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Essay News Poem Review Short Story

2024 | Essay

No Country for Women

My essay No Country for Women, is translated into Tamil.

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2024 | Essay

Statues and the Colonised Mind

My essay, Statues and the Colonised Mind, is published by The Bangalore Review.

In the middle of Tavistock Square in London is a monument of Gandhi seated in a meditative pose. Its face is grim and lined, the body almost skeletal. It always has a fresh garland of orange flowers around its neck and a candle burning at the foot of the pedestal. But this morning I saw a woman in front of it and cursing. She tore the flowers off the statue, threw them in the bushes and after shaking her fist at Gandhi, walked away swearing. I was shocked by her reaction. Wasn’t the statue just a mound of bronze? And what was it doing aside from reigning over the park so peacefully? Obviously, the statue had triggered something in the woman.

Statues are controversial – what they represent and what they serve to remind us of. They emphasise, hide, reveal or quash stories. Where they are placed is as important as what they symbolise. In Tavistock Square, Gandhi is at the centre and the head of Virginia Woolf in the far-left corner. Would it make any difference if the monuments were switched with Virginia presiding over the park and Gandhiji watching from the sidelines? Possibly, the dynamic inside the park would be different. Arguably, the statue of a literary figure has a different vibration from that of a political activist not only because their work and writings are so varied but also because of what they signify and represent…


2023 | Essay

Men Explain Periods to Me

My essay, Men Explain Periods To Me, published in Los Angeles Review of Books.

My Ugandun friends have an expression, “Joke equals truth,” and it started as a joke. When my edited anthology Period Matters: Menstruation in South Asia was published last year, my sister said to me, “Now every man who’ll ever read your book will know about your first period. Doesn’t that feel weird?” I laughed, but then I realized that, by being open about a subject I felt needed to be discussed more authentically, I’d lost my “privacy” about an intimate bodily experience. I told myself it didn’t really matter since, after all, periods are a normal biological phenomenon. But back then, I had no way of anticipating how men would react to me or my book. And I had yet to realize that, while raising awareness about period poverty may be acceptable, discussing the shame around the female body is still taboo.

My interest in the problems faced by girls during menstruation goes back 20 years, to when I was working in Uganda and first read about how underprivileged girls and women managed their menstrual health. I had not before then heard about girls missing school because of a lack of access to menstrual products, poor sanitation, and inadequate toilet facilities. I was shocked to realize that, while the privileged enjoyed the luxury of choice in menstrual products, the poor had none. After that, it took 10 years for the idea of taking action to ferment and develop into a concrete plan.


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2023 | Essay

Khichdi, Operations and Freedom: A Food Essay

Winner of Bound’s Food Essay Contest

I was twelve years old when I first heard the words ‘coup d’etat’.

One Sunday, my mother came into my bedroom at three in the morning and woke me up saying I should move to her room. In her bed, behind a locked door, we could hear noises coming from outside that sounded like loud fireworks, bangs and shots. The telephone lines were dead and there was no power. My mother did not know what was happening and we had no way of contacting anyone.

That weekend my father was away in Kisumu attending the wedding of a family friend. This was unusual, he hardly ever went anywhere without my mother. My younger sister was at my cousin’s place for a sleepover. This too was rare, because she and I always visited our cousins together. My mother, a peacefully sleeping two year old baby sister and I, lay huddled in bed together.

We stayed in this locked bedroom, my mother only venturing downstairs to get us some breakfast, until noon, when the radio crackled to life…


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2023 | Essay

No Place for Women

My essay No Place for Women published in World Literature Today.

For the past few years I’ve been living in Lahore. Like they have for many, the brave women-led Iranian protests have made me reflect on the rights of women and the price we pay for freedom and justice. With this in mind, I decided to visit the Lahore High Courts to see what it was like for women living here.

So as to remain inconspicuous, a friend suggested I dress like a lawyer in a white salwar kameez and black coat. As I got ready that morning, I recalled the last time I’d been in a courtroom was over twenty years ago while working as a lawyer in Kenya.

As we drove through the streets of Lahore, the December sky was a cloudless, dull gray, there was heavy smog, and the roads were jammed with traffic. Pigeons sat like guardians on the electricity wires crisscrossing the city. A man with a basket at the roundabout shouted in a raucous voice for passers-by to buy his boiled eggs.

The iconic red-brick High Court building sits in the shadow of Anarkali and the general post office on Mall Road and was built in 1889 by the British in Indo-Saracenic style. The main materials used in its construction were brick masonry, kankar-lime mortar, Nowshera pink marble, and terracotta jaali. It is an imposing building, signaling the weight and might of the law.

I made my way through the tall gates to the main courtyard and found a well-landscaped compound; tall, leafy trees and walkways lined with flowers and low bushes. But despite the greenery, the atmosphere was taut; a mood of expectation tinged with a premonition of disappointment. The place had a strange energy—a feeling of paralysis and listlessness, on one hand, and a preying, animalistic aggression on the other….


2022 | Essay

No Time To Sleep

My essay, No Time To Sleep: a theatre experience, has been published by Memoir Monday.

Memoir Monday is a weekly newsletter featuring the best personal essays from around the web, in collaboration with a wide range of publications including: Narratively, The Rumpus, Catapult, Granta, Guernica, Oldster Magazine, Literary Hub, and Orion Magazine.

In 2019, according to Amnesty, there were at least 2,307 deaths from capital punishment and 27,000 facing the death sentence in 56 countries. This number is considered to be artificially low because of the unavailability of reliable information. 60% of the world’s population live in states where capital punishment is legal.

No Time to Sleep, is a twenty four hour live performance in the shoes of a dead man, showing acting at its most powerful. I watched it two years ago when I was in Lahore, but even now, I often wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it. The play is based on the final hours of Prisoner Z or Dr Zulfiqar Ali Khan, a person, charged with murder in Pakistan. Even though his lawyers argued that Zulfiqar had acted purely out of self-defence during an armed robbery he was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. Zulfiqar spent seventeen years incarcerated, and seven years on the death-row during which time his execution was scheduled and halted more than twenty times. He was executed in 2015…


2021 | Essay

Layers of overlap

Layers of overlap: theatre, cinema, memory, imagination.

An essay, published by The Dream Machine, 30th November 2021.

While watching a play at the theatre, our faces are a paradox. They are private and yet public. We are in the company of others in the auditorium, but once we start watching, we are alone. We drop our masks. Our faces are unguarded, not like when we’re in a café or on a bus, when we are aware of those around us.

For some, as the play progresses, they become more immersed and unselfconscious. But for others, the opposite happens. They may lose interest, or feel uncomfortable. They might choose to avoid confronting what’s on the stage and resort to texting on their phone, or playing with their partner’s hand, or simply closing their eyes and blocking it all. Still others may fidget, waiting for a lull so they can leave the auditorium with minimal disturbance.

There are as many responses to a play as there are people in the audience, and their reactions may be as interesting as the play itself…


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2021 | Essay

Invisible Women

An essay, published on The Dream Machine, 25th November 2021.

Ayad Akhtar’s play, The Invisible Hand, recently staged at the Kiln Theatre had an entirely male cast. There were four characters and the setting was a cell in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Akhtar’s play is about Nick, an American banker kidnapped by a terrorist group led by Imam Saleem. Nick’s jail guard is a Dar, who is supervised by Bashir, Imam Saleem’s sidekick. Nick, captured for an exorbitant ransom which he knows no one will pay, promises to raise the money through his expertise of the markets in exchange for his freedom. He teaches Bashir how to study the markets.

The ‘invisible hand,’ is a metaphor and refers to the unseen forces that move the market economy. The play has various overlapping themes, including religious fundamentalism, excessive materialism, human connection, and the lack thereof. During the entire play there are only four moments of humanity displayed by the largely unlikeable characters.

However, it was none of this that made the experience uncomfortable viewing. I’m not against stories or plays with only one gender or jail settings. The claustrophobia of the closed space, a small room remote from the rest of the world, and the inactivity and lack of interaction of the prisoner with the outside, allows a writer or playwright to explore their characters more fully.

It was what the absence of women suggested, in this particular context of frenzied male aggression, which made it harrowing viewing…


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2021 | Essay

No Time To Sleep: A Theatrical Experience

Essay on No Time To Sleep: A Theatrical Experience. Article in Italian.

In 2019, according to Amnesty, a total of at least 2,307 people were executed in 56 countries around the world; in addition, 27,000 death sentences were handed down. Due to the unreliability of the data, this number is considered artificially low.

No Time to Sleep, è una performance della durata di ventiquattro ore che dà prova della grande potenza della recitazione mettendo in scena il punto di vista di un detenuto condannato a morte. Ho assistito a questo spettacolo due anni fa a Lahore, e ancora oggi mi sveglio spesso nel cuore della notte ripensandoci. La pièce s’incentra sulle ultime ventiquattro ore del detenuto Z, ossia il dottor Zulfiqar Ali Khan, accusato di omicidio in Pakistan. Nell’antefatto, nonostante l’argomentazione dei suoi legali secondo cui egli aveva agito in legittima difesa nel corso di una rapina a mano armata, il verdetto è di omicidio volontario e viene quindi condannato a morte. Zulfiqar trascorre diciassette anni in carcere e sette anni nel braccio della morte, nel corso dei quali la sua esecuzione viene programmata e interrotta più di venti volte. Verrà infine giustiziato nel 2015…


2021 | Essay

No Time To Sleep: A Theatre Experience

In 2019, according to Amnesty, there were at least 2,307 deaths from capital punishment and 27,000 facing the death sentence in 56 countries. This number is considered to be artificially low because of the unavailability of reliable information. 60% of the world’s population live in states where capital punishment is legal…