2016-06-30
Excerpted with permission of HarperSanFrancisco Publishers, copyright 2003.

I returned to Morgantown, as I have from all of my sojourns on the road, and home embraced me.

This path upon which I ventured when I left New York almost three years earlier, had taken its toll on me. It left me exhausted with my life and my identity dismantled. I didn't even have a bed to call my own. I was living off my parents' credit card. And I certainly didn't have a ring on my finger, a symbol of the divine love I thought I might find with a man. I had just about nothing but my own self and the great divine gift of creation within me. I considered this journey a success. The destruction of my self freed me to begin a new life.

When I began this trip, I had jetted to the Best Western in Santa Cruz, California, to learn the secrets of sexual eacstasy. For a little over four years, I confronted dualities, and they confronted me. Hinduism versus Islam. East versus West. Male energy versus female. I had to choose the values with which I wanted to live. True spirituality versus false opportunism. True love versus lust. The traditional female versus the liberated woman. Purity versus hypocrisy. Ego versus heart. Fearlessness versus fear. Reality versus illusion.

The darkness of Danny Pearl's murder made me confront the limitations of life on this earth if we accept the boundaries of duality. Even in death, Danny accepted neither the boundaries nor the labels others tried to thrust upon him. When his captors made him declare himself a Jew on the video that was to document his death, he did so with the nonchalance that characterized him in life.

I, too, had chosen a path in which I rejected labels and boundaries. To do so meant venturing into darkness that we could have avoided by choosing to live comfortably within the boxes assembled for us. Rejecting those boxes meant taking on great responsibilities. For Danny, the consequence was death. For me, it meant carrying a child within me, unwed. Only the fact that I did not live in a village in Pakistan or Afghanistan spared me a similar fate.

After I had returned to Morgantown, another Pakistani publication attacked me with the headline, "Who are Where is Asra Nomani?" It was the essential question of my identity that had been posed to me in Kathmandu. The lawyer defending Omar Sheikh, the man convicted of kidnapping Danny, said he planned to focus Omar's appeal upon me, calling me an agent for India's foreign intelligence agency. The newspaper claimed I had posed as a student of mysticism in an earlier trip to Pakistan, describing the trips I had made to Sufi shrines with my grandmother. The article traced my roots back to the state of Uttar Pradesh in India and led readers straight to the address of my childhood home on Cottonwood Street, listing our home phone number, too.

Almost three years ealier, I had danced around the answer to the question of my identity. This time I knew the answer. I was more than an American journalist born a Muslim in India and raised a free thinker in West Virginia. I was an independent being and spiritual warrior who wasn't going to be defined by labels. I knew my powers--sexual, spiritual, intellectual. I was a Tantrika. And, as I stood outside my childhood home, my belly swollen in front of me, my hand caressing the contour of my baby's body against my own, I saw Jaz, the mother cat who taught me an early lesson in my journey about the beauty of unconditional maternal love.

I smiled and yelled out to her, "Jaz, I'm going to be a mother, just like you!"

I was going to have a hillbilly baby born at West Virginia University's Ruby Memorial Hospital. My family embraced me. My father, a man who had to face so many new realities because of his daughter, had sent me a simple e-mail when my mother told him about my pregnancy: "I love you." His fingernails were coated with paint as he finished a room that would be home to me and my boy. My mother, who once stood at a railway station shocked at losing her veil, guided me to release myself from the shame and alienation of a culture she had rejected because of its oppression of the female spirit. "You are free," she told me. My brother, a survivor of the demons of darkness, shook my hand and said, "Asra Boo, I love you. Everything will be all right." Bhabi, my sister-in-law, walked with my in the moonlight, burdened by battles in India, trying to save a newlywed sister whose mother-in-law terrorized her, arguing with me that I didn't abandon love by choosing to live without shame. Samir, my nephew, gave me the perspective I needed to appreciate the divine nature of the baby within me, telling me, "Babies are a little bit of heaven brought down to earth." And Safiyyah, my niece and guru, curled up beside me as I slept on her bed with clouds upon the sheets so I would know I wasn't alone.

With all the encouragement and love, I lived with a deep sadness. The father of my child had continued to live with secrecy about the baby. He had told me in the springtime that he'd told his parents about my pregnancy. Indeed, he hadn't told them, only recently admitting the truth to his mother. After coming to Morgantown, I chose to release myself from the lies. I called his father to tell him that I was carrying his grandson. "You're brave to tell me," his father said. "But I don't want to talk about it. I'm going now. Bye-bye." With a defining click, he hung up on me. Two days later, I received an e-mail from the father of the baby. "You've ruined everything now, Asra. I know now that I will never love you."

I knew, though, that I had chosen to be free. "You have chosen to live honestly in a culture of such hypocrisy," Bhabi told me as we walked in the crisp early autumn air. I had that luxury, and it would be my horror if I squandered it. I realized that I didn't have to wonder about the merits of another's path compared to my own. The path of others were simply different from mine.

My mamoo who told me to take the bull by the horns to tackle India told me that he fully supported the baby and me, but wondered if I should construct a story to make the baby acceptable to our conservative subcontinent society. "Maybe that he has been adopted? That the baby was born with artificial insemination? That you married the father and then divorced?"

I laughed. Maybe a better story would be that I conceived in a temporary marriage with a jihadi who became a martyr, fighting against the West? I was not hurt by his suggestiosn because I knew he didn't feel shame. Still, I didn't sleep well the night after our conversation. The next morning, my mamoo called me again. "I'm sorry," he said. "You must simply tell everyone, 'This is my baby.' End of story."

In the early morning, as I pen my final words of this journey that took me around the world but, most important, within myself, my little boys stirs within me. I have chosen to name him Shibli, the Arabic name of my ancestor who was a Muslim scholar. The name means "my lion cub," and his second name will be Daneel, a derivation of the Hebrew name Daniel, meaning, "God is the judge." For me, it is true. Our judgments and definitions upon this earth are capricious and arbitrary. There is a magic more sublime and divine by which we can exist.

"Jaan!" I call out to him.

This is the name of affection that the living soul within me deserves, for jaan is life.

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