Category: Uncategorized

To all pious Pakistani men

Image from google: Not my credit

There have been a lot of videos, posts and opinions going back and forth for the recent statement by the PM of Pakistan on why rape incidents are increasing in Pakistan. Although there have been a lot of back lash, many self-proclaimed pious men have come forward to defend the PM’s statement.

My two cents on some points they’ve raised:

  • Women being presented/objectified/sexualised in TV adverts/porn/movies act as ‘temptation’ to distract and sexually frustrate men. This content is made by men for men, thus men need to fix the problem. You talk about victim responsibility? What about your responsibility as practising Muslim men? Don’t watch this stuff, it won’t sell. No demand, no supply. These industries run on the exploitation of women for male pleasure. No woman wants to be objectified in the media. No woman wants to see that content. Feed more female empowered content to your audience through media. The solution is not to put a woman in an abaya on TV or ban her from it. The solution is to show strong women who are respected by men in media to set a precedent and feed a progressive narrative.
  • Pakistan is also home to minorities, or have we forgotten that completely? They have equal rights last I checked. Every culture considers ‘modest’ dress to mean something different. For example if a catholic nun is wearing a habit and a knee length dress is she ‘fahaash’ or will you force her to convert to Islam in your skewed logic? Foreign political female officials or a celebrities should be allowed to wear the dress of their choice if they visit Pakistan. Would you ask them all to wear a burka and keep them segregated from a male gathering, just so that your neanderthal men are not tempted by them on TV and then ‘take it out’ on a helpless child/women in their control?
  • Segregation is no solution. If every woman on the street is dressed in an abaya, porn is banned, women on TV are banned or come on in an abaya, will sexual harassment stop? Will rapes stop? It doesn’t take a genius to come up with the right answer and it’s a hard no. Please read true heart-breaking stories of Saudi women and how they are actually treated behind their veils and in their homes.
  • We were placed on this earth with free will as a test. For Allah to remove all temptation from this earth is very easy but it’s there for a reason. We are supposed to have temptation around us but Quran teaches you to keep yourself away from it. In Ramadhan, we know food is within are reach, it’s oh so inviting, but we abstain from it. You don’t use the same argument, if food was presented to me looking tempting I couldn’t help it, I had to eat it and hey there was an advert on TV with a tempting oily samosa so that made me do it. If your mind is basic forget the research, just follow this easy to understand principle.
  • There is a tipping point to anything. A principle of torture rests on the fact that you don’t go to a point where the victim stops fearing you and prefers death to the torture. Women who are out at the Aurat march are at that point now. They are vocally demanding their human rights in Pakistan knowing they can be easily lynched but they’ve gone beyond caring. They are shouting for change at the cost of their everyday miserable lives, if not in their lifetime than perhaps for their daughters.
  • Give boys good role models as fathers/older brothers/uncles/cousins. Don’t put the onus on bringing up good sons on mothers. Give the male child a good upbringing which involves not just respecting women in purdah but ALL women no matter who they are, regardless of what they wear, which religion/culture/race/nationality they belong to, so when they see a woman who doesn’t conform to their perception of decency, they don’t turn hostile towards her and exert their power to put them in their place. Solution: end misogyny.
  • You talk about leaving a wallet behind out of carelessness which could be robbed. This might seem a very simple thing but a woman is not an object like a wallet/jewellery/cash -she isn’t your property to be stolen. She is a person with human rights. Her safety and the safety of her belongings is the responsibility of the state. No woman no matter how ‘liberal’, scantily clothed or modern invites sexual harassment or assault. Inviting sex and inviting an attack are two different things. Again the problem to be fixed is on your end. End rape culture which condones these acts by justifying them.
  • Your argument is that men can’t and won’t lower their gaze, because they aren’t all pious, good people. They get sexually stimulated through adverts, porn, clothing etc. So essentially they won’t do anything to protect their faith. They will give in to temptation because they can’t change their nature. They will ogle women on the street, they will lust after women on TV/Porn, they will get influenced by all of that and harass women. But you want all women to be pious, protect their modesty and be in purdah. Hypocrisy much?
  • A man may exert his power on a victim that is vulnerable, but it is the responsibility of the state to offer safety to the vulnerable members of society. The PM should talk about how he’s failed in that responsibility, what he’s doing to create a safe country for those vulnerable members and what his plans are for offering support to the victims of such crimes instead of spouting theories that exempt him from doing anything at all.
  • By offering explanations and justifications for rapists-you are humanising and empathising with them and shifting blame. Yes, let’s dissect each and every reason why the poor fellow did it, how society failed him and made him evil, shall we? This may come as a surprise, but there is always a reason and logic behind every crime. What should the focus be? Ending crime or ending temptations for the crime? Can you stop all temptations that cause men to become thieves/robbers? Can you eliminate the root cause of all murders? But you want to end all temptations for rapists… slow clap.
  • There are three type of men in Pakistan. 1. Monsters who prey on the vulnerable, 2. Passive/weak/apathetic men who stand by and do or say nothing, 3. Rape apologists: Men who defend/empathise/justify the acts of these monsters, shift blame and thereby dehumanise victims. I want to believe in a fourth category but they are like unicorns, the heroes we had in some old movies who beat up the goons and defended a woman getting raped but sadly I haven’t seen those around. Forget any action, they don’t even use their voices to fight. Which one are you?

As a Pakistani woman, who has been sexually harassed multiple times in Pakistan, nothing disappoints me and makes me feel more unsafe than a group of men on mics shifting responsibility from themselves and blaming other factors. The problem is with you and the men you know. Change yourself. Improve yourself. Stop men around you from these acts. You’ve created these monsters, you need to chain them.

Social media friends, lovers and haters.

The ongoing pandemic has ensured more of our life is spent online than before. Even the scrooges of social media or sceptic shunners, like my husband, have rallied around. Before the pandemic, he had a linkedIn account as a career necessity. Now, he is on Twitter and Instagram and refuses to follow me (*insert long-suffering sigh here*).

Since most of our life is online these days we have collected a plethora of online friends, lovers and haters like the proverbial stone that gathers a lot of moss if rooted in one spot.

One could argue that online life is also real life, but for the purpose of clarity, I will differentiate between them as two separate planes of existence.

This is all great. Having online buddies to bid adieu to our forced isolation? All great, I say.

But.

The problem with any social media relationship is that it’s a warped world view. A tunnel vision so to speak. The pictures on my social media are those that have me dressed and made up to perfection for parties. They are filtered with light and effects.

My point is, you don’t know all of the person. You know bits and parts of the person online. The person that is shown in select chosen moments to the online world. We can modulate our responses, spell check our chats and research the words typed to us and seem like we are well aware or informed. We can’t do that in real life. We can add filters to our pictures, brighten, heck even change our features and add glowing effects. In real life, we have uneven pigmented skin tone, swollen or sunken under-eye woes, dark circles, pimple marks or scars and creeping lines coming up everywhere we don’t want them to.

We have control to modulate our online presence. This makes me feel like an imposter when someone calls me intelligent or beautiful online. These people have never met me in real life. Their concept of the compliment may not define me at all.

But as human beings being in complete control is like holding water in our fist. We are creatures impacted by our circumstances. We react to our surroundings. Our responses to our online friends can be skewed at times. They can be dictated by numerous real-life events. A spousal fight or work stress can plummet our mood, cause an irritable remark and we’re labelled obnoxious. A preoccupation can translate as inconsideration. A calamity we might be dealing with can lead us to being categorised as oversensitive or emotional. We might not shout out these woes to the online world as the point is to escape them.

However, it is also logical that we reveal more of our real selves online as there is a wall between us and any physical threat or disgrace. We are more inhibited in real life but behind a computer, we feel strangely empowered to bare our soul and mind without much fear of repercussions. We abuse and use curse words with vigour. There is a surreal quality to online interactions. They are strung somewhere between reality and a safe fantastical world where confidences and heart to hearts are shared. As a result, we may end up knowing more about someone than their family and friends would do. The way we comment on posts may reveal aspects of our psyche that even we may be oblivious to. Some astute observers can string together these interactions and form our psychological profile. Online algorithms already do it with flair.

The psychology behind revealing more information online is based on cues related to heuristics. Penn State researchers came up with twelve such cues: control, instant gratification, transparency, machine, publicness, mobility, authority, bandwagon, reciprocity, sense-of-community, community-building and self-preservation. For example, people with a strong ‘bandwagon’ belief system may spew information if others provide it first. Many times, posts where an anonymous OP shares an incident of sexual abuse have people chipping in by admitting it happened to them too. Without this kind of prompt, they will rarely share such personal information about themselves. We are more tempted to complete our online linked in profiles if a number of our colleagues have completed theirs as well.

Now, there is an apparent paradox here. Which one is it? Do we know more or less of a person through social media? Another more relevant question to counteract the first would be, do we need to know everything about a person or just what the person may mean to us? We need to also keep in mind that their meaning may relate to a part of our journey in life, as people themselves are ever-changing.

I have friends who I don’t talk to for months on end and then I talk to them every day for months. Then there are those friends I rarely talk to ever, but they have a special place in my heart, they’ll remember occasions close to my heart without a reminder and they’ll be there to share in all those joys and sorrows. Then there are friends I talk to every day. I feel restless and incomplete if I go without a conversation with them for more than a few days. I’ve had terrible fights and misunderstandings with some friends and that hasn’t affected our relationship equilibrium. The boat of our friendship has sailed right through storms to calmer waters. Some of these relationships are online and some offline.                  

Hence, take character building on social media with a pinch of salt. A little less judgment perhaps. If you’ve known me for less than two minutes on social media hold on to that label. At the same time, don’t love me or hate me based on those two minutes. A relationship at the end of the day, whether online or real life, is only worthwhile if it lasts through thick and thin, through misunderstandings and fights and through good and bad times. Those are the only type of relationships worth taking seriously.

What my ideal day would look like…

I would be seated in a corner seat by a well-lit bay window. I would have my legs up, my back propped up with the softest down cushions, my hair pulled up my nape in soft tendrils and an airbrushed foundation on my glowing face. The temperature of this seating area would neither be too hot nor too cold, like goldilocks’ stolen porridge, but I would still have a cashmere blanket wrapped around me. Now, this window should have enough light flooding in but it shouldn’t have a breathtaking view as that would distract me from my primary activity. I would be holding a cup of steaming frothy coffee that refills magically and reading a great book.

I wouldn’t be disturbed, even for a millisecond, by my rambunctious toddler. My obliging husband would benignly take complete responsibility of our precious darling. When a sliver of worry would mark my smooth brow, he would flick a curl off his broad manly forehead and tell me I needn’t worry about petty issues like his showing up to office and earning the monthly wage. Eternal questions such as what’s to be cooked would earn a scoff from me, as the many cute animals hiding in crevices in my house would scamper out and take care of it a la Cinderella’s merry band of helpers (rats, birds, squirrels, etc). They would also take care of the cleaning and washing up. Being animals they would obviously be perfectionists. Before you raise a sceptical eyebrow, might I remind you that in the wild we have no vaccinations. Either they make it alive or they’re dead, hence survival of the fittest. Being the fit lot they are, and also magical, they would do a swell job at my domestic chores.

Hot delicious food will float towards me on a gilded ornate trolley in a timely manner. It doesn’t matter who would be pushing it as I wouldn’t take my eyes off my book long enough to notice. It could either be the magical creatures, my husband or my toddler. Since I would be so tired at the end of the day, top-notch salon staff would surround me fussing over my nails, hair and sore muscles. They would massage, mask, primp and scrape away the intense fatigue a day of reading has brought on. They would then run a scented bubbly bath and I would sink into it, to read some more. This time, a passionate romance (no, not erotica). Got to give those grey cells some reprieve. I would float from my bath to my bed on faux fur slippers. Just before switching off the night lamp, in my spacious bed which would be free of both husband and toddler, I’d be about about to check in on my daily social media feed but last-minute good sense would prevail. I would toss my phone aside and drift off into a dream of adventure, strife, fighting evil forces ….yawn.

Image from google: Not my credit.

Did you just disagree with me? (*Gasp* *Swoon* *Crash* *Sacrilege*)

When did extremes become acceptable and moderation disappear off the menu? Do we need to either walk on egg shells or fight to death?

There are two type of social media debates/disagreements (this could translate to real life as well). One is knives out, abusive language and you deserve to die kind. The other one is when a superior, sanctimonious approach is taken to the debate. You are clearly the inferior being, you have no idea what you’re talking about, so I will tell you what is what and thereafter shun you. The third kind should exist but doesn’t, which means you don’t debate or rather disagree at all. You agree to everything, are diplomatic, do not voice your real opinion, don’t respond and leave the space as fast as possible. You normally adopt the third stance, because you are a nice guy or gal, you don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings, and why bother anyway, what’s the big deal, is this debate worth getting your fingers sticky or your hands dirty?

But is healthy, educated debate necessary? Should contrary opinions be voiced at all?

Yes, because that’s how change and innovations come about, fresh ideas flourish and the creative process unfolds. We might see the world one way, another person may question our understanding of it, and by the assertion of their belief, we may gain some worthwhile insight.

What spurs such a debate though?

Is it an echo chamber where the same thoughts bounce off different walls to come back untouched and untampered with?

Is it a place where you cannot voice your opinion if it’s in disharmony and conflicts with someone else’s or the popular opinion?

Or is it where conflicting thoughts are exchanged regularly leading to reflection that perhaps there are different viewpoints in the world and two sides to a coin?

Should we police people’s thoughts and views? Yes, you could, but what fun would that be? Wouldn’t that make for a very boring world where we decide exactly what is to be said?

Of course, I like people who love me for and regardless of what I do or write, but I should also like people who disagree with me because they teach me something from their view point. I might not understand it at the time, but I could come back with a calmer head and learn for the future. I could take it as a chance to improve and look at my understanding of an issue in a different way. On the other hand, if I have serious doubts about the merit of their opinion and would rather ignore it, I still don’t have a right to hush them.

I stress the mode of disagreement MUST be polite. No personal attacks. If you can maintain that, then disagreeing isn’t a wholly shocking idea. I can disagree with you and you can do the same. However, we should remember one thing as civilised, educated beings; we are disagreeing on an idea, theory, piece of work and opinion. I am not objecting to your right to live or your right to continue doing whatever it is I have an opinion about. By all means, carry on, not that my opinion will stop you, but please don’t take offence to my voice. I am just using it, maybe because I have one?

Furthermore, if I disagree with your ideas and actions or am unimpressed by your work and dare to voice it, you haven’t become my mortal enemy, I haven’t taken to hating you, I haven’t declared open war on you or dishonoured you – so please step back with that pistol. No need to fire it just yet or demand satisfaction at dawn. Contrary to what you may assume, I do still respect and love you as a delightful human being.

There is an idea that friends ‘support’ each other, which is great – I’m all for it. But our friends should not be expected to be mere yes-men or sycophants. In fact, if our friends disagree with us, it’s not an insult to our person no matter what inflated opinion we have of ourselves. It may actually benefit us to be surrounded with opinions that clash with our own.

This may be an unpopular opinion, but being a nice and good person doesn’t mean nodding your head vigorously at everything around you, smiling and hearting everything, conforming to a set, established pattern or agreeing with whatever the experts or pundits have applauded. Sometimes, going against the grain or tide, questioning, objecting, may lead to a new discovery, some small change, some revolution, who knows?

And hey, you can disagree with this opinion piece, because I’m not an expert, am I? But even if I was -if I was a certified, award winning, opinion giver on the subject, stamped by some supreme body of knowledge in the field, guess what, you’re still allowed to disagree with me. Shocking, isn’t it?

Book Review: The Yellow Wallpaper

*Spoiler Alert: This review contains spoilers.*

Available online for free.

It’s a short story of only 6000 words but I had to stop many times in my reading of it. I had to come back to it when I felt less angry at the injustice the narrator is facing. At the point in the story where her husband, John remarks:

“Bless her little heart!” said he with a big hug, “she shall be as sick as she pleases!” I had to stop and take a deep calm breath. Each line is meant to disturb and attack. Each line has a meaning beyond its obvious meaning.

The nameless narrator is surrounded by people she trusts, her husband John and her sister in law, Jeanie are kind and caring. They want her to rest, recline, not see her baby, not write and not give in to her fancies. So controlling is their care, that it becomes more suffocating than the disconcerting yellow wallpaper in her room.

With nothing to occupy her mind, she tries to unravel the mystery of its pattern. She sees a woman like herself confined within the paper, trying to escape but the restrictive, confusing pattern is too much for her. In the end, the wallpaper is a way out for the narrator. She frees herself and many like her by tearing it apart and shattering the bars of containment.

Here the bars hold back the freedom of choice, free will and thought. She tries to conform to patriarchy’s expectations of her, to act normal, hide her true feelings but she knows that she must creep out, and free others like her to creep out as well. But they must still ‘creep’ about or they might be caught and thrown right back into the pattern designed to keep them confined.

A powerful, feministic piece of literature, this story is not a happy read but a very relevant one. It is open to a lot of interpretations and relatability across different forms of subjugation and suppression across race, gender and class.

Book Review-Burnt Sugar

Because of its Booker prize short listed status, I really wanted to love this novel as great literature and gush over it. Before I read it, I planned a 5 star rating but I am here in all honesty at a 1 star. It may just not be my style of book/writing or it may be that the Booker prize short listing set a high bar and I was left hanging. I’m also wondering if maybe the Booker prize novels are not my type of books at all which is disturbing as I would like to appreciate what they are appreciating.

There are three words on the cover of my copy of ‘Burnt Sugar’ that I picked up at my local Waterstones by Fatima Bhutto, ‘Taut, unsettling, ferocious.’ I humbly disagree on all three.

It didn’t have that tension or tightly wound friction. It felt like a slow burn. Like watching a long wick of a candle catch fire and finally get to the part where it melts the wax only to fizzle out. It had a string of events with shifting time-lines, incidents and facts thrown together to make a stew of it all but nothing really gelled together. Maybe burnt sugar may have done the trick? Her take on topics such as PPD, living with overbearing in-laws, Hindu Muslim riots, abandonment, examination of Alzheimer’s disease, care-giver fatigue, re-inventing memories, are all interesting and intelligent reflections but I doubt they worked in her novel format.

It was meant to be unsettling because it depicted a troubled relationship between a mother and daughter but I felt short-changed on that aspect. It felt more like the diary of a daughter writing down all her grievances against her mother. What would have been interesting, as the blurb promised and failed to deliver was this first line: Tara remembers the past one way, Antara quite the other. However, we don’t get Tara’s viewpoint. We never explore that angle. It is just Antara and her narration of what she sees, feels and deals with in her daily grind.

Throughout the novel, I was keeping my eyes peeled for what grave ills the MC-Antara suffers as a result of her mother’s big neglect and selfishness and find out it’s nothing that hooks a great deal of sympathy out of me. This is the reason why I never warm up to her or feel invested in her story. Something that’s portrayed as a big deal in the novel is that adult Antara slept with the same man as her mother, and also at one point fancies sleeping with her biological father. Now other than it being something unsavoury about Antara’s character, it didn’t evoke a big gasp from me.

It lays out graphic details of body odours, bloody snots that are wiped on clothes, eating snots, excretions, piss and even talking about sex in a way that put me off it completely, and I’m just wondering here what purpose does all this serve?

The narrator, Antara, is clinical, cold, brutal, doesn’t love or like anyone around her, and doesn’t even feel human at times. The problem with depicting her that way is that no one cares about her in the end. We don’t develop feelings of sympathy for her.

I struggled to find a plot. It could be a character driven novel which is great but then I was not emotionally invested in the characters either. It felt a combination of everything India is associated with like Ashrams, Babas, Kali Matas, Hindu-Muslim riots, overbearing in laws, but I am sure there is much more to the vast country. At the end this didn’t work for me in a novel format. I loved some snippets of her observations or reflections in the novel. Doshi is wise, logical and analytical with topics she has attempted in the novel but she could have written a scholarly article on them instead and I would have lapped it up.

The Dynamics of a continuous death.

Is death a real end or a transient stop? A mere passing through to something higher or the pit stop? Maybe a higher plane of the soul, maybe a stepping stone? Does death come to take our breath away at the end; the end of our time on earth or is it a temporary stop?

We experience death multiple times in our life. The kind that goes beyond biological mechanism; the ticking of our heart and the rhythm of our breathing, but still impacts the fibre of our physicality and spirituality . The death of passion, love, friendship, trust, familiarity and comfort zones. With each death our bodies change, the chemical receptors in our brains morph and our souls break down and rebuild.

Is it a good thing to celebrate something as morbid as an end rather than mourn it? To embrace it rather than regret it? To revel in it rather than curse it? To chase on the heels of a past or turn our eyes to the path ahead.

Myths, beliefs, facts and philosophies abound around death and re-birth. A phoenix turns to ash to be reborn. A snake sheds its skin. The mythical cat gets nine lives. The Hindu belief of samsara claims the soul passes through a cycle of successive lives based on karma. Sufiism urges us to die before our death. Seven years to change each cell in our body. Seven reincarnations to attain Moksha. There is a beauty in endings. An ending doesn’t have to be a severance or an uprooting. An ending can be a beginning. A challenge. A dare.

Although it’s tempting to turn back and live there, there is a reason we cannot go back into the past. We can only walk forward. Our past evaporates like steam dissolving into a stream of memories. Memories that are mere superfluous traps to bind us back to a life we have experienced. It’s done. Leave it there.

The soul comes clean and pure in the world and then it binds itself in attachments and adornments of our ego, our emotional needs and material desires. These embellishments attach and detach from our beings easily, exposing their frivolity and fickleness. Yet, being social creatures, we can let go of our material possessions but we crave human companionship, approval, validation and love. But most of all love. We weep when human love dies. But what is human love?

According to Nimattullah Sufi Order, human love is divided into three stages.

“I for myself, you for yourself; we love each other, but we have no expectations of each other.”

This is a comfortable equation. You do not encroach on each other, you don’t bother each other. Zero expectations.

But we want more for a mutually beneficial relationship, so we move towards profound love.

“I for you, you for me; we love each other, having mutual expectations of each other.”

This gets trickier. Mutual expectations may be misinterpreted, misunderstood and can lead to conflict. It’s still conducive to building the foundations of a mutually beneficial bond by trial and error.

But then, for real success in human love there is a category that transcends all conventions of expecting, wanting and needing of each other.

“I am for you, you are for whoever you choose; I accept whatever you want without any expectations whatsoever.”

Now this is highest step. To get here one must shed every ounce of ego and self-importance we may have. But people like you and me rarely get here. Sufi love responds with loving and kindness towards those who harm them. But which love and which relationship is so selfless? A mother’s love comes closest, but not much else.

We cannot achieve stage three, so we scamper back to stage two or even stage one. 

So, we are back to the question of death and our equation and comfort with it. Can love in relationships die? Because that is what we fear the most, we cry and long for our dead love that once existed and is no more. But love can never die. Love is omnipotent. So we can rest our minds about that. We’ve captured it for a lifetime if we’ve been touched by it once. It marks our soul and changes it for the better, just like hate changes it for worse.

Love lives on. But we die. And we die because we need to, in order to grow, move and live. We die many times. Life is a constant movement forward, and if we are lucky if we’ve found that ladder to climb to a higher plane for our soul’s purity, at the very least it is a straight path onwards with no gain and no loss and if we are really unlucky we are going down that stairwell to perdition.

Since we don’t have an aerial view of our direction and we haven’t been given special gallery seats by our privilege, only our creator -Allah does, we cannot claim the ascent in our movement, just like someone else can’t claim the descent of our movement. The creator can judge and damn, not us or other mortal souls sitting on pedestals of judgment. They can point fingers, damning you. You can clap and praise yourself. In the end, the effect cancels each other out like two minuses. It doesn’t count.

And along this path, we die. We die multiple times. But a death is a chance. An opportunity. A retake. When death comes, it takes. But it takes away the right things as part of a divine plan. It takes away the excess, the rot, the decay, the stagnant, until something new is born in its place. In our darkest moment, something is being re-born within us. If we are not at some point at our nadir, we cannot take flight to our zenith. If we remain ploughed here forever, we can never get there. We can never get to the place we are meant to get to.

 As Christine Caine puts it, ‘Sometimes when you’re in a dark place, you think you’ve been buried, but you’ve actually been replanted.’

So, live. But die as well, die as many times as it takes, because death is just an introduction to what you lack.

Image by AllNikArt from Pixabay