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Monday, November 28, 2011

Malaysia, Shukriya

All this talk of odd couples and Maldives in January has reminded me of our first family vacation abroad, which happened earlier this summer. We scheduled a two-week holiday with two small children to two countries (Singapore and Malaysia) and three locations (Singapore, KL and Langkawi), including an inter-country train ride, with a conference thrown in for good measure. Absolute madness. The children fell sick three times (each) and Azfar fell sick twice, in addition to tearing a ligament in his shoulder. How, you may ask? The incident I want to relate happened on our last night in Malaysia, at a lovely resort in Langkawi.

Our hut was located in the rainforest section of the resort, so there were standard warnings to watch out for wild animals, particularly baboons. We’d left a tray out one night on the advice of the room service staff and the next morning, as might be expected, had found remains of sandwiches and fries strewn all over the porch (they even dipped into the ketchup, which to me is a much bigger sign of rampant globalization than any other story one’s heard about fast food consumption in human beings; btw I’ve also heard of a goat that got addicted to Coke but more on that later).

Anyway, so we were aware that wild animals roamed the rainforest. On our last night, we’d put the kids to sleep, finished packing and were about to go to bed when the motion-sensitive light in the balcony came on.

“Oh my God, Azfar!” I whispered, skin prickling. “There’s something on the balcony right now!!” And I started tip-toeing across the creaky wooden floor towards the window.

“Aaf please let it be,” Azfar begged. “The kids will wake up and we have to get up so early. Let’s just go to sleep.”

So I tip-toed back sullenly and we fell asleep. At about three in the morning, I had a dream. We’d left the balcony sliding door open by mistake, and a wild animal was entering with the intention of attacking us. So I did what any normal person would do in my position: I sat up in bed and screamed a scream that must've crossed the rainforest, cleared the beach and woken up the mermaids in the ocean. I then saw a porcupine quill the size of Minar-e-Pakistan shooting in through the same balcony door… straight at me. A proper attack was underway. Again acting with perfect rationality, I moved out of the way of this missile - and fell off the bed. 

In the meantime, Azfar, who was fast asleep on his stomach, woke up to the sound of his wife’s blood curdling scream, turned his head and saw her two legs up in the air, falling backwards off the bed. Now anyone in their right minds would’ve figured that if most of a person’s body has already gone overboard, there is absolutely no sense in trying to grab their leg. But since he is very chivalrous and was obviously not thinking straight at the time, he shimmied across the bed while on his stomach and stretched out with all his force to catch hold of me. And that was how he tore a ligament.

The moment my head connected with the hardwood floor, I woke up (obviously). It occurred to me that I was looking at the ceiling from further away than when I had gone to sleep. So, being an utterly practical person, I climbed back onto the bed – only to see my husband sitting on the other side, clutching his shoulder.

Azfar: Ahhhh…

Me: “What happened??” (Ye acha hai, I’m the one who just fell off the bed and he’s groaning!)

Azfar: [insert story] is what happened.

Me: “Oh noooooo, poor jaani, what can I do to help?” (I can’t believe he missed my leg AND pulled a muscle!)

Azfar: “I’ll be fine. Just get me that cream.”

Me: “Yes OF COURSE, jaani!” (Oh my God, we’re flying to Pakistan tomorrow! WHO’S GOING TO CARRY THE LUGGAGE?!)

We made it to the airport in one piece the next day and Azfar, who’d funneled all kinds of pain killers into his bloodstream, was looking absolutely hale and hearty to anyone who didn’t know what had happened the previous night. Imagine the looks on the faces of the customs officials and passengers as this tall, healthy, top-quality specimen of Pakistani male stood to the side with his shades on while his visibly out-of-shape wife hrrumphed and hooed and haaed as she lifted suitcase after suitcase onto the conveyor belt. Has anyone ever gotten a dirty look from a customs official here? Trust me, no you haven't. I don’t think anyone in the history of aviation has been gladder to board a plane than my husband was that morning. Pfft!

So, yes… Maldives. You'll pardon me if I'm not biting the bait yet!

The Aafster Life is competing in the Best Diarist category of the Pakistan Blog Awards! If you find my troubles and stresses as funny as I hope you do, take a moment to vote! Click on the button at the top right of the blog. Thanks!

The Odd Couple

Unreal conversation with husband last night.

Azfar: The company has said that it'll send us to Maldives for a vacation. You wanna go?

Me (looking eternally suspicious of anything remotely corporate): Why?

A: If I can see this project through before the end of the year.

Me: Oh. Okay, so it's like a... what do you call it... *dangling hand in air*

A: Punkha.

Me: Punkha?! I meant carrot on a stick.

A: No, no, no stick. No scene like that.

Me: The CARROT is the important part, Azfar.

*second of silence*

A: So, you wanna go?

The Aafster Life is competing in the Best Diarist category of the Pakistan Blog Awards! If you find my troubles and stresses as funny as I hope you do, take a moment to vote! Click on the button at the top right of the blog. Thanks!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

History in the Making

Something's in the works that I am really excited about. I'm helping to set up a small workshop group for writers in Karachi - sort of like an offline version of Desi Writers Lounge, only intentionally much smaller and more focused in terms of developing content. A friend who's a published writer threw the idea my way a couple of months ago, we recruited three other writers and today we had the first ice-breaker to help the group gel before getting started. There are two other prospective writers whom we've asked to join the fold. Our plan is to cap the number of members at seven so that things stay personal and workshopping is more intense.

It's not a new idea but there's something about this group of people that's got me really optimistic. I'm the only one who represents the management side of the literary circus, being editor of a magazine. Two of the other members are acclaimed writers, which I expect is going to increase the standard of discourse substantially. Another member, a good friend, has just finished her novel and is expecting to be published in the coming year (let's hope the Mayans got that date wrong). There is one other member who I hadn't met before today but had read in an anthology of stories by women writers from Pakistan. The energy at this first meet was excellent and while we were sorting out details of where to meet, how often to meet and how not to tread on each others' toes (artist log hain, bhai, kuch bhi ho sakta hai) there was an overwhelming sense of potential. I kept thinking, "Something good can happen here."

If we're able to inspire each other and discipline ourselves enough to keep writing, this'll be something worth remembering later. I had a three-second flight of fancy while sitting at the table during the meeting, in fact. I could see myself twenty years in the future, when I would finally have achieved the jaw-dropping feat of publishing a line or two. A pimply, intense-looking reporter with round glasses would be interviewing me and would ask, "So what's this secret writers' society I've heard rumours of from your slimmer... sorry, younger... I mean, early days as a writer?" And I would smile enigmatically and say something profoundly writery (I haven't figured out what just yet; we got into an accident on the way back so the evening sort of went into a state of epic decline after that, thus rudely truncating my love affair with myself).

I really want to finish this post with a song and for some reason, this one keeps coming to mind. The actual story behind this scene from Shehzad Khalil's unforgettable drama 'Ehsas' is a terribly sad one, but just for today, I will reimagine it. The pretty mother (played by Shehwar Rahim) is me, of course, after a happy evening full of possibilities. The two precious boys are mine, those are my in-laws at the back, Khaled Anum is himself but he's still a close relative (proven by the fact that he and I alone are able to sing on pitch in the entire group). And that's Azfar with the video camera... gazing at me with rapt admiration, even looking up to thank God for giving him such a cool wife. Enjoy.

The Aafster Life is competing in the Best Diarist category of the Pakistan Blog Awards! If you find my troubles and stresses as funny as I hope you do, take a moment to vote! Click on the button at the top right of the blog. Thanks!

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Blogger's Handbook on How to Bring Out a Facebook Jalsa

A lot of effort has gone into building a credible voting campaign for The Aafster Life at the Pakistan Blog Awards, and only some of it is mine.

It started with posting a link to the nomination page on Facebook and tentatively asking people to vote. In return, I offered each voter a "Hooah!" No matter which way you looked at it, this was a terrible strategy to garner support. As someone pointed out later, a vote ought to get a chicken, a shawl and some Quaid-e-Azams in return. The first response to the FB post was: Who you calling a Hooah???

Okay, so one person had voted. I was not expecting much from this or anything in life at that point. My husband was in China, my child had become a demon overnight and we were on a spooky unexplained-household-item-breakdown spree exactly when my poor in-laws were visiting. My new iPhone had died while charging, the microwave had started sparking, Zain had literally broken off a piece of our new stereo, the cook hadn't turned up, the meat shop hadn't opened and the toilet seat in the guestroom had come off its hinges for no good reason. The karma balance in my life seemed out. If I listened hard, the Universe did not seem to be saying, "Goooddd tiiime tooo siiignnn uppp foorrr a cooonteeest." To make things worse, another early-bird contender in the Best Diarist category of the blog awards already had 250 votes up before I'd even gotten started. And he was really sweet and encouraging, so the Universe was probably saying nice things to him, and all of this was fundamentally unfair because the Universe was supposed to be a neutral third-party.

My first tweet about the nomination was: Pl. ignore edited blog introduction. Terrified now that my name is actually up there. Vote karo, naak na katnay do! No one RTed that one - God knows why.

But the comments had started coming in on Facebook. Half the people couldn't figure out how to vote while the other half had randomly clicked on the yellow stars and then realised that they'd just brought the rating down. There was a deluge of "How do I"s and "Aargh"s. And yet it was a start - an unexpected one. A few hours later, two of my friends shared on the link to the nomination page, using words like 'fabulously funny' and 'slice of urban truths from Karachi' to describe this blog. Some people responded to their posts, using words like 'hilarious' and 'relatable'. "She has our kind of humour," one person said, "or am I overestimating us?" (Yes? Haw haw!)

And so the FB shares for the nomination page began to go up, and the votes started lazily rolling in. A friend of mine emailed her students, urging them to read the blog and vote. Then she got excited and started a blog too. Another friend posted a tweet threatening her followers with DMs if they didn't vote, and messaged a popular Indian blogger to check out The Aafster Life. Shortly after this, I received a wry tweet from one of my super-funny Twitter contacts: Someone in Bombay emailed me a link to your blog & asked me to vote. I have witnessed Washington intervening in our elections but this was a first! Kiya baat hai. 

Yet another friend, a photographer who makes the meanest chicken w/cashew nuts you've ever tasted, posted a link to one of my posts with this comment: 

alright afia I have a confession to make! I cried and i cried out loud reading this piece. It is beautifully written and I felt as if you went inside my heart and was able to let out all that I wanted to say for the past 5 and half years....thank you for writing this and making all the moms feel better :)

I watched all this with amazement, then gratitude, then amazed gratitude (and occasionally grateful amazement). I had become emotionally committed to the idea of giving this campaign my best. People believed in me, man. The least I could do in return was put up a good fight, right? Did I have to put on my boxing gloves now? Wait, how did one run a campaign anyway? Uh-oh.

And that's when some special magic kicked in. I don't know what happened, or how it happened, but the link to the nomination page went sort-of viral on Facebook. As of right now, it's gotten 374 shares. Only fifteen of those shares were made by my friends. I am itching to find out who the rest of the 359 people are. I want to throw them a party and hug all of them (unless someone's creepy - then they get a handshake; you have to be prepared for these things in Pakistan). There are people who've done so much that I want to look them in the eye and ask, "What do you want, really?" like my friend Mahwash. One minute we were discussing whether Ethan Hawke had greasy teeth and the next minute she was somehow promoting my blog nomination. Here is a select progression of her tweets:

1. Hey followers, wallowers, creepy nobodies and favorite somebodies. Vote for @AfiaAslam to win the Best Diarist (Pakistan Blog Awards)! (she forgot to attach a link to the nomination or the blog in that one).

We then graduated to a discussion on Madagascar's King Julian and the possibility that his version of 'I Like To Move It' was the best dance song ever.

2. Vote for @AfiaAslam. Better her than Imran Khan :-p (this time, a link was included).

3. Alright, pretty followers. Vote for @AfiaAslam as the Best Diarist at the Pakistan Blog Awards. She is awesome.

A few minutes later:

4. Be awesome. Support awesomeness. Vote 4 @AfiaAslam as The. Best. Diarist. Ever. Pak Blog Awards won't know what hit em!

5. If you want to be awesome, if you want to support awesomeness, vote for @AfiaAslam as Best Diarist. Shabash. Vote now.

She then posted on her blog, asking people to vote. Somewhere in the middle she also put up another campaign tweet but linked it to a story about an army doctor who murdered a doorman. It was an honest mistake.

6. Alright. By a show of tweets tell me who voted for @AfiaAslam today. Come on. Don't be shy. Or stingy.

By this time, my cousin Sara, who'd been watching from a bemused distance, commented on FB: You should probably run for elections and hire Mahwash as your campaign manager ;-)  That inspired my friend to come up with multi-lingual campaign slogans, e.g. "Afia saadi shair ai!", "Ullu mat baniyey, Afia ko vote dijiey!" and "Aavay hi aavay! Afia aavay!" We then dedicated songs to each other. Some faarigh and over-optimistic guy on Twitter asked us if we were sisters. The blog awards had given rise to some serious cameraderie - and don't look now but we were in the middle of a full-fledged campaign.

(Conversation on Facebook)

Sara: maybe a televised speech will help? you need to make a video of yourself thanking your FB public and post it- now THAT would be a campaign move :D

Ibaad: Totally agree with Sara, a video needs to be put up! It should start with our flag fluttering in the cool wintery breeze and with the quami tarana playing in the background and your opening line could be "Meray azeez humwatanoon / bloggeroon aap ko Afia ka salam", the rest i leave in your capable hands..

Madiha R: I think Ibaad and Sara are on to something. Except you should forgo the quami tarana and start off with a resounding cry from Solom for garam dudo.

Shazaf: lol! video idea zindabad! chalo chalo blogosphere chalo!  

Mahwash: VEE DEE OH! *everyone chant with me* VEE DEE OH! HO HO HO! VEE DEE OH!

Shazaf: OH .. OH OH (i'm going to echo Mahwash)


Mahwash: ooooh aaaa rriaaa rio! VEEEEE DEEEE OOH!!! ohpaa ohpaaa! 

Shazaf: forget afia. i'm voting for mahwash!


Shazaf: but i don't want the wall that is afia to giro! ee oh ee oh ee oh!

Mahwash: (the wall is the competitors btw) AA FEE YAA! VEE DEE YO! VOTE APNA DO! HEE HEE HO! GO GO GO!

Shazaf: i'm sorry. i think the wall is ambiguous and we sound like we're pushing afia in a well.

Mahwash: OH *pauses for thought* How about "AFIA KA BOL BALA HAI! KIS KIS NE VOTE DALA HAI?!" 

Me: Dude I went for lunch and in the meantime...

Mahwash: Lunch? Aur mera yahan gala sookh gaya.

Me: Hahahahaha! I wish I could put all this DOWN somewhere takeh baad me yaad rahay!!    
Me: OH.
Me: Gotta go, inspiration has struck.


Shazaf: ^ bloggo?

Mahwash: minglish portmanteaux of english word blog- and the urdu verb of karo.

Shazaf: fail.  

And that's what it's been like. Isn't this post a little premature, you might ask? No it isn't, because this isn't a victory lap; it's a tribute. I don't care anymore whether I win or not. In less than a week my insignificant little blog has gone from just over 4,000 page views to 9,000 page views. A nomination page with elusive yellow stars was shared on by hundreds of people I didn't even know and the vote count went up by 100 in 24 hours. New friendships were forged and a hell of a lot of fun was had. People wrote back with all kinds of superlative praise for this blog. That doesn't mean that it is the best thing around - it just means that the words that reside here spoke to them. THIS is success.

There's one word for this feeling: WAH! What A High.

The Aafster Life is competing in the Best Diarist category of the Pakistan Blog Awards! If you find my troubles and stresses as funny as I hope you do, take a moment to vote! Click on the button at the top right of the blog. Thanks!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Stop the Press

Just when my campaign for the Pakistan Blog Awards is well on its way and for the first time I am actually daring to hope for a good outcome, I have encountered the worst writer's block in history. Ironic, but not entirely surprising when you consider how the rest of my day tends to go. Everyone's been saying, "You need to get back to blogging." "You need to put up another entry," they say. "You need new content for the judges to see." And I want to say, "To kya karoon? Zor lagaoon??"

There is a simple, entertaining idea in the works, but it is taking all my patience and power of imagination to get it to stand on its own, and it may not work even then. As I was telling a friend last night, I think I finally understand how men feel about impotence. And so there is only one thing to do: wait for it!

The Aafster Life is competing in the Best Diarist category of the Pakistan Blog Awards! If you find my troubles and stresses as funny as I hope you do, take a moment to vote! Click on the button at the top right of the blog. Thanks!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Vote for The Aafster Life

I'm competing for the Best Diarist Category of the Pakistan Blog Awards 2011. There, I said it. If you've laughed at Solom's grammar, admired how Azfar's tongue is permanently wedged in his cheek, gaped at Imtiaz's exploits and cringed at my bloopers, THE LEAST YOU COULD DO IS VOTE, YEAH.

No really, this is the first time I'm trying for something of this sort and it would mean the world if you could help me get a winning chance at this thing. Here's how:

Go to my nomination page (you can also go through the Awards button at the top right of the blog). Once you're there, scroll down and click on the small, yellow stars to vote. Clicking on the fifth star to the right will give the highest rating. Tada! Easy as... other simple stuff.

If you get that far, please consider sharing the nomination page on as well. Make your vote count: help me win! And let me know if you've voted. I will send you good karma and we'll be happy together. Thanks a bunch, everyone  :-D

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

On role play

Conversation between me and Solom while reading a book:

Me: Look Solom, who is this?

Solom: This is TWO BOYS.

Me: Haan, and what is this boy's name?


Me: And this one?


Me: And what is this?

S: This is ELEPHANT.

Me: And what is the elephant's name?