New Name

Featured Artwork: Upasana Agarwal



My 10-year old Urdu vocabulary didn’t include that word. I didn’t know what it meant. 

Other than its root, haram: not allowed, wrong. 

So I had figured the shrill woman who flung the word at me was insulting me. 

But I didn’t care. 

If me slapping her son for touching the scarf my mother had so gently pinned to the shoulder of my fancy wedding clothes and then touching my chest made me a harami, then fine. 

Because my mother taught me not to take anyone’s shit. 

Or, in better terms, stand up for myself. 

And why wouldn’t I slap the boy?

After all, he was the one who kept tugging at the scarves my cousin and I had pinned to the shoulders of our colorful wedding clothes, and when I had asked him to stop, he reached out with a grubby little hand and laid a hand on my chest instead. 

And so I had slapped him, and shoved him, snapping, “Don’t touch me!” 

He, of course, fell to the floor and started crying, before getting up and threatening to tell his mother. 

My cousin, much more docile but physically stronger than myself, tugged at my arm, doe eyes wide, “Rahemah, come on, we’re going to get in trouble.”

It was only at her words that my heart jumped to my stomach. If my mother found out I was roughhousing with a boy again she’d kill me. 

Alas, it was too late to run, as the boy, rivers on his face, brought his mother over. Rage etched the lines of her face, which only deepened as her son pointed me out. 

“You! You evil child! You harami!” She shrieked. “How could you do this to my son? He was only playing with you? Harami!” She repeated that word, looking for all the world like she wanted to grab me and throttle me for what I had done to her precious son. 

Which, wasn’t much. 

Petulant, I retorted, “He wasn’t playing! He was pulling our scarves and wouldn’t stop even when I said not to!” I glared at the boy. “And he touched my chest.”

The woman’s gaze dropped from my face to my chest — a glance I would soon learn to get accustomed to, as I was an “early bloomer” — and an apparent blessed one at that — before she snapped, “It was an accident, he was just playing”, though she whirled on her son and fixed him with a stare that was known to send even the most ballsy little brown kids running. 

It dawned on me then, that despite the stare the woman was giving her son, she was not going to reprimand him for what he had done. 

And so, I blurted, “He also tried following my cousin and I into the bathroom.”

That statement hit home, and she grabbed her son’s arm. I snatched my cousin’s wrist and bolted away while her back was turned. 

We spent the rest of the wedding dodging the woman, who was undoubtedly looking for us. 

I didn’t tell my parents until now, and for good reason. 

Because my beloved 4’10, 110-pound lion of a mother would sink her claws deep, deep into the woman and her son. 

For I learned just what harami meant. 

It was dirtier than calling me a bastard, though the closest translation would be just that. 

In calling me a harami:

My mother was made a whore. 

In calling me a harami:

She spat on my family’s honor. 

In calling me a harami:

She turned my existence into a stain upon the world. 

She turned me into something wrong, ugly, and unwanted. 

All because I slapped her son when he touched me when he shouldn’t have. And didn’t stop when I told him to. 

Because she couldn’t believe her son would do such a thing, I became the stain. The nuisance. 

Or at least she tried to turn me into it.


Life isn't worth living without some sort of passion, and I am impassioned through the topics I write about: including journeys of reclaiming the self, to protesting the injustices of discrimination.

One thought on “New Name

  1. I’m sorry you had to go thru that hellish experience.
    Never be afraid to stand up and be heard. I’m proud of you and your Mom. No man or woman should ever be allowed to touch you inappropriately or call you harami. It is a reflection of their character – not yours.

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