Dear Maya Khan,
My name is Mehreen. I like browsing through morning talk shows when I’m waiting for breakfast made by my mom who, like your colleague said in a particular clip, is like my friend and I confide in her often. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I do. She’s never demanded an oath of eternal confidence in her. We’re humans, and we love our private space. You might be thinking, “Why is she telling me this?” I thought I should let you know about the knitty gritty of my personal life since you do enjoy delving into deeper details. Wise people always do.
Maya? I love parks. Parks are amazing. Did you know that top ten parks in the world are located in London, Vancouver, San Francisco, Tokyo, Lisbon (don’t worry – not ‘lesbian’), Chicago and Bangkok? If you show up in Lahore in the same park that I go to, it might become the most famous park in the whole world for what happens right after we encounter each other. Parks have lots of nice, lush grass and benches. I love benches. Parks also have trees and swings and sidewalks for people to walk on, and sometimes chase people after. Parks are amazing. My dad used to take me to my favorite park when I was little, you know? Sometimes couples passed by us and my dad would bring his Sony high definition video camera out and run after them, inquiring of their marital or non-marital status based on his idea of morality. Kidding. My dad just yawned and pushed the swing higher for me.
Hey, Maya? Sorry, I know I’m rambling. Just bear with me. Come on, we’re girls, we should confide in each other. I really like someone. Most young people do. It’s natural, don’t worry. Nothing extraordinary, absurd or heinous about it. We hang out often. Since we’re on a nice, equal wavelength, we enjoy spending time in places that are simple, easy to go (unless someone decides to chase us with a cell phone camera to document our stray presence) and open-spaced because I love sitting in the sun on a winter afternoon. Do you know where we go? A local park. That’s right.
Young people fall in love all the time. Sometimes they don’t – it’s just infatuation. Sometimes they do and they’re confused as hell and they still go out to understand the significance of the other. In the process, they pick a location like normal people do where they can sit down and spend time together. I’m sure you liked someone when you were in college. No big deal. See, girls fall in love pretty much every single day of the week and so do boys. Sometimes they make the right decision, sometimes they make mistakes. It’s called being human. But trust me, they don’t need a team of middle aged women hounding them down public places to enlighten them about their decisions. And trust me, their mothers will handle whatever happens. No one asked you or anyone else to take the responsibility of scrutinizing them. See, what worries me a lot is when public figures like you with considerable influence on viewers morph into moral police. In a country like Pakistan where public vigilantism has exceeded levels of brutality, the last thing the youth needs is a team of moral watchdogs sniffing around for “impure” behavior.
If indeed your concern is sincere (which I still have qualms with – since the privacy of a person’s choice is most cogent; they’ll ask for help when they ask you) then invest in sex education or how a female can avoid getting hurt in various situations. Better yet, do a segment on respect for privacy. Now that’s a talk show I would make my entire neighborhood subscribe to. I understand that you might be fretting about the welfare of young women in this society. I do too along with thousands of other well-to-do folks. But there’s a difference between you and me: I don’t publicize their actions on a local TV channel, I don’t chastise them for going out on a date and I don’t expect people to slut-shame the girl or the boy into hiding. I let them be unless and until they ask for help or if there is eminent danger.
Hold on. I’m Muslim too. However the ethos of my faith urges that unless I am perfect in my moral conduct, I have no right whatsoever to point my finger at anyone for anything. Whatever is done is left between the individual and their conscience. Hell, no one ever told me to demand for someone’s nikah-nama when they’re sitting together. It doesn’t concern me or you or anyone else. Sometimes I am ashamed to be from the same faith when I see people like you dictating immaculate morality for others. Furthermore I am mortified as a Pakistani when I see wardens of rectitude making dangerous spectacles of common citizens simply to boost hits on their show or to become shining role models for people of equally disappointing, mediocre thinking.
If that young couple gets hurt – which happens inevitably as a result of your irresponsible moral policing – you will be held accountable for reinforcing the sick obsession our society has with prying and needling into privacy. I thought media ethics would’ve taught you and several others the art of Letting People Be. It’s not too hard, really. All you have to do is mind your own business and find other mature, commendable ways of increasing popularity for your show. Say, have you seen that reporter who raided on someone’s residence for possessing alcohol? Don’t you think it would’ve yielded a decent conversation if you, let’s say, entered Cosa Nostra or Espresso or CTC or Cinnabon, where privileged folks like you go to, and accosted an unmarried couple for sitting together in their unmarriedness? Isn’t it pathetically convenient to interrogate a harmless couple in a park? Can someone please explain why haven’t these righteous correspondents ever barged into a conspiring terrorist’s household to expose their plans? Or maybe into a conservative political figure’s cozy room when they call over hookers (I don’t even care about that, honestly) or when they approve of policies that render our lives a lot more miserable than it already is? That takes guts.
You’re smart enough to understand by now that I am legitimately aggravated and so are others. Invasive moral policing is not just hypocritical, it is harmful. A petition against your program has been initiated on Change.org and I’m signing this while making yet another sinful plan of sitting in a park with the guy I like. Is this a one-way ticket to hell and destruction? I’m sure it is. No skin off my nose.
Assuming your action was religiously motivated, I was wondering how you would react if a raging maulvi decided to hound you on his morning talk show for not covering your hair. And assuming your action wasn’t religiously motivated but only carried out as a display of social concern, I wonder how you would feel if someone verbally quartered you for making the decisions you have by telling you, you were foolish and misdirected for doing so.
Now if you don’t mind, I have plans to make. I’m spending unmarried time with the guy I like in a few days. We’re so unmarried, it’s amazing. Sometimes in our high unmarriedfulness, I hold his arm and we walk through the park past closet Maya Khans and Zaid Hamids who genuinely detest us for our open display of joy, comfort and affection. I can’t wait to have you show up and ask us for our nikah document. This is what I’ll give you as proof:
Stay out of my park.
Sincerely Sitting Unmarried On a Bench in a Park With a Guy,