Ever since I was a little girl, cats weren’t exactly my favorite animals. I didn’t hate them but I didn’t like them either. I loved dogs, gold fish, turtles, but cats – nah. It probably had to do with Pamela’s kitten who scratched me when I was in first grade in Virginia. I was a kid so I didn’t go through the whole mature understanding that hey, cats scratch too if they feel threatened. I thought: All cats are evil four-legged beings who hate me. It was silly, I know.
We came back to Pakistan a while ago. We kept three beautiful dogs – one after the other – and they all lived happy, enriched lives until one got kidnapped and the other two got sick so they had to be put down. I was a kid so the pain of losing a pet was limited to the pain of losing a friend you’d play with every now and then. I cried, sure, but I never felt my heart fall to my stomach with anxiety or fear. I never lost sleep over it. I didn’t grow desperate while walking through narrow corridors of barely attended clinics.
I met Cookie – my Turkish Angora kitten – a few months ago. The very lovely and generous Hanifa Tareen gifted me her from the bunch of adorable kittens Cookie’s mommy, Moto, had. I remember the first time I saw her sitting on the backseat of the car. She was so tiny and afraid. That’s when our bond began; She was like my baby.
The thing with Cookie – and I know every cat owner says that – was that she was exceptionally intelligent and beautiful. My mother, not so fond of felines, fell in instant love with Cookie. My father, a man known for his reserved attitude towards all living beings, morphed into a little boy with Cookie; He couldn’t stop snuggling her, taking care of her needs, making sure I was doing my best job at raising her. My sisters, fond of animals, had the most amusing, fun-filled, warm relationship with Cookie. She became family.
This little tribute is for her.
You were so tiny when I met you! Your little pink paws and your little pink nose. And for someone so delicate and tiny in size, you sure had the nerve of a very naughty monkey. You’d hop on book shelves and push my journals down while meowing happily. You’d run around the house with mama’s chador in your mouth. You’d jump from one couch to the other while papa browsed the newspaper. You couldn’t stop pouncing at us for fun. And my oh my, you really did love taking naps with us in bed. Your little paw on my cheek while I snoozed.
Remember the time when you broke my favorite mirror? Or the time you literally tore pages out of my book and hid your face between the pages. Or the time you ruined the curtains. I couldn’t even bring myself to snub you; You looked so innocent while standing in the door. Remember how silly you looked after a bath, huddled up in a warm towel. You taught me so much. From little things like taking responsibility, making sure everything was okay, teaching you manners, learning to build patience to bigger things like preparing myself for losing you, holding you throughout the night, trying not to cry while you breathed your last.
Sometimes when I’d eat a mango slice, you’d snuggle up against me and meow at me. You really liked mango for some reason. Your furry white mouth would be covered with sweet yellow pulp. You used to hide the mango seeds under the bed!
The street below was a sight for you to behold whenever you’d get the chance. Papa would pick you up; hold you in his arms and walk outside, letting you take in the sights and sounds of the city around you. Today when papa was buried you, he was crying. He said he felt a fatherly kind of joy while holding you, showing you the world around you. Remember how adorably clumsy he was with you initially? He didn’t know how to hold you or pet you even but he wanted to show his love so he tried. And you graciously allowed him to. I still remember how you would hop on his knees while he watched TV.
Mama says you left too soon. We tried everything. Three vets and dozens of recommendations but when someone’s time arrives, there’s no stopping it. You had chronic renal failure – your kidneys stopped functioning, your system initiated a quick shut down. It was painful to watch. In the last few hours we spent together, I learned so much from you. I learned that a baby can be a fighter, a warrior in tough times. That a small kitten like you had the spirit of a lioness. That no matter how many times your legs gave in making you collapse to the ground, you did everything in your fragile heart to bring yourself back up. I learned that love should never be measured in the number of weeks, months spent with a cherished one but in the moments that never die, that continue to live forever in our hearts. I learned that lying next to you, my forehead against yours, taught me how to say good bye far better than any other time I’ve said good bye to someone. And I’ve lost human friends to death – not once, not twice but thrice – but I learned that saying good bye to anything, anyone – regardless of what and who they are – can put a little hole in your heart. I learned you took pieces of me, of papa, of mama, of us, with you to heaven.
Before you left us, I held you in my arms and took you to your favorite place in the world: The terrace. Under the full, milky white moon, I strolled to and fro while you blinked weakly at the azure sky. I can’t remember how many times I kissed you and cried against your neck while you breathed slowly. I don’t know if you’ll ever know that I held your paw to my lips and talked to you while you trembled as your system started to shut down. I even tried bribing you back to life. You could have anything you wanted. If only you could have stayed with me a bit longer.
I woke the other two sisters up to let them know you’re about to go. We sat around you, rubbed your cold paws, kissed your forehead, and talked to you. We wanted you to know that we were here, we were trying. And I think you understood. When you started breathing your last, my youngest sister rubbed your belly to keep your warm. We took a clean towel, placed you in it gently, kissed you and closed your eyes. You didn’t wake up.
It was Fajr time – dawn. It was a cool, quiet time. I have never cried for anyone like this before but your sudden departure broke us all. Before the sun would rise, papa took you and buried you near a tree. He wept when he came home. He really loved you. Home is hollow without you.
I lied down. I couldn’t sleep. I half-expected you to pounce at me from somewhere, like you played with me. When the sun was out, its rays reflected on the marble floor and I saw your little paw prints. I cried and tried to remember you in the best moments we shared.
I just wanted to say: Thank you for coming in my life. You taught me a lot but most importantly you taught me to love. Mama, papa, the sisters and I will always, deep down inside, look for you around the corner, playing with your toys. We will sometimes look at your bowl and think you’ll be here for your snack. Sometimes I will cry to sleep and imagine you lying right next to me. You will live forever in our memories.
Last time I found you chasing morality in parks frequented by lower-middle class citizens (they make fantastic targets for righteous condemnation); this time I found you cheering a minority into a further marginalized, compromised position. A conversion on national TV? In a country where minorities are forced to convert already? “Appalling lack of ethics” doesn’t even cut it.
I refuse to get into the whole “Secularize Pakistan!” vs. “Islamic Republic remains!” debate. I’ll be frank with you: I am sick of my Twitter and Facebook timeline where self-proclaimed “liberal thinkers” compete with self-appointed defenders of religion in a hypocritical race of selective outrage against issues within the country and around the world. Apparently you’re Muslim – and quite a passionate one (albeit misguided, misinformed). So am I. But, again, we’re universes apart. In your mind, it seems from your constant appearances on TV, Islam is not a sacred faith that has, in countless instances in history, guranteed that minority rights need not be sacrificed to consolidate an Islamic republic but a sickening opportunity to cash in on consumer-based ratings. Let us assume that Sunil did indeed desire to convert by consent, which is fine, but to air it on national TV in a country where minority rights remain a shaming case of state negligence and constitutionally-endorsed subjugation is a testimony of your indifference or, sometimes I hope, your unawareness of the ongoing oppression. Indifference is a lot worse than unawareness, Maya. I’m giving you the benefit of doubt here.
A few days ago at the Social Media Summit in Karachi, you were mentioned at the media regulation panel which I was invited to and someone told me how the backlash that took place after your park-chase episode was misogynistic against you because the internet had an easy target: A woman. To an extent, I agree. You and I will never find the same outrage and nasty memes against a lot worse people like, you know, Amir Liaquat Hussain (I think I owe him a letter too, just to say hi). So before I explain my stance briefly, I want you to know that I sincerely mean you no kind of harm at all. I don’t know you personally. I don’t even think you’re a bad person. I just think you really need to evaluate your sense of ethics and content selection. Could you possibly do a morning show on, let’s say, media content and the lack of moral responsibility exhibited by those working in said sector? People would love you for it, Maya – think big ratings. I would thank you for it. What better a topic than discussing the recklessness reporters, talk show hosts and anchors have shown in the past? You could win conscientious hearts with this, you could even bring a change in our media. So rich with talent and content this country, it’s a shame you would choose dating and conversion as themes for your show.
What hurts me the most, Maya, is how you have – like many others – used my faith for consumerism, for shoddy attempts at gaining more ratings and ravings. It hurts me when a friend of mine – a Christian – confides in me that she knows that most of the Muslim population in Pakistan would be extremely outraged had a Muslim been converted on TV in a country where they were a minority. It hurts me when I read how people instantly start defaming Islam, my faith that has inculcated in me a profound respect and harmony for non-Muslims, despite knowing that it was not Islam that taught you to run a talk show on a live conversion but your greed for more hits and your insensitivity to the fact that minorities in Pakistan are already isolated and marginalized, that people of non-state religion already know when to keep their mouths shut, that these people will never know that there are people like me who resent you for you irresponsibility – people who are Muslims – and will never, ever condone such a blatant misuse of faith under the guise of ‘spirituality’ on a cheesy TV show. You hurt and maim what you claim to love – a faith that does not encourage relegating minorities into public objects for viewership. That their conversions are utmost private. That their forced conversions are utmost inhumane. Your idea has again, subsequently, backfired.
I’ll keep it short. I’m not angry at you; I am disappointed and there’s a list I could go through. I am disappointed in the silence surrounding this act of hypocrisy. I am disappointed in those who automatically jumped to accuse Islam of such idiocy, never realizing that it wasn’t Islam but our talk show host here who needed to re-educate herself immediately. I am disappointed in what you done in the name of religion without understanding that such a display is another blow against minorities in Pakistan – whether Sunil did it by choice or not, remains an equally significant issue but you do know how it feels to see someone from your own community leave for another, right? Especially when you’re a minority. The number looks small, the number looks weak, the number looks endangered. It is a clear sign of moral superiority draped in congratulating messages.
Before I end, I want you to know that this is not a message against you. This is a message against the electronic media in Pakistan and those ‘regulating’ it; for allowing such a program to be aired only shows how unfazed this board is by the real and unsettling cases of minority oppression in this country. I don’t want you to be fired – I didn’t in the first place. I don’t even want you to stop your show. I just simply wish you would try to understand the consequences of your words and actions. You have an audience, Maya. You have the power to sway public opinion. If you open your eyes, you could raise the public opinion into making Pakistan a friendlier, peaceful place for all faiths. I wish you would never use religion again and I mean this for every single TV personality out there. Using morality for ratings itself is an immoral act. Exploiting Islam is not a great idea. Like I said before, it backfires.
Some day we’ll meet. Maybe in a park, maybe in a temple, maybe in a masjid, who knows. I hope by then you have set a precedent for horrible TV hosts that media could be used as a tool of change instead of a shallow device for more ratings, less brains. Till then, please don’t give me another reason to write you a letter.
Amir Liaqat Hussain ne hi kaafi tabahi phelayi hui hai.
“It began two years ago,” according to Murat Palta who studied graphic designing at Dumlupınar University Kütahya, Turkey, “with an experiment to blend traditional ‘oriental’ (Ottoman) motifs and contemporary ‘western’ cinema. After a positive response to “Ottoman Star Wars”, I decided to take the theme further, and developed more film posters using the same technique.”
And it turned out fantastic. Making waves all over the internet and various art e-zines, Palta’s oriental illustrations of Hollywood classics has the perfect aesthetic blend of the east and the west. Dressed up in sheikh garb while taking in the scent of a rose, our chubby villain Darth Vader looks pleasantly carefree among his equally well-dressed minions. Jack from The Shining doesn’t look so threatening either.
Considering how the eastern aspect of his digital illustrations meshed well with my (often critical and harsh) academic pursuits of orientalism and its various forms, I decided to take Mr. Palta’s interview – for some art-education and fun. Our digital doodler was kind enough to take some time out to talk.
Mehreen Kasana: So what’s up these days?
Murat Palta: I’m not studying anymore but I have to finish my internship to get my diploma. I finished graphic department of Dumlupınar University (placed in Kütahya) two months ago [but] there’s an obligatory internship that has to be done. All I am doing [right now] is to deal with it.
MK: How did you get this idea? Is there a precedence to it? Because it seems like the first attempt at blending two eras – and that too with quite some eccentricity.
MP: Me and my brother like to talk about movies. Once we were talking about Star Wars, asking each other “What it would be like if it was [the] Ottoman Empire?” and I illustrated what we had talked [about]. After uploading it to a Turkish website, I recieved nice responses. At the last year of university, I decided to carry it further as my thesis for graduation.
MK: Typical question. How long did it take? All that detail! Especially the Oriental re-creation of Star Wars – I see our iconic villain in quite the relaxing sheikh mode.
MP: I don’t remember much about Star Wars but as far as I remember it took like two days with lots of breaks, of course. On the other hand, the other [illustrations] were totally troubling. In the class, everyone was working on their project but the teacher was also giving some side projects which were unnecessary. So I decided that it was not going to be like this and I stayed at home for two weeks, without going to school. I acted as if it was my job. I used to wake up early, have breaks at certain times. After two weeks, they were finished.
MK: Usually artistic folks don’t enjoy sharing the tricks of their trade. I’ll try this on you: What did you use for your graduation thesis other than your obviously fantastic creativity? Tablet?
MP: Hahah, yes and a computer of course. But seriously, there’s no catch. I just went to the school library, examined the characters and everything about style. Also, I found a book with oriental ornaments. So I digitalized them as patterns. Eveything else was regular: I drew them with a tablet. Of course, there were some characters from the movies that I don’t remember [clearly]. So I paused the scenes where they acted, and drew them on the computer. Before that, I made lots of sketches on paper.
MK: Tough stuff, damn. In one of the illustrations – my favorite, i.e. – Jack is raging while his wife cowers in the bathroom – one of the unforgettable scenes from The Shining. There’s some very nice text in the left and right corners of the drawings – and since I can’t read Turkish (assuming that it is the language) – would you mind translating the particular text above Jack’s head?
MP: Sure. At the right top, it says “lunacy”. This is how the movie is named in Turkey. At the left, above Danny it says: Danny sees twin sisters’ illussion. And above Jack’s head: Jack breaks the door under possession.
MK: Creepy. There are dozens of Hollywood classics. What made you pick the ones in your paintings? Was the selection difficult? Or was it made on a pop culture basis considering how our internet is obsessed with Pulp Fiction jokes and A Clockwork Orange, Godfather references?
MP: We can say all of them were the parts for me to decide. I sought for the movies with three qualities: They had to be titled “classic” or “cult” so that everyone could recognise what the miniatures were about, even though he or she hadn’t seen the movie yet. They had to contain some reflections from western culture. They had to be adapted to eastern culture or miniature style. So these movies had these three qualities – more or less.
MK: It’s hard to believe these are digital illustrations, is what someone exclaimed to me. They further explained how the detail and texture looked amazing thus the disbelief. How long has it taken for you to master strokes and angles on a digital medium? Is it a lot tougher than an actual painting on a canvas?
MP: Sometimes. For instance, personally I like working with paper and pencil. It’s more enjoyable for me and it’s easier. To talk about digital medium, its advantage is colouring. Also, if you make a mistake, it’s easy to take it back. Since I didn’t have much time, I had to make them with a digital medium. Honestly, even if I had time I would still make them [on the same platform]. Because my aim was also to prove that traditional can go together with digital. Controlling strokes and angles didn’t take much time but at first, it was little hard for me to control the tablet. I had been using the mouse [before]. At the time I was working on the project, it had been four months or something since I bought the tablet and till that time, I just used it infrequently. But after all, I made it!
MK: I’ll stop pestering you now. Before I stop, got any tips or friendly advice for aspiring artists and illustrators?
MP: I’m too young to give tips but I can give some friendly advice: I think graphic artists shouldn’t try hard to draw great. Instead, they should try hard to find different ideas so that they can take a [different] step for graphic art.
MK: Thanks for your time, Murat. Awesome work.
Check out the whole set here. There should be a book of these.
I planned to update this blog with my review of Al Jazeera journalist and desktop ‘terrorist’ Azad Essa’s incisive book “The Moslems are Coming” for the blog tour but then life got caught in the process of moving from one place to the other where I, finally, have my own room and a bookshelf with no space or tolerance for Ayn Rand and Co. So stuff’s smooth for now.
Like his name, Azad (Urdu for ‘free’) is unapologetically azad with his views on the world and the ruckus that makes it go awry, if not round. At first, while reading, I almost blurted out, “Hold up, y’all. Is this guy one of those self-hating Muslim types who inadvertently ends up on the Islamophobic train to Racist-and-Xenophobic-ville while making short stops at towns of generalization and hyperbole?” But I was wrong – and I’m glad I was wrong. The Moslems are Coming isn’t just about Muslims; it’s a collection of published and unpublished posts from his blog and elsewhere that transcends borders, continents, cultures and even ideologies. And he does it with biting wit and insight. There are political histories that Essa has sharp opinions on and those opinions aren’t offered with TLC. Expect a jocular passive aggressive tone with post scripts here and there.
It’s uncomfortable in a good way. Forgive me for the clichéd expression but Essa holds up the mirror for everyone including himself. And while the reflection isn’t exactly the best one and the angle isn’t the most precise, it is undoubtedly honest and uninhibited – two traits that are rare. There were moments when I found myself thinking, “Gee, Azad. I kinda disagree here, man…” but I think that’s what The Moslems are Coming is about: To see the world with an introspective lens that doesn’t get blurry with instant indignation. There’s for great food for thought in here and it isn’t layered with sugar.
From the racial profiling and absurd paranoia harmless Muslims are subjected to, active racism, shameless classism to varying degrees of state-endorsed, community-encouraged hypocrisy, sexism, South African politics, the West’s peculiar disdain for Muslim women garb and the equally rash obsession with ‘liberating’ them, plus his bitter take on the duplicity present in the global community of Muslims, there’s a whirlwind of thought in here. There’s a strong stance on the western double standards of the phenomenon of the Noble Prize (and a good piece on the drone-pumping Nobel Laureate Barack Obama), there’s a heartbreaking collection of reports of disappeared and disappearing Kashmiris under the state of India and how the Indian civil society, like Mirza Waheed has tirelessly said, remains silent on state-led human rights violations, there’s a weird yet comical section on the ‘rise’ of brown-black marriages in India and so, so much more. Azad’s narration of the political events developed during the World Cup in South Africa is worth reading. For someone like myself who isn’t exactly knowledgeable about SA politics, The Moslems are Coming offered an interesting look at national affairs.
In the section on the burqa ban in France, I almost got angry at Azad for initially sounding like he was about to pass another personal law on ripping that covering off of Muslim women but this is the deal with his book: You have to patiently see where he’s leading you to. And usually it’s a good place. See, home boy doesn’t like the covering: “’I don’t like the burqa. Europe doesn’t like the burqa. But so what? […] Yes, there are women forced into wearing the burqa and the hijab. […] At the same time there are those who voluntarily and wholeheartedly accept it as a religious obligation. How can a government or an individual, from a judgmental distance, distinguish between those on whom the burqa is being forced and those wearing it freely?”
There’s nuanced criticism on almost everything – even your favorite leaders (no spoilers, that’s the fun part) and ideas you thought that were perfect when you were a gullible kid. It’s almost like he wants you to grow up and break those chains that stop you from calling a spade a spade.
That’s the azaadi offered by Azad. (I’ll stop being cheesy with your name now.)
As a student and ex-teacher, I used to (and sometimes still do) find myself helpless before the constant influx of ‘academic’ and ‘political’ analyses emanating from the West concerning the Middle East, Asia and Islamic world – the East. The dichotomy mentioned by me here is deliberate due to the fact that it is highly obvious and perpetuated in Western ‘studies’ regarding 9/11 and post-9/11 dynamics in the world. The ideology of Us VS Them is endorsed directly and indirectly by the ones favored by the Empire – i.e. the United States of America. It becomes obvious when you read op-eds by Thomas Friedman, Seth Jones and Co simply because you can witness their views take practical form in the instances of drones, intervention, ‘necessary’ surveillance against a particular community, etc. When I spoke to Seth Jones on BBC WHYS after Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, I was very taken aback by the tone and assertion made – after being interrupted – by Mr. Jones that he “knew Osama more than anyone” and that his “regional knowledge of Pakistan” told him enough to understand the “militant ideology of its public.” He was, basically, claiming that the views of a native Pakistani were inadequate compared to his evaluation of the country – a land that is extremely diverse and subsequently complicated. This is a microcosmic example of how the Empire or the Super Power shuns the native voice and claims that its knowledge of a certain land, a certain people is all that should be heard and goes on to force others to accept it.
But it’s not completely bleak; There is hope. And that hope stems from those who choose to question the Empire and its modus operandi. I’ve learned from several people the powerful significance of reading between the lines and knowing that although imperialist powers would love to have matters committed in black and white, things are actually suspended in grey. A thick, murky and often bloody grey space that has to be delved into and sorted out by natives and those who openly oppose imperialism and rhetorical colonialism in, ironically enough, a post-colonial era.
But what is this narrative? What is the Empire? How does it function and how does it destroy the weak and hapless by simply using words? It is important to know the answers to these questions before you stand up and challenge the Empire. The narrative, as I would explain to my students and class fellows, is the description for a certain demographic/region/people established by the Empire. e.g. The narrative concerning Muslim populations has been a bigoted, racist and overly generalized set of theories, ideas and approaches.
Such an “expert” is usually one who has not studied the region, and especially not in any academic capacity. As a result, they do not possess any significant knowledge of its languages, histories or cultures. They are often vetted by the market, having produced a bestselling book or secured a job as a journalist with a major newspaper. They are not necessarily tied to the “official” narratives or understandings, and can even be portrayed as being “a critic” of the official policy. In other words, this profile fits one who doesn’t know enough.
I realized that many of you – curious and critical – asked me what I meant when I’d urge my students and readers to challenge the narrative. As someone from a land that was colonized during the days of the subcontinent and then, post-partition, waged a covert war upon – that was never and probably will never be officially declared – I believe it is important to understand that the legitimacy with which governments – local or foreign – silence and misrepresent people through literature, media and politics has to be aggressively questioned. Like Mr. Hussain says:
The time to contest the hegemonic narratives and systems of dominance is now. “The effort to be ethical in the world we inhabit,” writes Ahmed “cannot wait for better times and milder risks.” For while the tenured illuminati console themselves with doses of virtuous patience and cautious knowledges, drones continue to colonize the skies and rain death from afar like gods. And they are headed home to roost.
I grew up thinking what Frantz Fanon described aptly in his quote: “The oppressed will always believe the worst about themselves.” Because it was what I was fed through TV, newspapers, comics, ad infinitum until I realized: There is a lot more to the story and it is purposefully hidden from my sight. The Empire will do everything to justify its violence. If anything, I had to question it and for that I had to use my mind and my voice.
And before I end this haphazard but important post, I’ll leave you guys with some recommended reads of the week:
I speak from a South Asian perspective – briefly so. The idea of “saving” a woman’s “honor” is not a man’s job. It is highly complicated in the sense that when a woman is sexually assaulted or harrassed, she is seen as a lesser being because her “honor” has been “stolen.” The attacker against said honor is often a man. The guardian of that honor is, erroneously so, a man again. Therefore he has to “save” her and “protect” the “sanctity” of her reputation from that criminal not because he believes that women deserve equal rights and access to the same privilege he has, but because the honor of the woman – an object under him – has been violated. The running emotion behind it is often misguided in that instead of making it her issue, he makes it his own. He finds himself less masculine if his sister, wife, mother or daughter is assaulted. He blames himself. She becomes a fragile, easily-broken, easily-tainted object. The concept of “Ghairat” that continues to thrive in the minds of men in our society is also endorsed by many women. To believe that it is only men perpetuating this mindset, is overly simplified and flawed. I do encourage men and women to protect each other but also to view each other as equal human beings, that an assault on a woman’s body is not supposed to undermine a male relative’s honor but that it is inherently the attacker’s fault, the shame should be thrown upon him.When a man is assaulted, his ‘honor’ isn’t fretted over upon by a woman. His issue is his alone, his body belongs to him. But when a woman is assaulted, the related man believes he has been insulted. Her body becomes a battlefield. Another problem that arises is that instead of holding the male attacker responsible for the crime, the woman is instantly hidden from public view. The belief is that by hiding her, the problem goes away. But it doesn’t; it grows stronger, angrier and more dangerous for the woman. Silence implies complicity in this case.
Many people forget during feminist discourse on patriarchy that while patriarchy oppresses women, it also defines hyper-masculine, rigid requisites for men. “He must not cry, he must not express emotion, he must be strong every single day of his life.” Men should not define their masculinity by narrow concepts of “honor” but by supporting the idea that their masculinity is defined by the noble drive to hold women’s status and respect equal to that of men.
A real man is the one who respects the individual space and voice of a woman. A real man does not define honor for a woman. That her issue is hers alone and that the help and protection offered is not out of upholding his sense of ‘ghairat’ or honor but because it is her right to be safe from assaults. It is her right to be treated with respect.
Since everyone’s coming up with their own manifesto for whatever reason they believe in, I’ve decided to put forth my own because I am, much to my disappointment and irritation, surrounded by rishta zombies. Now let’s clear one thing before I even start: It’s not just the aunties. I see tweets on Twitter and status updates on Facebook bashing elderly ladies and claiming that they’re the sole reason why our society is obsessed with marriage and other gimmicks but guess what? No, they’re not. It is very convenient to throw the blame on one single group for the intrusive madness found in our culture. It’s not just these elderly folks or even slightly young ones; it is also men who assert the flawed notion that a chaste, successful woman is the one who ties the knot early without having her hymen touched. It is also people – even “liberal feminists” and “progressive thinkers” who forget, during their bouts of rage on social networks, that they indirectly define parameters and rules for other women as well when they yell, “I don’t get why she married so early!” when it just could be, if you consider the possibility, that said woman did so because of her own choice and priorities.
Which brings us to the first point in my manifesto replete with crayons and doodles:
Holy shit. Choice. Listen to the word. Ch-oi-ce. God, that sounds so good. Choice. Ch-ch-ch-choice, baby. Prerogative, consciously thinking a step through in order to commit it, the idea to decide for yourself. Possibly one of the best words in the whole damn universe. Ironically enough, it is the least respected one by both spectrums of political, social and religious debates. So let’s set one thing straight: It is a person’s choice to marry or not and this decision is theirs alone. Now that we’ve established this basic truth, allow me to dispel several things our society makes us believe in:
i)“Larki ki shaadi x umer mai ho jani chahiye.” Translation: “A girl should get married when she is x-years-old.”
Stop setting an age limit for tying the knot. I’ve known several people to instantly throw in the biological reasons for marrying at so-and-so age because “it gets tough to have babies later on.” Let’s consider another real possibility: Maybe she doesn’t want to have children. That is completely fine. Stop forcing women to view themselves as reproductive machines in crisp aprons and nothing else. Some women don’t want to be mothers. Some women don’t want to have sex at all; They don’t want to touch your horny plans with a pole for the rest of their lives. That does not make them cold-blooded, baby-chewing demons from the deepest pits of hell. It makes them humans with their own ideas of living life. Stop punishing them for that.
ii) “Jab shaadi hoti hai to sirf dulhan/dulha se nahi hojati; uske pooray khandaan se aik qism ki shaadi ho jati hai.” Translation: “When a wedding takes place, it’s not just the bride or groom you’re marrying; it’s like you’ve married the in-laws in a way too.”
How about no? While mutual respect and consideration for the legitimate needs of the family is fine, we need to stop conflating respect with blind subservience. Respecting a human does not mean fearing a human. Respect does not mean breaking your spine to please your mother-in-law or your husband’s second cousin’s uncle’s sister. Respect does not mean forgetting your own legitimate needs for the petty objection raised by the family you’ve become part of. Stop feeding young women and girls of our society this recipe of eternal subjugation. You’re raising slaves.
iii)“Larki ki rangat gori, kamar patli aur qadd acha hona chahiye warna larka nahi milay ga.” Translation: “The girl’s complexion should be fair, her waist slender and her height tall or else she won’t land a spouse.”
Get the hell out of here. This is exactly where hypocrites step in and do the salsa with these “imperfect” girls. This obsession with white skin, waif thin bodies, aquiline noses, delicate features is not a recent development; it is steeped in a history where a colonized people are forced to think that there is something fundamentally wrong with their physical characteristics. This goes on for decades and then, down the lane, we are ‘freed’ to run our own country where our society can ‘flourish’ but that never actually happens. We allow industries to capitalize on our inferiority complex. Case in point: Fair ‘n’ Lovely, Stillman, Garnier and the list goes on. I still remember one commercial where a naturally fair-skinned actress encourages women to buy Garnier’s skin lightening cream to look “prettier.” If there is a way to punch TV without breaking the set, email me here.
This bullying of dark skinned women is found in classrooms, at tea parties, during subtle rishta-hunts at weddings, everywhere. Several girls in elementary school in Virginia called me and my mother “ugly” because we weren’t white, we were Asians and that incident can be classified under pure racism. But what do you call it when people of your own ethnicity, of your own race decide to cast you out because you’re not white enough or your eyes aren’t blue enough or you don’t look Nordic enough to land a husband? It’s called: Misfortune and internalized racism. So from now on, if you see someone making fun of a girl or a boy by calling them “kaala”, “choora” (way to go, bigots) or anything similar to that, you best break everything they love with a handy dandy crowbar.
A woman is a woman and she doesn’t need to be ‘gorgeous’ according to definitions by society. She can be thin, fat, dark, fair, big, small, hairy, shaved, single, married, button-nosed, thin-nosed, lanky, chunky, virgin, non-virgin, anything and no one is allowed to make her feel inferior. Parents, if you’re doing this, quit it. Teachers, if you haven’t talked about this to your students, do it. Sisters, if your sibling is found hating themselves in the mirror, snap them out of it. Brothers, if your sister is made to feel ugly because she doesn’t fit the typical image of a “beautiful” woman, love her and tell her she’s perfect the way she is. Fathers, make your girls feel at home, at ease, respect them. Mothers, my God, don’t ever buy colors that “complement” a girl’s complexion; let her wear the color she likes, quit buying creams that “enhance” her pigmentation.
iv) “Jiski shaadi na ho, uska janaza nahi parhaya jata.” Translation: “The janaza of an unmarried Muslim isn’t carried out.”
I really don’t enjoy bringing religion into cultural debates but since our country has mixed the two to dangerous levels, let’s clear one thing for the last time: Matrimony is not farz, it is a sunnah. A sunnah is not mandatory, it is only highly encouraged. But in the case of not committing it, no one will drag you to
hell as long as you conform to your religion’s prescribed idea of not performing gunaah. That is all. Quit quoting zaeef (weak) ahadith and scaring the lights out of people. There are unmarried Muslims out there doing a whole good to the society and I’m sure I’ll be saying their janaza when their time comes. If you choose not to pray for someone simply because they didn’t marry, you’re an idiot. For Non-Muslims: The fourth point doesn’t apply to you.
Now that we’ve tackled some nonsense we’re told to believe in, let’s come to the solution part of my manifesto.
Say No to Rishta-Window Shopping:
You are a human with feelings. You are not a commodity on the shelf of a super store. You do not have a price tag hanging from your left butt cheek. You are a person who deserves respect, consideration and space. And if someone deliberately violates any one of those rights, you have the right to call them out on their insensitivity. If I were you, I’d make sure I gave crass rishta people a memorable time. Say, surprise them:
Say Yes to Your Comfort
Uncomfortable with the idea of getting married to the guy you don’t even know? Have you tried talking to him and still felt that the communication wasn’t exactly the best one? Does he seem unfit for commitment with you? Does he exude the shining potential to be a complete jackass? Then say it out loud. Don’t hide it. Some people are completely okay with the idea of an arranged marriage/marrying early/marrying late and some aren’t. That’s their choice. No one should be able to define what a perfect marriage is for you. Find out for yourself. Marry when you’re ready or don’t marry at all. Stand your ground. Like this:
Sorry. Wait. Like this:
My priority: I am only marrying when I’ve established a career for myself. Women in our society are whisked off when they’re not essentially ready in any way. I speak for the majority, before several of you decide to criticize me for my “generalizing.” The idea of becoming dependent on a male for financial assistance and a respectable social position is something that needs to stop. This argument can be challenged rightfully by the scenario in lower classes where marriages of convenience take place – something that will be discussed in another post. That said, the pinnacle of a woman’s life should not be getting married, in my opinion. There’s a thing called empowerment and it’s not emphasized enough because here’s what happens: Employment and education provide women with power and equality if done right. Something that our culture and society doesn’t exactly enjoy entertaining the thought of. Invest in your education, invest in your career, invest in your own priorities before marrying. I am not denouncing the institution of marriage at all. I am simply asking people to let women think and decide for themselves. For some women, settling down is the most important plan on their list and that’s fine as long as she is not at the mercy of her spouse. To make that possible, she should be aware of her rights as a human being. If you’re close to someone who doesn’t exactly know what her rights are, tell her. And remember: Don’t force liberation or your idea of “empowerment” on her. It’s her choice at the end of the day.
Knock It Off With the “Larki Ka Ghar Uska Susraal Hota Hai”/”A Girl’s Real Home is With Her In-Laws”:
Fuck no. My home is where I was raised, it’s where my mother made breakfast for me and my siblings, it’s where my mineral face wash is. Don’t tell me some prospective house in another city or country is my “real” home. This mentality is such a destructive one, people don’t realize. The first time I saw this in action was when I was on a visit to my grandma’s and this commercial appeared. Here’s an image of it:
“Meri nanhi parri naye ghar ko challi.” Really now. Where was she before? A boarding house? Oh, she was with her parents? That’s a strange place to be for a girl, right? The idea of telling a young girl that her parents’ house is not her home, is wrong for one reason: You’re feeding her mind with the idea that she is displaced and a burden on the family during her “stay.” When she gets married and lives with her spouse, society tells her then: “Your real home is your maika (parents’ house).” Thank you for confusing a woman with the idea that neither her mother and father’s abode is hers nor is her husband’s house. That she is a misfit in both places. What’s even worse is how many households never inform their sons that their “real” home is elsewhere; they’re already home. If you see someone telling a girl something so flawed, call them out on it right then and there. Marriage should not be the reason for a girl to validate her presence in any area. Why should anyone tell a girl her real home is B, not A when A is basically where she was raised?
Divorce is NOT the End of the World:
Really. It’s not. A social orgy happens when a woman gets divorced. There is something inherently sickening about a society that experiences collective shock, horror and insatiable curiosity when a marriage is called off. The second thing that happens is how the majority speculates that there had to be something wrong with the girl’s character, past, appearance, family, bra, anything for the failed marriage. Very few people even consider the possibility that maybe, just maybe the husband was a jerk to nth level and so it would’ve been stupid to spend a lifetime with him. In this way, we make life impossible for women. Something we do not have the right to do. Stop hyping something so commonly-occuring. If someone tells you they’re divorced, don’t do this:
Okay, sorry. Don’t tell them seagulls are fascinating (which they actually are). Just don’t offer pity. It’s insulting.
You have every right to voice your concerns, needs, wants, dreams, goals to your parents and guardians and if need be, the society we live in. If you’re not ready for such a big change in your life, it’s okay. Tell your parents, tell your partner, tell your friends. Let them know. Getting badgered by the whole town is really annoying, I know. But what you can do is speak up. It takes guts and I’m sure you have them. If someone uses the what-will-people-say card on you, tell them: You don’t live for public approval. If someone throws the religious card on you, tell them: Religion states that a person doesn’t have to marry if they’re not ready, that their consent is extremely important. If someone tells you you’re getting old/unwanted/etc, tell them to find another hobby instead of pampering their ego by picking on others. There are so many people out there who genuinely have nothing better to do but the good thing is, I believe there’s a special spot for them in hell and karma also does them a favor eventually but that their sole punishment in life is simple: Being their miserable, pathetic selves.
Rise above them.
See, the thing this society won’t tell you is that you need to think your plans through, you need to ask yourself before you commit to something, you have to think for yourself. This society won’t ever tell you that your worth is not determined by the melanin in your skin, the pounds you weigh or don’t, how many jewels you have or not, how hot a partner you’ve scored, the cash in your account, etc. The society will always make you feel rushed, incompetent and disrespected. Challenge that. Fight against it. Call people out on their bullshit. Make mistakes, learn from them. Live life the way you want to. Don’t let anyone define anything for you. But above all, be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Learn and live and be happy.