Hi, I’m Shahnawaz. This is my blog.
Don’t feel bad if you can’t pronounce my name. Most people who say it for the first time butcher it beyond recognition. When I meet somebody new I usually have to spend the first few minutes delivering a phonetics crash course. I break my name down into easy syllables and make the person repeat after me, like teaching a baby its first words. It’s actually a very endearing act of bonding.
To make things easier, I usually introduce myself as ‘Shah’. It helps in most cases. But even straightforward monosyllables can leave some people hopelessly tongue-tied, in which case I’ll just give up and let the person call me whatever he or she wants. Let nature take its frightening course.
“Sher?? Did I get it right, Sher??”
I’ve actually given some serious thought into a name change, but I think that’s too much trouble. Instead, I’ve sworn off socializing altogether. I guess my parents knew early on I was always going to be a reclusive, introverted misfit anyway.
I blog under the pen name Hayat Shah, and though it may be easier on the tongue, I’ve chosen it for other reasons, which I won’t elaborate here.
I was born in 1984 in Singapore, an island off the tip of Peninsular Malaysia and a former British colony. I am of Pakistani descent, though I don’t speak a word of Urdu, and I’ve never set foot in Pakistan. At home we always spoke a mishmash of English and Malay, although I personally find it easier to speak and write in the former.
I grew up in a working class Muslim family, so expenses were tight, but I remember having a happy childhood. Things were a lot simpler back when computers were luxuries that only the rich could afford. I spent a lot of time flying kites, playing football, catching spiders and guppies, caring for stray cats, cycling and swimming.
My parents also got me interested in reading and would buy me books by the truckload. My favourite authors were Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton and Stephen King. I remember doing school projects at 10 and having to rummage through my encyclopedia set, trying to figure out which animals were endangered, or how far Pluto was from the Sun. It might be pointless to mention this, but my generation certainly grew up in a different era from kids today.
My family were rather conservative and would often stress the importance of religion. I would get scolded for not praying, or not checking the ingredients list for gelatin (a food ingredient derived from pork) whenever I bought a box of sweets, or not changing the channels quickly enough when a kissing scene came on the telly. My dad would bring me and my brother to the mosque for terawih prayers during the Muslim fasting month, my mum would teach us how to recite the Koran at home.
Given the care and affection I received, I guess it was always likely I would do well in school. And for a while I did. I scored good grades during my PSLE and managed to gain entry into a well established all-boys school (In Singapore the best schools are single-sex, perhaps why all the ‘smart’ people here never ever get married). But my transition into adolescence was not the segue I would have liked. I became distracted, lazy and rebellious, and any hopes of me fulfilling any potential I had quickly went downhill.
To cut a long story short, I barely made it to junior college, then flunked my A Levels two years later (meaning the option of entering a local university was closed off to me). Fortunately, the army straightened me out (who says NS is a bad thing) and when I retook my A Levels as a private candidate, I managed to land myself spots in NTU, NUS and SMU.
I graduated with a degree in Engineering in 2010, and started this blog soon after. My aim is to develop my ability to write, and hopefully one day I can publish a book or two. I try my best to write on a broad range of topics, although my main interests include Singapore, Islam, the Middle East, football, education, politics and social issues. I sometimes also indulge myself in a bit of literary navel gazing.