The Olympics

I am not particularly athletic, nor do I follow sports.  However, I love the Olympics and I always watch. I was born in an Olympic year, and apparently my mother would watch them as she fed us in the evenings, so I suppose you could even say I’ve loved it since I was born.

My favorite sports to watch in the summer games are swimming and gymnastics. I know how to swim, but I am completely gymnastically challenged. I’ve never even been able to do a proper cartwheel. This is one reason that I love watching the gymnasts so much;  I am just so in awe of what they are able to do. This year, I feel so…old. All of the women gymnasts are younger than I am. It has put in perspective for me just how incredible it is for them to be there. Their accomplishments come with sacrifices; to say that they are dedicated or that they have worked hard is an understatement.

While I was watching yesterday, I admired the speed, agility, and strength of some of the world’s best athletes. I also admired the way they handled defeat. Or maybe not defeat, but not doing as well as they wanted to, or as well as they know they could have done. We’ve all felt that way before, perhaps after a test or a violin recital, but not at the Olympics. Not in front of the world.   To say “It is disappointing” can’t possibly even begin to describe how they really feel, but that’s what they tell all the reporters.  These people are pushing the limits of what human bodies can do. How fast they can propel themselves through water? To what degree can you defy gravity and and gracefully flip your body through the air? It must be hard then, when inches or fractions of a second get in the way of your dreams.  Watching John Orozco fall off the pummel horse, or the one slalom kayakers flip over in rapids, I want to tell them, “I’m sure you’ve done that perfectly thousands of times before! Otherwise you wouldn’t be there!” Their ability to accept their own humanity and continue to persevere is something we can all learn from them. I will never have the abdominal strength required to hurl my own body in the air, but I hope I can be as dedicated in the things that matter to me. I hope I can always believe in myself, even when I don’t do as well as I want to. There is something to be said for being proud of silver, or even fourth place, while still always aiming for the gold.

Sister, Sister

A few days ago, as my sister Fatema and I were walking back to the lab after lunch, a lady stopped us right in the lobby of the Perelman Center and just asked “Twins?” We smiled and said “Yes.” “Y’all are beautiful,” she responded, before continuing on her way, which was very sweet. We’ll never know why she was so interested–perhaps she is a twin herself. Perhaps she is the mother or sister of twins. Or perhaps she simply happened to notice us and was fascinated by our remarkable resemblance (we are not identical, but many people think we are). It’s definitely not the first time this has happened, and I’m sure it won’t be the last, but in honor of our twentieth birthday (!) a few weeks ago, I am writing tonight about being a twin.

We decided to make the entire weekend a celebration, and had a lovely weekend at home with our family. The occasion called for my mother’s biryani, chocolate mousse cake from 33 East…and watching some baby videos. My favorite video is one in which Fatema and I are being really hyper in her room. It’s probably about 9 pm and we should be getting ready for bed but instead Fatema is doing somersaults with her beloved stuffed polar bear and I am really interested in my Dad’s camera. Giggle fits, shrieks, belly laughs, and two little girls running around the room in footie pajamas. What I love about the video is that so much has stayed the same. My sister is still the more active of the two of us. She might just start doing crunches in a spare fifteen minutes instead of somersaults. Late night chats happen regularly (minus the footie pajamas) and giggle fits can occur at any time of day (our good friends can confirm that!) She is the person who can make me laugh the most. Even though she is only five minutes older than me I still look up to her and learn from her.

People often ask if we fight a lot. I really hate this question. First of all, I would never think to ask it. Secondly, it always asked with a smirk or this sense of intense curiosity that makes me feel very uncomfortable, as though the person would take great pleasure in watching my sister and I argue. It’s not fair because I’m too honest to say “no” although that is probably the best answer. We have a really wonderful relationship, but no one likes everyone 100% of the time, especially someone with whom you spend almost all of your waking hours.Think about it: The people you are closest to and love the most are also the ones that you are more likely to “fight” with. You care about them. You care about the things they say. Knowing someone well also means you have the power to hurt them, and all power is inevitably abused at some point. So when someone asks me this (and especially if I’m in sassy mood, which is more often than not) I will respond “Well, do you and your siblings ever get annoyed with each other?” in an effort to shut them up.

As much as I love being a twin, and embrace the “sharing” aspects that are included, being constantly lumped with another person gets old. It’s not cute when you are the one being lumped. FatemaandFarida, FaridaandFatema. It’s hard, because we don’t make it easier to for people to differentiate between us by finishing each other’s sentences, having similar interests, referring to ourselves as “we”, and ordering the same food all the time (seriously. Except when she eats like a vegetarian).  If you don’t recognize me as an individual, how can I get to know you? Ultimately, we are two individuals, and when someone doesn’t make an effort to tell us apart, or think it is cool to call us “the twins” it makes it difficult to be close to that person. Only big sisters get to do that.

It may seem to some people that we just can’t escape each other. Our colleges are two miles apart, and even in college we know the same people and have some classes together. This summer, we not only worked in the same lab, but in adjacent bays. I could peek through the shelves and see her hard at work isolating platelets. Honestly, I wouldn’t want it any other way. Partner in crime, partner in gym class, partner in bio lab. Movie date. Party date. Company for the car ride home. It’s pretty sweet and I appreciate it more and more every day.


It was too humid,
the saturated air,
smothering skin.

Even the tall grass
was still, waiting to see
what the sky would do.

I was too eager
to claim happiness
as my own.

Like orange tips on oak leaves
the first day of August.
They reminded me
of henna crescents on a bride’s nails
a week before the wedding.

Don’t we know?
There is still much
left of summer.
To brides: there is still time
to change your mind.

Happiness is too heavy
for September clouds
and they dropped their arms
rain falling in torrents.

December 2011

On a Clear Night

The longer you stare
at the sky,
the more stars
you see.

Everything is more.
Sighs are louder.
Laughter is lovelier.
Blood is warmer.

beyond the street lamps
and marquees
and neon: “Sorry We’re Closed”
silver threads shimmer
in the Heavenly brocade.

In the intimacy
of an indigo harem,
stars cast away

November 2011

The One Thing I Might Have in Common with Spiderman

I went to see The Amazing Spider-Man on Friday night. I wasn’t sure what to expect; I was actually surprised that they were even making another one. Fortunately, it was awesome (go see it!). In this interpretation, in which “cross-species genetics,”  emphasizes the wondrous and horrific possibilities of science, you feel the familiar chills and thrills as you watch a shy but smart young man transform into a superhero. And you get to stare at Andrew Garfield for two hours and sixteen minutes.

I’ve never actually read the Spider-Man comics, or for that matter, any comics about superheroes. Also, the violence that is generally part of action movies makes me dizzy. I cringe throughout the climax, as the beloved protagonist becomes covered in blood, bruises, and burns. Yet when I watch the scene in which Peter is too angry and resentful to help stop the robber, and that robber ends up killing Uncle Ben,  I feel like my heart is literally being wrenched out of my chest. I can only imagine how Peter is struggling to live with his remorse.  And then there are lighter moments, like when he can barely ask Gwen Stacey on a date: how can anyone who has ever had a crush on anyone else not relate to him? In the darkness of the theater, I was totally grinning from ear to ear (and blushing) as he stuttered and shrugged his way through the most awkward and adorable asking-out ever. The moments like this, in which we witness a character’s vulnerabilities,  are perhaps more meaningful than the moments in which they save the world. One could argue that their superpowers make them who they are; it is what sets them apart from the rest of the population. However, it is their vulnerabilities that dictate how they will choose to use their power. Peter is first motivated by vengeance, then by moral responsibility. But as Spiderman, he can’t bring Uncle Ben back, nor can he always protect everyone he loves. His helplessness is a reminder that he isn’t so different from us after all.

In the previous film, the memorable line from Uncle Ben that the audience and Peter are left to ponder is “With great power comes great responsibility.” In this version, I left the theater thinking about something that happened in the last scene, words from Peter’s English teacher. She says how her English teacher taught her that there were ten plots in literature, but he was wrong. There is only one. It is “Who am I?” In Spider-Man, a search for identity is the ultimate driving force: he must figure out how to use his powers to do the most good, while also learning more about his parents and their past. But if this is one common theme in all literary works, then it is perhaps the theme of our stories too. Our day to day actions can be accounted for as part of a search for our identities. We are constantly carving out our spaces in the world. We build and manage relationships that give us a sense of place and purpose. We develop and hone our own superpowers, hoping to make a difference. We express ourselves with music and art and words, so that our individual voice may be recognized and appreciated. Maybe that’s why I am writing this blog: with the hope that, by writing, I will somehow give a more definite shape to my identity.


She dealt her pretty words like blades

She dealt her pretty words like blades
to strike
the gut, the temple
the tender spot
above the collar bone
with a force
that left you aching
for more.

She wore her pretty smile like pearls
sensuously about her neck
and dangling from her ears.
There was no knowing
their smoothness
in your own fingers.

She kept her thoughts on shelves
like porcelain from Spain
and glass perfume bottles from Egypt–
out of reach–
for you to prove
you are adroit enough
to feel their weight
in your hands
and not let them fall.

December 2011

New Room

pink bed sheets–
soft from washing–

catch some sunlight
of the fading day

through the window–
I can see

runners on the track
chase it too

September 2011