Dear Kashmala, my beloved Kashmala, my janan, zama da zrra armaan, zama da zrra sara, pa taa qurban! How my heart is overjoyed because you exist, because I have you, because this world has you.
Blessed be the day you were born, janana. Blessed be this day. How fortunate I am to be your aunt.
As is customary for me for the third year now (Letter 1 & Letter 2), I’m writing you a love letter on your birthday that I want you to read whenever you need a reminder of who you are and how much you mean to the universe. I love you.
Like last year, I’m going to give you a recap of some of the most beautiful things you’ve done and said this year. MashaAllah on you, on the womb that bore you.
(Pre-post: The pics below are randomly selected from Kashmala’s current visit to Pakistan.)
I don’t think this will be a long letter because I’m currently having a rough time dealing with patriarchy and I’m not in a wonderful mood. This struggle with patriarchy is one you know too well already, despite your age. You’ve already seen the impact of patriarchy on both your life and mine and all around us. I won’t forget your tears from just a few months ago when a family member of ours warned me to stop entertaining your “patriarchy happened to day” conversations and to instead teach you “love” – as though love and our fight against patriarchy are in some absurd way incompatible. And then you called me and were itching to say something about patriarchy, and when I asked, you said, “But we’re not allowed to talk about patriarchy anymore, ‘member?” And my heart broke. And I told you that there are times when you don’t obey rules, and this is one of those times.
Please never stop noticing how oppressive patriarchy is. Please never let the light that shines in your eyes – that shines my life and all the worlds – burn out. You are a miracle, and you give me hope for the world. You are a beautiful reminder of the beauty in this world, of what every human can be like if taught properly.
This year, you did a bunch of amazing things, only some of which I’ve kept track of for this day.
Janana, when I speak about you to anyone, I glow. Nothing and no one makes me even remotely this happy.
When you’re a little older, I’ll tell you the stories of how I realized why I love you this much – and of why I love you this much (I’ll give you a hint: it has to do with patriarchy! But you probably figured that already). And you and me, you and me, janana, I think we make a pretty good team killing patriarchy together ❤ I’m so infinitely proud of you, so deeply happy to have you with me.
Now for some of the joy you have brought into my life just this past year alone because of your anti-patriarchy, anti-racism, anti-injustice views generally ❤
This year, you started a line that has become a common line in my conversations with my friends now: “Patriarchy happened today.” So many of our conversations have begun with this line of yours this year. But while my heart breaks every time patriarchy happens and you take note of it, my heart equally is at peace knowing that you exist, that you’re a fighter already, that you will not give up, that you are changing lives by fighting everyday patriarchy.
In September, you lost a tooth and the tooth fairy brought you some money. You were so, so grateful, Kashmaloo Baloo, that you wrote a her a thank-you letter! We were talking on the phone and you said, “Shanu! I can’t believe my eyes!”
In October, when my grandpa, your great grandpa, Baba’s dad, passed away, and Ami and Baba were going to Pakistan, you wrote a beautiful short letter to Grandma to wish her well! She said it meant the world to her, and even though she cannot read, it comforted her heart greatly.
In November, you told me, very proudly, that she told her friends about patriarchy, and now they, too, hate patriarchy. You said, “You can tell your friends about it. Here’s how to spell their names: B-R-I-A-N-A and Z-O-E.” ❤ Because you know that my friends are crazy about you and look forward to hearing your stories. The context behind this is that just a couple of days prior to this, I’d mentioned to you that I’d written a brief bio of myself for a website and that the last line read “I have a 6-year-old niece who hates patriarchy with a passion.” So when you told your friends that your name was on the Internet because you hate patriarchy, that motivated them to also want to learn about patriarchy! You’re amazing. May God bless your knowledge and your efforts to bring more justice into this world, aameen.
In December, you were texting a friend of mine (ours, actually – you’re friends with this person, too). And you noticed that I was sending more messages to the person that I was getting in response. And you, knowing plenty about self-respect and fighting for it, turned to me and said wisely: “Shanu! You should stop talking to people who don’t like talking to you! See, see, look. The green messages are yours and the white ones are [friend X’s]. Do you see this? There are more green messages, and that means [friend X] doesn’t like talking to you!”
Your wisdom is actually infinite. Whenever we talk from my apartment and you see the huge stacks of books all over in my home, you have suggested more than once, “you know, you should read one book a day and not all at once so you can finish them and return them to the library so you don’t have so much, so you have room for yourself.” (The first time you noticed the books, you asked if they were mine or H.’s (roommate) before offering your suggestions. Because you are considerate like that.) You should know that my life has been significantly better and I have been significantly more relaxed because I’ve followed your suggestion. My heart is overexcited about all the other things I know I’m going to learn from you.
In January, you said one of the most special things to me ever. We were bonding, just before going to sleep, and you turn to me while hugging me and say, “Shanu. Tell me everything about when you were a kid.” You know, I’ve always wondered if there’s a human in this world who’s curious enough about me to want to know “everything” about me (in a non-creepy way, you see). And now I know that person does exist, and it’s you.
Also in January, remember that moment when your mom, my other sisters, and I were discussing our careers and I commented, pointing to you and the other kids, “Dude, there’s a reason I have no plans to ever, EVER teach kids. I couldn’t. I’ll stick to adults. And mostly gender studies and religious studies stuffs. That stuff’s changed my life, man.” And you? You said: “Shanu, you should teach kids about patriarchy. But not me, because I already know everything about patriarchy.” ❤ And to be objectively honest here, you really do know everything about patriarchy. There have been moments where you’ve pointed out that I was doing something patriarchal that I didn’t see as patriarchal until you pointed them out to me.
Whenever anyone tells you to let little Aimaz have whatever it is that he’s shouting and fighting people for — being aggressive and all — you bravely go, “Heeeyy!! That’s not fair! You can’t just give it to him because he’s yelling about it! That’s patriarchal!” Because you get patriarchy.
Because this is where it starts. In our laziness and in a dishonest effort to get kids to stop fighting and just, just stop talking if we find them annoying around us, we let the aggressive one have his way. We let our little male children get away with being aggressive when they really can be civil if we taught them better, and then we go around lying to ourselves and each other and other people that “boys will be boys” and “men are just naturally violent and aggressive” as if that’s something that came out of nowhere.
Then there’s your influence. Because you told Aimz that the correct way to get what he wanted was not to be aggressive about it. That he needed to be patient, kind, and cooperative. And it worked. You taught him well. The proof is that he eventually did understand the fact that he doesn’t have to shout or be loud or fight anyone to get his way or to prove that he’s right, and, remarkably, said the next day when the three of us were playing a game: “Everything is not a competition. Pashy [his name for you (Kashy)] can go first because she said it first. It’s okay if I’m second in line.” ❤ Qurbaan!! Isn’t he a breath of fresh air? I love that little minnie moo. I love that he has you, and I love that he’s your “BFF forever.”
Also in January: I secretly recorded you singing Adele’s “Hello.” (Until 03:04, you’re reading the lyrics; and then you’re singing along.). Here:
In March, a couple of days before International Women’s Day (March 8th), you called me to read a story to me that you’d written (your creativity! May God put barakah in it, aameen!) about your favorite teacher. You made a side note to me to say that this is the teacher who had asked you just months before to tell the class about patriarchy! And then I told you excitedly that March was Women’s History Month, and you go: “YEAH! And did you know that Mommy’s birthday is ON Women’s Day?!” And then you asked me, “So what does women’s day mean, though?” And we talked about it – and I used the word “celebrate” in my explanation, saying, “You know, like when we celebrate you guys’ [your and your siblings’] birthdays because you are so special to us.” So then you and Aimz suggested what you wanted for Women’s Day since it’s about celebration. You wanted a huge pink barbie who does all kinds of tricks, and Aimz wanted a huge purple truck. Your influence! Your responses to people when he says his favorite color is purple and they go, “Uh, purple is for GIRLS!” And you tell them all colors are for all people, that colors have no gender. Because you’re amazing like that. MashaAllah.
In April, you called me to give me two sets of news: “great news and great, great, great, GREAT news.” (The way you talk … my goodness!) The great news was truly great. And the great, great, great, GREAT news was infinitely greater. You were so excited to share with me your experience at a mosque you’d attended that day where there was no barrier between the genders. You said: “I went to a mosque, and there was no wall there! Everyone was in one big room!” Thank you for your reminder that this world needs help – and thank you for doing something about it.
In May, I learned from someone in the family that when people ask you what you wanna be when you grow up, you say, “I’m going to teach about patriarchy. My aunt Shanu does that.” You have no idea how much this means to me. You have no idea. If I have ever doubted myself, my work, my future, my mission, these words bring life to everything I believe in. To know that you understand what I do, that you’re inspired by it, that you see in me a model – that you don’t have to be the first in our family or among our relatives to do this kind of work, because of the very low reputation it has, I feel like I have accomplished everything I have ever dreamed of. Thank you.
And then when I called you to discuss this with you, you said, “Yeah! We can exchange notes, and you can teach my class sometimes, and I can teach your class sometimes.” I’ve no idea how you know that this is actually possible! That we could be guest lecturers inn each other’s classes! That we can exchange notes/references!
Do you know when I learned that it was possible to pursue a career outside of medicine? In my last year of college. Janana, I have so many stories to tell you about what I was supposed to become, about what was expected of me, about what it’s like to be where I am now, about how disappointing it has been for everyone who loves you and me that I’m doing what I’m doing. It has to do with the sort of culture we come from, the sort of background the elders of our family come from, the things they have had to endure just to get to where they and all of us are now – may God bless their lives, reward them for enduring so much just for us to have better futures. May their hard work pay off, aameen.
And I don’t remember when this happened exactly, but I’m tempting March-ish? So, you call me and go, “Shanu! Trump said something very patriarchal the other day. He said, ‘We should make women’ do this or that.” And I go, “Do you remember what he was saying that we should make women do?” And you go, “No, but that doesn’t matter because he can’t say stuff like that. Nobody ‘should’ make women do anything.” Allaaaaaahhh!! How true that is!!
And speaking of Trump, you once saw an all-white all-male panel on TV, and you told me about. You said, “Shanu! There were NO white people on the stage and there were NO women, either! That’s not fair.” And then we talked about racism and the relationship between racism, patriarchy, and other oppressions so very much alive.
You’re currently in Pakistan. One of the last times we spoke, you were trying to remember something patriarchal that had happened. And you said, “Shanu, I’m going to start a patriarchy book so I can write down when patriarchy happens so I don’t forget.” You are incredible. MashaAllah. Nazara ma she, janana. Nazara ma she. Tf, tf.
May God continue to bless you, your knowledge, your efforts to bring justice into this world. May God be your Companion in this life and the next. Aameen.
I love you very much.