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That TED was a fab experience is more obvious than the spelling mistake in this sentennnnnce.

It has taken me months to write this, not just due to poor time management but also the internal processing it has led my thoughts to.

When I was invited to speak at TED 2014 in Vancouver, it filled me excitement. It also made me very happy because it was a big moment for me to be speaking on that stage. But, it also made me terribly nervous. Ones where your heart is filled with dread and gallons of self-doubt that comes in talking about something that inevitably makes you look like you are the world’s loudspeaker, the token child to represent the many faces of being a Muslim woman. I was to talk about the Burqa.

But, what is a Burqa?

In madly simple words, my Burqa is the black cloak + the headscarf that I wear.

Now, is the face cover (niqab) not included in this Burqa thing?

Yes, it could be.

I am bored of people trying to dumb everything down to understand things on their dummy-level. We simply cannot apply the dummy theory to everyone–the level of dumbness differs in every culture. So, your dummy might be smarter than mine. Or not.

Jihad is a war when it’s NOT. Hijab is a scarf when it’s so much more than that. A Muslim woman is oppressed. Fat people are lazy. Skinny people are bulimic. Housewives are vain or frustrated. The list goes on.

The definition of a Burqa differs in various cultures. In mine, the niqab (face cover) is also part of it. But sans the niqab, my cloak + headscarf is still a Burqa. Instead of feeding the lazy dumbing down of our cultural words, I chose to stick to the word Burqa. And it confused many. YAY!

How on earth can we dumb a woman (Muslim or not) to exist in a singular way when we cannot even agree on one definition for her clothes? Tsk, tsk. While preparing for my TED talk, I changed it many times. Completely new drafts. In the start, I felt a huge amount of pressure. I was trying to write for others and it was increasingly difficult to focus on one idea. I felt like the focus was on me and I must empty my heart and voice in telling the world not to judge us using biased lens. But I was failing.

Finally, with the guidance of the TED team and the speaker coaches, I manage to arrive on my final draft. But somewhere within, I felt that the content was too simple. I remember how the speaker coaches continuously reminded me that this is all ‘new’ to the audience.

Walking in the TED space for the first time switched my Turbo-Butterfly mode on. The pressure was always there. There is something odd about walking past Sting and nodding a hello or walking past someone who you knew was famous but she could’ve been Martha Stewart or…Melinda Gates.

I felt at home among all these incredible people doing incredible things. Don’t judge me but I enjoy this feeling of being dwarfed by intelligence. Such a good feeling, especially when we seem to spend more time battling idiots on a regular day. In my mind, I kept comparing my talk to everyone else’s on stage. I guess it’s just being human.

My talk was on the fourth day of the five-day conference. On the third night, I was talking to my husband Tauqeer and telling him how nobody has approached me to chat this entire time. I cross these people so many times that many of those new faces have become familiar to me. But no one considers my presence–even though I was the only person in a Burqa in that conference. I felt sad that in a place like TED, if people reacted this way to me, there is not much hope outside of this space. And then Tauqeer explained it to me that perhaps this was the first time that they were meeting someone like me. That I perhaps unsettled their stereotype. I was satisfied with this explanation.

Next day, when I was on the stage to give my talk, I felt that pressure break on my shoulders. My talk was a passing moment in my memory. I don’t remember any of it. Yet, I wish I did not get so nervous. In my perfectionist mind, I am sure that I could have done better. But something magical happened. Suddenly, everyone somehow realised that I was human. That I could be funny. I could swear (oh yeah) and I was normal…like them. (Oh how mistaken they are!)

I think I’ve lost count the number of times I was told ‘Wow, we really weren’t expecting you to be funny…’

I was left feeling confused. I returned to London with a very mixed feeling. I felt that this story needs to be continued. That people need to hear more. And when it comes from the TED stage, it hits people differently. I did not want a polarised talk: one that alienated the West or the East. I think I did justice to that. But I truly wish that people can see beyond this Burqa. WE ARE JUST REGULAR PEOPLE! TRUST ME I AM NORMAL (EVEN IF MY CAPS LOCK KEY IS ON!)

Thanks for all the great feedback and comments. The talk isn’t out as yet. Once it is, I will add a link here. Here’s to normalcy…in whatever we wear! *clink* (there’s only Mecca Cola in the glass)

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