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The art of storytelling

With dramatic readings, Zambeel is reviving the ancient tradition of ‘dastangoi’

The art of storytelling

Eons ago, people had all the time in the world to nurture the art of listening. Long before the printing press was invented, and later the worldwide web that transmuted into e-books and digital books, narratives were recited and literature was spoken. The Hamzanama, or the Dastan e Ameer Hamza, was one of the many such works of literature that told fantastic tales of the many ventures of Ameer Hamza. Ameer Hamza’s companion Amar Ayyaar (also called Umro Ayyaar) had a bag called a Zambeel that contained all that that is in the world but the Zambeel would never be filled. The magical Zambeel, hence, could produce objects that would be core subjects of many a dastan.

But that was then and this is now. Princess Scherezade could no longer have bartered her life for tales she told as part of her Alif Laila repertoire, for no one has a thousand and one seconds to spare, let alone A Thousand and One Nights. Yet, there is a present day version of the Zambeel that has been successful in its attempts at reviving the tradition of dastangoi, or storytelling as we may call it today. Enter the Zambeel Dramatic Readings, and see a modern day semblance of this ancient art. For even if for a brief period of time, this will take you into a world where Urdu literature is read out to you the way it should be.

Zambeel Dramatic Readings came into being in early 2011 when a group of three friends — Asma Mundrawala, Mahvash Faruqi and Saife Hasan — was requested by a friend to read out a story in a gathering. “We embellished it with music. The response was what made us initiate and realise Zambeel,” says Mundrawala, a visual artist and theatre practitioner who is one of the key people behind this initiative. Zambeel Dramatic Readings was founded with a view to present texts from Urdu literature in a dramatised form to a live audience, and has mainly targeted adult audiences, but has also ventured into readings for children during the last three years.

“We aim to present texts rendered in their dramatised form, to create a dynamic collusion between literature and performance. Referencing traditions of storytelling and the contemporary form of the radio play, our works traverse time and geographical boundaries to interpret and enliven narratives through sound and recitation,” says Mundrawala.

“In an age where the purists were fearful of the fading away of correct pronunciation and nuanced delivery of Urdu, the Zambeel team has bridged the gap between the older generation and younger one by introducing this genre to them.”

Mahvash Faruqi is an educator with a background in theatre, and Saife Hasan is a performing arts practitioner particularly known for his acting.

What begun with writings from Ismat Chughtai’s rich repertoire, the group has since inception presented many projects comprising stories in both English and Urdu by authors that include Quratulain Hyder, Saadat Hasan Manto, Masood Mufti, Afsan Chowdhury, Raihana Hasan, Ashraf Suboohi, Asif Farrukhi, Munshi Premchand, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Naiyer Masud. Of late, more contemporary writers’ works are also being included into the repertoire, like Asad Muhammad Khan, Ghulam Abbas and Zamiruddin Ahmed.

“Zambeel readings have reintroduced the cultural tradition of dastangoi. The selection and the delivery has the audience in raptures,” says journalist and literature aficionado Afia Salam. “In an age where the purists were fearful of the fading away of correct pronunciation and nuanced delivery of Urdu, the Zambeel team has bridged the gap between the older generation and younger one by introducing this genre to them.”

Mundrawala affirms that while initially the audience mainly comprised only of Urdu literature enthusiasts, over time the younger generation has also begun frequenting the readings. “We now have audiences who have read the stories and also those who have not read the stories. The younger lot may not understand Urdu with facility yet they come.”

Fahad Naveed, a visual artist and long form writer, is one of Zambeel’s young audience members. “I’ve been following Zambeel for a few years now and greatly admire their work. Their readings make Urdu literature approachable and exciting for varied audiences. I’m particularly drawn in by the group’s use of sound; often sitting on a table, they are able to transport the audience with just their dialogue delivery and a few sound effects and audio cues,” he says.

Also reviving the tradition initiated by grandmothers of the region to read out stories to children, Zambeel now also caters to a younger audience, enthralling both parents and children. One such fan of these readings is Saima Harris, an optometrist and mother of a seven-year-old.

“Our experience of Zambeel’s dramatic readings was Tipu aur Jaadu ki Bayl, an Urdu narration of my son’s favorite Jack and the Beanstalk. The audience was predominantly the English-speaking ‘Burger’ primary-schoolers of Karachi (who tend to shy away from the Urdu language), and their very keen parents,” she says, adding the dramatic and interactive Urdu narration, interspersed with toe-tapping melodies, brought a traditional English childhood classic to life. “It is a step aside from the all-important but solitary reading from a book or the mind-numbing watching on a screen. There is immeasurable potential here to both entertain and educate.”

Artist Rumana Husain, who is known for solo readings for children and production of quality Urdu literature for children, says it is rare nowadays to have literary readings in the country read in a dramatic fashion, and is all praise for the initiative.

Zambeel performers imbue texts with a poignant expressive quality and perform narratives that are supported by a soundscape, enriching the aural experience of the audience through sound and recitation, explains Mundrawala. “While we are three core members, we have had many actor friends work with us by lending their voice and acting talents to our projects. Their contributions have enriched our works and we are privileged to have had so many actors, as well as designers, artists, and musicians collaborate with us.”

The team has recently initiated an audio platform of readings once a month on the YouTube channel, Zambeelnaama.

Did Yasra Rizvi deserve to be trolled for her unconventional mehr?

Published: January 7, 2017

Yasra’s unconventional mehr was something many had not heard of. PHOTO: FACEBOOK.

When actress Yasra Rizvi set out to marry Abdul Hadi, little did she know that her claim to fame will be that she married a man 10 years younger and her mehr, which her husband agreed to, is Fajr prayer (obligatory morning prayers for Muslims). The couple was scrutinised harshly through the lens of a magnifying glass, and was trolled on social media for one simple reason – they dared to do something against the norm. And nothing scares us like what we do not understand.

People are still familiar with the older-woman-weds-younger-man scenario, even though they see it as abominable, even those who harp on about how important following the example of the Prophet (pbuh) is, forget that it is also his Sunnah that he married a woman 15 years his senior at the prime of his youth.

But Yasra’s unconventional mehr was something many had not heard of. We, as a nation, have common misconceptions about this Islamic tenet, stemming from a lack of awareness. Yasra, thank you! You taking this step out of the norm may just have triggered a debate that could result in some authentic information regarding the concept of mehr trickling into our collective narrative.

Here are just a few very basic facts about the concept of mehr. While these are just a few pointers, I hope this will encourage us to talk about mehr and help expose some myths:

Mehr (also called haq mehr) is a mandatory payment of tangible assets, currency, property or an intangible, conditional commitment or understanding that both parties agree upon.

Yes, a mehr can be intangible, as is in Yasra Rizvi’s case. The best example of an intangible mehr comes from the Sahabiya Umm Sulaym Bint Milhan al-Ansarriyah (ra) who agreed to marry Abu Talha (ra), and the mehr was him accepting Islam.

Islam has not fixed an upper or lower limit of mehr. It will depend upon the financial standing of both the man and the woman.

While no amount or limit has been prescribed, it shouldn’t be an amount so extravagant that the man cannot afford to pay (and is just fixed to portray financial or social standing). Nor should it be so miniscule that the tenet appears to have been taken lightly. However, once again, no sum or limit has been set, neither upper nor lower.

The amount is to be decided upon after mutual consultation between the man and the woman tying the knot. This is one more reason why the couple entering into the contract read through and understand the clauses of the nikkah nama, and the terms are mutually agreed upon. If elders of the family help with the consultation, it should be made sure that the man and the woman are on the same page and are aware of the agreement.

Mehr is an absolutely obligatory clause of the contract of marriage for Muslims, no matter how big or small the amount.

Mehr is designed as a means of security and protection for the woman. It will be the sole property of the woman and she will have discretion over how and when to spend it. It is therefore a part of the nikkah, and its payment is not conditional with or tied to the incidence of talaaq (divorce). It is therefore strongly recommended that it is paid at the time of the nikkah. However, if there is a genuine reason why it cannot be paid at that time, mawajjal/muakhhar (deferred/promised) rather than mo’ajjal/muqaddam (immediate/prompt), then it should be paid as soon as the man can afford to pay it. Till such time that he pays it to her, it is considered a kind of debt that he owes to his wife. Islam makes clear that if he cannot pay it at that given time, he should intend on paying it at the earliest.

Upon a man’s death, all that he leaves behind as inheritance for his heirs may not be distributed among the inheritors until all payments or debts he owes to anyone are paid off, which includes the mehr.

No man who wishes to marry a woman is exempt from mehr. Thus, the custom of asking the wife to “forgive him the mehr” is not in line with Islamic tenets.

Knowledge gives one the power to make informed decisions. Yasra used that power. Instead of wasting time judging her decision, it’s best to learn more so that we, too, can make informed decisions.

Information shared in this write-up is based on authentic Islamic traditions.

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz is a writer and editor, and has worked as the Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works in the field of marketing and corporate communications. She loves literature and traveling. She tweets on @FarahnazZahidi. Her work can be seen at chaaidaani.wordpress.com/

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/44707/did-yasra-rizvi-deserve-to-be-trolled-for-her-unconventional-mehr/

How Junaid Jamshed used ‘Us Rah Par’ to foreshadow his transformation

Published: January 4, 2017
Junaid Jamshed on fusion music, Pakistan’s elite and singing naat. PHOTO: AMEER HAMZA

Junaid Jamshed on fusion music, Pakistan’s elite and singing naat. PHOTO: AMEER HAMZA

KARACHI    : For him, the song was never about a beloved. It was always about the Beloved. But he could not have said it then.

The stubble Junaid Jamshed sported in the video was perhaps one of the first times the strikingly handsome singer was seen with some form of a beard. But it was seen as part of the costume for the character of the taxi driver he played in the video, chewing on a match stick while looking intently at a female gypsy singer.

PHOTO COURTESY: PAK FILES

PHOTO COURTESY: PAK FILES

As the nation reeled from the shock of his abrupt death in the airplane crash that took away 47 lives almost a month ago, both his songs and his naat renditions started going viral on social media. It could not have been either/or. It had to be both. Some chose the former part of his singing career – mushy, poignantly phrased and softly rendered ballads and patriotic songs that helped each one of us emote at some phase of our life. Others chose his latter offerings –Islamically inspired renditions in which he sung praises of Allah and the Prophet (pbuh). Then there were those, few in number, who celebrated both phases of the icon’s life – his voice had been with them in moments of both majaazi (of the beloved) and haqeeqi (of the Beloved) Ishq.

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That was Junaid – a nexus between the two extremes. The song that was shared most by his fans on both ends of the spectrum was the ballad from his solo album in 1999, Us Rah Par. This is deeply ironic; that song represents the transformational phase of this complex, layered and loved icon of Pakistan. It would be unfair to his audiences that what he revealed about this song is not shared with them.

“That song was much deeper than romantic love for me, unlike what the video portrayed,” he had said, while talking to The Express Tribune in 2013. “By 1999, the transition in me had started. Others may not know but I know that for me, that song was about my journey. But at that time, it could not have been shown.”

Against the backdrop of his statement, the lyrics begin to make more sense:

Hum kyun chalein

Uss raah par
Jis raah par
Sab hee chalein
Kyun na chunein
Woh raasta
Jis par nahin
Koi gaya….

Time was to prove that whether people agreed with his choices or not, he did go on to choose a path that few from the entertainment industry would dare to step on. “The song had been conceived metaphorically,” Junaid had shared. While the lyrics were penned by Shoaib Mansoor, Junaid’s interpretation was very different. “I confess that I had no plans of leaving music at that time. But the love of Allah had hit me. I could feel I was changing. I couldn’t run away from it.”

Thousands bid last farewell to JJ

In many interviews and talks he gave later, as part of his work as a muballigh (evangelist), he shared that despite having fame, money and popularity, something in him would not let him rest, as if something was amiss. Investing himself in a material world had begun to seem like a waste of time. “It started with me going to religious people and the mosque for my own spiritual healing. I had everything – fame, money. But something was lacking. I felt incomplete. And being in a masjid made me feel calm. Masjid still has the same effect on me. Masjid, to me, is the place where we discover humanity.”

Junaid found his direction and that led him to discover the peace in himself we all aspire for to be complete within. PHOTO: JUNAID JAMSHED FACEBOOK PAGE Junaid found his direction and that led him to discover the peace in himself we all aspire for to be complete within. PHOTO: JUNAID JAMSHED FACEBOOK PAGE

Dil udaas nazrein udaas

Dilbar nahin gar aas paas
Din raat aah bharna
Aur beqaraar rehna
Yeh khail hee bekaar hai
Kuch bhi nahin angaar hai
Is aag main jalein kyun
Pal pal jiyein marein kyun

Many temptations tugged at his heart all through his life. He never stopped loving music, but eventually he made the choice that felt right to him. “The life of this world and the Hereafter… if you please one, the other will be upset. It’s a choice you have to make,” he had said.

An enduring memory: A conversation with Junaid Jamshed

I remember asking him if he missed his past as a singer. “Naheen yaar. No withdrawal symptoms of my past life. I am not proud but happy that as a singer, I contributed to the spirit of patriotism and my country in a positive way. I lived that part of my life to the fullest. I cherish my time with the Vital Signs,” he had said, adding that he recognised that his voice was a gift from God. “Shoaib’s poetry and my voice touched people’s hearts. They could relate to it. Rohail, Shehzad, Salman, Nusrat, Rizwan, Asad Ahmed, Amir Zaki…they are much better musicians than I ever was. But somehow, I have a voice that people connect to.”

Taimur Junaid recalls the relationship he shared with his father. PHOTO: FACEBOOK @TAIMUR JUNAID

Taimur Junaid recalls the relationship he shared with his father. PHOTO: FACEBOOK @TAIMUR JUNAID

He knew he was a people’s person. “Mein awaami aadmi hoon. The work I am doing now has much more human interaction, compared to the showbiz days. Back then, the stage was in between,” Junaid had said.

Chalo ishq ka kaha maan kar

Apna sanam pehchaan kar

Kisi ese rang rang jaayein

Sab se juda nazar aayein…

Much to the frustration of his fans, who perhaps never forgave him for giving up music, Junaid went ahead and did what he had to. H,e indeed, did become coloured in a colour that made him stand out amongst all. He saw that as the colour of the Divine.

Watch the song here:

Have something to add in the story? Share it in the comments below. 

The Junaid Jamshed not many knew

Sitting here, writing a blog that is an obituary for Junaid Jamshed. This is surreal. It is unbelievable. And is an unpleasant and painful task, but one that I must carry out as someone who knew him well. Because he would have liked me to write this. For two reasons: Firstly, Junaid, or JJ, or Jay as close friends called him, was a people’s person. He did not mind the attention. He was used to it from a very early age. I remember asking him, during one of the three interviews of his I did spanning over two decades, whether he was so used to attention as a celebrity that even when he came towards religion, he enjoyed the adulation. He laughed and did not deny it. So he would be ok with this. But secondly, and more importantly, he would appreciate that the correct, and the factual, and the good is written about him. Junaid was not as guarded with the media as I initially thought…not guarded enough. His utterances often got him into trouble – he did not weigh words as one would expect from someone who had spent most of his life under the spotlight. So he ended up saying things that ruffled so many feathers at both ends of the spectrum. More than three years ago, after I met him and Shahi Hasan at Shahi’s studio for a feature story, he had later requested me to write about the other side of him. “People just see me as the person who stops women from driving cars and wants to deny women independence. I’m not like that! And there is more to me. Can you write something positive about me?” he had said. I had told him that journalism is something I do with honesty, and I will not write positive stuff unless I find positive stuff about him worth penning. He agreed. I did end up writing some positive stuff after all. That is what I am doing once again right now. He would have wanted this.

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So there is stuff about Junaid we all know but then there is stuff that we all don’t know.

Like the fact that he was big on not just charity but in particular about mother and child health, and had raised money and set up many medical care centres for maternal health. “The year was 2003. I remember reading somewhere that a woman travelling from Jhang to Faisalabad on a tonga in full-term labour died because no maternal health facility was close by. That story shook me. Pakistan’s women should not have to go through this,” he had said in that interview. During the interview, I had shared with him about the good work being done at the Koohi Goth Fistula Hospital. He started working on gathering both funds and support for the cause, and then raised enough money to support and cover the cost of some major projects the hospital needed funds for. Those getting treatment don’t even know that the person who helped give them a new lease of life is Junaid. The many unnamed individuals and families he was helping through his charity work will be hard hit at the loss.

Like the fact that he always, always struggled with his inner self after having chosen the path that he chose. I recall another pointed question I had asked, jestingly. “So the beard is your choice. But why not trim it?” “Yeh mat bolo (Don’t say that). It’s not easy,” he replied, and I felt guilty I ever asked that. An excerpt of the interview went like this:

“Sitting in Shahi Hasan’s studio, his fingers, a couple of times, delicately traced the contours of the guitar strings. But an inner commitment is stronger than the temptation. He hummed a few lines, but stopped. The darling of the Pakistani masses is no longer a balladeer. The passion has been channelised towards a higher love. His songs formerly talked about how to woo a beloved… his nasheeds and naats still do. But the Beloved has changed. JJ has evolved.”

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Trying to practice religion is an uphill task. There is always discrimination, and criticism, and of course he had to bear all that. Misogynist. Chauvinist. Mullah. The titles were many. So were the attacks on his selfies with female friends. Ironically, these were often hurled by the very people who supposedly believe that one should live and let live. The very people who will forever rely on his songs when they feel patriotic or heart-broken or in love or happy or sad.

For me, his voice has been with me through me own transitions. From a music buff to one who developed the heart and the taste for the naat and nasheed genre, his voice was a part and parcel of the journey. Even at the age of 52, his voice sounded young and untainted.

Junaid, like all of us, had his shortcomings. I strongly disagreed with so many of his stances, and agreed with others, like many of us. But he was a good soul, a loving son, husband and father. He made efforts to help others. He did help thousands, both through his charity and through his role in reviving the faith of so many. Like all of us, he may have fallen and gotten up many times on the path he chose. But he chose to stay on that path anyways. Not many take that path after a taste of such fame and adulation. Reminds one of his song:

Hum kyun chalain uss raah par jis raah par sub hee chalain

Kyun na chunain who raasta jis par naheen koi gaya…

He is just one story and this is just one obituary out of the 47 who lost their lives today. Each story unique. Each life unparalleled. Lives full of promise. Lives cut short.

Life is short. And unpredictable. If we take home one thing from Junaid’s passing, which I pray will be accepted by Allah as shahadat (martyrdom), it is to stop judging others.

Rest in peace JJ. And thank you for all the goodness you spread and the service you offered to humanity. May you be rewarded multi-fold in the Hereafter.

Published also at http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/43759/the-junaid-not-many-knew/

Why I shared the #ChaiWala’s picture

Published: October 18, 2016

If Pakistanis want to glam up their timelines with the photograph of this stunning young man, so be it. PHOTO: TWITTER/JIAHPHOTOGRAPHY

The piercing blue eyes. The stubble and the moustache. The attractive indifference. Blissfully unaware of the fact that thousands are ogling at him, he has become the hottest (pun intended) topic of debate, and has taken the internet by storm.

Bad start to the blog? I can already hear echoing disapproving remarks in my head that I have been reading on Facebook walls of friends. We over-read and over-intellectualise everything nowadays. I do too. This is why I thought many times before I posted the undeniably handsome chaiwala’s picture. Should I post it? Or not? And why exactly am I posting it? Am I posting it because he is handsome? Or am I posting it because he is handsome and is pouring chai, as chai is my self-claimed weakness? Or (what most people assumed was the case) am I posting it because he is handsome but is a chaiwala from anunderprivileged background?

Just like everything else, there is no single ideologue behind the phenomenon of the chaiwala. People sharing his photograph are not a monolithic entity. There are different reasons each one of us may cite for why we clicked on the share button. My sharing was initially habitual – I share many things that are trending and interesting. But further contemplation also led me to understand that one of my biggest reasons for sharing it, twisted as it may sound, is that if it’s alright to admire women for their beauty and make it the biggest thing about them, why can a man not be subject to the same?

Objectification of both genders is unacceptable. But if it is something that humanity as a race has not been able to fight back yet, then just like the blame of the original sin is shared, let the burden of beauty be shared as well, irrespective of gender. There is a thin line between plain admiration and objectification.

What I would and do have a problem with is the accompanying surprise that he is a chaiwala. That this is a man from an obviously lower income background, and is yet so good looking. Like all things good in life, somewhere the upper tier bourgeois of Pakistan have come to believe that even looks and God-gifted attributes are co-dependent on money and affluence.

On another note, the chaiwala viral trend reinforces another fact: that our ideas of “beauty” remain euro-centric. The blue eyes, the fair complexion, the chiselled jawline. Makes me wonder if a dark complexioned equally stunning man would have garnered the same kind of attention.

An interesting stem of the chaiwala debates is very relevant: when doing street photography, what line of ethics do we follow? Did this young man give permission that he be photographed? For street photography buffs, if someone is in a public space, it’s alright to photograph them. Others fiercely guard a person’s right to forbid a photographer to take their photograph. This particular debate has grey areas; it’s not black or white, because after all we are photographed in shaadis and functions, with videos being made of our plates laden withqorma. Is that acceptable but this is not? Worth a conversation.

If Pakistanis want to glam up their timelines with the photograph of this stunning young man, so be it. Each one of us has different reasons and intent. Let’s not try to be mind-readers and assume that everyone who shared it is fickle or shallow.

As for the chaiwala, already people are offering him modelling assignments and lead roles in TV serials, thus he by now must have an idea that he has caused some kind of a stir. His giddying rise to fame and the media spotlights will blind him for a while, mess with his head, disrupt the comforting status quo of life as he knows it, and give him unrealistic hopes and ambitions. The hashtag #chaiwala would have already started losing the trend by the time the bullet of his fame hits him. We will all move on towards other trends in a matter of minutes or hours. But that’s just how life is.

Nonetheless, what remains irrefutable is this: nothing unites the Pakistani nation like chai does. So here’s to chai, and to the chaiwala, and to the dangerous but alluring power of social media.

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/41981/why-i-shared-the-chaiwalas-picture/

 

Udaari reveals Pakistan’s best kept secrets

Published: September 29, 2016
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PHOTO: Draamaz

PHOTO: Draamaz

“Watch Udaari; it is unlike any other drama,” I had said, trying to convince a friend to watch the drama. “No way! Children being abused. Don’t want to even think about it,” was the immediate response.

Brushing issues under the carpet is what we do best. A study titled ‘The state of Pakistan’s children 2015’ by the Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) states 10 cases of child sexual abuse took place every day in 2015, bringing the total to 3,768 cases last year. These are registered cases. Any educated and realistic guess will tell us that to get the real number it would have to be multiplied manifold. Of these, a lot of abuse cases are incestuous. Communal living may have many advantages as a support system but also exposes unassuming children, and even grown-ups, to the dangers of sexual abuse and rape.

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What Udaari has done is remarkable. It was not because Ahsan Khan played out a difficult character with unexpected brilliance, and that Samia Mumtaz played Sajju so convincingly that everyone who saw the drama wanted to bring her and Zebo home and protect them. It was a brilliant play, well scripted and directed, and technically could have been more nuanced and the characters more layered, but this is not a review of Udaari. This is a look in the mirror. And Udaari became that mirror.

As a journalist who has worked on gender rights and sexual and reproductive health issues, I have met victims of rape of all kinds, including victims of marital rape and sex workers who were raped. Rape is never a laughing matter. Whenever someone cracks a joke about rape, I think of the times when these jokes may not have bothered me because I had not met the butts of those jokes and heard their stories in person. I had not seen the scars, both physical and non-physical, that acts of cowardice and weakness such as domestic violence, sexual abuse and rape leave behind. Watching Udaari made me think of some unfortunate souls, victims and others survivors.

When those children in Kasur, who were sexually abused by the gang who made a living out of selling videos of the acts and blackmailed them, saw Udaari with their families, what must it be like for them? What was the reaction of viewers who saw Udaari in groups or in isolation in Pakistan’s many homes where traders of the flesh reside? The woman in Tharparkar who was gang-raped some two years ago, and got justice after I wrote her story that prompted a suo moto action by the chief justice – what was she thinking when she saw Udaari? The play hit home with the audiences. But it must have been an unforgettable watch for those who have directly or indirectly been exposed to such despicable acts.

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In 1980 an Indian film, Insaf ka Tarazu, starring Zeenat Aman was initially met with negative responses for being too bold. Rape was something that was not meant to be depicted so openly. It opened certain shut doors. Udaari has managed a much bolder theme more than two decades later in Pakistan, deftly and without relying on the objectification of women as sex objects. It has succeeded in making sure that the take-home message remains that one who has been raped need not be a victim but also be a survivor, instead of the focus being on Zebo’s youth or beauty. This is no mean feat.

But perhaps the biggest contribution of any article, news clipping or talk show, or any drama like Udaari is daring to make taboo and hushed up topics like child sexual abuse open to discussion on a dinner table, at work place and on social media. Let us stop pretending that these evils don’t exist in our society, and that too closer to us than we think. Recognising an issue is the first step to solving it.

What makes a Pakistani male “manly”?

Being a man isn’t just about masculinity

Published: September 17, 2016

It is generally seen as okay for a man to speak loudly or even yell or curse. Even in the most seemingly progressive families, girls are often told not to talk or laugh loudly. PHOTO: RANGIZZZ/SHUTTERSTOCK

“But that’s how we guys are.”

Is a common response when a woman asks a man about a few traits and attitudes that are seen as manly and macho.

While walking on a street near you, in a mall, or even when couples enter weddings – a familiar scenario ensues. The husband can be seen walking a few steps ahead of the wife for sure, and the wife trudging behind him, adjusting her ensemble, trying to catch up.

For Pakistani males, Def Leppard’s classic Two Steps Behind You is too mushy I’m sure. It is seen as some mark of masculinity to walk at least two steps ahead, if not four.

In our society, or maybe that is how it is all over the world, a few things are seen as ‘guy things.’

For example, the obscene joke sharing. It seems that there is an unsaid rule that in order to classify as a man, you absolutely must share lame and cheap jokes, and video clips and photographs of women in awkward or objectionable poses. Whatever one shares amongst friends is the personal business of each individual. But what is worrisome is how this is seen as a sign of masculinity. Such stereotypes are so etched in our social fabric that we are conditioned to think this is what makes a guy a ‘man.’

Ever seen prime time dramas on Pakistani television channels? They all seem to imply that it is some signature symptom of manliness for men to have affairs, cheat on the wife, and have physical needs, while a good, demure woman is stereotyped as a prudish character who is always shy and playing hard to get.

It is generally seen as okay for a man to speak loudly or even yell or curse. Even in the most seemingly progressive families, girls are often told not to talk or laugh loudly.

It is the men who are supposed to drive the car even if the wife or sister is the better driver or even if the poor husband or brother is exhausted after a long day at work. It is encouraging, actually, when one meets a man who is man enough to say “I don’t enjoy driving” if he doesn’t. But mostly they are unable to voice it, just like it is not easy for a woman to say she does not enjoy cooking.

Women themselves are participants in the act of perpetuating these stereotypes.

They feel sympathy for their sons or brothers if they help the wife with carrying the baby,change the baby’s diapers, or God forbids take paternal leave. Helping in the kitchen is something real men, of course, don’t do.

This conventionalising is not always in favour of men, and is not always healthy. Consider the economic arena.

In this age of inflation and consumerism, one salary is often not enough to support a family. With more and more women joining the work force in Pakistan, both can spend on the collective household. But gender stereotyping ends up pushing both males and females in pigeonholes of rigidly defined roles. The man ends up not helping the woman in the kitchen and housework even if she is also an earning member of the family. Similarly, even if he does end up lending a hand at home, many working women confess to feeling a pinch inside when they have to spend on their families. The feeling is best described as being made to do something they are not supposed to be doing.

Man-kind has not really progressed that much, has it, when the marks of manliness are not values like strength, courage and honesty, but instead driving a sports car, riding a massive motorbike in boots, or smoking a cigarette in public.

There are some inherent traits and tilts that are natural to both the genders. Some of these are natural. But others are not. They are just by-products of being exposed to certain socio-cultural habits of a nation.

For those who are the strongest of men, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to push their boundaries and challenge these norms by walking behind the wife or speaking softly and let the woman in your life have the last word. Being a man takes more than that.

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz Zahidi

Farahnaz is a writer and editor, and has worked as the Features Editor with The Express Tribune. Her focus is human-centric feature stories. She now writes as a freelancer, and works in the field of marketing and corporate communications. She loves literature and traveling. Her work can be seen at chaaidaani.wordpress.com/