Maryam Kizilbash Talks About The New Beginning (With Her Hubby)

This is a recently written blog entry by Maryam Kizilbash, a soft rock singer about what music was to her and how her new beginning is going to be with her husband, Jaffer.

A New Beginning (Chapter 1)

Wow! So I am finally getting down to this… So much has happened, so much needs to be said.. and at times I am left speechless. I am starting this blog mainly to share my experiences with Jaffar. I might go off track at times, but bear with me as I share my reflections, along with my patched past and hopes for the future that awaits me.

A Peak Into Our Past

After going round and round in circles, my husband Jaffar and I eventually realized that we were meant to be together. Neither one of us is perfect, but we are perfect for each other. To say that we are happy with each other would be a gross understatement; we’ve found great peace of mind with each other, and hope permeates us now that we have each other to cherish and hold onto.

Jaffar and I decided we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together in the beginning of 2008. I wasn’t keen on telling everyone, infact I didn’t tell some of the people I was closest to, simply because I wanted our fragile long distance relationship to work. In the past I had realized that whenever I shared a half cooked meal with my friends, it never quite reached completion…

Anyway, it was a long distance relationship; which meant that we spent many hours (and rupees/Canadian dollars) talking to each other and reconnecting with each other in a way we’d never done before. See Jaffar and I have known each other since we were 15 years old and I was Jaffar’s first love. He never actually told me this, but he told his friends, who in turn told me. I was an aimless, gullible fool back then, and we weren’t meant to share our journey so early on in our lives, so we lost touch and went our separate ways when Jaffar left for Canada. God had other plans for the two of us.

I went on with my life, trying desperately to figure out what it was that I wanted to do. Should I do my BBA? From IBA? Szabist? Should I pursue my passion for music and get a music degree? Should I pursue writing? I loved writing fiction and poetry, mind you I still do. I had a thousand questions in my head, and a million answers all gently pulling me in their direction.

My mother raised us the best she could, and many say she did a great job doing so. She did it all by herself, with limited resources but with the love and emotional support of her family. I never count my family as just my mother, brother and Jaffar; my family would not be complete without my cousins and my aunts and uncles. My grandparents Papa and Mummy were always there, in the shadows, gently watching over us.

When I was applying for my bachelors, my brother Raza was already studying at LUMS, which is a splendid university in Lahore. Studying outside Karachi was never an option for me for a plethora of reasons. My options were limited to IBA, CBM, Szabist and Indus Valley, all reputable universities in Karachi. Amma wasn’t too keen on me getting an arts or a music degree, you know how some of our parents can be, these degrees for them aren’t as “professionally reliable” as a hardcore stone-cold business degree. All in all, I ended up at IBA, which is one of the best business schools in Pakistan. I can’t say I was too happy about this, but my mother’s overwhelming joy made it all worthwhile.

Meanwhile Jaffar was on the other side of the planet, trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. He chose to do his bachelors in cognitive science, from York University in Toronto. During his years as a student, he worked part time at a Canadian book store, which seemed perfect for him as he loves books. I cant stress this fact enough, Jaffar LOVES books, he loves reading more than anything else in the universe.. only a few other activities (like drinking coconut water) can compete. That’s the oldest personality trait I remember of Jaffar’s. When we were kids we often exchanged books, infact I might still have some of them packed away in one of my cardboard boxes.

When I was a kid, I never read books like Sweet Valley Twins; a series which was quite popular with us schoolgirls back in the day… Instead I read murder and mystery novels written by R.L Stine, Christopher Pike, Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. My friends thought that something was horribly wrong with me… how could I, a 12 year old girl, choose Christopher Pike over Sweet Valley Twins? Truth is I loved guessing who the murderer was.. I liked juggling all the clues in my head. I would have loved nothing better than to be a crime scene investigator. At the age of 12, I wanted to be the real life version of Sherlock Holmes….

Now at the age of 26, I still want to be the real life 21st century version of Sherlock Holmes… some dreams never change…

The Butter To My Bread

I really don’t know why I took the time I did to understand the meaning of the word “happiness”…… Jaffar was my undeniable source of “Happiness”… Jaffar was the sauce to my chicken, the butter to my bread, he was and is the best man I have ever met and had the pleasure of knowing. I often feel he’s too good for me. He is gentle and as calm as the sea, unselfish, loving and honest, he is all those things that make a true gentleman and it is an honour for me to be his wife.

I can’t quite remember how we got to where we are right now, because so much happened between our long distance chats and phone calls. I know for a fact, that had I not faced the negativity that I did during the launch of my album, I would never have realized just how perfect Jaffar really was.

Reality Checks

I was frequenting the recording studio in Karachi in 2008. I can safely say that the year 2008 was a year of learning for me. I can also safely say that it was one of the worst years of my life.

Here is the whole truth, for those who are reading this… My music and singing style have been influenced and inspired by Sarah Mclachlan, Ella Fitzgerald, Alanis Morissette, Bob Dylan and Whitney Houston…. these five artists have been my idols since I was 11 years old, and I am proud to have been one of their millions and millions of die-hard fans and admirers. It was always my dream to one day perform with these intelligent and enormously talented individuals….. If you haven’t heard of them, then search for them in Facebook, Google or YouTube and you will see the number of fans and admirers they have… Listen to their music, listen to their voices.. when you do you will understand what great music really sounds like….

I remember the following words that one of the most respected producers in the Pakistani industry once told me:

“Maryam, as a female you will need to be clever and manipulative, nice people don’t survive in this industry. Don’t trust people the way you do…. and most importantly, don’t get disheartened when they try to beat you down….” I remember thinking…. “You mean don’t get disheartened by insecure people trying to demote me and smear my music and reputation? Hmmm.. easier said than done my friend… easier said than done…

After trying to psychoanalyze my own countrymen and women, I reached the following analysis: The masses in Pakistan don’t understand the term “musician”, and they definitely cannot and never will accept the term “female musician”. You will always, and I mean always be labelled a “singer”; a voice-machine that does not possess the brains to write or compose music (unless you’re extremely unattractive, then you have the audience’s permission to be smart) It was only later that I realized that if people were labelling me a “singer”and not giving me credit for my writing and composition, than that was their loss, not mine. They lacked the capacity to see beyond their own prejudiced perspective….

Today we have one record label company in Pakistan, and one performing arts school in Karachi. Let me repeat that… ONE RECORD LABEL COMPANY and ONE PERFORMING ARTS SCHOOL. On the other hand, we have a million news channels. Want to know why? Because our politicians are a better source of entertainment and monetary profit than our musicians. There are more politicians in Pakistan than all the musicians, producers and video directors put together. With so many politicians and political parties craving power, attention and money, who needs to open music channels and record labels? News channels are much more profitable in a turmoil infested country like ours…

A part of me doesn’t blame most Pakistanis for choosing hate over love.. why should they make life easier for other people when life isn’t easy for them? Take a look around… unemployment, bomb blasts, Taliban, crappy jobs, low pays, falling standards of education, people burning homes, shops, roads and cars, madmen blowing up mosques, corrupt leaders leading the way, children being raped, people being robbed…… and what’s worse is that the rest of the 6 billion people on the planet have labelled us a nation of terrorism and corruption…..

Our youth is struggling, and many cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel because for millions of Pakistanis, it isn’t there. As a case in point, just look at the salary of the average man or woman in Pakistan….. I know people who work from 9am to 9pm only to get 15,000 rupees at the end of the month. In other countries, people earn between 200,000 and 500,000 for doing the same amount of work… Honestly I don’t blame unemployed, frustrated employees and students for making faceless, anonymous accounts online just to feel a sense of control… on the internet they can say whatever they want to, to whoever they want to… they are invisible… Hopelessness often turns to anger… and anger always needs an outlet….. I really cant blame them for choosing hate over love.

Jaffar: “Maryam, why are you doing this? ”
Maryam: “Doing what?”
Jaffar: “Trying to sell your soft rock music in Pakistan. Is it worth the effort?”
Maryam: “Jaffar I am not making a career out of this…. I always wanted to record my music, and thats all I’m doing. I published my poetry book too remember?”
Jaffar: “I’m not comfortable with you performing on a Pakistani stage. You cant depend on these people to provide enough security, and knowing how things are, I’d strongly advise you to not take the risk of performing in Pakistan.”
Maryam: “Trust me, I wont. I haven’t done a single concert or interview, and I don’t plan on doing any in the future aswell.”

Aamna: “It’s lovely Manna.”
Maryam: “Thanks sweetie.”
Aamna: “You do realize that it wont sell right? ”
Maryam: “Yes, I know it wont, no harm in trying though right?”
Aamna: “Haven’t you seen what videos nowadays look like? How many females have you seen sitting on a chair and singing? You need dances, skimpy clothes, and I hate to say this….. but you are not supposed to make any sense Maryam. The lyrics in your album are too serious, it’s like you’re trying to sell créme brulée to an audience thats only eaten gulab jamans. Soft rock that too in Pakistan Maryam? People wont understand it babes. You know you can always count on me for an honest opinion right?”
Maryam: “Yes babes, I know. I can always count on you for a brutal but honest opinion…”

December 2008:

Jaffar: “Marry me Maryam, I will keep you happy and protect you for the rest of your life. I love you, and I want to grow old with you. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.. I love you, all of you, just the way you are.”
Maryam: “I love you too Jaffar… thank you, and I mean this, thank you for loving me, I’ve done nothing to deserve it…”

July 2009:

Location: Tokyo
Album status: Launched
Number of fans on fanpage: over 6500
Motivation level: Low
Desire to quit: High

The following conversation is one of the many conversations that took place in my brother’s apartment in Tokyo. He is by far, one of the greatest, most considerate and wisest people I know, and I love him beyond any man-made measure.

Bhai: “Manna, quit while you’re still sane. There are people creating fake profiles just to post negative comments about you and to impose their prejudice on the general audience. People who stay in this industry for too long, eventually lose themselves in it..”
Maryam: “Yes bhai…. I can see that… but I’m lost and I feel empty inside…”
Bhai: “There is a world beyond this Manna, and you’ve seen it. Your talent is something no one and I mean no one can take away from you. Don’t lose faith in yourself, and don’t let these *^$#%^ bring you down. Remember who you are, and what you stand for. Soon Jaffar will be in Tokyo and you will be getting married, he loves you like no other Manna. Remember that the relationships we create with others are much more important than fame and temporary success.”

It was then that I realized that despite the misunderstandings, the temporary distance, the fewer ups and many downs, Jaffar and I would be exchanging vows in a place no other than my favourite city Tokyo.

The following day, I shut my fanpage, deleted my profile from facebook, removed my data from the website, deleted my news blog and methodically cut my ties with everybody I had known in the few months I had spent recording my music. To put it simply, I vanished. It was the most liberating experience of my life. Nothing mattered anymore and I was free; free from the jealousy, free from the prejudice… I was finally free to be myself again.

August 2009:

Location: The Turkish Mosque in Tokyo
Occasion: Nikkah
The mosque was beautiful… I had never actually been inside a mosque before… it is sad that in our country women don’t go to pray in the mosque. In Turkey women frequent the mosques all the time, and in Tokyo, the imam encourages people from all backgrounds to come and see the mosque and its architecture, in order to better understand Islamic traditions.

Sitting and hearing the imam’s voice echo the Quranic verses in the masjid was a surreal and unforgettable experience. Everything happened very quickly, and before we knew it, Jaffar and I were husband and wife with Allah watching over us. I felt all the love in the universe for Jaffar, and at that moment in time I knew that I had changed forever.

My brother was overjoyed, his baby sister had finally tied the knot! Amma and Jaffar’s parents were thrilled to watch us step into a new phase of life. It was decided that our Mehndi and Wedding Reception would be in December 2009 in Pakistan, and it would be followed by our two week honeymoon in Thailand.

I will always remember December 2009 as the month that Allah decided to shower me with love and laughter… There were times when I just closed my eyes, smiled and had the following conversation with God:

Me: “Thank you Allah, I love you more than I can say…”
Allah: “You’re welcome Manna, I love you more than you can imagine…”

More thoughts will follow tomorrow.. I promise..

Much love,
Manna (Maryam)

A New Beginning (Chapter 2)

The Madness Begins

Along came December 2009, it looked like it would take a while to arrive, but instead December managed to pack a lot of punches in what seemed like a few seconds. Before I knew it, dance practices had begun, clothes were being stitched, halls were being booked and menus were being set. My cousin Sami was getting married a week before me, so the madness and excitement had been multiplied by two during the last week of November and the first 3 weeks of December!

I want to tell you a little about my cousin Sami. Sami is one of the most fun-loving, helpful and adventurous people you could ever know. He manages to come up with the funniest and wittiest one liners that’ll leave you rolling on the floor, laughing your heart out. When Sami’s around, you can be guaranteed a good time. If I began mentioning the jokes that Sami has cracked and popularized at my expense, it would take me a lifetime… but I will mention a few jokes that’ll probably stay in the family forever. They shall forever be called, “Sami’s One Liners”!

Sami’s One Liners

A few years ago, I visited my brother in Tokyo during winter… Around this time, I had put on a lot of weight. My last two years at IBA did the most damage. I have no qualms about blaming my weight gain on the new cafeteria that opened inside our university. The deep fried French fries topped with mayonnaise and cheese tasted divine before, during and after classes. The final nail in my figure’s coffin was my internship at the Walls ice cream department. I had most willingly become the unofficial ice cream taster….

Now where was I? Yes, Tokyo. I thought the snow and winter sports would be a new and exciting experience for me. Little did I know that I would return home cold, hungry and humiliated. Now the Japanese are very slender and slim, so in essence I looked like a baby elephant when I stood next to them. I could easily have crushed a couple of Japanese people if I fell on them… I will add that my female cousins Muneeza and Aneela weren’t too keen on telling me that I had grown too big for my own good…

A conversation held during Muneeza’s shaadi, when I was the fattest I had ever been

Maryam: “Anoo, Muni, have I grown fat?”
Aneela: “No Manna, not at all… well… I mean… you have grown a little chubby but you’re not fat…”
Muneeza: “Yup you look fine Manna…”

A conversation two years later, after I had lost those extra pounds

Maryam: “Guys have I lost weight?”
Muneeza: “Yeah Manna you’ve lost A LOT of weight you look really good!”
Maryam: “Anoo have I lost weight since Muni’s shaadi?”
Aneela: “For sure dude! You’ve lost a lot of weight since Muni’s shaadi, you looked like a cow back then, why do you think Sami called you Mannazilla?!”
Maryam: “What??! A cow?? But you told me I was only chubby!!!”
Aneela: “Well,… I meant… errr…. did I say that? (Silence)”

So, to put things in perspective, I was visiting bhai in Tokyo during winter, when I was the fattest I had ever been. I had never experienced snow before, I had never gone skiing or snow boarding before either… it was all very new to me.

So there I was, standing with my snow gear, wriggling my toes in my snow boots, holding on tightly to my snowboarding board…. People were forming a line, to get on to the ski-lift that would take them to where all the action was. Bhai and I were to jump on the two seater when our turn came… I started freaking out when the empty seat came rolling our way.. Bhai was like “Manna jump on it!!” I remember thinking “How?? I can’t even walk with all this gear on!!”Anyway, I managed jumping onto the ski-lift with bhai holding onto me tightly, to make sure I didn’t slip off.

We began moving towards the other side… I could see all of bhai’s Japanese friends waiting for us there, excitedly waving at us. Suddenly bhai said, “Manna, its time to jump off here! Jump!” I had never before felt so scared and stupid in my life. When I refused to jump, bhai pushed me off the ski-lift chair. I lost control and began slipping off the snow, bumping into random people at full speed, with my snowboard flying up in the air (thank God it didn’t injure anybody). Eventually I brought my body to a complete stop. I turned around and saw bhai’s Japanese friends trying really, really hard not to laugh… I felt like the biggest dork on the planet…

Later on I made the mistake of narrating this story to my family via email. Jokes started pouring in, and according to my cousin Sami, when the little Japanese people saw me lose control and skid their way.. They went running in the opposite direction screaming,
“Oh my God it’s Mannazilla! MANNAZILLA!! Run!! Save your lives!! Run!!!!”

Hence, from that day forward, one of my many nicknames became MANNAZILLA (inspired by Godzilla) Full credit for this goes to nobody other than my cousin Sami, the man whose one liners always make us laugh till our eyes tear up and our stomachs hurts!

Apparently I hadn’t learnt my lesson yet. I made the mistake of narrating another story in Sami’s presence. This story took place in Bangkok, on New Years Eve. My brother Raza loves food, and he loves trying new dishes and exotic cuisines. He will try eating anything that’s edible, as long as it tastes good. Amma, bhai and I were waiting to order at a restaurant when I decided to use the bathroom. Now the bathroom was a good 10 minutes walk away from the restaurant we were eating at. I kept strolling towards the bathroom, and eventually, I found it, used it and started walking back towards the restaurant.

When I arrived, my brother had already ordered our food, and now 2 main dishes were lying on the table, waiting to be eaten. Amma started eating the vegetable dish, and bhai dug in to the other dish on the table. It looked like an interesting dish; it appeared to be little peices of meat floating in a brown colored soup. Anyway, I took some out in my plate and began eating it. The texture tasted kind of funny, but I kept eating it and kept listening in on the conversation my bhai and amma were having… eventually I began thinking, “What the hell am I eating?!”

Manna: “Bhai what is this?”
Bhai: “Duck tongue.”
Manna: “Duck tongue???!”
Bhai: “Yup, tongues of duck, they taste good right?”

I felt like throwing up, and sure enough, when I looked down and studied my plate…. I could clearly see them.. little slippery duck tongues floating in a grimy, grainy soup. I was horrified. I made the gross mistake of narrating this story to Sami, my khalo and my husband a few days ago. This was Sami’s reaction:

Sami: “What?! Duck tongues?! So that means that you made out with a bunch of dead ducks!!”
Manna: “What?? Eww!! No!! That’s sick Sami!!”‘

Sami‘s comment had Jaffar cracking up. My khalo was trying not to laugh too hard, and I was just plain disgusted.

Sami: “I wouldn’t be surprised if a duck walked up to you today and said, “Quack quack! Hey I heard you’re easy!!”

Everybody laughed, including me, and I realized that somethings never change… I will always be the butt of all jokes in my family but truth be told… I love being the butt!

Sami’s Wedding

Sami‘s wedding took place a week before mine, and our respective mothers (who are sisters) were beyond excited and exhausted! Sami’s wife is Gen, a lovely French Canadian girl he met in Montreal, Quebec. They make the sweetest couple imaginable. I keep telling Sami that Gen is warmer and more loving than most Pakistani girls I’ve met. We were all happy for Sami as Gen fit into our family completely! She was funny, friendly and exceedingly polite.. and I will add that she was probably the most calm and composed bride I had ever seen. Gen looked great in eastern clothes, and believe it or not, at my mehndi Gen DANCED in a sari! Most of us find it hard to walk in saris but our bhabi Gen managed not only to walk in a sari, but also dance in a sari. I can’t thank Gen enough for dancing at my mehndi, for learning our choreographed desi steps and for looking so graceful through it all.

The dances, the clothes, the setup everything was beautiful. Sami even danced in a few dances at his own mehndi which was super cool! I can’t begin to describe the joy I felt when we brought Sami out, dancing around him like crazy, glowing with joy. I couldn’t believe it, Sami was getting married. I was reminded of the time when we brought Muneeza outside, under the same yellow shimmery cloth… she looked astonishingly beautiful, and now it was our Sami’s turn!

We all wore a shade of turquoise and pink. Gen’s parents Renée and Nicole thoroughly enjoyed the cultural feast of their daughter’s traditional Pakistani wedding. All in all, not only did Sami and Gen look beautiful, the whole ceremony was one that I’ll never forget. What made it even more special was bhai’s presence. My brother Raza had not been able to make it to Muneeza’s wedding 3 years ago, and it meant a lot to him to be able to witness Sami’s wedding. He even managed to learn the steps to one of the dances in a few hours time!

During Sami and Gen’s nikkah, I didn’t know whether to smile or cry. This was Sami’s nikkah, the cousin who chased Anoo and me around the house and beat us up when we were kids, the cousin who we fought with over which game we’d play during our many play sessions, the cousin who had now grown into a mature and intelligent gentleman, a cousin and friend we could all rely on.

I watched Sami sitting between the two maulvis who were exchanging prayers and statements in Arabic… And then Sami did it, Sami started NODDING his head! He turned from one maulvi to the other, acknowledging and pretending to understand what they were saying! I wanted to laugh my heart out! I remember thinking, “Haha, look at Sami… stuck there between the maulvis, with so many people staring at him, his palms all sweaty, he must be feeling mighty uncomfortable!” It was at that moment that I decided to smile and not cry.

Now Sami is off to study at INSEAD, the best business school in the world. I can’t begin to describe how proud I am of Sami. What’s more, I can hardly wait for Sami to be in France so I can visit him with Jaffar! During the first semester he will be in Singapore, which is closer to where bhai is, and I truly hope he’ll be able to visit Tokyo during his stay in Singapore. I’m also hoping bhai will feed him cat tongue or cow intestines or something. Either way, bhai’s a great host, and I think everyone should visit Tokyo atleast once in their lives…..

Come to think of it, I think it’s time I wrote a little about Tokyo. Tokyo is afterall my second home, it’s my boiling pot of heartwarming memories. Man I miss that city!

Much love,