Nazia Kamali



I hear the clouds roar like angry dogs and peek out the window in the kitchen. The grey sky overhead renders the evening darker than usual. Roohi called this morning to inform me that she would be home for dinner, but who knows. The unpredictable weather of Dehradun and the ever-changing plans of my younger daughter always surprise me.

She visited every weekend when she worked as an assistant product manager at Knight FinTech. Turning into a freelancer has given her enough excuses to defer coming to see her mother. Romesh needs advice on investment, Hiten does not want to buy the pre-decided portfolio, Aarti’s partner wants to wait more before selling the shares. I tell her this is no way to live, she needs food, rest, family, relationships, but none of my words make a difference. 

I look out the window again. No sign of the girl.

Sighing, I unpack the spinach in a basket and turn on the faucet when Roohi waltz in, asking, “Hey, Mum, what’s for dinner?”

“Your sister is back to square one,” I reply, turning off the tap. The sloppy bun on the top of her head could do a good enough job of a nest for sparrows. Her shirt hangs loose on her body, the two open top buttons exposing protruding collarbone.

“Not the answer I was looking for.” She rolls her ever agile eyes and walks closer.

“Why don’t you clean up first?” I tell her. Instead, she sits on the platform, next to the spinach basket. Resigning to her will, I return to our previous topic. “I am worried about Inaya.”

“Don’t be paranoid. I talked to her last week, and she sounded fine.” Roohi runs her fingers through the spinach in the basket.

Fine. She sounded fine to you? In what universe is she fine? Have you not heard her refer to herself by her name? She stays shut in her room all day, all fucking day. She is doing all those fucked up things again. I scream in my head.

Roohi opens the cabinet, takes out a box and munches the crackers. 

“Don’t fill up before dinner,” I grunt and fetch the paper towel to dry the spinach leaves. 


Hurry up Shireen, walk fast. Inaya told you to come sooner. It’s freezing. Vapours are coming out of your mouth. 

Here, come inside, get under the blanket. Let Inaya turn up the heat. Why are you so late? Mum and Roohi turned off their lights ages ago.

Do you want something to eat? Mum made spinach bread rolls for dinner. 

No? Sure? Fine, suit yourself. 

Would you like to check the pages on the desk while Inaya fetches your coffee. Inaya has started writing again.



Sunlight streams into the living room the next morning. The clouds have cleared without giving way to a tempest. I wish I could say the same for my life. 

“Did you talk to her?” I ask Roohi as soon as she comes to the dining table. If she talks to Inaya, that girl might listen.

“Yes.” She pours tea in her mug. Steam clouds her face for a while.

“And?” I pass her a bowl of dalia

“Mum, I am not sure what you are so worried about. She seems alright to me.” Stray tendrils of damp hair dangle on her face. “I mean, she is as good as we can expect her to be.” She sweeps the hair back and sips her tea.

“Really? Is that what you think?” How can Roohi be so oblivious to the state of her older sister? “She is twenty-seven, back at her mother’s place with no job, no money, no friends, and no relationship. She stays locked up in a dark room, windows closed, and does God knows what. Some days I don’t see her even at mealtimes. She doesn’t talk to me, never tells me what’s going on, why she left her job or what she plans to do next.” The spoon in my hand splashes into the bowl in front of me.

“Stop meddling in her life. Stop trying to dictate what she should call herself and stop pestering her by asking questions she does not want to answer. Pressuring her to be like others is not going to do her any good,” Roohi empties her mug and slams it on the table. “She is an adult, and she wants to be a writer. Let her do that in peace.” 

I am her mother. I have all right to ask questions. And writing is not really a profession, it’s a hobby, she can pursue it with a job

Roohi walks out the front door before the words leave my mouth.


Shireen, do you think it’s a good idea to write an adventure tale for children? Something like The Chronicles of Narnia

Inaya thinks it would interesting, but Inaya is rusty. She writes like a nine-year-old. 

Why are you standing? Sit and have a look at these pages. If it weren’t for you, Inaya wouldn’t have quit that mundane job. They made Inaya slog like an ass and paid a quarter of what her work was worth. You are the only one who Inaya can talk to without feeling judged.


All I want is for Inaya to get out of that stuffy room and away from that godforsaken typewriter. Something got into her last week, and she bought that antique, rusted thing. She keeps punching it all the time, all the damn time.

I bang at her door and yell, “Inaya would you come out of the room and help me with the decorations? Stop clicking that typewriter. It’s noisy.”

Her ghostly apparition appears in the living room, wearing a slate grey t-shirt over slate grey track pants, and asks, “How many people are we inviting?”

I snap at her. “What are you made up of? Ashes?” When she was young, I was proud of her pretty face and symmetrical features. Whenever I took her to the playground, all the other mothers stopped to admire her, “Look at her eyes,” “What a pretty nose,” “Her curly hair is just perfect!” I felt elated. Now, the hem of her t-shirt ends right near the elastic band of her track pants, the middle of her stomach bulging underneath. At this rate, she will develop a double chin any day. 

Inaya turns to her left and nudges her elbow in thin air, “Shireen loves this colour. Don’t you, Shireen?”

I feel a full-blown punch in my gut.


Here, taste this choco-lava cake, Shireen. Mum ordered it from Elloras, our favourite bakery. Isn’t it delicious, the creamy filling just erupts in the mouth. Inaya can get more if you want. There is a lot left in the kitchen. 

Oh yeah, do you remember Mum’s friend, Anjali, the woman who looks at us with her eyebrows scrunched? She came. Inaya almost puked at her sight. Lady high and mighty, always telling Inaya to behave decently, not to bother Mum, be more like Roohi. Who does she think she is? 

Anyways, did you read the pages Inaya wrote today? What do you think? Will someone publish it?

Once Inaya is done with the novel, let’s go on a trip.



I have been to a therapist several times, dozens of times, but this is my first trip as a patient. 

He sits with his legs crossed, square spectacles resting on his nose bridge, asking questions about the past I am too tired to revisit, but I promised Anjali I would give this a chance. I wonder where to start when he asks me about myself. It’s hard to believe I was happily married once, albeit for a brief period.

“Their father left us when Inaya was five. I wasn’t working then. With two small kids, I had enough on my plate. It took me long to adjust, and it took the girls even longer to stop waiting for their father to return. He never looked back.” A stray tear rolls down my left cheek. I wipe it and continue, “I went out to earn, came back to do all the chores, you know, cook, and clean, and change the light bulbs, and pay the bills. I tried my best to keep tabs on the girls’ education, their assignments, projects, tests, and I was so tired… all the time… At first, I was relieved that Inaya had made a friend, but when I discovered who this friend was, everything that I had built in those past years seemed to have crashed. I felt like a sinner, like it was my fault that Inaya turned out this way. Had I been more attentive to her needs or perhaps less distant then she might have come to me instead of whipping out a person from her imagination.” I wipe my nose. “Roohi is two years younger than Inaya and was eleven when her sister was diagnosed. She matured fast for her age. Helped me deal with Inaya and her condition. I do not want to jump the same hoops again.” 

He hands me a box of tissues and slides his glasses over his nose bridge. “I understand, trust me, I do.”

Does he?

“Do you need water?” He looks around, flustered at the lack of facilities. “We have moved locations recently. I am still looking for an assistant to take care of these things.” He thins his lips.

“It’s okay. I’m fine, but the future, our future, especially Inaya’s feels blurred. It is tiring to even think about the entire ordeal that we have to go through again if we want Inaya back – the therapy and the medicines and workshops and group talk and whether new treatment they have developed in the meantime. I have talked to her old doctor and requested her to accommodate Inaya’s appointments in her schedule. In fact, we went to see her the day before yesterday, but it’s difficult to be sure of what happens next. I feel so incompetent.” I bury my face in my palms to suppress a sob.

“Let’s take things slowly. First, tell me what you want?”

“What else can I want other than for my daughter to get better?” Her life hasn’t started yet. She has to get better before it’s too late, before she loses all touch with reality.

“Of course, but that’s not what I mean.” 

The therapist looks at me like I am supposed to want anything other than my daughter’s well-being. Does he want me to tell him that I feel like running away from this entire mess? That I want someone to tell me what to do and how? I thought all would be well once they grew up, but life keeps throwing me underwater.

When I stay silent, he clarifies, “What do you want for yourself?”

“Myself?” How am I supposed to think about my needs? 

“Yes, you have a life as well, don’t you?”

I want to laugh. My life ended the day my daughter was diagnosed with schizophrenia. “I am not sure,” I tell him, wondering if he even knows what it is like living with a patient who might never get well. Some nights I can’t sleep, panicking over how it might ruin Roohi’s life as well. What if her boyfriend or his parents learn about Inaya’s condition? They say it is hereditary. What if Roohi never gets married because of Inaya?

“Why don’t you think about it, and we will take it from there in the next session.”


What is wrong with you Shireen? Why won’t you talk to Inaya? Why do you just sit on the couch with your nose in that stupid book? What’s so interesting about it? If you want to read, why not Inaaya’s story?

Shireen, Shireen, where are you going? What’s gotten into you? 

Look at Inaya… LOOK AT INAYA….



Anjali is the only one of my friends who has been with me through the good and the bad. She comes to see me almost every day and when she cannot, she phones. The rest of the classmates and friends drifted away. 

We sit in the living room, discussing our day with tea and samosas placed on the table in front of the couch. The large French window on the wall that I face overlooks a long-neglected garden. I have no time to tend to the dying roses and petunias, but the faint glimmer of the hills in the background still make the view outside beautiful. I hand Anjali the teacup and then pick mine. “Sometimes I think I’m a bad mother, I expect so much of Roohi. She has a life of her own. What if she hates me for stealing her childhood?” I hate myself for burdening her from a young age, but she was the only one who could get through Inaya.

“Roohi is a smart kid. She knows how much you have suffered.” Anjali takes a sip from the cup and puts her petite, pedicured feet upon the couch. Her husband bought her a spa package for her birthday. When she showed me the voucher, I burned with twin feelings of envy and shame. That man treats her like a queen, I envy her for it. But I am also shameful for harbouring such feelings – she has done everything to make my life better. She could have wallowed in the sorrow of being childless, instead she cared for my girls, accompanied them to school, took them out on picnics, bought them clothes, planned their birthdays. She did everything I couldn’t. She still does. 

“You always say that.” I pass her the samosa.

Anjali laughs and asks if I want to guilt-buy some kurtas for Roohi. “They are having a sale at Biba’s,” she tells me. 

“No. She is all grown up now. She buys her own clothes,” I smile, thinking about the only time I took my younger daughter, still in pigtails, to buy a gown for the annual function at her school. We could not agree on what to buy and ended up buying the red one of her choosing and a navy blue one that I liked. I could afford to splurge in those days.

We talk more about the weather and the new neighbours, their son who skateboards to school, and their noisy cat. Right before leaving, Anjali speaks in a small voice, “I hope you went to see your therapist. You need this as much as Inaya.”

I stare at my feet. 

She refrains from asking anything further.

After she leaves, I recline on the couch, my gaze fixated at the rotating ceiling fan, thinking about the therapists’ question.

What do I want?

What do I want?



To run away from all my problems.


Shireen, stop being a baby. Come out of that closet right now. 

Inaya said, come out.

This is not how we deal with our problems. 

If you are angry, talk to Inaya. Tell her what’s bothering you.



I have stopped counting the number of the sessions I have had with my therapist over the past several months, but my heart feels lighter and at peace. Anjali tells me I deserve it.

“Inaya has been seeing her doctor for about half a year now. She takes her pills regularly, does not stay confined in her room and I haven’t heard Shireen’s name in a long time. Honestly, it feels too good to be true, but I am relieved. Her obsession with that vapoury figment of her own imagination was ruining her life.” We start our session with a brief account of what’s going on in my life.

“And how is Inaya with you?” He looks at me through his glasses.

“Good. Not very good… still it’s better than when she was shut inside her room, glued to her typewriter, talking to thin air.” I force a smile.

“I am sure things will become better soon,” he smiles back and scribbles on his notepad.

“I hope so too.” I cross my fingers.


Mum has finally left for a long trip with some group of women. Roohi convinced her. 

Inaya promises she will find a way back to you Shireen. Mum and everyone else can try however hard they want, but Inaya is no fool. She knows who to keep close and how. They think those stupid therapy sessions and that cycle of medicines can separate us. Dad always said Inaya was his smart little princess who can do whatever she wants. And she wants Shireen. It might take some time, but Inaya will not rest until she finds her only friend.

About the Artist

Born and raised in Dehradun, a small valley on the foothills of the Himalayas, Nazia fell in love with writing at a young age. Her work can be read on FemAsia, Rigorous, CafeLit, and other online journals. Her novella, Multicoloured Muffler was published in the Anthology by Running Wild Press. She had also published her novel Beyond the Interregnum recently.