so I don’t think he has any memories of but his family always lived in Faisalabad. My grandma, on the other hand, had family who came from Jaipur, India to modern-day Hyderabad, Sindh, the whole family had moved from Jaipur six months prior to Partition. On the other side my maternal grandma her family migrated to Pakistan from Amritsar, so technically my mom’s side was from Amritsar than moved to modern day Karachi.
16. In American schools racism is prevalent with gender stereotyping. Would you like to share a few incidents where you felt like you were judged ?
To be honest, I have never faced racism or gender stereotyping in school based on my religion, color or country of origin. I wouldn’t call it racism, but I have been judged for holding beliefs that might not be a part of mainstream American culture so to say. For example, being judged for not dating anyone in a culture wear having ten different boyfriends by the age of twenty-five is a normal thing. And when you say that you haven’t dated anyone, people look at you like “What is wrong with her.” The American culture has normalized hooks up and flings so much that having multiple relationships/ flings or casually hooking up is basically seen as the new “normal” now and one something is different from the normal, we judge it. This concept is called “Force Assimilation” and it happens with not only South Asian people but anyone who comes from a different culture other than the American culture. I think it’s hard for Western culture to sometimes understand that things can exist outside the box. It’s hard for them to understand that people who come from different cultures can have different believes or values when it comes to dating, drinking, partying, and a lot of other things in life. Obviously, coming from a different country, and growing up in America we are always expected to adapt everything the American culture tells us, adapt the language, the norms, ways of being, ways of dressing etc., but what the American culture doesn’t understand is that we can also keep parts of the culture that our roots belong to. Why does the American culture expect me to become all westernized when certain parts of me will always be Pakistani? We shouldn’t have to compromise our roots to become “American” why can’t we keep both if we want to? My roots are Pakistani, I am a proud Muslim American, I love my identity as a Pakistani American and a lot of things about me are more western than Pakistani but I will never in my life be okay with normalizing something like , casual sex before marriage. This is a very common occurrence in America, it’s very common for teenagers in high school and college to hook up with someone casually and it starts happening at a very young age but as a Pakistani girl I don’t agree with this and normalizing the hook up culture is something that has extremely bothered me all my life. So yes, I have felt forced to accept this part of the American culture and when I didn’t indulge in it because I don’t agree with it, I have felt judged. I just want more people in the Western world to understand that there are things that exist outside of what they believe in. That people can have different believes and values about something and it’s ok if they differ from yours, just learn to respect that difference instead of trying to force everyone to believe in the same thing. When I go to school or college, and we talk about dating, and I say I haven’t dated anyone seriously I want people to say “wow I respect that” instead of saying “uh that’s lame.” Let’s stop putting each other down just to make ourselves feel better, if I am not interfering in the number of flings you have had, don’t judge me for my life choices either. So yes, I think Forced Assimilation does exist at school, where everyone is expected to believe in whatever the mainstream culture says, and I think not just me but a lot of kids who are from a different culture feel this at school. Let’s try to normalize the fact that even if my opinion or belief is different than it’s still valid. Let’s be more accepting of our difference rather than trying to make everyone fit into the same box.
17. Social media has become a necessary tool for the accumulation of knowledge as well as myth at the same time. How do you think social media has made us live in a circle of inescapable filters ?
Social media is all fake literally all fake. I think social media has completely distorted our view of what is important in life and what isn’t. So, on the work front and in my professional life, social media holds a lot of value right because when we promote a product or a brand, we are using social media as a tool to get our message across to the consumer. So, in my line of work social media is extremely important to reach the audience that I am trying to reach. Secondly, if I am promoting a brand or a product and I get a famous person to endorse the product, that’s a huge advantage to me at work because I am also attracting that celebrity’s social media following to endorse the product/brand I am working for. Also, I think in today’s world where we all have such busy schedules and no one can sit in front of the TV anymore to get there news Social media has also become one of the quickest ways for us to get our news, whether that be politics, celeb gossip, fashion, natural disaster, unfortunate events, you can find all the latest news on social media because it gets posted right away. Although, when looking at news on social media we should remind ourselves to fact check it because not everything on the internet is always true. But nonetheless, yes in today’s world social media plays a huge role in how we get our news, our information about latest trends, movies, music and how we decide to stay connected with the world. When used in the right way social media can be extremely useful in getting the right messages across to the world.
There are always pros and cons to something right, while social media can be a great tool for digital marketing, branding, raising awareness for the right cause, speaking up for the right cause, social media can also be very deceptive when used in the wrong way. I think in our personal lives we use social media in a very “false advertising” kind of way. For example, everyone in life has good days and bad days, right? There are twenty-four hours in a day, are you always feeling the happiest in twenty-four hours? No, you are not, sometimes you get cranky, sometimes sad, sometimes angry, these are all human emotions we experience daily. However, do you always post on Instagram or Facebook the moment you were angry or feeling low or sad about something? Not always, majority of the time we want to share are highs of our life with people, the times we felt accomplished or successful, the times we felt pretty at a party, no one goes about posting their saddest moments or failures on social media. So technically we already living in filters, by only showing the world the happy moments in life and completely ignoring the sad moments. This is a filter already because no one in their life , only feels one emotion , every day we feel millions of feelings and emotion which you are not publicizing, By always posting happy moments or your best moments your only showing the world your success and then people don’t believe you when you tell them you are sad or going through something in life, because on social media you have portrayed this false image that your life is always perfect. When in reality, no one’s life is perfect. It’s just that no one is going to choose to post their failures on the internet for the world to see. But as humans we judge what we see, we have become so superficial in today’s world of social media that whatever we see online while sipping our coffee in the morning, we believe it. It doesn’t have to be reality, but we will believe it. Why? Because what shows, also sells. I have done this so many times myself where I am sitting at home in my pajamas, but I will post a picture from a party that happened two days ago, and everyone will start thinking oh look at her she’s always partying. So, everything on social media is basically a false image and we as a world buy that false image. Just because a couple is always posting PDA photos of themselves doesn’t automatically mean that they are the happiest couple in the world. Just because I am posting pictures from my vacation in Italy, doesn’t mean that in that specific moment in my life I can’t be sad or have problems in my life. Social media is often an image of how we want the world to see us, it’s not a true reflection of how we actually are in real life and the sad part is that everyone is in this race of trying to portray a certain image of themselves.
I saw it happen in college a lot, where I am at a party and no one is talking to each other, everyone is always on their phones and as soon as I come home and see pictures from the party on Instagram, the pictures seem like if everyone was having a time of their lives. This is how easy it is to the fool the world. No one saw what you were doing for three hours at a party but the one fake smile you make in a picture with everyone else and post it everyone is like ‘omg lit party,” This is how easy it is to fool the world. I could have had a horrible time at the party but if I post one picture with me smiling at the party, that’s all it will take for me to convince the world that I was having a good time. They always say “never believe a one-sided story as some pages are always missing” to me that’s exactly what social media has become because no one is actually telling you everything about themselves, they are only showing you the parts they want to show you. And then it all becomes a vicious cycle. You see other people posting about their trips or their party pictures and suddenly you want to do it to because so and so did it. Now we are all in a circle of who can prove that their life is more happening on social media. I think this is quicksand, the more concerned you become about portraying a certain image of yourself on social media, the deeper in that hole you will fall, because you will never be able to satisfy people. And what are you trying to do with all of this anyway? Get someone else’s approval of your life? That takes us back to the theme of this interview that you are giving into societies expectations and definitions of you. I hate this race and I will never be a part of it. I have to use social media because of the nature of work but I barely post on Facebook anymore. I hate Twitter because we do nothing on Twitter but choose one person per day and then completely ruin their life bashing them all day. I do use Instagram to promote my book, but I try to post quotes or my philosophies about life that I want people to hear. Social Media can be extremely powerful if you are using it to give the right message to the world, the problem is that nowadays we use social media to judge and bash other people’s lives as if it’s our own. We can’t change the world or how it judges you for everything but on a personal level we can be more conscious of how we are using social media and how we let it affect us.
18. Knowledge is power but this power is worthless if you are not functioning for society this is a dominant belief and sometimes sacrifice of your beliefs is needed somewhere. So how do you balance your personal beliefs and society’s requirements?
I rather give up society altogether instead of sacrificing my personal beliefs for society. You will read about this in the book, but I am someone who’s very self-aware of what I am and what I am not, and I don’t need anyone else’s approval to be myself. I have seen this happen a lot in my friends where if one person doesn’t agree with something, they still do it because everyone else is doing it. For example, if you are at a party and you don’t want to drink but then one of your friend’s come up to you and they force you, you say no but then they say “man up and have a drink” and you give in and you have that drink because suddenly you have to prove yourself now to the image of you, your friend just mentioned. I don’t do that; I have never given in to peer pressure just to satisfy society or even my own friend group. If I am in a situation where I must choose between my sense of right or wrong verses what other people think of me, I will always choose my sense of right or wrong. This is something I will never compromise on.
You will read it about it in the book, when I get to college, it’s my first night in my college and my friends and I decide we want to see a frat party. I only had two friends in my group but there was a larger group of first year students also trying to find a party to crash into, so we all started walking with them. For one whole hour we kept on walking around different neighborhoods around the college campus, like desperate first year students looking for a party. We finally came across a party at a corner that took half of us in, but they couldn’t take the rest of us in because there was no space. So, me and twenty-five other first year students kept walking and it was almost midnight now. After walking a few more blocks, my friend saw another house with bright disco lights and music so loud that one could hear it three blocks down the street. When I finally walked up to that house, there were two guys standing outside the door with beer cups in their hands. “We will only let the hot girls in. The less clothes the better,” one of the guys at the door screamed. The other guy standing at the door was literally checking girls out to see who to let in and who not to. Something felt weird as if my instinct was telling me something wasn’t right. It just didn’t feel right. I wanted to have fun, but something inside me kept telling me that this wasn’t the way to have fun. How could I just walk into a random person’s house with a bunch of crazy drunk boys when I didn’t even know who those people were?
A voice in my head kept telling me, “Maheen, you just need to get out of here.” I don’t know what it was, but every time in my life I was ever about to get into something that I shouldn’t get into, I started feeling it in my gut. My instinct always told me what to do. My intuition said no, and I couldn’t go against that feeling. Whenever I have been in any situation where I have been unsure or uneasy about something, God has always guided me. Whenever my inner voice has told me that something isn’t right, it’s like a warning sign and I have never ignored it. It’s like God guiding me right from wrong, and that feeling is so powerful that I couldn’t ignore it. I lied to my friends that I have an early morning class the next morning and I decided to go home instead of entering the party. The next day, when I woke up, I picked up my phone and saw an alert message from my college that said that “there has been a sexual assault incident in the 1400 block of West Franklin Street.” When I read the entire address of the house, I was shaken. The address was of the same exact house that I had chosen not to go into last night. I was freaking out now. I wanted to know what had happened. I picked up my phone and called Aleena to confirm if it was the same house. It turned out that the house was the same house that I had left from last night and the girl that got assaulted by an upperclassman was someone that Aleena had known. Some guy at the party had mixed drugs in the girl’s drink and then assaulted her. I felt terrible, disgusted. Something like this shouldn’t happen to anyone. But at the same time a part of me felt so blessed that I had come home last night and missed the party. It could have been anyone in that place of that poor girl. My inner voice was my faithful guide. In a lot of places in life I have listened to myself instead of to the world around me, and every single time I have listened to my own soul more than the noise of the world, it has always turned out to be the best decision I have made. And this is the way I live life, if something doesn’t feel right, I don’t do it. I don’t let society or people dictate my decisions in life.
19. In your book ” through her eyes ” you have encouraged people to challenge the taken for granted, expectations and ideas but sometimes we find it’s very easy to convince outside people than our own inner world people. How can you tell how to revolt against family prejudices and conservative ideas?
I know people might find this hard to believe, but I have never in my life felt the need to revolt against my family. Like I even say in my book, my family was never the typical south Asian family. My family has always been the air beneath my wings and the reason why I am this headstrong in life. Even the incidents I mention in the book, it’s always been me and my family fighting the South Asian society together, it’s never ever been me fighting against my family and I am very grateful to God for being born in such a family. I know this sounds weird but it’s very true and one of the reasons I wrote the book Through Her Eyes. When I was little, I used to think that everyone’s family is as caring as my own family, and I think every child thinks like that. When I got to high school and saw that no one’s relationship with their parents was as friendly as mine was with my parents I was surprised. I saw girls who would wear a hijab to school but take it off when they got to school. This was because it was forced on them by their parents. When I saw these things happening at school around me, I used to go tell my parents and thank them for being the way the way they were, because they never forced me into anything. Rather they taught me and my brother our values but then they let us decide how we want to live life and I respect my parents a lot for doing this. All the problems I had in life or described in the book were problems I had with society, the American culture and the Pakistani culture, never with my own family thank god. Instead, my family has always stood there with me also breaking culture norms and you will be surprised about this once you read the book entirely.
20. You have talked about teenage lifestyle, club culture and hookups how do you see them as according to teenagers these are regarded as a liberation world?
I do not see hookups or club culture to be liberating at all. Instead, I see this as slavery, slavery to what the “Western “culture has taught us to be” freedom”. If the American teenage lifestyle expects me to have multiple flings or hookups with ten people by the time I am in college, and I do it, how is that liberation? That’s me fulfilling the expectations of society. If I do exactly what Western Culture wants me to do, then I am giving in to what society and others want me to do. How is that liberation? It’s not. To me, liberation is when society and the world tells me to do something, but I don’t do it because I don’t personally agree with it. That to me is liberation. It’s easy to follow the crowd and do what everyone else is doing, what’s hard is to take a stand and do what you feel is right, even if you are the only one doing it Liberation is going to the club, hanging out with just your friends, not hooking up with a guy, not flirting with anyone, breaking the idea that if you go to the club you will do something wrong and then just come back home and go to sleep. Liberation is not being embarrassed when someone makes fun of you for not dating ten people by the age of twenty-five. True liberation is freeing yourself from the rules of this world and being who you want to be. True liberation is not having to sleep with ten people just to boost your self-confidence or feel validated from it. I hate this, I hate this concept in the Western World more than anything. We have normalized the fling, hook up culture so much that teenagers and young people in their twenties live in this false bubble now that their value comes from how many people they can sleep with. It sickens me more than anything that sitting at a table with your friends at college people think it’s normal to talk about how many multiple hooks up one has had. Why do we as a society celebrate this so much? For men who hook up with every other girl we call them “players” as if this is something to celebrate. For woman who have “multiple partners or flings” we labeled it as “feminism’ as if both acts are somehow something to be proud of. I don’t see it like that. To me, self-respect is so much bigger than my image in front of the world and I don’t understand how your self respect increases by sleeping with multiple people? Why do I need to please a man to feel more valuable in my life? Am I a tissue paper or an object that can be used? If I have true self respect for myself, I wouldn’t even allow a man to talk dirty to me, let alone even touch me. Same goes for a man, we celebrate the fact that some guys can literally get any girl that they want, but tell me honestly as a human being, not as a guy or a girl, but as a human being, would you want someone, that anybody could have at any moment? No, right? Because when you want to be with someone you want them to be all yours. You don’t want someone the world can have. Or someone who can hook up with anyone. When you by something personal, like a toothbrush or a hairbrush, would you want to use the toothbrush again if the entire world had also used it? No right. Would you want to brush your hair with a brush that the entire world has used on their hair? No. When you don’t like the idea of your personal items being shared with other people than why are you allowing the hook up culture to teach you that it’s ok to give your body away to anyone. It’s freedom, you have the freedom to have as many hook ups as possible. This is not freedom. Liberation, or feminism, this is slavery, slavery to a culture that makes you think that the more flings/hook ups you have, the more “wanted” and “valuable” you are. You think it’s cool because the Western Culture applauds it but inside it’s going to kill you and your self-value. Excuse my language, but I will never understand how having sex with multiple people can make anyone feel good or proud of themselves. Sex is a sacred act, it’s literally you letting someone touch your soul, why would you want to show the whole world your soul?
When I hear girls or boys proudly talking about how many people they have slept with, it disgusts me to my core. They talk about something so sacred and special as if it’s as easy as changing clothes. It’s disgusting and people think it’s liberating because we celebrate this. Okay speaking of equality here, fine even if people engage in hook ups or sex before marriage, why can’t they gave the same respect to someone who doesn’t want to engage in this culture? We talk about liberation, maybe liberation to some people is not being a part of the hook up culture. Can we at least respect that? As much as we respect this culture of having multiple flings. If we can discuss how many sexual partners we have had in public and be praised for it then I should be able to say “ I am saving myself for the one” and I should be praised and respected for that too, instead of people looking at me in amazement or judging me for it. This is hypocrisy if we call hooks up liberation but then look down upon someone who may think differently. Liberation is the freedom for anyone to do what they feel like doing so if hook up culture is liberating than me saying “no” to being part of the hookup/fling culture should also be considered liberation. I think I should be free to choose if I want to agree with or disagree with something. If I am constantly forced into the hook up culture as if it’s normal, if I am constantly judged for not being part of it, then it shouldn’t be called liberation.
Also, I hate the idea that everything in our society or culture has to exist in extremes. Same goes for the hook up culture, I hate it so much because it literally gets dragged everywhere that you have young people and teenagers. Hook up culture and clubbing is bad, but who said that you can’t go to a club, not hook up with someone and get back home safe? Why do we always have to think of the extremes of everything? Going to a club doesn’t automatically make you a bad person , going to a club with the intention of getting laid or hooking up with someone is another story. This is my whole point that things should exist and can exist in moderation. When I was in high school, I never used to go to house parties because I hated the environment. I didn’t want to see a bunch of teenage kids making out in someone’s basement or drinking alcohol like crazy because they know they are underage and will not be able to buy it from anywhere else. I wanted to party but not like this where everyone is doing it out of desperation. When I went to New York for college, I really wanted to experience club life and you will read about this in my book. My first roommate in college was a third-year student and I was a first-year student so the first week of college she was just giving me tips about the city. My roommate told me that there are three types of people who go clubbing in New York City, first are young college students like us who just want to experience what it’s like, second are those who go to a club regularly with the intention of hooking up or going home with someone. The third type of people who go clubbing in New York are those who are old and rich and have the money to afford the clubbing lifestyle on a daily basis. As a nineteen-year-old college student I was intrigued, obviously I was in the first category, someone who just wanted to go see what it’s like, not get into any trouble and comeback. But my biggest problem was that I wasn’t comfortable with everyone. I am not the kind of girl who can get drunk in front of fifty strangers, I am not the type of girl who could flirt with anyone, I like staying in my senses lol. So my biggest fear was what if I go to a club with a friend who’s crazier than me and maybe she starts flirting with some guy and they hookup, but I don’t want to hook up with anyone so then I would be put in a weird spot. I wanted to party but not in a way where I would have to do something that I can’t do or be someone that I am not.
So, when I finally made friends at NYU, one day me and my two other friends decided that we are going to go check out Webster Hall, which was a club near NYU. I was excited but a little nervous too because I wanted to enjoy but that enjoyment didn’t mean getting super drunk or being flirted with. I remember that day clearly, even while I was getting ready to go out that night , I was praying to God to not put me in an awkward situation. I was praying to God that I hope no guy tries to approach me. Luckily, when I met my friends that night and we were standing in line waiting to go inside the club, one of my friends brought up the same topic and she said let’s make a code word that if anything gets awkward at any point or if we want to leave, we can say “bathroom” to each other and get out of the situation. This made me feel so much better, I was so thankful to God that at least I wasn’t the only one who didn’t want to attract any sort of bad or flirty attention. We went into the club, danced, observed how crazy people were getting, sat down on the couches, ate food ,and talked to each other. Interestingly, guys would come up to us and try to talk but we never gave them attention. I would just look away and start talking to my friends. My two friends and I danced and talked a lot that night and around one in the morning we got out of the club and walked each other to their apartments. After this experience, I realized clubs are very overrated, but my point is , just because you went to a club doesn’t automatically mean you will end up doing something bad or that you will engage in hook up culture. Maybe you will start hating it because you see it so much. I hate when people go clubbing thinking that they will find a guy to talk to or hook up with. Real relationships aren’t built in clubs, only people who are seeking temporary pleasures go into a club with the intention of finding someone. My intention of going to a club was never to find someone or to get drunk, my intention was to just experience what it’s like and what did I learn? That I hate it. I hate how people think it’s cool to go to a club get drunk and hook up with someone. There are so many other amazing and more satisfying things I can do in life other than this. Also, you should also make sure that you are hanging out with quality people instead of being the most popular person in the group. If your friends are only around you because you drink, go to clubs or are a part of this hook up culture, those are not your real friends. Real friends are those who you can be yourself with, it doesn’t matter if it’s being yourself at a club or being yourself at home in pajamas while watching Netflix with your friends. Real friends accept you in every situation and they don’t pressurize you into doing something that you will not be comfortable with. I think I was very lucky that I got to experience clubbing or the party scene in New York City with people who shared the same mindset as me. I am also extremely grateful that I experienced everything in life , literally everything but I never had to cross my personal boundaries or become someone I am not just to please this world.
21. Islam has been always looked at with the spectacles of biased modernity where religion is shown as subordinating women. What do you think about this?
I think the way Islam is portrayed in media or in general or the views we have constructed in our heads about Islam or it devaluing women is all depicted wrongly. A lot of times people speak of Islam as a religion that devalues women without backing those views up with actual facts. Just because we see something in the media being portrayed a certain way or in a movie or even something happening in a specific Islamic country doesn’t mean Islam is to be blamed for it. A lot of people have never even read the religious texts, but just because something is happening in an “Islamic” country we automatically blame it on Islam. For example, when women were not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, a lot of people had this view that in Islam, women are not allowed to drive. Where does it say that? Where in the Quran does it specifically say that women can’t drive? No where, because cars were not even invented when the Quran was written. So just because one country’s government and men in power decide that they don’t want women driving cars, how can you blame that on Islam? Also, Pakistan is an “Islamic country” but also a lot of un-Islamic things happen their too, what are you going to do? Blame it all on religion? Religion is an idealistic way of life, that doesn’t mean that every country is following religion to make their laws or keep their society functioning in the most ideal way. Don’t blame a religion for something society itself should be accountable for. Just because a country has a dominant religion doesn’t mean that the religion is being followed in its purest form. For example, just because Pakistan is an Islamic country doesn’t mean that everything in that country reflects Islam for what it actually is, we have plenty of examples of extremism everywhere. The country can be religious, but the country cannot be the perfect example of a particular religion. We need to learn to differentiate between what a religion says, and what happens in a specific country. If you were to read the Quran in its translation, the way the Quran talks about women, in no chapter does it ever depict women as any less of an individual than men. Yes, men are called the “protectors” of women but it’s sad how the same men who were supposed to “protect women” and take care of them are the same men who demean women in most South Asian cultures, but you can’t blame culture on religion.
In fact, Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him), the greatest man in the world, even according to google today, his wife Hazrat Khadija was a working woman, never in her marriage was she asked to stop working just because she’s a woman. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) supported Khadija (RA) in her business while he was mainly responsible for fulfilling the financial responsibilities of the family, but he never stopped his wife from earning. Also, Verse (2:187) of the Quran clearly states “The wife has no financial responsibly towards the husband or the family. If she is earning, she can spend her wealth accordingly without any guilt of not contributing to the family expenditure, as Allah has not made this obligatory on women, but he has on men. In other words, if you are a married woman and working, your husband’s money is your money and your money is your money. Why did Allah say this, to empower woman, so that you are not responsible to share your income or even tell others about how or where you choose to spend it, it’s completely the woman’s choice. How is this subordinating in anyway? It’s not, it’s empowering women that they can be financially independent and not have to be answerable to anyone about their spending. The sad part is that we blame religion for everything without even actually reading what religion has to say. I bet most Muslim men don’t even know that according to Islam you technically have no right over your wife’s money. Let’s check our facts, before we blame religion for subordinating women, when its culture, society, and us as people who constantly subordinate women. n our South Asian culture, women who are most desirable for marriage are mostly those who aren’t working or even women with great ambitions and higher education are fed the notion that once you get married, your husband is your top priority, not your career. I hate this concept, but it’s not religion that is stopping women from working, it’s not the Quran or Islam that is stopping women from earning or following their dreams, it’s our South Asian Culture. In fact, the Quran even mentions to men “The best of you are those who are best to their wives” (Sunan al Trimidhi), this was a part of a hadith mentioned by the Prophet (PBUH), that those men are best who are best to their wives. You aren’t being best to your wife if you are misusing the name of religion to subordinate her right? So, tell me, a religion that says that to be the best man, you must be best to be your wife, that religion will not demean women. Shame on men or anyone who subordinates a woman and gives it the title “for the sake of religion.” We must learn that although culture, religion, and society exist together, these things are not the same. It’s our mindset, its society, we cannot blame religion. Religion is a way of life, a guide but it’s not necessary that people follow that guide in the right way, and if they don’t then blame those people, not the religion itself. Tell me, if the prophet’s wife was a working woman, she was also the one who proposed to Prophet Muhammad for marriage, he wasn’t the one who purposed her, she did it. So, tell me when religion has given me so many rights and examples to be empowered why does the South Asian society tell me that decent girls don’t pursue men, they must be pursued by men. Why does the South Asian society tell me that my marriage or my husband is more important than my work, when in my religion the Prophet’s wife was also working throughout her marriage, helping her husband every step of the way. If working didn’t affect her married life, why does the South Asian feed me or other Muslim girls this notion that we are only made for marriage and once we get married, everything else in our life, career, passions, hobby etc., take a back seat? Why? Why am I fed this notion when my religion gives me the example of my prophet’s wife as a career-oriented women? That’s my point, the problem of subordinating women is not an Islamic or a religious problem, it’s a South Asian society problem that we never address at its core.
In South Asian countries why do we get embarrassed when a girl is born and why do we celebrate it when a boy is born? Because from day one we label a “girl” as a liability. Oh, she’s going to grow up one day, get married and go to someone else’s house so why should we focus on her right? But the boy, the boy is our heir, he’s valuable, why? Because he’s going to grow up, have kids, take the family name forward, run the family business etc. This right here is the root cause of why women in South Asian societies spend their entire lives feeling less valuable than men because we as a society make them feel this way since the day they are born. If someone has money, they rather spend it on their son’s education rather than their daughter’s, why? Because the daughter is going to get married anyway, right? So why invest in her. And then this conditioning starts, he’s the guy, he can do whatever he pleases, but you, you are the girl, you must know how to cook, clean, make tea, take care of others because that’s what counts at the end of the day when you get married. Why? Why do we feed our daughters this? This is how it all starts because the boys in our society grow up thinking “oh we can do whatever we want” while the girl has all this weight on her shoulders of expectations. Expectations of being a good daughter, like we say “honor of the family” then expectation of being a good sister, oh you must serve your brother and father tea etc. Then the expectation of being obedient wives, we tell our daughters to say nothing, to endure because you have to make the marriage work. We even say things like “you are going to real home now, don’t ever come back to your father’s house” because we don’t want the family honor to get hurt, no one cares about the girl’s honor or what she wants? She’s always told “compromise is key in marriage, and you must make it work at every cost.” Why? Why always preach to the daughters? Why don’t we teach our men the same? Why don’t we tell them to treat their wives as equals, to respect the wife as an individual because yes, she’s your wife but she’s also a human being that has a mind and heart of her own. The least you can do is treat her like an equal individual. But no, we from the start teach our men that they can do whatever they want but we teach our girls compromise and not to open your mouth in your in-law’s house because this is about family honor. Why? Why should only the women carry the weight of family honor? If a man is being demeaning towards his wife, isn’t he also hurting the family’s honor? Then why don’t we hold him accountable for it? Why can a guy get away with being a disobedient husband in our culture because oh he’s just being a guy, but why can’t the wife get away with it too? The problem exists because it’s deep rooted in the South Asian culture that men can do whatever they want but women, women are meant to serve. To be good daughters, good wives and then good mothers, women are expected to quietly serve their entire lives making others happy, fulfilling their relationship with everyone else bu8t themselves. This is where we go wrong as a culture and as a society. It’s not to be blamed on any religion but on culture. Our culture has a name for everything, oh she works or wears modern day clothing then she must be wild. Where does it say that? Where does it say that just because I wear clothes according to my own liking therefore, I must be wild and not know my values. Or if I am working for myself or to support my family why does that make me bad or modern? How can you judge my whole character based on what I wear or what I do, when you don’t even know how I think or my views in life? Just based on the way a girl dresses or behaves, we as a society judge her whole character that because she dresses a certain way, therefore her character must be bad. We judge women in the South Asian society all the time, but did you know that in the Quran it clearly says that if you accuse a woman of bad character then you must provide four witnesses to prove the allegations you have made on her and if you are unable to proof her of bad character backed up by evidence then you get punished for false accusations. This is clearly stated in 24:4 verse of the Quran, which says in exact words “And those who accuse the chaste of women, but they do not produce four witnesses, flog them with eighty stripes” (24:4). This is directly stated in the Quran and the eighty stripes are mentioned as a punishment for those who falsely accuse women of bad character. But ironically, we as a South Asian society judge and accuse women all the damn time, for their character, career choices, relationship choices, what they wear, everything. So, if we are saying that religion puts women down, why don’t we fear God before judging any women’s character because God has cleared his message in the Quran that if you blame a woman of something and those allegations are false, you get punished, not the person you are accusing. The sad part is that we blame Islam for subordinating women without even understanding or following Islam in the right way. In fact, we hear something and believe it right way without evidence, go read the Quran in its English translation and I swear you will find all the answers you need and more. Islam is a religion where God directly addresses man, saying that good or bad, each individual themselves will be held accountable for their actions in front of God one day. God is the one too judge everyone, and their character then why do we as humans take on god’s role and decide for ourselves who deserves what in our society? Let God do the judging na. I am answerable to God, not to people or societies or societal expectations of me. This is where we go wrong in the South Asian society, because we have already made our definitions of what it means to be a woman? A good woman or a bad woman? And one someone doesn’t fit our definitions than we as a society start calling them names or we start calling then not good enough of a woman or we start assassinating their character. Stop defining women and state respect them. And stop blaming religion for subordinating woman when woman have been being subordinated since the beginning of time by every culture or society. God created two genders so that they can complete each other and make this world a better place, the way we stop competing with the opposite gender and start respecti9ng each other and our place in the world, this world will become a better place. God created man and woman for each other, he didn’t create any gender to be less than the other, we as a world have made one gender feel lesser than the other by creating definitions of what it means to be a “woman” or “What it means to be a man”. What a shame on us honestly, I bet even God is probably disappointed in us for the labels and categories we ourselves have create in this world, instead of following God’s guidance on life.
22. Would you like to share your journey and what motivated you to start writing? Are there any books or authors that inspired you to become a writer?
So, I had no plans of becoming a writer or publishing a book. I was so tired of the standard systematic grading system at school, I began journaling and writing a dairy for myself just jotting down things I felt strongly about at school or in the world. Things I agreed with around me and disagreed with. There were A LOT of things in the world, at my school that I felt very strongly about, I always felt like my way of thinking didn’t match with others my age and I could never figure out why. At this point, my writing was something extremely personal and I never thought about sharing it with the world. I used to write about my own life philosophies, experiences at school I liked or disliked or how much I hated the popularity or dating concept at school. Basically, anything that made me feel some sort of way, I used to write a journal about just to express myself.
When I got to college, I used one of my personal diary journals and turned it into a narrative essay for my Intro to Writing class. I literally just did that to fulfill an assignment requirement for college, little did I know I was setting the foundation for writing a book. My professor really enjoyed reading my thoughts on how structured the education system is and how we really don’t get the chance to take courses that we like because we are so stuck fulfilling requirements bestowed upon us by others. The professor asked me what had inspired my thinking and I said, “the high school curriculum.” He said, “I love your thinking, but I would love to also be able to see the experience that led to your thinking.” That struck a chord in my brain, and I realized that for true story telling, I can’t just straight up tell you what happened, I have to make you experience what happened through describing a scene and then explaining a character’s thought. I can’t just be like “When I was five, I hated hospitals.” I must show the reader why I hated hospitals. So, this initiated my journey of scene writing, which was extremely difficult for me in the beginning. Then my classes at NYU came in and help me tons. If the reader can imagine being present in the scene, only then you have succeeded as a writer and the best way to do that is create the scene using the five senses. What was the place like? what did it smell like? What conversations were taking place? You want to make the reader feel like they were there experiencing the scene, instead of just telling them what happened. This is what took me the most amount of time. Writing the character’s thoughts was simple because those thoughts were my own but showing you what she had to go through to get to those conclusions or philosophies was the most interesting but also the most challenging part of writing this story. Finding the balance between moving the story along while also be able to express the protagonist’s thought process and philosophies in life was a hard balance to strike.
Authors who write about philosophy, real life experience and the deeper meaning of life are authors that I find inspiring. Just literally anything that can teach me something about the deeper meaning of life intrigues my interest. like Paul Coelho – I love the way he incorporates philosophies into his narrative in the Alchemist, I do that too and I am big on expressing philosophies in writing. Other authors I find inspiring are Elif Shafak (The Forty Rules of Love), and Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray Love). I love how these authors talk about love with a Sufism angle in their books. I can relate to that, because that’s also how I talk about love in Through Her Eyes. I also love Rupi Kaur’s poetry, I love how she incorporates a lot of concepts of what it means to be a woman in this world, into her poetry.
23. Have you ever imagined that you were born in America and brought up in Pakistan ?
I think about this a lot actually and I am so grateful to God that things happened in my life the way they did instead of happening the other way around. If I could go back and change anything in my life, good or bad, I wouldn’t change a single thing because every single incident, good or bad has shaped me into the person I am today and the life I have today. When you read the book, you will understand why my parents had to move to America. It’s not like they always wanted to, they had a pretty set life in Pakistan with everyone living in Pakistan as a joint family with my grandparents. Life happens and my parents decide that for the sake my future they want to move to America, and they do. And I am so grateful that life happened the way it did because I love my Pakistani values, but if I was sitting in Pakistan right now, I would not be as independent as I am today. My parents would not have been as open minded as they are today.
If I had been living in Pakistan, by the age of twenty-five I would never have been living by myself, instead I probably would have been married by now with two kids. My mom got married younger than me, my grandma got married younger than me. if I was in Pakistan as a twenty-five-year-old single girl, no matter how liberal my parents would have been, society wouldn’t let me live alone without pressurizing me to get married. If I was living in Pakistan right now, as a woman I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the basic independence I am enjoying right now, like traveling alone or driving alone at night, not concerned about getting home at a certain time because the conditions there are not safe for women anyway. It’s funny because I have traveled the world alone, London, New York, Turkey, Italy, Spain, France but as soon as I get to Pakistan my mom becomes protective of me. It used to make me mad that why are you stopping me from going from Islamabad to Lahore alone when I live in New York and come to Virginia to visit home every weekend. This used to bother me that whenever I went to Pakistan my mom took my independence away and she used to tell me “it’s not you, it’s the people there that scare me”. I finally understood the meaning behind her words when that motorway incident happened two years ago where a woman got raped on the highway in front of her two kids. The sad reality is that the environment in Pakistan is not safe for a woman to be out by herself and this reality makes me extremely sad. How come I can roam around the streets of New York alone at three in the morning and no one will bother me, but I can’t go to the market with the driver alone in Pakistan? Because it’s not safe. I can’t even wear clothes that I actually like wearing because men in Pakistan will stare you down head to toe as if they have an x ray machine in their eyes and they can see through your clothes. In New York I can wear whatever I want, no one looks at me. As soon as I land in Pakistan and even if I am covered from head to toe, the men stare as if they have never seen a woman before. As much as I love Pakistan and going there to meet family, I would never feel safe as a young woman on the streets without a man from my family being with me. I don’t like that feeling. I don’t like the fact that women there can’t really be fully independent because somehow the environment will always remind me that because you are a girl there are certain things you shouldn’t do. Growing up in America, my parents never ever differentiated between my brother and I . I was always able to do whatever my brother was allowed to do, and I think I actually did more because I am the elder one. I never felt that there is any difference between me and my brother. But whenever I go to Pakistan, I am constantly reminded that I am a girl and I hate that because I am not used to it. My parents don’t this, but extended relatives do and just the environment in Pakistan will always remind you that because you are a girl there are certain things you can’t do. I hate that. I remember this one time, I was visiting Pakistan and I wanted to go somewhere late night to eat, and the driver had already gone home so I asked my mom’s sister if me and her could go somewhere to eat and my uncle (my mom’s brother) clearly said that no you two are not leaving the house at 1 AM alone. This made me so mad, because if I was in New York or at my parent’s house in Virginia, I would have just gone to McDonald’s, get my food through the drive thru and no one would have stopped me. But just because I wanted to go out late at night in Pakistan, I needed a man to go with me? I understand that these things are a real concern, but this really annoys me because growing up in America I never felt that it’s not safe for a girl to go out alone at night. The concept doesn’t sink in. I feel that no matter how independent a woman is in Pakistan, society and the environment in our country will always keep reminding her that she’s a girl and she cannot compete to have a man’s life. It’s sad but Pakistani people leave no stone unturned in showing a woman how it’s a man’s world and she doesn’t belong, or she can only belong with a man being around. This is why I am grateful that life happened the way it did, and I got the chance to grow up in America, become independent and even live alone in a city like New York. I truly believe that everything in life happens for a reason and even if one thing was to change in your life, you wouldn’t be where you are today. So, I am very thankful to God for making me go through the things in life I went through because everything was crucial and getting me to where I am today. If I could go back and change anything about my life, I would never change a single damn thing.
24. You know as you belong to Pakistan there are so many delicious cuisine worldwide famous but McDonald’s , Domino’s are also famous worldwide. What do you think is imitation or going with the trend that happens with food as well?
Fast food culture has taken over the whole world, whether that be India, Pakistan or any other country you will find all these famous fast-food chains like McDonald’s, Domino’s, Pizza Hut everywhere. I recently heard that IHOP, Burger King and P.F Chang’s have also opened in Pakistan. Although this is great for the people living in Pakistan, but me as an American when I can have PF Chang’s here in America, why would I eat in Pakistan. When I visit Pakistan, I am more interested in the restaurants that are only local because if I can get the same thing in America, why would I be attracted to the fast food or American chain options. Not all food that I like in Pakistan is desi, in fact some of the Italian restaurants in Pakistan are good. I love the Alfredo pasta from Aylanto and the Thai curry from Fuchsia in Gulberg, Lahore. Even though these restaurants aren’t traditional Pakistani cuisines, for some reason they still taste better than Thai food and Italian food in America. I guess the meat and vegetables in Pakistan are still not as processed in Pakistan as they are here in America. I think even the fruit in Pakistan tastes better like mangoes because we get fruit by season there instead of processing the fruit to make it last the whole year like the U.S does. I think the fast-food business will always keep growing all over the world because it has become convenient and quick. They also target kids by creating play areas in their restaurant locations or serving toys in their kids’ meal so that the kids keep coming back or they end up insisted the parents to take them. I personally prefer proper cuisine food, any cuisine doesn’t have to be desi, but I prefer that over McDonald’s. But none the less I do think that because of our eating culture now we want everything right away, a lot of people don’t have the time or patience to wait for food in a restaurant, so I do think that fast-food culture will keep increasing no matter what.
25. What is the most fascinating difference you have noticed among the teenagers of Europeans, Americans and South Asian teenagers?
I think South Asian teenagers have a responsibility on their shoulders naturally that no matter how “Westernized” they become they still carry their South Asian values with them. This is not a bad thing, I think it gives us a broader perspective in life to understand different cultures and values because no matter how “European” or how “American” we become, our roots will always somehow be a part of us. European and American teenagers who have not had exposure to any other cultures have a harder time looking at things outside the box and they don’t have the responsibility of carrying two cultures with them. I am not putting anyone down; I am just stating a difference that exists. For example, an American kid might not understand my views on dating and wanting to be with one man only for the rest of my life, but a South Asian person will understand where I am coming from. Not everything in the western culture is bad but I do feel like people who have only known the Western culture don’t have the perspective to understand that things can exist in a different way. For example, I never had a curfew time that I ever had to be home at a certain time, but I had Pakistani friends whose parents used to call them in college making sure they got home at a certain time. I personally never had to face restrictions like these in my life but as a Pakistani girl, I understand that these things exist in our cultures and certain parents are very possessive about what time their kids get home. But An American teenager or a European teenager will not understand this. I have noticed that my friends who also come from two different cultures like Chinese American or Spanish American, anyone who comes from two cultures, they understood my values more than any of my American friends did. And one thing that made me happy was that people from other cultures who were also raised in America felt like they were never understood and when this book came out my Chinese American and Spanish American friends also reached out to saying that finally someone talked about the struggles of coming from two cultures and not being understood by the Western culture. This made me feel amazing. Then again, I am not saying, everything in the Western culture is bad, but If I could change one thing about the western culture and western teenagers, I would want to make them understand that other cultures and value systems exist too. No one culture is above another but in order to be a more well-rounded global citizen of this world we need to be open to other cultures and respect them too.
26. You know in the growing world People are so alienated from reality, their people and their surroundings but what is dangerous is that people are getting alienated from themselves. Do you feel alienated in this world?
I don’t feel alienated in this world. I am very grateful to God that I have a very good sense of who I am and who I am not, and I love listening and following my own intuition. I think nothing in life can guide you better than the voice that you have with in you. Everyone has that voice inside that tells them right from wrong, that tells them when something is off. If you listen to that voice, you will always be satisfied with the decisions you make in life. The problem is that a lot of people rather listen to the noise of the world than listen to their intuition. That’s how you get lost and alienated in this world. If you keep listening to what the world wants you to be, how the world wants you to be, what the world thinks is cool etc., you will spend your entire life running after the world and satisfying other people’s standards rather than your own. And even then, the world won’t be happy, it will still find faults in you. To me, alienation is when you start avoiding what you want and start paying more attention to what the world wants from you. Such a life sounds very empty on the inside no matter how pleasing it may look on the outside. But if you follow your intuition, your own voice, even if it’s different from what the world is doing, trust me in the end you will always feel satisfied in life. There are many incidents in the book where when I am in college a lot of my friends decide to do certain things and I decide not to do those things because they are not self-fulfilling to me. At that moment people around, me probably judged me for being the odd one out but trust me, in the end every time I followed the voice in my head, I was so much happier than if I had listened to the noise of the world. I think I rather be alienated from the world than be alienated from myself. You should never lose sense of who you are over this world, it’s not worth it. Rather, if you end up losing the world, but finding yourself I think that’s the greatest win in a world where everyone just wants to fit in. Be brave to choose to be yourself and stand out.
27. What advice would you give to a writer working on their first book? What are common traps for new authors?
Be your authentic self. Yes, learning the craft of writing and storytelling is important. For example, when I started writing I used to write only my thinking and philosophies in life and I never used to give my readers enough background information on what I am talking about. In Storytelling, you need to let the reader go on the journey with you to understand your writing. For example, you can’t just tell the reader what happened because that’s boring, they won’t feel emotionally connected to the story. But if you can take them on a journey with you, give them enough information about a scene or a character in the book, I think it becomes much more powerful and the reader becomes more involved in the story. So yes, one advice that really helped me in my writing was “Show, don’t tell”. So, when I talk about temporarily relationships and hook up culture in the book, I just don’t randomly “I don’t like hook up culture” instead I take you through experiences I had in college and high school that make you realize that yes hook up culture is a huge problem in the American culture. So, showing is always stronger than just telling the reader something.
Reading other authors work to gain inspiration or explore a different style is great but please never copy another author’s style or way of writing. One thing I disliked about most of my writing classes at NYU was that professors gave us examples of other writers and wanted us to do the same in our writing. I highly disagree with that. Writing is not like math where the answer to two plus two will always be four. Writing is creativity, it’s av form of self-expression so what you choose to write or how you choose to write it should be decided by you, no one else. You can’t copy someone else’s voice in become a great writer. Writing should come from within, just how music comes from within. The more connected you feel to what you are writing, the more connected the reader will feel while reading it. So do not copy another Author’s voice just because they are more famous or established than you. Write something that is all you, something that comes from the heart and trust me the world will love to hear it. I think in writing and in other aspects of life too, anyone can imitate anyone but authenticity cannot be recreated. Learn the craft of writing but at the end of the day share your honest perspective and vision with the world. This world has so many imitations in it, it’s so refreshing when someone is brave enough to show their truest and honest self with the world. We pretend all the time in this world, please don’t pretend in your writing. Let down all your guards and tell the world what you honestly think and believe in and trust me the world will hear you.
28. Do you have other writers in the family?
I am the only published writer in my family. My dad likes to write poetry about politics or life in general, but he just writes as a hobby for himself. The one thing we both have in common though is that we both love writing about real-life experiences or situations.
29. Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
Yes, I love reading my book reviews. The good ones make me extremely happy, and the bad ones make me laugh. Just recently, me and my editor were joking that we should make an Instagram reel of the bad reviews and post them on Instagram, because like they say, there is no such thing as bad publicity. Even if people are talking bad about your work, they are still taking time out of their lives and paying attention to you, so that means you said something that was controversial or at least worth saying. If I said something like “the sky is blue” there is no fun in that because everyone will agree with me. I don’t want everyone agreeing with me all the time, that means I am not saying something worth saying. If I agreed to everything the world or society ever told me, why would I feel the need to write a book that challenges culture and society so much right? So, a difference of opinion is a good thing, it’s not a bad thing at all. My job as a writer was to write something I felt strongly about, I wanted something to exist in this world that reflects my perspective on life. Whether everyone agrees with me or not is not my concern or goal because If I am satisfying everyone out there that means I did not do my work properly. If I satisfy everyone with this book, I am giving into what society wants from me, right? No controversies, no disagreements. That’s not why I became an author. I became an author so I could express my true self to the world. And just like any art, music, painting or movie, there will be people who love it and there will be people who hate it. It’s just how art and artists work, but that doesn’t make my work any less valuable. Just like how a movie gets good reviews and bad reviews but no matter what it’s still very special to the director and producers who made the movie. Similarly, my book is my baby, it’s something that I brought into this world from scratch, it will get praise but it will also get hate, it’s okay it’s part of life, but to me I will always be proud that I had the guts to write something so honest and bluntly and put it out there in the world.
30. What would you say is the most valuable advice you’ve received about writing?
Show don’t tell and be honest to your voice. The most important thing about writing, don’t just tell the reader what happened, show them, let them experience it.
31. Do you have any plans to work on your next book, if yes could you share something about it?
Yea, I have written my second book on Covid 19 band life during the lockdown. The idea came to me in the summer of 2020, when everyone was home during the lockdown. The first two to three months of Lockdown were extremely fun, spending time with family, and doing things we never had the time for before. Finally, being able to freak free from hectic work routines, it was all nice in the beginning. But several months into the lockdown, everything started to take a toll on us. like how many board games will you play? How many Netflix series can you possibly watch? All that eventually got boring and my mental health was becoming worse by the day. The news was always portraying deaths related to corona virus, and we were hearing news of family friends being affected by all this. There were no jobs, people were losing their entire business and jobs. I had just graduate from college not too long ago and I was having the hardest time finding a job in the Fashion Industry because the Fashion business was destroyed because of the pandemic. In order to safe my mental health and make the most of my time I started writing again. My Second book titled “2020” is all about everything that any of us probably experienced during the pandemic and lockdown. It’s about a family who gets trapped in a house during a global pandemic and everything that they experience from family time happiness to despair and helplessness that we all felt after several months of being home. I like writing stories that come from personal experiences because I feel connected to such stories, so this book “2020” is also inspired from what my family and I went through during the pandemic. Not everything during the pandemic was bad either, I think I learned to be grateful and thankful to God for the little things in life, like good health, family time and being alive, all of these are themes in the new book. The book has already been written and edited but I was waiting to publish and promote Through Her Eyes fully, before publishing the second book. Through Her Eyes, was all edited and finished in 2019 but due to the pandemic and the publishing industry not taking new contracts during the pandemic, it was delayed being published this year. Better late than never they say, I am still happy that the book came out when it did because I truly believe that everything in life has a time, and everything happens when it’s time for it to happen, not a second before or after.
32. What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your book(s)?
That I had to relive my own story. When I started writing in high school and college, I never thought that I would ever share my writing with the world. I used to write just to express myself, my thoughts, and philosophies. When I began writing this book, I was doing the same, I was writing my thoughts and philosophies of life without telling the reader what had happened in my life that brought me to those thoughts and philosophies. That’s when one of my writing professors told me that I need to make the reader “experience” my journey from point A to point B, instead of just telling them what happened. This was very interesting because for the reader to “live” my journey I had to relive it myself. When I began writing scenes in the book, I had to rewrite them as if I was reliving them, what was the scenario? The setting, the smell, what were people saying, I had to recreate everything for the reader again. And while I was doing that and writing those experiences of my life in scene format, it literally felt like I was living those parts of my life all over again. I think this was cool because it taught me that the more connected the writer is to what’s happening scene by scene in a story, the more emotionally involved the reader becomes while reading it too. I think writing is a two-way street, the more attached and involved you are to your writing, the more attached and involved your reader will feel while reading it.
33. What are your best memories of holidays or family gatherings as a child?
My best memories of family gatherings would have to be all my birthdays as a child that were celebrated in Pakistan. When I was in elementary, especially until the age of twelve, me and my family always used to spend our summer holidays in Pakistan with my grandparents and aunts and uncles. Since my birthday falls in the middle of June, almost every year my birthday used to be celebrated at my family’s farmhouse in Bedian, Lahore. My grandparents own a six-bedroom farmhouse in Bedian where the whole family got together. Even my mom’s siblings would come over for sleepovers there when me and my family used to visit. Luckily, my mom’s family and my dad’s family get along super well so every time I used to go to Pakistan the two families and my uncles and aunts from both sides would all hang out with us at our house.
Our house in Bedian had a two-acre lawn, and my birthdays always used to get celebrated outside, my grandpa used to arrange tables and chairs in the entire lawn and bright lights used to go up all around the house. It almost felt less of a birthday and more of a wedding function with the amount of decorations my family would do outside the house for my birthday. Then on one side of the lawn there would always be like a moon bounce or a kids activity spot for all the kids that used to come to the party. I didn’t really have childhood friends in Pakistan because I never got to spend enough time there. But all my cousins and dad’s friends’ kids would always come to my birthday party, and I would always have fun with them. The rest of the guests were usually all adults, all my parents’ friends, and my grandparents’ friends but somehow there were always like 200 adults at my party and only like 7 or 8 kids my age. For dinner, my grandpa would always call over his special bar b q people from his favorite restaurant and they used to set up their entire grill in our drive away and cook us fresh barbeque desi food right on the spot. That was my favorite part, the kabob’s, the bar b q chicken, it was the best barbeque you could find in Lahore. Then it used to be time for the cake cutting ceremony, which was my most favorite part of the night, because after that I could finally get to opening all my gifts. Even though I had this weird habit that all the gifts that I liked, for some reason I always liked to keep them in their wrapping, the gifts I didn’t like I would never play with. This was my most favorite day of every other because my whole family would leave no stone unturned in trying to make me feel like the most special person in the world. I am no longer 12 lol, but even today, my family still makes sure to celebrate my birthday as if it’s a festival.
34. What did you enjoy the most about your college life?
Everything, literally everything. College was an extremely special time for me in my life because I think I got to know myself more during my college years than I ever did in my life before. Even the idea of writing Through Her Eyes came to me when I was at NYU, in my second year of college. That was a time in my life when a lot of realizations suddenly hit me in life. New York City and NYU were my biggest dream in high school. It was everything I had ever worked for. When that dream finally came true, I was on cloud 9. Living in the city of dreams and that too going to college there, I could have never imagined anything better. What I loved about New York University was the fact that it was located right in the middle of Downtown, Manhattan. It wasn’t like that the college campus was just the college itself, the entire city was my campus and I loved that. Right in front of my college buildings was Washington Square Park where I would go and sit during my break times. After my last class ended in the evenings, I used to take the train and go to Times Square to refresh myself. I loved being around the Times Square area, for some reason, the hustle, the lights, the people it was all so inspiring to me. And it was so cool how within fifteen minutes I could go from university life to feeling like a tourist on the streets of times Square. And it’s easy to get lost in the crowd in New York City because you are always constantly surrounded by people. But in that hustle bustle of New York City, I felt like I had found myself. I was so grateful to God that he had given me the opportunity to be in the city of dreams and be at a college like NYU which is a dream for so many and I was living that dream every single day of my life. This realization made me want to write out my journey and I started writing Through Her Eyes.
Ironic isn’t it that when my parents first came to America, they came to New York and now fifteen years later I was in New York, ready to build my career and make all my dreams come true. I remember during the weekends and in between my classes, my favorite thing to do was to walk around the city and admire every single part of it. The views were so fascinating of all the buildings I wish I could keep them in my eyes forever. I used to walk from Washington Square Park all the way to One World Trade Center on Fulton Street just to admire the beauty of the Big Apple. It fascinated me how an island like New York was the city to be in for everything. Whether it be the Business industry, finance industry, music industry, acting , fashion , anything, you name it and the city had it. The amount of opportunity that New York had to offer inspired me and I used to think only one thing to myself, Maheen if you can make it big in New York, you will make it big in the world. Every single day, New York reminded me of my dreams in life and that motivated to work hard and do well in college so that I could make all my dreams come true. Another thing I liked about going to college in a city, was that me and my friends could just go on the weekends to explore New York. Most colleges that are in a suburban setting can only offer you frat parties at someone’s house but in New York, there was so much more to do with friends than just partying. My friends and I would use the weekends to go to explore New York, explore new restaurants, museums, go on top of the Empire state building etc. There was always something to do in the city with friends and even after living there for four years I still can’t say that I have explored it all. Most of my college friends are still in New York and every time I go to visit them, we always end up exploring a new part of the city, a new attraction, or a new restaurant. New York has now become home but it will always be my most favorite city in the world because it’s given me so much as an individual.
The author can be reached on her social media platforms, Instagram: @maheenm1506
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