Discover more from tahia's tender musings
05 tender musings: to live a life of integrity
In this day & age, with access to so many versions of these “aspirational lives” we are supposed to want, what does it mean to simply live a life that is awe-inspiring even in its relative obscurity?
"...i say: i am not a citizen or a refugee. and i want one thing, nothing more, one thing: a simple, quiet death on a day like this, in the hidden heart of the lily, maybe compensation for a lot or for little, for a life measured in moments and departures. i want a death in this garden. no more…no less." - mahmoud darwish, The Rhythm's Passion
إِنَّا ِلِلَّٰهِ وَإِنَّا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعُونَ, inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un
Indeed, to Allah we belong and to Him we return.
Before I went back to Bangladesh last year for the first time as an adult, I used to wake up startled by dreams that seemed so vivid; of a phone call from a distant neighbor in my grandparent's village that had gone to give some sweets and then found that my nana or nani had passed. After I finally got to return, a decade since I had last seen them, and held my nana and nani’s soft and frail hands in mine, I silently swallowed the acceptance that their time was coming to an end, and being fearful of that would mean not being present for them. This trip remains etched on my soul for a deep part of me knew it would be the last time seeing one of my grandparents, I just did not know who or when. I fundamentally understand and accept the cycles of life and death. In many ways, I find it extremely beautiful and poetic; to let go of something is to make room for more to emerge. Like the waxing and waning of the moon, it is natural and I surrender to it. There are too many situations in life we seek to control, this is not one in which we get a choice. I feel genuine excitement about the stories I’ll get to tell my children about their nana, the way his quiet fortitude shaped me during the years he lived with us in Queens during my childhood. The way that every morning, he would ask me to pull up Jugantor Bangla Patrika (a daily newspaper from Bangladesh) on our large PC monitor so that he could stay up to date on local news. He couldn’t operate a computer, and I couldn’t read Bangla, but it always worked out just fine.
The way he had a disciplined routine every morning of a shower and prayer, adornment of a crisp and ironed white kurta and prayer cap, a walk around the Elmhurst neighborhood with his cane (sometimes walking me to school), and returned home to a chai and an hour or two of reading the newspaper or Quran. The way we would sit side by side on the couch, our respective books in hand. He didn’t ask me many questions, just demonstrated a resolute strength, wisdom, and stability that I really needed at a time in my childhood that felt so in upheaval because of the everyday difficulties of growing up making ends meet in New York City. His shoes were always impeccably clean and put on using a long wooden shoe horn, large and full gray beard brushed thoroughly, not a single fingerprint on his glasses. He did not come from much, nor did he leave this earth with “much”, but he leaves a legacy of us – and that is not a responsibility I take lightly.
january 2022, sylhet bangladesh
My maternal grandfather, MD Abdul Hakim, died on Friday peacefully in Sylhet, Bangladesh surrounded by my nani, and his children, my mother, uncle, and aunt. Nana was born in a small village in the northeast before Bangladesh became a country. We’re talking huts and mud and agriculture and no roads. He was the eldest son of a poor family of eleven in the Bengal of famines, and had to become the breadwinner for his family when he was just a teenager. He dedicated his life to the healing of others, managing to become so literate through curiosity that he became the de facto pharmacist for his village, driving into the city on his motorcycle to bring back medicines for a community that had little to no access to knowledge like this. He put his siblings through school and did his best, quietly, in a society that deems our stories invisible. My parents brought him and my impeccable grandmother to the US when I was young, to presumably give him more “access” to healthcare and such here, but he was never able to be his full self here. The self that was curious, mobile, and independent. The self that ensured the quality of every item entering his house and his family’s bellies, from the cuts of fish from the fishmonger that came door to door to the dates bought from the market. My nana knew his truth, that while his daughters created a life for themselves in that “all-mighty, land of freedom and excess” United States, his life was back home (though more difficult in its own right), and he eventually made that resolute decision to return after a few years.
My brother worded his impact beautifully:
“Like most of us, he only knew the standards of success of his time and he did his best to meet and exceed them. He made himself financially self sufficient in a country riven by war and genocide. And he succeeded. Today his children and grandchildren live in the UK and US, educated, healthy, and content. His life, alongside that of my equally, if not more impressive grandmother, by all accounts, was a triumph even if he never quite recognized it; many who climb as high as he did, both forget what the ground looks or felt like and fail to appreciate the view.
He was a colossus of a man. He was charismatic, brilliant, profound. He was elemental and imperious and warm and reassuring. He was talented beyond measure and he radiated strength through faith, in both God and himself. I feel like his soul was chiseled from marble. One of the things I’m most proud of is that he treated me with the respect of a peer from the time I was a teen. I knew him less as a grandfather than as a friend I revered. When he left the U.S. for good to return to Bangladesh, he gave me his prayer cap. It remains my most treasured possession, even if grappling with what I inherited from him—good and bad—is a lifelong project.
I’m ok. I’m grateful and awed by his life well lived. I’m sharing this because I want you to know that he lived. That he accomplished great things. I want you to know that he built something that continues to nourish people today. That he was a man born in obscurity who refused to be limited by his circumstances and had enough faith, fortune, help, and ability to transcend them. That his story might resonate with you and remind you of the awe-inspiring but historically anonymous people in your lives. I want people to know my grandfather tried to be a good man and was most certainly a great one. That I loved him and drew strength from his example. That knowing his journey was possible made me believe mine would be too.”
Nana was a man I respected dearly, and one who never once questioned my path, ability, and intellect, something that is not just rare in the generation of men that he comes from, but even from men I meet in my life now. In some ways, though he functionally knew very little about me nor my adult life when I saw him in his last year of life, I felt seen and understood by him. Through the way he lived his life and made decisions, he affirmed and demonstrated what it means to live a life of integrity. Those are the teachings and lifelong questions I take with me from him – how can I live life in accordance with my highest principles and values, even when capitalist, societal expectations challenge it? With kindness, honesty, open-heartedness, and care for quality? That all I can do is try my best, and be utterly myself, without compromising, martyring, or sacrificing my needs and boundaries.
I think a lot of things in our society compromise one’s ability to live a life of integrity – material concerns, ego, competition, greediness, the striving for ‘success’ at the expense of others, the pursuit of fame.
In this day and age, with access to so many versions of these “aspirational lives” we are supposed to want, what does it mean to simply live a life that is awe-inspiring even in its relative obscurity? That is tender, and full of love, wholesomeness, and goodness? At this particular crux of life - late twenties and thirties, I see people compromise craft, commodify activism, live inauthentically to mold to an industry or network … consumed by the desire for fame, social capital, fat paychecks, recognition. It is at a point that transactional motivations behind actions obscures the ability to truly recognize each other, let alone oneself.
My dear friend Angie told me, death has a way of putting things into perspective, and in many ways, my nana’s death gives me the reality check to ensure my open heartedness and emotional capacity is spent with discernment and only on what nourishes. I said no without guilt to a lot of things in February, an ongoing learned practice. Hangouts, parties, meetings, etc. I feel more empty by the end of a hollow social exchange of pleasantries. I
desire, no, I require closeness, authenticity, and intimacy. It means a smaller circle of trusted loved ones and more alone time, and I am all for it in 2023. I also recently revisited Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz, shared with me a few years ago by my sister and bestie Raquel, and am practicing and putting into practice “be impeccable with your word.” To speak with integrity, say only what you mean, and to use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love. In many ways, this is what I hope this newsletter and limited space of writing can continue to serve to be for myself, and for others. To share here with integrity, with no other desire than to muse out loud, agitate us towards a deeper sense of self and responsibility towards the community around us, and find resonance in each other’s shared and messy human experiences. Grateful for anyone who has reached out to me with stories about your own families, on immigration, on love, on justice, on mental health, on finding your path and learnings in this exploitative state. Thank you for reading about my Nana and my disorganized reflections. I want you to know that he existed, and he leaves behind so much power.
Rest in peace, MD Abdul Hakim (true date unknown, 1942 - March 3rd, 2023).
…With these monthly-ish tender musings aside, I’m eager to share another round up of grassroots people’s movements, political education resources, and the vibrant arts & culture I am fortunate to be held by. If anything here resonated with you, please let me know, forward to a friend, and feel free to share on socials (Instagram: @tahia.co)
with much love and solidarity,
Tahia Islam is a cultural and community organizer, political activist, stylist, and educator from New York City.
Let the grassroots movements lead us and inspire us…
On March 6th, we celebrate Ghana’s independence from British colonial rule. In 1965, Ghana’s Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah published, Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism. Nkrumah documented in great detail the way in which European and North American multinational firms – in close collaboration with their governments – continued to smother the aspirations of the new nations of Africa. He wrote, neocolonialism seeks to fragment Africa, it means “power without responsibility and for those who suffer it, it means exploitation without redress.” Check out this co-publication between TriContinental and The Socialist Movement of Ghana’s Research Group on US Military Bases in Africa and the Future of African Unity.
In East Palestine, Ohio, the derailment of a Norfolk Southern train spilled hundreds of thousands of pounds of toxic chemicals into the air, soil and water, revealing the failing infrastructure hurting everyday, working class people in what is one of the richest countries in the world. Organizers released a set of community demands, including the private company of Norfolk Southern to pay 100% of the costs for cleanup, testing, medical monitoring, and that taxpayers should not be footing this bill and environmental tragedy!
Feb 24th marks one year since the beginning of the War in Ukraine. As a young person in America, I have known only a life in which the US has instigated and perpetuated war around the world, from Iraq to Libya, to advance its own global imperial interests. The United States has sent over 100 billion dollars in weapons and other military aid to Ukraine to fight a NATO proxy war against Russia. Most of the Global South, six billion plus people, oppose this war!!!
Tesla workers in Buffalo organize to unionize! The manufacturer and its owner, Elon Musk, have resisted unionization efforts for several years. The National Labor Relations Board has found that Musk previously fired employees who have been involved with union campaigns, as well as threatened employees with loss of stock options if they unionize. On Feb 16th, around 40 Tesla workers were illegally fired right after announcing their union Tesla Workers United. Support these workers by donating here!
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China releases an immensely politically clear report on US Hegemony and its Perils! From military hegemony, to technology monopolies to cultural spreading of false narratives…read the entire thing, word by word.
From music that acquaintances beautifully created, to tracks friends shared with intention, to rediscovering while digging at record shops, to IDs from the dance floor during this past month’s Dweller Festival, this February’s playlist was on repeat and held me through a lot.
Other sonic explorations I’m enjoying:
Soundtracking much of the writing of this newsletter, NTS Radio Soup to Nuts: Ryuichi Sakamoto - Anu delves into the prolific Japanese composer’s discography in chronological order for 2 hours. Her site goes deeper into the thoughtful music research gone into this episode and many others.
“Phiriya” - Enayet. Created with friends of Daytimers UK, Provhat Rahman, and with Dhaka-based instrumentalists, this piece draws equal inspiration from classical Indian raga, Nazrul Sangeet (a 20th Century Bangladeshi canon of revolutionary songs), and the diasporic blends of the 1990s/2000s Asian Underground movement. Even the “Tea Stain” aesthetic of the vinyl (pre-order it!) is so mindfully created.
For your bookshelf…
Inspired by this month’s Dweller Festival held in Brooklyn, celebrating the Black roots of electronic music, I picked up Assembling a Black Counter Culture by DeForrest Brown Jr. A historical study, he charts the development of techno’s cultural movement as a unique American art form of the African American working class, revisiting industrial Detroit’s techno roots and key players through the 1980s. It expands into influences on the UK, British electronic music, and European techno.
On its radical roots, in the 1990s, “Underground Resistance’s musical output, ‘was intended to destroy record companies, corporations, anything we felt was trying to get a hold of us’. As The Wizard, [Jeff] Mills felt pressure from radio stations to stop playing tracks from the political hip hop group, Public Enemy, in his sets, to avert possible controversy in disseminating the group’s radical Black political messages, especially following their album Fear of a Black Planet.”
Coming events to put on your calendar…
MARCH 11-12, International US-Cuba Normalization Conference (held at Fordham Law this year) - an annual convening of activists and organizers to educate, organize, and mobilize against Washington’s brutal and criminal economic and political war against Cuba. Many dear comrades throughout this programming. Some shout outs, tune in online or attend in-person:
My loved ones, Miya Tada and Angie Langdon will be in conversation on Youth and Cuba Solidarity.
Catch the screening of Cuba in Africa directed by Negash Abdurahman. I got a chance to screen it at The People’s Forum last year, and be in conversation with the director who has dedicated his work to highlighting Cuba’s solidarity with Angola.
MARCH 11, 1-8p - Spring Equinox People’s Market | The People’s Forum - my favorite convening of artists and makers in NYC. Vendors selling art, ceramics, handmade jewelry, apparel, teas, homemade goods and more.
MARCH 11, late | Basement - Marcellus Pittman, Dee Diggs, and DJ Raqx in the Studio!
MARCH 11, 10p-late - Rare Frequency Transmissions | Mood Ring - Duneska, Tammy Lakkis, Zara Dekho, and Dynoman
MARCH 18 - PEACE IN UKRAINE: SAY NO TO ENDLESS U.S. WARS | Washington D.C.
RALLY with us at the White House coinciding with the 20th anniversary weekend of the criminal U.S.-invasion of Iraq. Fund People's Needs, Not the War Machine! Join the bus from NYC!!!
MARCH 19, 5p-late - musclecars all night, Coloring Lessons Residency | Nowadays - 5 years of the beloved NYC party, label, and radio show. From producer/DJs Brandon Weems and Craig Handfield, each party is ensured to be a safe space for their community as a whole to come together, all while sharing the music of their roots. While the party and sound is not genre specific, it is heavily focused around house, disco, jazz, and soul, embracing the musical elements of their black and brown ancestors.
MARCH 24, 10p-late | Elsewhere - Caótica with Ushka, Riobamba + MISSCHIEF COLLECTIVE (Kfeelz b2b DJ Raqx)
MARCH 25, 10p-late | Good Room - London's Anu and Brooklyn's very own Lovie join forces in the Bad Room. Both well loved as online radio hosts, (Anu on NTS and Lovie on The Lot Radio), the two are sure to bring a funky, sweet, eclectic, and energizing selection to the dance floor as they play hour for hour all night long. ☆ Can’t wait to dance to the selections of sweet friends!