Musings on ….

My journey of rediscovery continues as I continue to put myself in unfamiliar situations and test personal limits. In the same vein, I set intention in 2016 to stick with circumstances that are not ideal, paths that are difficult. This chapter continues and has started to yield interesting insights.

Reclaim your story

Nadya (my oldest childhood friend) was there as I lived out a fairly troubled childhood and watched me suffer along several dimensions as an adult because sometimes our demons are all we know and they scare everyone else away. She reminded me that I am not the product of my past and have the choice to be whoever I want to be. That didn’t resonate with me until I discovered forms of therapy (NLP, Lifespan Integration, EMDR) that helped me understand the nature of our memories.

2017-04-11_1606Every time we recall or relive a memory, our mind alters it, adding a translucent layer of our present vantage point to the picture from long ago. Layers upon layers until the story in our minds is as much about who we choose to be every day as much as who we were when that mental postcard was captured. A violent event can become increasingly less damaging in our memory if we relive it from the position of safety and empowerment in the present.

It is incredibly liberating to know that our past is not static, etched in stone, that our experience of time is not linear but rather circular. The present informs the past as much as the past informs the present and we can use this cycle to be exactly who we want to be.

While we can’t re-write the facts of events that have transpired, we can absolutely reframe the meaning we made of them, and in doing so reclaim ourselves. Knowing this has given me renewed vigor to explore the story of my life, the good, the bad and the ugly – to dwell on all of it (contrary to shitty advice) because in it lie the deepest truths of who I am and who I want to be.

Hush now, let it go

On my dad’s living room wall was a painting of a lost war ship, moment before the ocean swallowed it. I suspect all of us know what it means to be that ship. Scary as fuck!

We build large structures around us. We fortify. We amass wealth so the foundations can be stronger, the walls higher. We latch on to our communities. Safety in numbers. We insure our lives against the ravages of the ocean with pedigree, Linked In profiles, powerful friends, religious dogma, political affiliations.

All fine investments to make. Except for one debilitating flaw.

We’re trapped inside our forts, holed up, waiting to be swallowed up. We do jobs we don’t like, put up with people that take our light away, follow norms we don’t believe in, live in passive or active fear.

For a moment, let’s not be afraid. Let’s confront the baseline nature of life. We’re all in a dinghy a lot more frail than the lost war ship. The ocean we skim is infinite in all dimensions, and infinitely unpredictable. Any of us is one wrong turn away from heart breaking loss, long term disability, unemployment and homelessness, life long suffering, humiliation and abandonment. And many of us have gotten that call and lived through the horrors of drowning. The calmness we may be experiencing in our lives is only because of us in a small way. Let’s chalk up the rest to just a good weather day and not our silly little forts.

Let’s find gratitude for the sun that shines upon us, be humble for the prosperity we receive, step out of the controlled environments we’ve worked so hard to create and invest our time in the people and activities that bring meaning to our lives.

Resist and Rejoice

Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. Thursday. Friday.

Gagged. Stabbed. Raped. Slashed. Fucked.

These “executive” orders have attempted to pillage the rights of refugees, women, immigrants, those that can’t afford healthcare, those that are not yet born but look to us to leave them a thriving planet instead of a rigged and barren wasteland.

This greed is not new. This violence is not novel. Men have attempted to swallow the world whole before. And they will attempt to do so long after the phallic Trump towers are reclaimed by nature. But the world endures. History is painted scarlet with the blood of the innocent. Forests turn to flame. The earth cracks with thirst. Rage has it’s day in the limelight.

But love always prevails. We let the earth soak up our tears, our blood, our pain, and she brings spring back to us again. We lose our lives and ourselves in the process but we know we’ve secured the future of our planet and our humanity.

This is our time to sacrifice, to lean in, to let our blood flow, to let our love wash this malevolence away. It will get worse before it gets better, but we will prevail.


I’ve done research on how you can get involved to turn this tide – every step helps. Please take action. Not tomorrow, not next week. Today. Now.

My criteria for selection of these non-profits are:

  1. Directly working on issues that have been assaulted by the federal government
  2. All non profits score high on financial reporting, transparency and have low operational costs (which means 80%+ of your donation goes directly to the cause)
  3. Some are focused on relieving the symptoms of tragedy, others are focused on solving root causes

Civil Liberties, Immigration & Refugees


For almost 100 years, the ACLU has worked to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws of the United States. This includes women’s rights, immigrants’ rights, racial justice, LGBTQ rights.


Barrel bombs – sometimes filled with chlorine – are the biggest killer of civilians in Syria today. White Helmets’ unarmed and neutral rescue workers have saved more than 78,529 people from the attacks in Syria.


The International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst humanitarian crises and helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and gain control of their future.



We fight for the right of all to a healthy environment. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to take on critical environmental issues and bring about positive change. We exist because the Earth needs a good lawyer.



Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.



Defend the natural world and promote peace by investigating, exposing, and confronting environmental abuse, championing environmentally responsible solutions, and advocating for the rights and well-being of all people.



The Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW) helps communities speak out for clean air, clean water, and a healthy planet. We are a global alliance of attorneys, scientists and other advocates collaborating across borders to promote grassroots efforts to build a sustainable, just future.



Our scientists and engineers develop and implement innovative, practical solutions to some of our planet’s most pressing problems—from combating global warming and developing sustainable ways to feed, power, and transport ourselves, to fighting misinformation, advancing racial equity, and reducing the threat of nuclear war.



We combine the power of more than two million members and online activists with the expertise of some 500 scientists, lawyers, and policy advocates across the globe to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water, and the wild.



Clean air and water. Abundant fish and wildlife. A stable climate. Our work protects nature and helps people thrive.What sets us apart is how we make this happen: By creating solutions that also carry economic benefits.


Women’s rights


Planned Parenthood is a trusted health care provider, an informed educator, a passionate advocate, and a global partner helping similar organizations around the world. Planned Parenthood delivers vital reproductive health care, sex education, and information to millions of women, men, and young people worldwide



Champion legal equality for women and girls around the world including ending discrimination against women in law, and preventing female genital mutilation



Advance sexual and reproductive health and rights in the United States and worldwide through our interrelated program of research, public education and policy analysis.


Cheer up, rejoice, you’re not alone.

Take action, we’re all in this together!


To my people

A few weeks ago, I was standing in line at the grocery store, waiting for my turn to check out. I turned away for a few moments to grab a Burt’s Bees lip balm, only to have my basket shoved to the side by an older white woman. I smiled and said “Sorry I was in line”. She looked at me like I was a piece of dog shit that was stuck to her shoes. Nostrils flared, disdain contorting her face, she spat

“You people!”

I felt shame and anger rising up my neck and into my face, forming words, words asking her to explain what she meant. The girl at the till was beet red. The woman denied saying anything at all and asked me not to make a scene. I told her what she was referring to as a “scene”was just me calling her out on something she thought she could get away with. As she walked away the girl at the till and the lady ahead of me asked if I was ok and apologized on behalf of our racist friend.

On the drive home, “You people!” echoed in my head, over and over again. It reminded me of another time, another slur, when I first moved to the U.S.

It was 9/11/2001. I was at work, frantically reading the news about the towers, confused about what it all meant. My office mate walked in, more withdrawn than usual. This is the guy that had told me in my first month at Microsoft that people like me worked too hard, and made people like him look bad. He sat down in front of his monitor and pulled up a news website, shaking his head, muttering under his breath. I looked back at him several times because it seemed he wanted to speak with me. But he didn’t engage. A few minutes later, he stormed out, then stormed back in and blurted

“This is your fault. You should apologize for what your people have done to this country”

I remember the shame coming over me, in hot and cold waves. I got scared. I didn’t want to lose my job and go back to Pakistan. I apologized. I went to the restroom and cried and longed to be home with my family.

A lot has changed in these 15 years. The scared immigrant who couldn’t make sense of racism and discrimination can now make a “scene” in a public place if needed because she knows her community has her back. The girl that left Pakistan because it didn’t represent her values of equality, freedom and civic duty is now an American. She’s created a life she loves, because America has given her the space to do so. She’s surrounded by friends of all colors, ethnicities, genders because they too are welcome in the America she calls home. She cast her first vote as a citizen two weeks ago.

She wore a pantsuit to work yesterday, as did many of her incredible friends and coworkers.  img_0357They baked cakes and burgers to celebrate an incredible new milestone in America’s progress –  to shatter the highest glass ceiling and welcome Madam President Elect to lead the country. A President who represents millions of women trying to create a world of equality after centuries of suppression and control. A President who actually knows her shit, is smarter and works harder than anyone else in the room, who understands nuance and diplomacy instead of rhetoric, who has  the resilience to prevail despite countless setbacks and rejections because she’s a woman.

And yet here we are. For Hillary and all the people that supported her, this loss is profound but something we can ultimately get over. But to be beaten by Trump cannot be couched as “losing”. It’s an active Fuck-You to women, to immigrants, to people of color, to LGBT, to Muslims, to peace and alliances, to free trade, to the liberties we non-white-non-males have come to rely on.

My friends told me he would never win the Republican nomination. He did.

My friends told me he would never win the election. He did.

My friends tell me it’s just 4 years, we’ll get back. I don’t believe them.

Denial got us here. Denial will not  get us out of it.

So I say to my people (fellow Americans that share the same values as me – women, men and all in between, democrat, republican and independent), please please please don’t look the other way. Reflect on prior world wars and investigate how the world came to unravel then. This is scarily similar. Unless we take action every single day, to vocally stop discrimination whenever we encounter it, to challenge our own biases, to elevate each other, to participate in this democratic process, to create more opportunity to share wealth, to change minds with positive experience, we are all fucked.

Lyft me Up

7:47 AM. Urban woman of curious ethnicity, petite but certain, dressed fashionably monotone, asymmetric hair shredded masterfully, being Ubered in a sleek black car up 5th Ave, perhaps heading to an important meeting.

7:47 AM. Me. Petite and less certain, masterfully shredded hair hanging like limp wet noodles, black top covered in cat hair (really shouldn’t have hugged Boo Boo on the way out), frantically checking my phone to see how far my Lyft driver is. I see the pink mustache heading towards me and I know I’ll make my 8 am 1:1.

Each morning, I briefly contemplate walking to work, then I prioritize a longer snuggle with my feline flatmates or 20 additional minutes at work (in startup mode, every minute counts). But what has been a mere means to an end, has fast become one of my favorite times of the day – my daily dose of human connection in the backseat of a Lyft.

I don’t like strangers. I also don’t like small talk. I’m not very good at it. If I was in a usability study for a car service, I’d strongly relate with the persona of the quiet (mildly stressed) passenger who doesn’t want to be spoken to beyond “Hello, are you Mona?” and “Going to 2200 on 4th?” If anything, I wouldn’t even like to be asked those obvious questions that I’ve already answered via the app.

And yet here we are, Jaspir Singh and I, reminiscing about old Indian songs (he’s surprised that I know them, I tell him my father was a fan), driving through Seattle, transported to the Punjab of 1985. He’s been here for 15 years, much like me. Neither of us thinks we’ll go back. We share our enthusiasm for the American dream, we see it being more than just a dream. We see it realize in our own lives. We value our safety. We laugh about how petty crime in India and Pakistan is usually instigated by the cops and how they’re the last people one should involve in civil disputes. We worry about a Trump America. We worry about us in Trump America. We speak about violence against Sikhs after 9/11. My building approaches. He reminds me of my grandfather. He says Khudahafiz as I say Namaste. I begin my day at work.

On the way home, Youssef, the Moroccan bachelor picks me up. He thinks I’m Iranian. We discuss the meaning of Mona. He tells me it’s a common name in Morocco. I tell him that’s what his countrymen told me when I was there. He’s elated that I’ve been to his home town. Mission accomplished :). We discuss the merits and demerits of various tagines. There is no authentic Moroccan food in Seattle. He’s going home in October though. And he will be bringing a wife back so perhaps there will be more tagine and couscous in his life after that. She’s a professional lady though, he tells me. We discuss visas and green cards. He won the green card lottery. His family thinks he’s the luckiest man in the world. He doesn’t feel lucky, his ex-wife cheated on him. But the new lady, she is more mature. He’s sad when I answer his question about children. Gives me advice that I should reconsider. I wish him luck with his lady. It’s time to go and feed my cats.

Jake, the musical nomad picks me up after taking several “2 minutes away”. I’m his last ride of the morning and it’s just 7:30 AM. He targets the early morning airport crowd, then heads back to his basement apartment in Edmunds and writes music. The scene for composers isn’t all that great up here. He moved here from Idaho with his girlfriend, then she broke up with him and two years in, he’s ready to try his luck in the city of angels. The Seattle Freeze is real, we agree, especially for people like him and I, people that don’t like to climb up mountains or go kayaking. Whatever happened to good old conversation?  He’s tentative in asking about where I’m from but I can tell he’s curious. That’s so RAD, he tells me when he finds out. Time to open the door and walk into another day.

You work and you work and you work and then you die, my Somali Lyfter tells me as he picks me up from Amperity’s CEO’s house at 11 PM (late pow-wow for the leadership team). I’m tired. I don’t think I’m going to enjoy this conversation, but then he takes a different direction. And once you make your peace with that, life is good. Why else would you and I both be working at this hour, he says as he laughs at the ultimate hack that is life. He’s out driving me around so his mother, his wife and three children in Berbera don’t have to worry about food and rent. I think about my mother, puttering through her morning in Lahore, probably in the kitchen making something garlicy. I long for her food. I’ll go home in 6, 7, 8…8 months. We’re at the front door of my loft. Time to snuggle and sleep.

Friday, Jorge is my companion this morning. His cologne is overwhelming. I wind down the window just a titch, not wanting to offend him but still get some breathable air in. He’s receptive and profusely apologizes. I tell him I’m from the east, we like to bathe in cologne. Tonight, he will reunite with the love of his life after 30 years. They were high school sweethearts. Her father did not approve since he was Mexican. They moved away. Two separate lives, two sets of marriages, two sets of children, two sets of cheating spouses, two broken hearts, one Facebook Friend request, thousands of frenetic messages back and forth, two souls united. He shows me a picture. I tell him she looks like someone who would love Gardenias. He’s shocked. That was her favorite flower. We agree he should get off work early and buy some.


It’s a hard day at work. Most days are. The pressure of delivering value to customers, the need to get shit done, the intensity of going fast and being right often, the fear that any one decision could be near fatal – that’s the stuff our daily grind is made of. I think about Jorge – excited, freaked out, wreaking of cologne. I think about Youseff and his new professional lady wife. I wonder if Jake has any useful connections in L.A. It’s time to go home. I tap tap tap on my Lyft app, watch the same animations notifying me of nearby drivers, route optimization, blah blah blah. My driver pops up on my screen. 2 minutes away. It’s Jaspir Singh.





I cross the street when the little man and the swinging traffic light exchange colors to get to the Good Bar and it is a good bar because Nancy runs it. The guy in the dentist’s chair across from me doesn’t budge. He just sits there at the intersection, spilling out of his throne on wheels, looking at me and beyond me, the black trash bag tied to his chair flapping behind his head like a shredded pirate flag.

I hop and skip over rivulets of hot piss running down the footpath, sourced from a hidden corner. There’s a form under the cardboard boxes and newspapers stacked against the wall. I see a thick toenail rotting at the edges, sticking out of a hot pink sock. I breathe in deeply. It’s perverted to want to smell the sour urine, the curdling milky stench of puke, the decay of this human body. And yet I do.

The bar is covered in it’s usual set of bougie limbs, elbows teetering and arms resting on the marble surface clad in plaid, maori tattoos that are supposed to mean something,  smart wool or organic cotton. White fingers trace the cold sweat running down Moscow mule mugs, push and pull the delicate stems of wine glasses. The couple in the left corner is definitely on a first date, a Swipe Right, perhaps a Swipe Right for right now. Jane Doe is hanging on to every word Jon Doe is saying. Jon Doe is feeling like the king of the world because Jane Doe thinks he’s funny and he gets to be with the girl with the big bouncy tits.

Nancy comes by and gives me a hug. I don’t take it for granted that she knows my name, that she smiles in familiar recognition every time I walk in. We talk about my new job, a startup, I tell her. Bold move, she says. It doesn’t feel bold. I can still pay the bills. I can still come to the Good Bar and pay for my drink.

I slouch, bony shoulders up and over me like an angel’s wings, an olive colored resting bitch face plastered to keep strangers away. Yet here he is, bearded and hipstered, sitting beside me trying to connect. He orders bruschetta, the chunks of tomato swallowed by the hole in his wiry pubic face – all except one angry red sliver accompanied by crumbs – little snow flakes, two, three, four, five, stuck below his line of sight, waiting for baby birds to devour them.  He strikes up a conversation with the petite brunette in the corner, chest blown up like a hot air balloon, crowding her space with his form and his scent. I wonder how hard she’s trying to avoid the mocking tomato on his face.

It’s girls night out to my right – excessive wine and restrictive pushup bras create back fat spillage but satin blouses gloss over all imperfections, belly rolls and muffin tops disguised in elegance. Their Buzzfeed flavor of feminism is annoying. I judge them for the crackle and pop in their voices, the persistent need for validation that punctuates every comment. I know better but I’m too tired to be good tonight.

I sign my receipt and xoxo it for Nancy. She gives me leftover drip coffee from the next door cafe. I see Beard coming back from the shitter to his girl. The tomato is gone, as is his bravado. Mirror mirror on the wall, why are you smiling so?

Pioneer Square is washed in orange street lights with a quiet dark city of glass making room for what used to be. Yellow rain streaks my vision.  A lardy woman stands in the middle of the street, stained white tank top pulled over her large smiling face, her massive teet generously offered to the world for a satiating suckle. Fat Lady Soprano dances drunkenly  as she serenades the neighborhood.

I am mesmerized.

My foot catches in the gutter.

I trip.

I fall.

I laugh maniacally.

So does Fat Lady Soprano.

I offer her Nancy’s coffee. She chugs it.

On the other side of shame is freedom, I write in my journal that night.

Zahara under the tree

Who planted the ancient Banyan tree that languished in the middle of the housing pavilion’s barren courtyard? Where did pruny old Zahara bibi come from? Questions none of the residents asked because both had been there for as long as anyone could remember.

Sierra Exif JPEG

Just as the sun rose and the rooster crowed each morning, Zahara’s contorted form hobbled across the courtyard to her makeshift stove under the tree. Her ossified bones cracked and complained at yet another day of hard labor in a long life of even harder labor as she pulled a pail of water from the well for the morning brew.

These young lazy wives with their fat good for nothing husbands and disobedient kids. All asleep. No one had any respect for the elderly, they just didn’t make them like they did in her youth, she thought as she stoked the fire.

As the smell of burning cow dung cakes wafted through half shut windows, the pavilion began to stir and awaken. Light burst into tiny dark rooms, piercing through tightly shut eyelids and the dreams that hid behind them.

They heard the old witch calling out, cussing them for letting the day go by, preaching the value of every passing moment.

“Get up you fools! The animals can’t tend to themselves, now can they?”

“Allah loves those who rise up to praise his glory just as the sun does– don’t you want the grace of Allah?”

She handed them hot tea in dented and discolored tin cups, and stuffed the sweaty crumpled Ruppee notes in her muslin money belt.

“Don’t you get any ideas, Ayesha, you pincher. Put that cup right back” she said, as Zahara’s eyes sought out Sanam Jaan’s face in the small cue next to her stove.

And there she was, holding on to the aerial roots of the Banyan, swaying in the morning breeze, honey almond eyes open to the world in hope and anticipation.

“Arms like sticks! You need to eat more”, Zahara bibi said as she skimmed cream from the milk pot and stirred it into Sanam’s cup.

Sanam smiled. “Shukriya Bibi Jaan”. A gracious thanks from a gracious child.

Zahara watched Sanam’s slender figure walk away towards the goat pen. She rushed a silent prayer to protect Sanam from the evil eye of others and blew it in her direction, hoping that the wind carried it all the way across the courtyard. God’s innocent children were the most susceptible to the sickness that lived within men’s hearts. A few minutes later, she prayed again because she could not be sure if she had forgotten. She did not trust her memory anymore and unrelenting routine smudged the lines between today and yesterday. 

Washing dishes by the well Zahara barely registered the girls teasing Sanam Jaan for being the only person the old hag favored. The tinkling sound of their laughter rang in her ears, her mind’s eye flooded with a vivid picture of a young woman in the barley field, with a pail of water on her head, saying something indistinguishable because she was too far away and it was too long ago, then laughing and looking away. 

A deep sigh. A whisper of want.

Come back daughter. My heart can no longer go on.

“Oye! Sanam Sanam Sanam”

The memory dissolved and Zahara bibi turned around at the sound of a deep resonant voice. Ali Reza strode quietly towards the girls, predatorily quiet, his body loose and relaxed after having a good laugh at a dirty joke with the other boys. He kept his face low, the char pools of his eyes hooded, a lurking smile, saved for that perfectly intimate moment just between the two of them in the midst of a buzzing crowd.

The girls chirped and giggled, even younger in their demeanor than their meager sixteen years. Sanam stood to the side, intent on plucking invisible strands of loose thread from the hem of her scarf.

“A pomegranate” he said, raising the polished red fruit to her face.

“To go with that scarf”

Not looking up, Sanam accepted the pomegranate and turned to leave.

“For my Sanam” she thought she heard him whisper as she walked away.

Zahara bibi looked on.

Son of a bandit, mischief maker, Satan’s worker. She would go and speak with the boy’s mother, she told herself as she scurried away in the blistering heat, a dust cloud at her dragging heels.

But she never did speak to Ali Reza’s mother. Instead Zahara bibi took it upon herself to nip this bud before it blossomed and ripened into rotting fruit. She brewed tea and plotted how best to warn Sanam against the evil nature of men.

“He gave Ghazal earrings” she blurted out as she poured Sanam’s tea one morning.

“Your Ali Reza Jaan tells all the girls how special they are. You are not the only one”

She was unprepared for the tears that flooded Sanam Jan’s eyes, no longer curious and open but veiled and unseeing of the good intentions behind Zahara bibi’s stern warning.

“I meant…don’t be fooled by boys. Their love is like the waxing and waning moon. Fleeting. Leaving you in darkness when it goes away.”

It didn’t seem to help.

Sanam turned and walked away, leaving Zahara bibi holding her tea and bread, calling out after her. Zahara knew that she had lied about Ali Reza. A necessary lie to protect Sanam jan at any cost.

That night, Zahara was grizzlier than usual. They sat next to her, the families that lived in the pavilion, chatting away, occasionally involving her in the conversation about when to start sowing the cotton plants for the season, whether to grow zucchinis or leave the eggplant vines that snaked around the compound. Little Ahmed ran off his with his sister’s plastic ball, her wails pushing their harried mother over the edge.

“I’ll leave you with Zahara bibi tonight! She eats children before the sun rises” she hissed at him as she yanked him to come crashing down in her scrawny lap.

Zahara did not care. She liked to be feared. She wished she could scare Ali Reza away. She waited for the Lord to show her a way, and finally it came in the way of Ghazal, the prettiest and most vane of girls in the pavilion. Much to Ghazal’s surprise, Zaraha offered to braid her long hair one morning. Zahara bibi had only ever had a mean word for Ghazal, scolding her for wearing clothes that showed off her vulgar breasts and suggestive buttocks, making eyes at the boys, laughing loudly so as to offend the angels, and talking back when she was clearly too young to know the ways of nature.

Ghazal sat on the ground, her head leveled with Zahara bibi’s knobby knees sticking out from the wobbly stool she sat on.

“You don’t use any coconut oil in your hair, do you? The luster of youth wears off, especially after you bear children”, Zahara bibi preached as she worked the tangles in Ghazal’s hair, ignoring her protests at the sharp tugs.

“Did I see you waving your braid at Ali Reza the other day?” she questioned, casually.


“No, your dead mother’s ghost”

“Why are you such an angry witch, Zahara bibi?”


“Why would I wave my braid and makes eyes at Ali Reza! He can’t put one foot in front of the other, so drunk on love”


“I don’t know. Why do you care?”

Zahara’s tone shifted.

“I don’t. I was merely asking you about him because I wanted to send this bottle of ground turmeric to his mother and she said to give it to him. She’s making Biryani I think. My old bones can barely get me from my bed to this tree and back. Can you go over and give it to him?”

What are you up to old lady, Ghazal’s sharp skeptical eyes tried to look past Zahara bibi’s eyes and into her mind. Oh never mind, it was a chance to go and talk to the boys in the field. She nodded, whipped her snake of a braid to one side, grabbed the turmeric and headed over to the fields behind the pavilion.

Zahara waited for Ghazal to disappear around the corner, then walked faster than she had in thirty years, adrenalin masking all pain and mobilizing every part of her. She found Sanam in the goat pen.

“Sanam Jan “ and took a shallow breath

“Ah yes Sanam jan” and another shallow breath

“Here you are”

“Zahara bibi! Is everything ok?” Sanam moved forward, reaching out for a profusely sweating Zahara.

“Oh yes” and a deeper breath

“Why wouldn’t it be! I just need to you to go and see if the boys will be coming back for lunch so I can plan how much lentil to put on boil”

Strange, Sanam thought. Zahara bibi had never been this precise in how much food to prepare. The boys had always wondered if she purposefully made less to watch them suffer or because her heart had turned miserly because she had grown up hungry.

“Of course. Let me get you a glass of water and then I’ll go and ask”

“No! I’m fine. I’m in a rush. You must go now”

Zahara sat outside the goat pen, knotted hands shredding the blade of hay into littler and littler pieces. God willing, Sanam jan would see Ali Reza with Ghazal and know the truth of Ali Reza’s nature, the truth she had worked so hard to orchestrate and expose.

She waited for a long time.  Or perhaps it seemed long. She didn’t trust her sense of passage of time anymore, minutes could feel like hours and hours like minutes.

Sanam jan was walking towards her, much like her own daughter had done thousands of time, coming home from school, coming back from the fields, face still too far away to clearly see, slight figure frail against the arid brown backdrop. 

“Kiran jan?”

“Zahara bibi, it’s me. Sanam. Are you alright?”

“Sanam. Sanam Jan. Yes. Why wouldn’t I be alright? Did you find out?”, she said as she stepped into the present, offended at the interruption, longing to have seen her Kiran’s face a little closer.

Had Sanam’s kajol run just a little? Was the tip of her nose red? Zahara bibi furrowed her brow in concentration as she tried to spot signs of heart break in Sanam’s smooth olive face. She couldn’t be sure but she could hope and remain vigilant.

That night when the meal was done, and tired mothers carried their sleeping toddlers to their tiny cots in their little nooks, Zahara stayed behind, laying her prayer mat under the canopy of leaves. The air was dead, the Banyan stood still, an impregnable form against a veiled, brooding sky. A storm was coming and all of nature’s creatures held their breath in trepidation and awe. Zahara whispered late into the night, praying to her Lord, looking up towards Him.

Stooped in prayer, her head resting on the mat, the whispers grew softer, the pauses between the words longer. Images from the day shifted, making room for the barley fields of long ago, still shifting woefully in the summer heat. She loved to watch her Kiran come home, teetering and tottering on the narrow farmers path, now two heads taller than the long grass. She sat down and gently rubbed her mother’s coarse feet as she did every day, picking at the cracks and dead skin idly. Hesitantly, she brought up Abdullah, the man who had bought her shaved ice in the bazaar and stolen her heart. He was a good man, she said, and he loved her. They wanted to get married. He was older, had another wife, but he had promised her a better life. Zahara took her feet away from her daughter and turned away. She kept the door locked when Abdullah, that stray dog that had followed her Kiran home came to see her, she pretended not to hear those words now etched in her memory “I married your girl. She’s mine now”. She kept her back towards Kiran as she took her last steps out of their nest. The earth tilted, seasons shifted, Zahara lived from one prayer to the next, the Lord ever present with her. She heard about the birth of her granddaughter from the women who sat by the well, waiting for their turn. She continued to fill her pails.

Then the news came. A stove. A fire. A dead girl. A dead child. An accident they said.

Zahara bibi ran, walked, ran, stumbled, the earth to give way to lead her to Abdullah’s house. He turned away, the murderer. His mother, vulture, squawked

“Delicate flower, your Kiran, always complaining. No good in the fields or the house anyway”

Rage, rage, unleash the hate, chew her heart out and spit it in the fire, silence that mouth, that beating in her rib cage. Cut off his dick and parade him in the town, she clawed at his face, pulled his hair, kicked his shins.

“Throw her out where we threw out her whore daughter” the vulture said.

Two unmarked graves, bare and flowerless, one only a little longer than the other, hidden and disgraced under the tree outside their house, her Kiran’s prison.  Zahara stroked the gentle swell of dried earth that now cradled her child, dark brown spots forming on it as the tears fell.

She had named her daughter Kiran, a ray of sunshine. The tamed fire of a stove could not consume the brilliance of the sun. It just couldn’t. She would wake up and find the barley fields again.

It was dark now, still except for the waves of void that crashed against her suddenly old and tired body, quiet except for the sound of her reluctant breath. Was that a whisper she heard? Two voices, she could barely discern. And then a giggle.

Zahara could feel the jute prayer mat branded on her forehead as she rose. The air had begun to stir, carrying wisps of secrets – let’s elope, let’s get married and come back. Sanam jan and Ali Reza were on the other side of the Banyan’s sprawling trunk, partly revealed, partly veiled by its long dangling arms, wind wailing through its leaves. Rage, fear filled Zahara bibi’s limbs, turgid, ready to shield, protect, lash out.

Step out? Tell them to stop?

Cry out and wake up the pavilion?

Be a coward? Remain silent?

Thoughts fought, battling for the reins while Zahara bibi stood paralyzed listening to the young lovers plan their youthful escape.

Let this story be a happy one, she heard a small whisper, now getting louder, the calming ring of a wind chime among the shrill panic of the other voices.

Let me go.

The other voices grew louder, burying the whisper, now faint, now rising.

Let them be.

The lovers took a step towards the path that leads them far away.


I picture the faces of all the kids that I know personally. Children of family members and friends. Leo Jan, Zaynab, Kai, Zoha, Leena, Connor, Malia, Avery, Owen, Kate, Ola, Jack, Eric, Amaan, Marwa, Hadi, Shahram…..I can count around 30.

I imagine them playing at the park, cheeks flushed with exertion and joy, little hands sticky with cotton candy and juice, grass stains on their knees from running after each other, falling down and getting right back up again.

The sun is setting. Soon it will be time to go home, clean up and get ready for bedtime.

I imagine a  thunderous sound, a wave of raging energy, knocking them down, tearing them apart. No bedtime, no laughter. Nothing. Except a ringing in my ears that won’t go away.

I brush my teeth, I go to bed, I wake up, I go to work, I smile, I nod. I get through the day. The darkness that’s been vignetting my view is starting to creep in.

The kids are gone.

There’s blood on the grass in the park and that’s all that remains of them.

My community is gone.

Drowned in sorrow. Swallowed whole by rage. Unable to remain standing in the face of such violence, incapable of healing such deep damage. The love among those left behind is unable to withstand the profound lack of hope and sadness that’s been thrust into our lives.

The 30 kids that died in the Lahore bombing this week were not the children of my family or friends. I did not know their names. I did not help them learn how to walk. I did not do cartwheels with them at the park. But they were someone’s little ones, someone’s most precious love.

It fills my heart with black, malevolent anger to think of the people that sat in the parking lot right next to the children’s swings, biding their time to explode. I’m mad! RAGING FUCKING MAD! I feel no empathy. I want these fuckers to feel the pain that they’ve caused. I want to be the one that makes them feel it.

I see my rage mirrored among Pakistani friends on Facebook and Whatsapp as they debate, blame and shame each other. Who is responsible! The army? The government? The Americans? The Taliban? The West, that doesn’t give a fuck and is trying to turn this into a “Pakistani Muslim kills Christians” story? France for not turning the Eiffel Tower into Pakistani colors in support of this tragedy? Someone! Anyone! Our rage needs a target. Any target.

I remember the Pakistan I grew up in. It was tolerant. My parents would go for dinner, dancing and the movies. Boys and girls played together in the streets. TV shows celebrated young love without feeling the need to make it dirty. Kites soared high on basant, wedding parties ran long into the night, the middle class of Pakistan was thriving. There were norms and ritual but there was little persecution for not following them. People respected decorum and values.

I also remember it all change. It wasn’t overnight but it was palpable even as it took hold. The radicalization of Pakistan was a well funded cold war-era campaign. Religious schools with extreme messages popping up, radical mosques on every corner, ultimate government control of social media and news. Mind wash and systematic desensitization of the population to messages of pure hate. Zero investment in education or welfare of ordinary citizens because the 2-family political parties take turns fucking the country over. Combine this with the feeding frenzy that foreign defense money has created. It has evaporated the middle class and put in it’s place a cannibalistic system that rewards blind looting of itself over the principle of contributing and creating value in the world. Finally, layer on top of this, meddlesome neighbors because Pakistan is one strategic piece of real estate, caught between the titans. What you get is One Big Cluster-Fuck.

And then I hear Mr. Trump. How he rouses sentiments of hate under the banner of making us GREAT again. How he gives people permission to be their ugliest selves and feel good and righteous about it.

All of us have infinite darkness within us that has the ability to swallow the entire world. If you’re sitting here thinking you don’t have it in you to be a bomber just like the asshole in Lahore, you don’t know the perversion of your own reptile brain. You have not named him or claimed him yet. In the moment I heard about the bombing, the moment I envisioned those children being blown to bits, I briefly saw the ugliest part of me. The part that knows no reason. The part that’s incapable of empathy. The part that demands revenge and destruction. The part that’s looking for a target. Any target.

As much as I would love to have a solution to it all – something elegant and simple, like the singularly true answer to a puzzle – I have nothing to offer except a pure stream of consciousness.

On Product Management

I talk to many people about their desire to become a PM in the tech industry. Enough of them have mentioned that they’ve found my perspective in these conversations to be useful, which is why I feel compelled to write it down.

What’s in a name?

First of all, I think the name must be revised in the context of the tech industry. P can stand for Project, Program, Product – each role being vastly different if done right. The P I’m referring to is Product.

Here’s the fun thing about this role – everyone from a stay-at-home mom to a dog walker to an engineer to a philosopher to a rocket scientist thinks they can do this role. I mean, after all, it’s just sending email, managing projects, telling people what to do, commenting on user experience, right?


Just like you and I speaking English and writing emails doesn’t make either of us an author, general life-planning skill doesn’t make us product managers. Unfortunately there are so many other P’s taking on the guise of product management that it’s difficult to have a clear picture of what a real Product Manager is all about. In talking with many startups, it’s clear to me that this skill is sorely lacking and it’s unknowable for the founders what they’re missing and why it’s needed. In my current role, I’ve had to push hard to create room for PMs for the same reason, been met with resistance and just exhibited through experience how they can contribute to top-line revenue, customer delight and team building.

The essence of a PM


  1. She’s a perseverent idealist (yep, I just made up that word, but you get my drift). She believes in the power of positive change, the value that one individual can bring to a larger group, and perseveres through detours and struggle.
  2. She’s obsessed with her customers – not just how they’re experiencing the product but who they are, what their emotional and logistical drivers are, who they aspires to be. Also important, her customer is always ultimately the customer of the company, not internal teams (which are all partners that must align to deliver end customer value). In interviews, I often ask people to design a product with me as their customer. I pick the product based on my read of them and what they’re least likely to use themselves. The best answers start from the candidate asking more about my lifestyle and who I am as a person and incorporate that in all elements of the product (form, function & distribution). The worst answers are either a “requirements gathering” exercise or the candidate designing a product for them and losing sight that they are quite different from me, their customer.
  3. She’s grounded in the business model – she understands how money is made, where it comes from, how it’s spent and how to create a defensible strategy for the business against competitors, but never fucking the customer over in the process. She can quantify business opportunity, use that to develop what’s really important and invest accordingly (i.e. don’t spend 3 engineers for 6 weeks on something that’ll make you 30k unless it’s part of a larger strategy that she’s not hand-wavey about but truly understand and agree with).
  4. She’s strategic in her thinking and tactical in her execution – she can envision a radically different world and use that to inspire people around her, but keep everyone focused on a set of well defined next steps.
  5. She’s qualitative and quantitative – she seeks out data to gain insight, but she knows the power of instinct and trusts it. She knows disruptive ideas require leaps of faith and she’s often right in her hunches.
  6. She’s outcome driven – and outcome is always defined in terms of benefit for the customer and the business.
  7. She’s curious about how things work – business models, user models, design patterns, organizational structure, technology – she follows industry trends, experiments with new products, learns new skills so she can relate with her partners and her engineers
  8. She’s flexible & creative – in her thinking (always evolving), in her ability to define a big picture and dive into the details, in her communication skills, in her ability to influence people and overcome obstacles
  9. She has courage – she is unafraid to share her perspective, she doesn’t let fear stand in the way of taking risk, she has the courage to receive feedback and evolve.
  10. She understands the difference between urgent and important and is ruthless in prioritizing what’s important above all else. The hardest part of this is letting go of the thing that’s just below the list. But that’s exactly what she does.

Simple. Here are some tips and tricks to refine your craft as a Product Manager, just in case you’re interested.

Habit creates excellence

I often have this discussion with PMs on my team. It’s easy to overlook the non-day-to-day things that are essential to your development as a PM – always another email you could respond to, always another meeting you could go to. This is why it’s important to create ritual and habit for the activities that make you a great PM. Here are some that I follow religiously:

  1. I use the product every day – not with the intention to click around and find bugs but actually use it as an integrated part of my life. Working at Zulily, this means friends and family get a lot more random shit they don’t need than before.
  2. I use competitive products – also not with superficial curiosity but as an active user. Note, I define “competition” very loosely (i.e. doesn’t need to be a like for like comparison)
  3. At least once a month, I talk to real customers (all the synthesized PowerPoint decks and usability result findings are great but aren’t supposed to be a replacement for high-touch textured understanding of real customers)
  4. I read customer support issues every week
  5. I read world news and tech news every day
  6. I take time each month to tinker with new products across the board (i.e. not related to my core line of business) to help me build and recognize patterns and trends.
  7. I tinker with adjacent skills – from learning Ruby to creative-writing classes to playing with cloud services – generally one class or activity in progress all the time
  8. I reverse engineer – whenever I find myself drawn to a product or service, I journal explicitly about what I like about it, why it works for me as a user, I ask why the company that built it decided to build it, what their business model might be, how I would do it if I was in their shoes.
  9. I talk to people from other companies to learn how they do work. It’s always interesting to compare notes and try things that are working for other people to see if they’ll be effective in my environment. Regardless, I learn from the experience.

None of these habits are rocket science – it’s just a matter of having the discipline to do them regularly. If you have other habits you’d like to share, I’d love to hear from you.



On Friends

I feigned allergies at school, so I could stay in class by myself instead of being outside with all the other kids during play time. I had no friends. I didn’t want any. They represented group-think, gossip and vanity. And none of these were interesting or relevant to me.

I had many pets (dogs, cats, chicks, rabbits, peacocks, ducks). They were kind, simple and nothing but themselves. They gave me permission to be the same. And I also liked a world without many words (irony here to be writing this post).

On Friends Day, I reviewed my 646 Facebook friends. From 0 at 6, to 646 at 36 is quite remarkable. The deeply introverted, highly skeptical and bored 6 year old me would be shocked! Arguably the 646 number is bloated because Facebook friends are a super-set of friends, acquaintances, coworkers and random people I can no longer place in my non-digital life. But still it’s quite a feat and I owe it to 3 very special gateway friends.

Saqib: 3rd grade. I loved gymnastics. I would practice for hours. A few months in, I began to notice a boy in my peripheral vision. He would move when I would move. He would stop when I would stop. His flow was more exaggerated than mine. His moves clumsy to contrast my fluidity. It was funny. It made me laugh. It made others laugh as well. Soon we were the Saqib and Mona show. We quietly mocked each other’s movement and made people laugh. Very few words. Saqib helped me see that two humans could connect through motion and slapstick humor shared in silence. We never met after I switched schools.

Nadya: 6th grade (yep, long dry spell). I’d watch her playing outside, her long braids trailing behind her. She was all long lean limbs, even after the 7 layers of heavy clothing she always wore (eternally cold, that one).  I observed for years. And then we started to notice each other’s art in class. She was precise and detail oriented. I was rushed and angry. I loved watching her long hands move across the paper. Constantly editing, revising, frustrated by her own limitations. We started hanging out as we waited for our ride home. Sleepovers were always about music, drawing (at times with lipstick on her walls), strong emotions neither of us could reign in. She wore a head scarf. I questioned the existence of God. People wondered why we were friends. Some still do. They can’t see that we are more similar than different. She allowed me to experience the sadness and anger of my life without trying to save me, and I did the same for her. And we’re still at it.


Haleema: (6th grade). I gave Haleema a chick as one does to a prospective friend (have I mentioned I had EQ of 0 at age 10). She killed it a few days later (accidentally she tells me). She called to tell me this news. We grieved and then became friends. And that’s the essence of our dynamic. We do silly things together (the tat on my wrist being an ever-present reminder), we giggle, we take big risks, we screw up (sometimes with broken hearts, or broken legs), we grieve, and then our spirits float to the top like bubbles in sparkling water.

In the years since, much has changed. Friendships have been gained, and lost. Beliefs have been revised and replaced, and with them many relationships as well. Judgments have created rifts. Schedules have created impracticality. Being an adult has meant that inertia has been working against friendships.

Yet here I am. The 36 year old me wants to tell the 6 year old me that she chose well. She chose a life that’s enriched by the love of her incredibly supportive, kind friends.

They tell me when I’m being stupid, praise me when I do the pretzel at Yoga, listen when I ramble and pretend that I’m endlessly fascinating, text me to make sure I got home, invite me to Christmas dinner and weekends away, get on planes to go adventuring with me and to see my home. They bring their beautiful laughs and their chatter into my very quiet life and that keeps the boogeyman away.




My top 10 WTF moments this year

Before I rattle off my list of top 10 WTF moments this year, I’d like to provide two points of context.

First, we recently conducted an A/B test at work and discovered that titles containing lists, and titles containing words like “Me” “My” “You” “Yours” get much higher click-through. So I’ve attempted to apply this learning in this month’s blog title. I can tell you, I already feel shitty by how click-baity it is. But I promise, this is not click-bait and will be slightly more interesting than the other bovine “list-driven” online reading you’ll do this week.

Second, WTF is an incredibly versatile expression – alarmed-WTF, angry-WTF, funny-WTF, incredulous-with-joy-WTF…you get my drift. So this list is essentially whatever the fuck I want it to be.

Without further ado, here are my WTF moments of 2015:

  1. I’m called into HR’s office and told that I need to minimize the use of the word “Fuck” because it’s making people in power uncomfortable – incredulous WTF, followed by mildly annoyed WTF. My response “Fuck thaaat”. Of course months later, when coverage of Dr.Stephen’s research (suggesting that people who curse are smarter, less violent and more attractive) went viral, I just HAD to share it with my work family.
  2. Helping take care of my first and only nephew for the first 2 weeks of his fragile life – mind-blowing, heart-exploding, overwhelming-love, in-awe-of-life WTF.
  3. Watching a guy get shot, watching him bleed in the parking lot across the street from my loft, watching the body, as it is lifted and taken away in an ambulance. The difference between a He and an It is a breath, a consciousness, a few seconds, a choice. Existential-Awakening WTF
  4. Discovery of underground water on Mars, possible evidence of aliens harnessing their Sun’s power with a Dyson sphere, and BBC announcing that it’s going to produce Star Wars with the Next Gen cast, premiering in January 2017 – There’s-more-to-it-than-this-Ecstasy WTF
  5. The last 30 minutes of Ex Machina, mouth agape in a horror-WTF, completely oblivious to the discomfort of being stuck in the last row on British Airways 49, from London to Seattle
  6. Being called “IT” at work. IT? Really? Computer Science degree, 15 years of experience building cool stuff, and I’m considered IT? White-hot-rage-WTF followed by “Why-am-I-so-insecure-that-I-can-get-rattled-by-being-called-IT” WTF
  7. The kindness of people – In my quest to find the perfect job, I was amazed by how generous my family was in helping me tap into their network, how supportive my friends and family were during my most insecure moments – I-feel-unworthy-of-this-help WTF
  8. Realizing that despite decades of work and active reflection, I’m more scared of vulnerability than I’ve ever been before – disappointed-and-frustration-in-lack-of-personal-growth WTF
  9. …yep I know I said it was top 10, but it won’t be. It’ll be top 8.5 because I want you to have your own WTF moment right about now. Let it be your “Don’t-trust-what-you-read-on-the-Internet” WTF