By Shazia Gazi.
Edited by Jessica Sutton.
Last week, I wrote a letter to my nani. She died a few years ago but I wanted her to be my audience. I wanted to tell her about the apocalyptic dream that we’re living in right now, and how I’m secretly glad that she and nana are no longer here with us. Global scattering through globalisation would have meant that only love could travel to their ‘bubble’, as we’d be too far away to offer anything more.
In my letter, I told my nani that I wish I knew my blood better. I am a Brit, living in Aoteaora with my pākehā love but the blood running through me is Bengali. I am a Muslim woman, with the complexities and angsts of a thousand others; like those brown and earth-coloured women, who know no weaknesses but are forced to exist in the weaknesses of others.
My letter was a love letter to my nani’s dreams. I wish I knew what she imagined for herself, for her future, when in hypnotic trances, staring without blinking, like I do sometimes. Did she dream about not having to live through a genocide and the birth of a nation? Did she dream about the end of systematic rape of women as a weapon of war? Did she dream for a different history; a Bengal untainted by British rule so that they could be masters of their own home? Or did she long for the sanctuary of education, where she could just be a young girl with the opportunity to study? Where she wouldn’t be married at an age where they told her that her body was ready to produce offspring, but her mind, heart and soul hadn’t caught up yet?
I wish I knew the dreams and hopes of all the women that came before me. After writing to my nani, I asked my mum, through video-call back to my beloved London, what her dreams were growing up. She told me that she just wanted a good husband and a happy family. I told her no. I didn’t want to hear a woman’s dreams be reduced to the grains that the patriarchy leaves us with. I pushed and she told me, with beautiful wistfulness in her eyes, that she wanted to be a paramedic.
She knew this when she was giving birth to me, her first child, but this was a dream to stay just that. Her world was inflicted with incredible hardships. Ones that only women will understand. Ones that turn you into a survivor. Her dreams came last in the game of survival and she saved us, just like we saved her. Unfortunately, the dream withered, but that was one of the sacrifices she was forced to make. Another sacrifice proving the privilege of dream-making.
But I sit here now at the beginning of the third decade of my life, dreaming about my mum’s dreams and thinking about a Rupi Kaur poem about how ‘I am the first woman in my lineage with freedom of choice’. How ‘my grandmothers must be howling with laughter’ that one of their own is living life so boldly!
I think about the unfairness of my privilege. I wanted to study so I got my bachelors and my masters. I wanted to work in domestic violence and abuse; not so much because I wanted to but because it is integral to my survival, which is dependent on the survival of survivors, so I chose to work and survive. I wanted to choose the person to spend my love with and so I did. I travel, I see, I explore; I live, and I thrive.
I live unlike the women from generations before me. They lived too. They climbed trees, danced on rivers, chased monkeys in tea gardens and picnicked on Sylheti hilltops but the jobs of their wombs took those days away from them. No wonder I don’t want children.
In my letter, I told my nani that I am finding it hard to see the beauty in this world, though I know it’s perfectly made for us. Despite all my privilege, I am still a (proud) brown, Muslim woman, navigating a plain of otherness; in places that weren’t built for people like me. Constantly criss-crossing a nomadic life of cultural hybridity that is ignorant at best and murderous at worst, which only adds fuel to the growing anger inside my bloodstream.
I suppose I am a perpetually angry (intersectional) feminist but so what? My anger is the petrol to all the fights that have ever been fought in the desperate yearnings for equality. But I don’t just want equality; I want equity and justice. Not just for some women, but for all. I want it for the indigenous peoples of this country. I want it for my minoritised brown and black sisters and brothers across the Western world and in the diaspora. I want it for those who made this place home but were gunned down in prayer by white supremacy.
I came from the land of the coloniser; reaping the benefits of what was taken from other nations, including my own ancestral homeland, to a land that’s been colonised, and I now see. I really see. How almost every cell in my body, except for the colour of my skin, is an imperial success; how the words on my lips and the clothes on my back are as a result of the destruction of my people’s beauty, wealth, success and histories. And I also see how invisible people like me are in this country. A bicultural country with a multicultural population but with a unicultural dominance, gained through the history of colonisation.
I don’t know if my nani cared about all of this; I wish I did. I wish I really spoke to her. I wish I knew her dreams. She lived through war, the independence of a country and through womanhood. I wonder whether she was as angry or if she didn’t have a care in the world, because she found contentment in laughter; whilst making those beautiful salwar kameez for her one and only daughter, my mother.
I wonder whether I’m like her, and if I’m not, I wonder whether she’s proud.
About the Author:
Shazia is a British Bengali woman, living in Aotearoa for the last two years. She lives in Wellington and works in government. Her background and passion is in domestic violence and abuse, and violence against women and girls. Her feminism is intersectional and she is an advocate for racial equality, equity and celebration.