I see her sitting under the tree Dignified and serene even as she is encircled In the cumbersome arms of poverty. Destitution has cloaked her for many years From head to toe it has persevered. But still There are nuances of grace and light; Of a decorum that has bested the blight.
Sparse hair is pulled back into a little knot Threadbare clothes are mended and clean Calloused feet wear leather sandals Thousands of steps etched into their seams. She sits there solitary and separate Her expression is one of learned abjection As she labours on in her enterprise To live another day, to go on, to survive.
But every so often, when there is a lull In the cresting and falling human swell Where she sits, under the leafy canopy The wretchedness leaves her face And in its place Shines a serene and quiet majesty A poise, a stateliness Quietly they still linger in her being. Even as she sits under the tree To beseech, to plead, to request I can still see the queen.
I look ahead, scan the horizon The sun is just rising, brightening The world around me I feel nature’s potency run through my veins With all its might Each muscle and each tendon tightening I am ready for flight
My feathers gleam, I spread my wings I catch a current of air as it sings I lift off and soar At one with the world around me I climb higher, and higher I listen to the hum of the stratosphere I can hear the cosmic choir
I glide, I soar, I sail, I fly In the startling blue of a cloudless sky I dip, I climb, I plunge, I rise I shoot ahead as the crow flies I whoop in the throes of sublime joy CRACK! I feel the fragments of lead Of human sport. I plummet to my death
“I love you and only you You fill my heart in every way I will be but a shell if you Call it quits and leave me some day” Said the man with the twisted lips As he held her close, hands on her hips He’d done this a lot and then changed gears The words felt absurd even to his own ears.
She looked into eyes that were gleaming with fire Was it hope, was it love, was it lustful desire? The three entities then followed behind As she walked into the space of her heart and her mind There she sat them down, the judicious sleuth And looked into their faces now lit up with truth Hope sat there wilted, there was hardly a trace Of sincerity and faith on its mottled face Love was like a wraith of its radiant self Like old dust that had drifted off of the shelf Smouldering away in the furthest corner With sly little tentacles sat covetous Desire It looked at her trying to hide its true hues But in the light of the soul that was hard to do.
She lifted the heavy hands from her hips Bestowed a smile from her beautiful lips “I suppose I should say a heartfelt thank you But I won’t; those words, they just don’t ring true”.
I see a woman standing at the traffic light Even in her shabbiness, she’s neat and clean She stands on the wayside wondering For the hundredth time what she is doing on the street. People look at her from their car windows A nonchalant glance up and then away Their psycho-social barriers Comfortingly coming down to save their day From unpleasant pangs of conscience As they niggle at the edges of their minds The world is troubled, their impact small Sometimes it’s just better to be blind.
She looks at the faces in the cars Indifferent, unseeing; wishing her away She clutches the hem of her tattered shirt Picks up the gumption to still walk their way She looks at a lady who hasn’t averted her eyes The shame is too much and she swallows hard Even so, she manages a faint little smile Hoping for kindness, compassion, regard The lady looks up, seeing her for the first time She’s irritated, she’s irked for letting her guard down Beggars, pleaders of various requests Destroy her peace of mind, she frowns.
She waves a dismissive hand at the sight And looks away, she will not lock eyes Maybe the beggar will go to the next car With her chafing, imploring enterprise The woman feels the withering blow As she hurriedly backs away from the car The wounds in her heart are bleeding anew Everyday there are fewer healing scars She stumbles back onto the foot path Eyes stinging with hopelessness and fatigue This world seems done with the likes of her She too is done with her destiny.
It’s Strange How some people call all the shots For you and me; on what’s right and what’s not On how we should all live our lives On what we should want to grow and to thrive. And we follow them like so many mice The Pied Piper surely leaves us no choice
It’s Strange How some nations are on top of their game And others continually parry insults and blame Some swirl around in their blood, sweat and tears While others race on winds of good cheer And yet we stand by like so many sheep The First World Dream will not let us be
It’s Strange How the spirit of our humanity Has gone into permanent servitude For the battle of egos of the few Losing our grip on what’s right and true And we circle around like so many moths Burning our wings in the flames of their wrath
It’s Strange How hard it has become of late To step out of the comfort of the bell curve Created to kill off the being that’s you Teaching you how you must hate and love And we fight on like so many soldiers sore Thinking one more battle will win us the war
It’s Strange Even as I write these lines A question skips on the edge of my mind No, there are two for misery loves company Who’ll tell me the answers that I seek to find - When did the glow inside you cease to exist? When did Instinct and Courage let go of my wrists?
She gets out of the car, adjusting her shalwar The legs one mustn’t behold, out of their fabric strongholds The ankles though, for a moment show Their shameful curvature.
It can’t be helped you see, we are bipedal beings But we can’t see the nuances of practical biology When blinded by the nobility of our formidable patriarchy, And cloaked in out great Fervour of faith.
And so she bends just a little to adjust the errant drape And while she endeavours, to hold together Her blessed modesty Some man out there, finds her morality in disrepair What is she bending for, like a dirty, depraved w****!
And the floods of moral outrage at this corrupt spectacle In their godly country, cause a debacle Every man takes it upon himself to deface this hideousness He then looks to his companions, all now chomping at their bits
They rush upon this evil scene, of the wicked and immoral queen For a queen she is, from head to toe. Evil, wicked, shameful though! She makes their blood gush in great floods Testosterone-filled, Squelching like mud She makes their heads swim in strange ways Where she is master and they are slaves.
God does not permit, such sacrilege Where genders abandon their rightful places Men are meant to lead them forth Moral compasses pointing true north Held aloft by everything, a woman does, from breathing in To the way she walks in crowded streets: Ankles hidden, inconspicuous feet.
And that is why an errant sister in faith (A woman who is alone and out and about!) Reeking of impudence in her unveiled state (Putting her entire morality in doubt!) May naturally be seen by her brothers devout As a wanton woman standing at hell’s gates.
A tribute to all the young women who are constantly attempting to be bigger than the patriarchal shadows cast upon them. (This is in specific response to the most recent mauling by hundreds of men, of a girl who was making a video on Independence Day at Minar-e-Pakistan – a monument ironically, symbolising freedom and self determination).
There was once an average girl Average I use to disclaim That she was your happy gal next door Not your wild and sassy dame
Not that there’s much wrong with that It’s for those who tend to decry The women greater than their veil Behind which they ought to hide
Hide away from prying eyes Hide away from sin Hide their bodies, hands and feet Hide their existence
The Sin that marches all about Ready to be employed In the lawless caveman hands Of any man or boy
She decided she was bigger than The shadows that cloaked her being She was going to live her life She would do so many things
She already had a fan base She was a minor TikTok star She would post quirky things Of her adventures near and far
And so it was on Freedom Day Full of patriotic zeal That she went to the Minar* To capture the national feel
And there is when it happened The Sin awaiting its Amen Was pulled to its fruition By hundreds of stir-crazed men
Mauled and savaged was that girl Because she had essayed To be more than the sum of her Shadows and opaque veils
And that’s the ominous legacy Our nation tends to bestow On any woman who attempts To spread her wings, to grow.
There was once an average girl She’s as average as she seems In the Rank and file of nameless girls Who’s dreams have been “washed clean”
* Minar: Means “Tower” in Urdu. Here it refers to Minar-e-Pakistan
This is a tribute to all the women in fact who are oppressed, reduced and shamed in the name of religion, and who still find the strength and dignity to go on another day.
O Talib*, O ye self-professed Learned One,
I have something to say to you. You can whip up monsters from the air and call them your Shariah*. You can torture and mangle “your” women, break their spirits and their bodies and call it the Word of God. You can wear your imperious lungee* and as it swishes around in the wind, you imagine the very angels dancing around you. You grow your hairy beards, and hide your malevolent grins behind them. You rumble and you roar and that is your devotion. You maim and you kill and you call that Divine intervention.
But then secretly you also glance at your reflections and you see what we all see: imperfect, angry, reviled men trying to validate their existence in the only way they can - by wiping the planet clean of the scourge of the Double (H)Ex*. But then you pause with the greatest effort known to the Men of God and you think: How can we annihilate this evil, garbed in soft flesh if we are to propagate and procreate? How else are we to add to the rank and file of Allah’s soldiers?
The conundrum is excruciating. So you continue to brutalize and ravage just short of pushing her six feet under. Just so you can crush her under you instead and make her pay for staying alive. To bear and to beget your many sons. To nurture and feed your rabid army of the Men of Allah.
O Ye Men of Allah,
I have something to say to you. Hear me.
I am the Daughter of the Universe; the Yin to your Yang, the ultimate balancing act of God’s will gone wrong in your hands.
Hear me. We will be who we are: the proud women of Afghanistan. Our honour lies serenely, supremely, completely in the depths of our own eyes, not in yours.
Look at me. Don’t hide behind your fragile male bravado. Look at me. Don’t turn your suddenly shameful eyes away.
Look at me. Look at me.
Look at me as I rise like a Phoenix from the ashes that you kicked aside. Look at me as I look at you. Look at me and see what you have become. Look at me as your heart Drains … Shrivels …. Breaks …. Burns in its own hell.
Hear me, my voice will echo through my sisters even if mine falls silent. You will Hear me.
Look at me, even if it is at my corpse as I go to meet my Maker. You will Look at me.
For Allah hears me. For Allah sees me.
Allah stands behind me as we both look at you. As we both await you.
* Double (H)Ex: Word play on the double X chromosomes that all female mammals possess. Hex is a spell or a curse.
* Talib: Scholar; Learned one.
* Shariah: Islamic law derived from the teachings of the Quran but mainly from the Prophet Muhammad. It is not a list of rules but rather a set of principles on aspects of life, including marriage, divorce, finance and rituals such as fasting and prayer.
This is a tribute of determination, hope and new beginnings not only for the Pakistani women, but for all the heroic women around the world who are speaking out and standing up for themselves against all manner of cruel and brutal patriarchy. It is also a testimonial and a resounding voice of support for those brave sisters of ours who are living from day to day, facing their detractors with courage and resilience in the hope of a better tomorrow.
I have grown in its shadow; I have felt its hot breath As it slithers around me; dogging my every step. I hear it jeer in the brightness of day On streets and in parks and in quiet cafes. I see it brazenly growl at my sisters too As it strides along its pernicious route. It thunders and lashes and speaks in strange tongues My head is reeling; there’s no air in my lungs! From quiet dark murmurs it’s upsurged to discord The brutal Patriarchy - our master and lord!
I’ve decided I won’t heed its vanquishing rail I’ve resolved I will fight it tooth and nail. And so I have become one of the “pariah” few Who is resoundingly calling for something new. I make my case; then await the backlash For sticks and stones; a bruise and a gash. There are more like myself who are throwing back the knives, We’re banding together to take back our lives. One more voice, one more person, one more protest We’re the Women of _____ ; and we’re up to this test.
From the farthest reaches of our blessed land We will raise our voices, our spirits, our hands; Let’s tell them, That’s it! That’s enough! No more! We won’t be your chattels, your “Islamic honour”. We won’t hide away so you can roam free With your hormones and lust; your uncontrollable needs. We won’t be degraded, threatened and shamed While you play out your age old tribal games. We, your wives, your sisters and your daughters Will be shepherded no more like lambs to the slaughter.
We are the tender, formidable half of our world We are the guides, the teachers and the nurturers We birth generations to carry precious legacies Of peace and love; progress and humanity. For too long have those reins been usurped by the men We are taking them back on every continent. We will be your equals in every way Step down from those pedestals; come out of your caves. Hold our hands as your partners as together we walk We have risen; we are strong; we are the Dome of the Rock*.
* Dome of the Rock: A holy site in Jerusalem which hosts the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, a seventh-century structure believed to be where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
We are such a plagued nation, full of dichotomies and hypocrisies. Respectability, patience and civility have forsaken our national psyche a long, long time ago.
And so we blunder and bluster and we barge ahead with nothing to show for our high-handedness but a spiritually depleted image of the crescent moon and star … It is heartbreaking to think this is the best we can be.
The very essence of our religion continues to be hijacked by those that want to keep pulling us into the dark ages. In the midst of all the inane interpretation and bizarre commentaries around the tenets of our religion, we have gone from one abysmal depth to the next. Each “moral incidence” so much more ludicrous than the last, that we have as a nation quite absolutely forgotten real empathy, intelligence and our sense of community. We have forgotten what it means to be a part of a religion that is innately compassionate, tolerant and peaceful. Case in point: our freakish position and regulation around Blasphemy. A colonial construct, it never existed in its current form and fury in the predominantly Muslim ruled subcontinent before the nineteenth century. And then, it was signed into law to ensure that the differences between the 2 major religions were highlighted rather than the similarities which had bound them into a relatively homogenous society before then. That served to keep the two communities divided and separate which suited our occupiers in their machiavellian Game of Thrones.
Since then and more than in any other Muslim country, the Blasphemy Law has become a chip on our collective Pakistani shoulders that we love to invoke when we want to remind ourselves of who’s the boss. What we fail to take into account is that in a country that is 97% Muslim, we are overhwlemingly The Boss. Our religion is not under threat; we are not a minority trying to keep our vulnerable communities safe. We are the ones in control and therefore the ones obligated to show compassion and forebearance. Instead, we have as a society and a State created a monster in the name of religion.
The truth of the matter is that Islam has not laid down any set definition or punishment for Blasphemy. (Remember… Islam started out as a compassionate, progressive and tolerant religion). As such there are as many interpretations of the word and the laws governing it as there are scholars and Muslim countries. And yet, we in Pakistan have ensured that we make the ultimate brutal joke of the concept, punishing only those who are the least capable of defending themselves – the poor and the minorities. Our short history is rife with shamefully copious examples.
There is much to be done on the socio-religious fronts in our besieged country to render our communities more humane and inclusive. There is also ample opportunity to mend our policies where they are the most cruel and unusual; and our Blasphemy Laws are as good a place as any to start.
And so it was on another quite uneventful day that the PM of our besieged nation finally put in his two bits to exacerbate our social dilemma just a little more. The tenuous progress that we had made, all things considered (the “Aurat” [Women’s] March, the now audible Moderate social segment lobbying for change, the little everyday triumphs of the Pakistani woman) were pushed right out the window with a single damning sentence. With one unthinking response, Imran Khan gave license to 120 million of the nation’s denizens to judge, demean and assault the other 120 million based on nothing more than macho whims and fancies.
Still, I’m sincerely hoping it was a primal knee jerk reaction not entirely thought through (our patriarchy is copiously given to that). The alternative would mean that he’s been well and truly conditioned by the right wing brigade outside of his home; and by the crystal balls of a soothsaying spouse inside.
If I put aside all emotions and outrage (and believe me, that takes some doing in this case) and analyse it for what it is, it still comes across as grossly irresponsible coming from a Head of Government. More so, because so many of us who believe in a better, more progressive, more prosperous Pakistan have consistently jumped to his defense over the past not entirely scintillating 3 years. When his naysayers condemned him; when his detractors demonised him; when other global leaders criticized him, there was a bulwark of us who stood by him, defended him and made excuses for him. After all, he was a newbie in politics and he had the right to make his share of mistakes in matters of governance and international diplomacy.
But this…. this has really been heart breaking. Disappointing. Infuriating. Like the tragic submersion of the last lifeboat on a sinking ship. One would think that for someone who’s been married 3 times, who consistently exercised his right to seek the most optimal mate for himself; one who obviously appreciated a woman who knew her mind, was aware of her rights and who lived by those credos, would be more sensitive to the adversities that the average woman suffers in Pakistan. Whether it is exercising her right to education, to working, to her freedom, to her basic safety, to making every effort to be the fullest and best version of herself. Instead, Imran Khan behaved like the archetypal patriarchal male who’s been caught with his shalwar down and has to somehow deflect the blame elsewhere.
The truth is, there is still no one else out there to honestly attend to the matters of the State. Here the qualifying word is Honesty. In our nation mired as it is in subversive political antics and corruption; where every preceding head of State has somehow managed to defraud, snatch and steal from the ever suffering public, IK was an honest to goodness breath of fresh air. We the women have, through the unceasing trials and tribulations perpetrated by the men in and around our circles of life, learnt a wisdom that has also been our survival tactic: to look at the larger picture, put aside even monumental grudges and march on. That’s what makes us formidable but also vulnerable. So while we march on Mr.PM, we also look to you to do your duty: Apologize publicly to the 120 million women of the country that you’re leading. Not because we would wither away without those words of redress, but because we want to continue to feel relatively safe in the land we call home.