“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 And do not publish this in any Urdu newspaper.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?