RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: January 2012

All is the same – All is changed

Quantum physics says that everything is always in a state of flux. That we are not stationery objects. Nothing is stationery. Ever changing. Ever evolving. The universe too remains in a state of change – theories keep surfacing about how it is shrinking, or growing, from different perceptions of different scientists. But for sure, it is not the same as it was millions of years ago.

Neither is our immediate environment. Neither in the physical sense, nor in the social. Languages change and evolve, as do cultures. No one speaks exactly like they used to twenty years ago. New words have found their way into our vocabulary, into our minds. The Norman Conquest changed the face of English language forever. American expansionism gave it a new flavor. And the world becoming a global village has seen the fastest ever addition of foreign language borrowings into the English language. We may want to cling on to the classical or Elizabethan English, but cannot. Change. It happens. These are stages of evolution.

Mankind seems to be constructing buildings with a vengeance to accommodate 7 billion of us on the planet. New buildings have sprung up all over Karachi. All over the world, in fact. Landscapes have changed. Both outer and inner. Neither does my house look like it used to ten years ago, nor do I. Change! Inevitable.

That is why nostalgia is such an important part of who we are. We need to somehow cling on to what was, and is no more. So we take a drive down old Clifton, or take pictures of Empress Market at dawn, or produce a theatre version of Agha Hashar’s play “Naik Parveen” to know and remember simpler times when grey was not so obvious and life was simply black and white. We love the pebbled streets of Italy and we marvel at art in the Louvre from the 16th century. We term these things “classics”. We listen to Sinatra and Umm Kulthum of Egypt and black and white Bollywood songs from the ‘50s and try and stay connected to what the world has lost. But the power of the present moment is irrefutable. We listen, alongside all of this, to “Kolaveri Di” and Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep”.

But I suspect we over-simplify the past. It was not so pristine or puritanical for the people of that time. What we think were “simpler times” may have been pretty complicated for those who were living it.

Is what goes away or changes truly lost? Is it? Quantum physics also talks of a parallel universe. It means nothing ever really gets lost. It is there, somewhere. Only not in my and your today. Not in the now. But somewhere, it still exists. Matter changes form, they say, but does not cease to exist.

Just like we change form, as we grow, as we age. Cross thirty five and the pounds pile on quicker and the laugh lines start getting pronounced and for women the hormones make them moodier and for men….well…..they simply start getting hairier as middle-age approaches.

And so nostalgia sets in again. Every once in a while, we sit down with faded pictures in hard-cover bound albums of our childhood. The colours of the photographs have changed and half the people are not alive anymore. But we love seeing them, and re-visiting yesterday. But then we come back to our digi-cams and take some pix of the today, the now, and post them on facebook and flickr…..again attempting to give it a classic feel by making them black and white or sepia toned at times. Merging the changed and the unchanged.

Time speeding by reminds me that the world today is very different from the world Charles Dickens was born in 200 years ago. Nostalgia made Dickens write these beautiful words: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way.”

The past always looks beautiful. We humans have selective memories. It is a basic survival mechanism.

Inwardly, also, it’s all changing. It’s not the same person who looked at you in the mirror years ago. So the dynamics of re-construction, renovation, wear and tear, maintenance, of adding something new and taking away something old… all applies to our inner world as well.

QALB – this Arabic word connotes the human heart, but literally means to flip something over. Imam al-Raghib in his Mufradaat  says that this term is applied to the human heart (physically as well), it is said, because of its frequent turning over, or going through what we call “changes of heart” where emotions, decisions and opinions flip and switch often.

A change of heart – happens forever. All the time. From joy to sorrow, from tears to laughter, from anger to forgiveness, from indifference to love, from denial to acceptance, from pining to satisfaction, from faith to a lack of it, and from a lack of it back to faith.

I love this excerpt from the book “40 Rules of Love by Elif Shafak”. This is a conversation between Shams of Tabriz and a drunkard (pg 140), a sensitive look at matters of faith and a change of heart:

Shams of Tabriz shook his head. “They had no right to do that. Every individual is self-sufficient in his search for the divine. There is a rule regarding this: We were all created in His image, and yet we were each created different and unique. No two people are alike. No two hearts beat to the same rhythm. If God had wanted everyone to be the same, he would have made it so. Therefore, disrespecting differences and imposing your thoughts on others is tantamount to disrespecting God’s holy scheme.”

“That sounds good,” I said, amazing myself by the ease in my voice. “But don’t you Sufis ever doubt anything about Him?”

Shams of Tabriz smiled a tired smile. “We do, and doubts are good. It means you are alive and searching.”

He spoke in a lilting tone, exactly as if he were reciting from a book.

“Besides, one does not become a believer overnight. He thinks he is a believer; the something happens in his life and he becomes an unbeliever; after that, he becomes a believer again, and then an unbeliever again, and so on. Until we reach a certain stage, we constantly waver. This is the only way forward. At each new step, we come closer to the Truth.”

Relationships, too, change, as they are a matter of the heart, or the Qalb. Non-platonic love, as most psychologists agree, travels and transforms from one stage to another: from romance to lust to deeper physical and emotional intimacy and finally to an emotional attachment. And it is not necessary that we stay in that state of mind….or heart….it keeps changing.

Change is the only constant. We know it. We have to accept it, whether it is a change in us, in the people we know or the world around us. It is not always easy to do so. But try we must.

So in the spirit of embracing change, here is a beautiful song by George Benson called “Everything Must Change”.

Everything must change,
nothing stays the same.
Everyone must change
nothing stays the same.

The young become the old,
mysteries do unfold.
‘Cause that’s the way of time
nothing and no one goes unchanged.

There are not many things 
in life you can be sure of.

Rain comes from the clouds,
and sun lights up the sky,
and humming birds do fly.

Winter turns to spring.
Wounded heart will heal.
Never much too soon
everything must change

Rants of a Karachiite with Asthma, Allergies & a Runny Nose

My bedside table is bursting at its seams with piles of miscellaneous colourful medicines – tablets, sachets, strepsils and other cough drops, nasal sprays, throat sprays, liquid medicines for nebulization, and a huge box of tissues. Myteka or Singulair don’t work no more, yet they are like my security blanket which I cannot do without, so I take one everyday, as does my daughter. Me and she bond over the daily ritual of eating “Myteka” together and blowing our nose in unison and giving each other a “I-know-how-you-feel” smile. I have every asthma and cough and cold OTC (over the counter) medicine available in that market, because you never know when my nose decides to start flowing relentlessly, or when I will start sounding like a choked horn of a mini bus, or when I will start to breathe heavily like a 1970s’ Pakistani film heroine (sans any romantic reasons).

An inhaler is always to be found in my hand bag…….I am like Govinda in the Bollywood flick “Partner” who needs an inhaler to emote… be happy or sad or nervous or stressed out.

The kitchen counter has the lame (& almost useless) “better-safe-than-sorry” and “prevention-is-better-than-cure” and “pump-up-your-defence-mechanism” type of stuff which includes Vitamin C and Cod Liver Oil and Ultra-Mega Potency Multi-Vitamins in horrible colours which my two sympathetic siblings who live abroad get for me in the hope that next time they come, I will be looking more like Farahnaz and less like Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer!

My calendar has names of different anti-biotics and anti-histamines written in green coloured ink, and the other medicines in red, and specially the winter months’ pages of the calendar look battle scarred, because I mark the dates I took those meds and on the side scribble in doodle-like handwriting which doctors prescribed what.

I have tried homeopathic meds with great zelousness…..specially the tasty tiny white sugary balls with some haunting eerie-smelling liquid used to soak them (rumoured to be alcohol). I have tried Hakeemi meds as well……Sharbat e Toot, Khameera Gaozaban Ambri Jawahardaar, Joshandas in all it’s disgusting flavours, and those horrid cough drops called Sualeen which taste like a mix of Iodex and Gurh (jaggery). And I am currently in the process of considering Hijama (Cupping Therapy), but the only problem with that is that I am hemophobic, and faint at the sight of flowing blood (which is why every time I went to a blood bank in an altruistic mood to donate blood, they sent me back home with a box of Fruito juice and some sympathy).

My fridge has lists of the names and contacts of all ENT and chest specialists in my area, held up by fridge magnets.

My daily diet includes adrak aur daar cheeni ki chaai (ginger-cinnamon tea) with honey, soups and yakhnis.

There are days I get up with eyes so swollen that it looks as if I cried all night long. It is a nightmare if that’s a day I have to meet someone, or go to an interview. My nose can often be found red and peeled, specially between November and February.

My allergies (which includes allergic asthma, allergic rhinitis and allergic bronchitis) have gotten worse since I started living close to the Creek, and Karachi’s climate does not suit me. Period.

Yet, I do what every doctor advises me to do, and what my own inner voice of wisdom tells me to do. I survive!

I take my meds regularly, slow down a few times a month, but refuse to stop leading a normal life. I take my walks in the park and drive around the city even after having used the inhaler and taking steam inhalation that very morning.

I live up life. Meanwhile, I continue to wait for that magic drug which will cure my allergies.

Don’t drag Islam into every debate

A wife: Not an adversary, not a subordinate, not a superior, but a companion – an equal, with a role that may be different, but equal.

A marriage: A coveted relationship based on mutual respect, companionship, love, and joy.

This is how it is supposed to be; this is how Islam sees it. Is that always the case in reality?

No. In a disturbing percentage of cases, it is not.

Is Islam to be blamed for this, or any religion for that matter? No. Are patriarchal cultural tendencies responsible for it? Often, yes.

Why is it then that in almost every article, blog, documentary, book, or piece of information that talks of a woman who has been wronged, Islam is brought up even though it is totally out of context?

However, it seems like we are living in a world of ‘catch phrases’ and safe playing when it comes to media (writing, journalism, music, or film-making). Like a very apt comment on Facebook recently said:

“One cannot go wrong with Sufism these days.”

A bit of mullah-bashing, human rights jargon, controversial issues brought out of the closet – and voila! A recipe for success.

Being a journalist and a human rights activist of sorts myself, this is not to imply that there is anything wrong with it. But there has to be a context – some sort of a connection. Without connection, bringing religion into every human rights violation is moot. If it is contextual, then by all means, go ahead and do so.

An example is a recent interesting write-up on marital rape. The topic is apt, relevant to many, a human rights violation, and thus, should be taken up. But Islam neither encourages nor condones it. More than the writer, the comments under the write-up were disturbing. It seemed as though people were looking for an opportunity to lash out at Islam. Ahadith being quoted were completely out of context.

For the record, I agree with the writer; marital rape is rape. It is a human rights violation not sanctioned by Islam.

Let me also narrate a story here:

A woman, Muslim, Pakistani, educated, with a so-called educated husband, gives birth to her third child. She comes home with the baby. She has an episiotomy. Her stitches have not healed. The first night her husband forces himself on her. She bleeds. She cries. She does not want it. He does not care. But she does not protest. It is a case of marital rape. No question about it. In addition to this, a woman’s basic human right of respect has been violated. She is simultaneously a victim of domestic violence, harassment, and marital rape.

The above story has many catch phrases and concepts that will make it an instant hit, and if used as a baseline for a feature or film, it has potential to become a human rights’ champion. Woman, Muslim, marital rape, human right, victim, domestic violence, harassment: all these words are going to come up in net-searches or tags. Add to it a few ahadith and verses from the Quran that seem patriarchal enough and voila! Recipe for a hit, with many comments under it, commending the bravery and valour of the one who dared to bring it up.

Let me be clear here, it is not just about Islam, any religion or ethical code will not allow a human being wronged. Therefore, where there is no need for it, bringing up religion unnecessarily is hardly needed. Yes, if there is a need, it must be brought up. The current discussion, and the passing of a resolution in the Sindh Assembly against honour killings is related to Qisaas and Diyyat laws. The laws have been looked into, as do the lacunas and loopholes that are allowing these laws to be misused against unassuming victims of honour killings.

As writers, journalists, media persons and activists, we have a responsibility, not just towards others but towards ourselves – that we truly believe in what we publish, and have researched it, and made sure that it is contextual. Non-partisanship and objectivity are an aim, but in all honesty  are myths when it comes to presenting ideas. Our tilts need to at least have reasonable limits, even if neutrality is not achieved.

Online presence is an attractive whirlpool, and to have an online presence, we use the most attractive concepts and catchy ideas at times, which is ligitimate, provided the idea or quotation or reference makes sense. Equally responsible is the readership or viewership. When we become less discerning, we just popularize certain concepts and ideas, for example Islam’s patriarchal tilt or extremism these days. The rules of demand and supply fall into place, and media persons continue to churn out predictable hits, albeit incontextual at times.

I ask not for objectivity, for that can make a write-up both boring and ultimately doing a disservice to causes that need advocacy. I ask, simply, for fair-mindedness. I believe it is possible.

Of Parks, Maya Khan & the Concept of Privacy in Islam

I start with the disclaimer that I have nothing personal against Maya Khan, and actually respect some of the shows that she has previously done that brought up certain important social issues to light. But this time, she crossed a line, and I am plain irritated.

Privacy is a basic human right. A right which Islam respects and condones.

When Maya Khan, on the show “Subah Saveray Maya ke Saath”  (aired on 17th January 2012 on Samaa tv) barged into a park of Karachi to “check out” what people were doing and air that on tv, she violated this basic human right. It irritated me as a journalist, as a human and as a Muslim. While Islam is not against people advising each other to abstain from acts harmful to individuals and society, it is certainly against infringement of the basic right of privacy.

I write at the risk of being asked the question “But what does Islam have to do with it?” To that I would say, “Oh, but it does”. The society that we are living in today, everything boils down to either being the “mullahs” or the “liberals”. And the so-called fundos are assumedly behind every act of moral policing, of being the “holier-than-thous” and of judging. Many a times, they are not. But somehow, Islam will be hash-tagged in everyone’s mind alongside any violation of human rights. And that’s simply not fair.

What Maya and her team did falls neither under the umbrella of true Islamic values, nor liberalism. It is just reflective of today’s age of media’s voyeurism (please excuse my language here) which feeds upon any and everything that makes news and gets ratings.

Privacy, as a right, is so stressed upon in Islam, that the Qur’an says: ‘Do not spy on one another’ (49:12). This would apply also to trying and finding out details of another person’s life that we have nothing to do with……who is she seeing, why did she get a divorce, why is he still not married, how much does she earn, are they practicing family planning, why don’t they have children when it’s been 3 years since they married….. curiosity that gnaws with claws of evil pleasure at someone’s protective covering of privacy.

Ibn Kathir said in his Tafsir commenting upon Ayah 12 of Surah Al-Hujuraat: “Allâh said ‘and spy not’ on each other. Tajassus, usually harbors ill intentions, and the spy is called a Jasus….In the Sahih it is recorded that the Messenger of Allâh said: “Neither commit Tajassus nor Tahassus nor hate each other nor commit Tadabur. And be brothers Oh servants of Allâh.” Al-Awza’i said: ‘Tajassus means, to search for something, while Tahassus means listening to people when they are talking without their permission, or eavesdropping at their doors. Tadabur refers to shunning each other.’ Ibn Abi Hatim recorded this statement. [Tafsîr Ibn Kathîr, Vol. 9, pp. 201 / 202]

This hadith says it all: Abu Huraira reported Allâh’s Messenger (SAW) as saying: “Avoid suspicion,  for suspicion is the gravest lie in talk and do not be inquisitive about one another and do not spy upon one another and do not feel envy with the other, and nurse no malice, and nurse no aversion and hostility against one another. And be fellow-brothers and servants of Allah.”
[Sahih Muslim, Book 32, No. 6214]

Privacy as a right is so respected in Islam that Allah’s Messenger (SAW) who was generally known for his gentle and forgiving nature, went on to say: “”If someone peeps into your house, it will be no sin if you injure his eye with a piece of stone.” (Bukhari & Muslim)

Yes, a park is a public place. Yes, in a public place a certain decorum should be observed. Yes, Islam encourages us to advise someone against doing something inappropriate or wrong. But should that not be a matter of context? How well do you know the person whom you are advising? How will that person take your advice? Is it solicited advice or unsolicited? And are you in a position to give that advice? What is your choice of words? Most importantly, even if we DO find out a grievous sin or mistake someone committed, shouldn’t we be covering it up? Look at this hadith: “Whosoever covers (the sins of) a Muslim, Allah covers (his sins) on the Day of Judgment. (Bukhari)

Hypothetically, even if someone were “sinning” in a park (and who has the right to judge that but Allah!), is an ambush with a brigade of cameramen that catch you in the act the way to stop someone?

Have we seriously run out of topics to discuss on Pakistan’s morning shows? Or are we so idle that we have nothing better to do than be part of or watch this atrocity?

Islam is beautiful, respectful and fair to everyone. And what was done on this show in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan makes no sense.

The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said: “Of the beautiful things in a person’s Islam is to leave what does not concern him.” (Muwatta Imam Malik)

Need I say more?

Speak For Change.Afia Salam Show with Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam as guest speaker – to talk or not about tricky subjects, & what does Islam say to that.

Senegal – A wonderful Slice of Africa

See Senegal through these photographs before you read this travel blog:

Of eleven splendid suns
The crashing waves, the birds swimming in the air, humans scurrying around on their daily routines, everybody in their orbits. Tranquil. That’s Senegal
By Farahnaz Zahidi Moazzam

Pakistan has no embassy of Senegal. The visa processing takes months, if at all one gets it, that is. It’s an 11-hour flight from Dubai, that’s how far it is. And I must, must go there for a really important conference. Only, till the last day, I don’t know whether I will get the visa or not. Net search has told me that Senegal is sunny, beachy and hardcore Africa.

On the day I have to fly out, November 25, 2011, I reach Karachi airport with a fuzzy mind owing to the lack of sleep and simply too much going on in life. After a 3-hour layover at Dubai airport, a delightful surprise is in store —I have been upgraded to business class. I see that as a sign that the upcoming trip will be joyous. My seat is sandwiched between two nice gentlemen, one a Senegalese who is the same age as me but respectfully calls me “mama” just like our shopkeepers say baji or aunty. This is my first taste of friendly, amiable Senegalese people.

Senegal is 94 per cent Muslim. This is apparent when I see the tiny Dakar airport, antiquated, over-crowded with people returning home after Haj on packed flights. I hardly spot any computers. Everything is done manually. The visa-on-arrival and the long-awaited arrival of baggage takes hours! Finally out, I have my first chit-chat with the shuttle driver as we drive towards the hotel.

Pretty quaint little buildings, French architectural influences, a winding drive along an upscale road alongside the beach, and I reach the hotel. Ngor is the area, pretty, clean, with very little traffic. The same whiff of moisture-laden air that is typical of beach towns, but thankfully lacking the pollution of Karachi. I am in Dakar, the capital city of Senegal.

I get a room with a view, literally. Most of the hotels in Dakar are situated along the sea. Beautiful, clean beaches with abundant sea shells strewn along, not just in white but in dark ebony colour too.

Dakar is relaxed, as are the people. I can feel my inner pace slow down, a pleasant change after Karachi. The crashing waves, the birds swimming in the air, the breeze ruffling the leaves, humans scurrying around on their daily routines, everybody in their orbits. Tranquil. That’s Senegal.

One of the things you notice instantaneously in Senegal is the size of living beings (yes, I choose my words carefully here). The people are really tall. The birds are really big. Even the insects are bigger than the ones I see at home. And the birds are a treat for bird-watchers. Particularly the Senegal parrot is a sight to behold.

If anyone plans to go to Senegal, it is time they brush up their French, because English is rarely understood or spoken in this purely Francophone part of West Africa. By the end of my 11 days in Senegal, basic French started to make sense to me again, especially when spoken in an African accent. Influences of French remain on every aspect of culture, and continental cuisine is readily available, though local Senegalese food is known for its aromatic delicious flavour. Availability of halaal meat made life easier for me. Baobab is Africa’s popular fruit, and its milky juice is a refreshing welcome drink often served in Senegal. A popular main course specialty is Yassa chicken, which is grilled chicken served with sour spicy onion curry, and either steamed rice or plantains on the side. Seafood was always fresh, simply prepared and often served with assortments of cheese. Thiof fish was a personal favourite, fresh from the ocean, melting in the mouth.

Shopping in Senegal is a joy, simply because it is affordable for Pakistanis. In addition, this is a talented nation when it comes to arts and crafts which reflect their rich culture and many struggles. Street art in Senegal is breathtaking. Vendors on foot with amazing pieces of painting will come knock on your cab’s window. And you will be blown away by the vibrant colours, the finesse and the symbolism in the masterpieces these untrained artists churn out day after day. Craft pieces not to be missed include leather-bound boxes, bead and shell accessories, silver jewellery and baskets made of palm. If in Dakar, do visit the local Sandaga market. The sights, sounds and smells in this place gave me a true taste of Africa. But watch out for con artists and be ready to get followed around by persistent and annoying wannabe “guides”. Bargaining is a must. And make sure you remember the words “non, merci” as the eager sellers can literally harass you and follow you around.

A visit to Senegal is incomplete if you do not visit Goree Island. Reaching the ferry station by cab and then taking a ferry to it is easy. But me and my friend from India, both widely-travelled media persons, got conned into paying a non-existent tourism company for a trip to Goree Island, waited for hours for a bus that never arrived, laughed on our own stupidity, and ended up going to Goree on our own and having an awesome time. So when in the developing world, be a little smart smart!

Situated near Dakar, Goree Island is a quaint little tourism spot now, where old buildings including a slave house have been preserved in original form. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Only seeing it can do justice to its beauty. The Portuguese and Dutch architecture and the vibrantly painted small houses with bougainvillea in abundance makes Goree an eerily beautiful place to visit. It seems I was catapulted into the past.

It was a Sunday. The Muslim community of Goree had gathered that day for a congregation of sermons and they recited verses of the Quran and praises of Allah so beautifully in unison that I had a beautiful, spiritual experience, sitting under the trees at sunset. I will never forget that moment.

Built in 1776 by the Dutch, the Slave House at Goree Island is one of several sites on the island where Africans were brought to be loaded onto ships bound for the New World. The owner’s residential quarters were on the upper floor. The lower floor was reserved for the slaves who were weighed, fed and held before departing on the transatlantic journey. The Slave House with its famous “Door of No Return” has been preserved in its original state. Thousands of tourists visit the house each year, and celebrate the freedom of the human species from the clutches of slavery by re-visiting the past.

As part of my work, I had a wonderful chance to visit Thies which is the third largest city in Senegal, and two adjoining villages, as guests of “Tostan”. Tostan means “breakthrough” in the West African language of Wolof, which it certainly is. Tostan is an international non-governmental organisation with operations in over 500 communities across Africa, with a mission to empower African communities to bring about sustainable development and positive social transformation. Molly Melching, Founder of Tostan, made the visit to Senegal all the more meaningful. Her work as a human rights activist has helped almost eradicate the centuries-old custom of Female Genital Cutting (FGC) from Senegal. One of the villages we visited was Keur Siambara. Here we met Village Chief and Imam Demba Diawara, who according to Molly Melching is “a PhD in wisdom”! The one mantra Demba kept repeating that had much to be learnt, especially for activists, was: “Beautify Your Words.” Demba’s wisdom and that of other community members helped Tostan in achieving its aim. This has now led to over 6,200 communities choosing not to cut their daughters. It is entirely possible that Senegal could have ended this practice completely by 2015.

Apart from the learning experience, the hospitality and warmth of rural Senegalese people was a joy. We were welcomed among drum beats, merry dancing, and pretty girls twirling bowls made of gourd, as we were seated under a huge Neem tree. It was so unlike, yet so similar to Pakistan.

Senegal was amazing. I remember most the Belle soirées par la mer à Dakar (the beautiful evenings by the sea in Dakar), and the serenity I witnessed in that country. Eleven splendid suns, beautiful ebony complexions, serene azure waters and a wonderful slice of Africa — Senegal, you will be missed.

"I must meet Shabbir of Shabbir to Dekhe Ga…I have an unsigned check Mian Saab needs to sign…Can you help me?"

“I want to meet Shabbir. Can you help me? I will pray for you if you help me!” says 54 year old Zeenat Bibi, lifting up her hands that are discoloured by vitiligo in an earnest prayer.
Zeenat originally belongs to Abbotabad, but is living in Karachi since many years. Since the last one year, she has been desperate to meet Shabbir of the Express News tv show “Shabbir to dekhe ga”. Many con artists have met her, claiming to be Shabbir, having a good time listening to her sob story, having free cups of tea and trying to make a quick buck. Zeenat does not even recognize Shabbir, but has heard that he helps out people in distress. And distress this woman certainly is in.
My maid has told her that “my baji is a journalist, and may be she can help you”. Zeenat is at my door on this cold January morning. We sit on my breakfast table over tea. Her face is creased and lined and worried. Her hands are coarse on touch. The face shows a strange mix of disillusionment and hope. And a desperate need for a savior. Zeenat is every Pakistani.
I tell her to narrate her story. As she starts, I notice she has a habit of sighing loudly in a peculiar manner in between sentences. In between sighs, this is what she said: “I am a widow since 22 years. My family is very strict and girls do not get an education, but my daughter studied till grade 12. But my son does not allow her to work. What will people say if the women start earning when there is a man in the house?”, she says and looks at my face for approval. I nod as if I agree. I don’t.
“Poverty, hunger, desperation. This has been the story since I became a widow. More than a decade ago, someone I know took me to meet a minister of the Nawaz Sharif government back then. The minister was a female. She listened to my story and publicly gave me a cheque. Everyone applauded her. But the cheque had no signature. She said you should come to me later and get it signed. Since then, I am trying to get it signed. That money can solve my problems to a great extent.”
I try to explain to her that that government is no longer in power. But I don’t have it in me to say a whole lot and burst her bubble. Zeenat feels that because I have a computer, I can somehow get her story across to Shabbir, who will take up her cause with the right people. “But do not print my photograph. And do not publish this in any Urdu newspaper. My family and in-laws will disown me,” she says, voicing her fears. But haven’t they already disowned her, as she wanders around desperately for some support in big bad Karachi? “They practically have, but I am not a social outcast at least.”
Zeenat begs me to try. I promise I will try, and that is all I can do. The discoloured hands go up in prayer again.
Is anyone listening? Can anyone help out Zeenat? The previous government? That minister? The present government? Perhaps not. But may be Shabbir can. Can he? Will he?