diya. a lifestyle blog

shedding light on south asian beauty

welcome to diya | a lifestyle blog


I’ve been debating about starting a blog for several years now and when I look back, I have no good excuse for why it hasn’t happened. So here we are with diya | a lifestyle blog where I discuss all things South Asian.

As a Pakistani-American, I’ve watched our collective community grow over the last few decades in the U.S. and there are a lot of wonderful ‘things’ I’d like to discuss on this blog.  A particular focus will be on highlighting people and places. People who are of South Asian descent that I find thought-provoking and inspiring. Individuals who I think we (I) can grow and learn from, and other fun stuff along the way.

I hope you find this blog engaging, educational, and light-hearted.

Thank you for stopping by.


Featured post

new year, potential new job

January remains my favorite month of the year and others seem to agree. It marks a clean state, a fresh and exciting new start, while carrying the holiday seasons energy forward. It also marks mine and my husband’s birthday month which is filled with good fun.

With the same premise as “a clean slate,” people often see January as the best month to jumpstart their job search. With new budgets and projects in place, organizations begin to ramp up on hiring, which means many new opportunities!

Here are my tips for developing your 2017 new job game plan.


Social Media Presence (LinkedIn, Facebook, and others)

  • Refine and become more active on Linkedin.
  • Send messages to colleagues, peers, and desirable contacts.
  • Use LinkedIn to identify key contacts and partnerships that may be worthwhile.
  • If local: seek contact information and arrange for coffee, lunch, dinner engagements. Push your agenda/goals/objectives!
  • If international: seek contact information for whatsapp conversations and potential meetings in the future. If appropriate, arrange for in-person meetings during your next visit out, or plan a “networking” specific trip.
  • Existing network – Contact former colleagues, partners, and business professionals for guidance/solicit advice, and ask for help in being connected to their professional circles that you may benefit from. Every single touch point is valuable and most people are more than willing to make introductions.
  • Recruiters – Contact and reach out to recruiters that are aligned to your business area/expertise. Send messages to arrange discussions. The hustle is critical.
  • Continue to keep in regular contact and actively check Linkedin at least twice a week, if not every day.

Physical Presence:

  • Travel to meet well-developed contacts at various destinations in an effort to build stronger partnerships and push your goals/objectives.
  • Try to arrange for interviews/meetings during those trips out.
  • Send follow up messages along with resume information after interactions.
  • Be yourself – Be honest, genuine, and transparent. If you are moving into a new space or industry, be honest and ask for guidance. Leverage new people as sounding boards for what you are thinking. Don’t come in unprepared, otherwise it won’t be as fruitful of an interaction. Everyone should feel valued and not used – its a two-way street.
  • Ask them to introduce you to relevant, appropriate contacts that could help you achieve your goal or like-minded people.
  • Recruiters – Contact several headhunters with your personal narrative – follow up on a weekly basis via a check-in call.
  • Existing network – Contact former colleagues, partners, business professionals for guidance, solicit advice, and ask for help with reaching new people in the external network.
  • Networking events – Are there any in your local area? If not, travel to attend one where people of your caliber are in attendance or of the same industry/interests.
  • Volunteer – Everyone has a passion, a calling. Be sure to find an organization that you can use your time at (even once a month goes a long way) to make a difference and make new contacts. This is something employers love to hear about and reflects well on the well-rounded individual you are.

grand trunk | washington, d.c.

Grand Trunk (GT) is one of the oldest and longest roadways in the world that connects south asia to central asia. With its impressive location in the heart of Washington, D.C. by Penn Quarter and the White House, this Pakistani restaurant is worth a trip out. After several trips to Grand Trunk, I’ve got my order down – a classic mango lassi, waffle fries, and a fried chicken naan burger with a side of mango chutney. Imagine the softest fried chicken between a toasty naan bread drizzled with fun condiments. The mango lassi is sweet and refreshing, but could also serve as a dessert.

Other family favorites? They have a kid’s option! Cheese naan, waffle fries, and a beverage. My husband’s favorite? Lahori chicken curry cooked with ginger, garlic, tomatoes, cumin and crushed coriander with a bowl of brown or white rice or the classic Grank Trunk Naan Burger made with beef.

After many visits, the quality of the food remains. Mentioning the food is certainly important when talking about a food spot, but not addressing the décor would be an injustice. While known as a “casual dining spot” in Washington, D.C., perfect for a quick and delicious lunch, the experience is opulent. From the brown and red exterior, branded lighting, plasma tv’s to a slew of swarovski crystal chandeliers and nail-studded leather furniture, the description “grand” or “grandiose” would be accurate.

This is a family-run business with delicious food, quick and great service. The outdoor seating makes it an easy sell for a warm day in the city. I plan to take a long nap on the massive futon outside the next time out.

Grand Trunk | 641 Indiana Ave NW, Washington, DC 20004 | M-S: 11 AM – 10 PM 

a quackin’ good time with ilyas & duck

Over the weekend, my husband and I took our three year old son Hamza to listen in on what we thought would be a book reading of the Ilyas & Duck series in Mclean, VA. We were blown away by a well executed event that was more than just a book reading. I’d say it was a full on performance with visuals, confetti, costumes, and fun branded snacks. There were activities for the kids in advance of the reading: color your own Ilyas & Duck rocket ship, make your very own button for the little #1 fans to wear, and to continue the momentum, lots of fun visuals.

Omar Khawaja, the author and editor of the Ilyas & Duck series, re-enacted elements of his books and read aloud to a captive audience of toddlers, big kids and parents. He was in full character and enthusiastic (he even broke a chair (unplanned), ha!).

If you haven’t picked up the series for your own home, friends, relatives, or neighbors, you’ll be silly not to. Ilyas and Duck: Search for Allah remains my favorite. We came across the book at our son’s Montessori School for the very first time over the summer and knew it belonged in his collection. What an excellent reminder that God (Allah in Arabic), is all around us. A Zakat Tale, Khawaja’s latest book, reminds the Muslim reader of the importance of Zakat to the life of any Muslim. The detailed visuals were great references even for me. Ilyas and Duck: Fantastic Festival Eid-ul-Fitr makes you appreciate the growing Muslim community around us. Long gone are the days of celebrating Eid with just a handful of family and friends, eidi in an envelope, and returning to school where know one really knew where you were. Here are the days of an Eid celebrated in its full glory, made up of fun, food, festivities, and family.

Don’t know where to find Ilyas & Duck? Be sure to visit the Ilyas & Duck Facebook page and check out for copies! (Ilyas and Duck: Search for Allah) (Ilyas and Duck: Fantastic Festival of Eid-al-Fitr)

(Ilyas and Duck: A Zakat Tale) – not yet available on Amazon.



coffee with sam’n Iqbal | creative solutions for today’s world

I had a chance to connect with creative guru, Sam’n Iqbal, over coffee last week. It was one of the most energizing conversations I’ve had in quite a long time. For one, Sam’n and I speak a similar language – both in the creative business of marketing, communications, product development, social media consultancy, and both with a background in fashion and events.

It was a pleasure to talk shop and meet someone with such energy and fervor for the work  they do. With several interesting projects in the works for Sam’n, I focused our discussion on one of her many accomplishments, Allah to Z: An Islamic Alphabet Book. Sam’n is the author and editor of Allah to Z, a children’s book, inspired by her eight year old daughter, Junnah. With a strong passion for education, her goal was to develop a tool that would lead to open and interfaith dialogue. This book was not only intended for the American-Muslim, young reader, but to support non-Muslims in deepening their understanding of Islam in a fun and meaningful way. Along the book, the reader would discover similarities and parallels between Islam and other faiths. Having read Allah to Z several times myself, there were still religious references that I was learning for the very first time.

Success of Allah to Z for Sam’n meant ” a world where she’s bridging the gap in where we go from here, today, and right now. Given this time of extreme polarization and anti-Muslim sentiments, children’s books are one way to educate young minds and their families. There is something for everyone to take away.”

The long-term value for her is “in seeing the change people have after reading the book. Seeing a better world through the eyes of our children and my children.”

Allah to Z addresses parallels of other faiths and helps the reader to understand the fundamentals of what Islam is – a religion of peace and devotion to God (or Allah in Arabic). My three year old son, Hamza, can attest to the quality of the book as he adores Allah to Z for its fun rhymes and colorful narration.

I look forward to seeing what other inspiring projects come to fruition from Sam’n in the months ahead.

To learn more about Allah to Z or to purchase a copy for you or your loved ones, go to or shop here:





a chat with sahar dada

I had the opportunity to meet Sahar during her private exhibition, just outside of Chicago, several years ago. It was the first time we were collaborating and meeting, and she was delightful and kind. Sahar is undoubtedly a rising talent out of the greater Chicago area. She is gifted with a discerning eye, desire to help her clientele achieve their vision, and works with a sense of integrity that has helped establish her as a designer.

Recently, I spoke with Sahar by phone to discuss several things — focusing on her growth as a designer and the new projects she’s working on. Since that in-person meeting several years ago, Sahar has established two distinct brands – Sahar Dada, a modern womenswear line of timeless and versatile silhouettes, and Ari and Oak, a custom, formal, bridal line, she’s launched with her talented mother and business partner.

“The Sahar Dada woman is experimental, seeks a great quality product, and is ageless. Ten years from now, she should be able to find each piece in the same condition as the day she brought it home.”  

Just a few short weeks from now, Sahar’s fall and holiday collection will be available. It’s reflective of her journey as a maturing designer – made up of edgier cuts, offers a “different dimension” than her previous collections, and is a darker color palette. Her beautifully crafted blouses, cocktail dresses, and embellished skirts would be a perfect complement to that moto jacket. Swoon.

Sahar started her first collection in 2010 with a focus on eastern attire. In 2013, she began a line of modern and western apparel for women. While based in Chicago, IL, Sahar has a large following in Dubai, UAE, and designs products for an international audience. In only a few short years, Sahar has built a client base to include owners of recognizable sports teams, philanthropists, fashion bloggers, and brides and bridal parties who have been featured in Grace Ormonde.

Success for Sahar means consistency, longevity, versatility, and most importantly, the desire to make pieces tailored to her clients vision.

Be sure to add her to your digital rolodex of fashion house contacts.

View the Sahar Dada collection at

| Instagram-@sahardada | Snapchat-sahardada | Ari and Oak – Instagram @ariandoak |

timeless gems | sapna creations

Centuries ago, India was ruled by the moghul empire. Royalty of this period had refined taste in several things including jewelry, food, art, and architecture. Jewelry was a way of differentiating elite families from one another and hired artisans crafted unique gems for them to wear to social engagements and in everyday life. It reflected their wealth, power, and prestige in society. Jewelry was also an investment (especially gold) the way land or stocks are today. While people still value family heirlooms as a representation of their lineage, these pieces aren’t worn in everyday life. Though that would be kinda fun, no? A diamond encrusted broach to accompany that Jcrew suit? Ha. One place where the fancies can still be seen is in Bollywood – especially in period films.

My mom’s keen eye and love for gems has sparked an interest in me. My wedding was an opportunity to wear family heirlooms that my mom had been collecting since I was a child. Some new pieces were also purchased to coordinate with my wedding clothes.

With an interest in old world and regal craftsmanship, I knew I had to work with a modern jeweler that was tried and tested, authentic and kind, but that also carried old world gems – Sapna was that for me! Sapna is the curator of Sapna Creations, a blend of traditional south asian jewels with modern luxury and charm. I purchased most of my wedding gems from her collection and was blown away with its beauty and elegance. Not only is Sapna the kind of person you’d want to work with, but she’s the kind of person you’d want to build a longstanding friendship with too. As pleasant and beautiful as she is, she’ll serve as your consultant to help you select pieces that makes sense for your lifestyle and that are versatile and practical. She will talk you out of pieces, knowing that certainly pieces will be less worn than others – and that’s awesome.

Whether you’re looking for semi-precious stones, a polki or kundan wedding set, emerald string or a classic diamond solitaire, Sapna has all of it. Based out of Centreville, VA, Sapna has run her business for over a decade. She has everything to do with my wedding jewels so take a look for yourself.




sana & safinaz – the design duo behind sana safinaz

Sana Hashwani and Safinaz Muneer make up Sana Safinaz, a revered, time-tested fashion brand in Pakistan. In the last few decades, Sana and Safinaz have established a business that includes retail chains and a large ecommerce presence. They supply ensembles to women around the globe. Having recently dressed Oscar Award winner Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, their workmanship was visible to the international audience and with that came a great deal of acclaim and scrutiny. Sana Safinaz have understood what the majority of their clients, made up of mainly women in Pakistan, want – they’ve understood the cultural, social, and religious barriers to many designs that would not work in an Islamic country. What they have been able to do is construct garments that are luxurious, high-quality, and high fashion through delicate fabrics, embroidery, color and pattern.

I’ve been a Sana Safinaz fan for more than a decade now, having worn a Sana Safinaz to one of my main wedding events – the nikkah or Islamic wedding ceremony. The outfit reflected Sana and Safinaz – sophisticated, graceful, and cut to perfection. Below are some examples of their latest collection – breathtakingly beautiful.

career tips from a recent interviewee

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been interviewing for new opportunities within my organization. Its been a combination of wanting to do something different, more challenging, and to further my career. I’ve had several great conversations with hiring managers and team members and thought I’d share what I’ve learned. Whether you’re looking for a job today or not, we’re all job seekers (because one day you will be back in the market).

Firstly, seeing yourself as a strategic advisor for your own career is important. While its great to have advice from everyone, including significant others, spouses and former bosses, no one better understands your life, vision, and goals than you.

  1. Think about what you want to be doing two jobs from now. This doesn’t mean that you have to know exactly what that job is, where it is, or what day-to-day responsibilites it would entail, but a general path. Some considerations would be whether you want to stay in the same industry, company, city, and what your top 3 career and/or life priorities would be then. For me, my top three priorities are: family life, career trajectory, and skills development.
  2. Think about who you need to connect with to get you there. Networking always pays off and its more than just that. Set up 30-minute research meetings with anyone and everyone you want to meet. Ask them about their life, how they got to where they are and what you’re thinking. You don’t need to have all the answers nor do you need to be jazzed about what they do. No one is a wasted effort. I’ll give a perfect example. The hiring manager for the job I recently accepted is my predecessor. They were in my current role right before I was, and have since moved on to become a hiring manager in a completely different part of the organization. They happened to be building out their team in an exciting part of the company that is gaining visibility and traction, and I happen to be stoked about product development and marketing, so hello.
  3. Who are three people you would seek career advice from if you landed your dream job. Keep those people close. If they aren’t your mentors already, consider asking them. If you haven’t seen or spoken to them in a while, I’d put some time on the calendar to meet in-person for a 30-minute chat. Again, its back to #2, but the takeway for this third point is knowing who to ask for help before you need it. Maybe you’re working on a project and they’d be a valuable sounding board for you. Reach out and often.

india couture week 2016

India Couture Week 2016 started yesterday and I’m already salivating. Any fashion lover can relate. While I’m a wee bit far from Mumbai, the world of social media has made it possible to further indulge this curiosity. The five-day affair opens with the most coveted and acclaimed of designers as would any other major industry event.

This years show begins with Manish Malhotra – an international designer who has been a household name in India for decades. Malhotra’s collection, A Persian Story, will set the precedence for many of the other talents to follow, including favorites Tarun Tahiliani and Anita Dongre.

Fawad Khan and Deepika Padukone are pictured below walking the runway for Malhotra. The best of Bollywood and Lollywood wil be present for this important week and I anticipate nothing short of spectacular and jaw-dropping couture.

Deepika’s lehenga and choli ensemble in deep red leads me to believe that the South Asian bridal wave will head back to a traditional color palette. She can do no wrong!

manish 2




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