It's not every day that you wake up a bird. In fact, it's likely, not ever! If some statistician tried to run some probabilities on this situation, his STATA program would malfunction. Because the result would be 0/?.
And yet, in spite of these really incredible odds, that’s what happened to me on the morning of my 40th birthday.
I woke up, not as a two-legged primate, but as a winged creature fluttering around. And nothing glamorous. A sparrow.
I know…it’s pretty random. I could’ve been an exotic hawk or some high-flying eagle, but no. That didn’t happen. Through some cruel twist of fate, I was a small, plump sparrow with flimsy-looking wings.
Here I am thinking I went through immigration hell for nothing. Who cares what citizenship I am? I can fly anywhere I want to.
What's crueller is the inconvenience of it all at this age. Sure, if I was 2 or 3 years old, turning into a sparrow wouldn't be much of a big deal. I’d barely have known much at that fledgling age, and I’d not miss being a human much. In fact, I’d not have to go through all the drama that comes with being a human being. I’d be a bird, and that’s all I’d know.
But, fact of the matter is, I became a bird after already going through a whole lot, right when I turned 40!
See yesterday, I just got news that I was promoted to the Chief Legal Adviser at my Consulting Firm (a #5 in the Forbes List of “Top 500 Companies to Work For”). And that’s a big deal. I’m not one of those lucky people who had it all at birth, like those infuriating kids who get A’s without studying. Nor did I get success served on a sushi platter, I had to work real hard for it. In fact, it took me forty years–forty long, arduous years to get here.
To begin with, let’s talk about the education I had to go through: the 12 years of schooling, 4 years of college, and another 3 years of law school. And let’s never leave out the Standardized Tests.
But it didn’t end there. I had to work every summer making coffee for judges, campaigning for useless politicians, setting up a kickass LinkedIn profile, and tweeting about social justice-y things in the hopes that some white man in a collared suit would give me a job. All the while, many of my friends, trustfund kids, were discovering themselves in some ashram in India.
But there’s something I haven’t mentioned, and I think it’s about time I should.
Remember I told you I wasn’t born lucky? Well, it’s kind of true.
First, I was born a girl, and might I say it’s not the most privileged gender in this world. Second, I wasn’t born with the best of passports. I was born in Pakistan with a green passport that pretty much gets you go nowhere without selling your kidneys, and always ends up getting your tickets highlighted with three letters: “SSS.”
Anyway, for the longest, I’d my eyes on America because I wanted to be fancy an’ all. Little did I know then, that to get there, I had to do some infuriating paperwork. Lots of it.
You get the first taste of this paperwork through the college application process. It has a checklist of 20 items. Even then, you aren’t sure you’ll get in. Once you do though, you need to get through the dreadful visa application. The problem is that screwing this up meant a rejection that could shatter all my bright-eyed Pakistani dreams.
Here’s when luck did shake hands with me.
I got in, got a visa, and before you knew it, I was in America, breathing free in the Land of the Free!
The next twenty years in America made me an expert on paperwork. All sorts of it. Of course, autofilling on Google Chrome helped, but I already had it all down on my fingertips anyway. CV, cover letter, SSN application, IRS forms for an Alien Non-Resident for Tax Purposes, you name it. I was the Paperwork Pro. I’ve even filled out my life claims forms! Talk about over-efficiency!
By the time I was 30, I had already earnt a PhD in “Filling Forms for Foreigners” and decided I’d naturalize. I was too tired of being held up at border control even with the paperwork! So I thought, “Why not become American!”
Eight years, $10,000, and five lawyers later, I made it. From a visa holder, to a green card holder, to a permanent resident, I finally became an American citizen. Ta da!
This happened just two years back, so here I am thinking I went through immigration hell for nothing. Cause now, I’m a bird. Who cares what citizenship I am? I can fly anywhere I want to. No officer can say, “Go back to where you came from!” I’d love to take a shit on that paperwork now. Perhaps shit on the patrol officer too.
Just when I thought I had things under control, I realized I didn’t.
I fell in love with a Jew.
And, as a Pakastani, when you fall in love with a Jew, you basically prepare for a battle where you’re outnumbered 200 million to 1. (200 million, by the way, is the population of all Pakistanis in the world, all of whom will always have a say in who you marry.)
“What does he do?”
“He’s a chef.”
“He works in kitchens??”
“No, Mom! He’s a professional chef!”
“Does he drink?”
“Never touched alcohol.”
“What’s his name?”
“Elijah!!! He’s not Pakistani??”
“Uh, no. But he loves Pakistan.”
The harangue of questions make you wish you were a bird. But no, the All-Mighty Bird Converter wasn’t in a mood to help me out then. Just when you think it couldn’t get any worse, it does.
“Is he Muslim?”
“Is he Muslim??”
“He believes in God. The same one, I think.”
“But is he Muslim??”
Muslims like asking three times–it’s religiously customary. But when I was asked three times, it didn’t make me feel particularly blessed. I hoped to become a bird then, and fly away from this crime scene, but no. That didn’t happen. Instead, my human self with all its trivial problems had to stick around and deal with the litany of threats and emotional blackmails to get through the trauma of an interfaith union.
But after three years of counselling and $3,000 worth of antidepressants, I did get through it all, married to a Jewish chef! Touché!
To think that my human ordeals ended the day of my marriage would be an exercise in understatement. Because while you can learn to deal with Pakistani drama, you can never change your own gender, which means that your girl drama is far from over. See, from birth 'til… birdhood… I had to deal with it all. You name it.
Puberty. Acne. Menstruation. Boys. Stalkers. Prank callers. Relationships (or lack thereof).
Diets. Body Image. Work-Life Balance. Glass Ceiling.
And of course, the most important: Mastering the Female Orgasm.
But throughout this entire course of time, I wasn’t changed to a bird. Nope. That didn’t happen. I was changed to a bird when the worst was over. At 40. When my savings account had reached $300,000 and I bloody well couldn’t spend it.
Talk about bad timing.
It’s like whoever manages this Human-to-Bird-conversion is clearly a prankster. Instead of saving me all the trouble (of immigration, of reconciling an interfaith marriage, and of simply being a woman in quite definitely a man’s world), he chose to convert me at 40 when he can be amused by my rants! Sort of like watching me get struck by lightning three times over, after I've won the $1 million lottery.
So yeah, that’s where we are now. I’m a bird. A sparrow, to be precise. It’s been exactly thirty minutes since this discovery, and I'm standing on the ledge of my window, wondering if I can actually fly. I can now say, with certainty, it’s definitely easier seeing birds flying than doing it yourself. Especially if you’re a bird whose conditioned to be a human.
To be fair, I didn’t exactly have a bird mom to guide me through the whole flying process. Nor was I left with a “User’s Guide for Non-Flying Sparrows.”
Anyway, I feel I’ve clearly done too much whining, and too little flying practice. Right now, I really need to get my act together and fly off before my husband’s back from work. See, I haven’t done any cooking, and if he comes home hungry, I’m worried he might even cook me! Eeek!