edited by: Taimoor Shahid
jab mein nau saal ki hui, tau mere abbu, jo ke airlines mein pilot the, humein le kar, karachi ki bheer baar chhor kar, Islambad shift ho gaye. yahaan mein aksar apni cycle le kar baahar nikal jaati. pur sukoon darakhtoun se saji sarkoun mein jagaa chhote chhote parks aur janglaat thhe. lekin baahar zyaada waqt guzaarne se mera rung gundumi se mattyaala sa dikhne lagaa. mera rung waise bhi Pakistan mein goray rung ke mayaar ke mutaabiq kabhi gora nahin thha--yahaan iss mulk mein jahaan aisa lagtaa thaa jaise gora rung hi khoobsurti ka mayaar hai. mera bhai, jiss ka rung meri ammi ki tarhaan badami thha, usse aisi koi takleef nahin thi. mujhe shaayad iss rangat ka zyaada dukh thha. issi liye aik din mein ne baahr jaane se pehle moun par talcum powder lagaa liya. parous mein ammi ki aik dost ne mujhe dekha tau yeh keh ke mujhey bula liya ke unke paas ammi ke liye aik paigham thha. baat batane ke baad unhoun ne mujhe se poocha ke mere moun pe talcum powder kyoun lagaa hai. mein ne moun hi moun main kuch jawaab diya aur ulte pair cycle chalaa kar wahaa se bhag gayi. iss waqiye ke kuch dinoun baad, jab mein school se ghar aayi tau mein ne dekha ke singhaar daan par aik gulabi rung ki tube rakhi hai, aik nayi rung gora karne ki cream, kisi ne wahaan mere liye rakh di thi.
uss waqt uss cream ko dekh kar mujhe pe yeh inkeshaaf hua ke mein apni rangat ke baray mein apni mehrumion ko chhupane mein utni maahir nahin thha jitna mera khayaal thha. dressing table par pari woh gulabi tube mujhe pukaar rahi thhi. mein hichkichayi. mere abbu hamesha mujh se kaha karte thhe mein jaise houn waise he bohot khoobsurat houn. woh gulabi tube lekin mujhe yeh bataa rahi thhi ke meri rangat aik marz hai jiss ki dawaa woh tube hai. mere tajjassus ki jeet hui aur mein ne tube ko uthaya, pehle idhar udhar dekha ke koi dekh tau nahin raha, phir cream ko chehray par lagaa kar ainay mein apni shakal dekhi. television par chalne wallay us creams ke ads mein yahi dikhaya jaata ke cream ko lagane ke baad forann jaise cinderella ki tarhaan aik aam larki shezadi ban jaati hai. lekin aina mujhe se keh raha thha tum wohi ho jo pehle thhi. mujhe phir apne aap par ghussa aanay lagaa ke mujhe iss cream ki kya zuroorat, yeh mujhe kyoun di gayi. kya mein jaisi houn uss mein koi aib hai? mujhe apne aap se kyoun itni shikayat hai? mein ne tube ko daraaz mein rakha aur phir kabhi haath nahin lagaya.
yeh kehna mushkil hai ke burre sagheer mein gori rangat ka yeh junoon kahaan se shuroo hua. kya angrez yeh virsay mein hamare liye chhor gaye ke goray rung walloun ko hum par dastaras haasil hai, ya phir ye aur bhi puraani baat hai jo shaayad upanishad ke pannoun se nikli jinhoun ne humein yeh gori rangat ko oonchay darjay se mushahibat dene ka sabaq sikhaya. aaj pooray pakistan mein goray rung ko khoobsurti se muhahibat di jaati hai. gori rangat ki creamoun ke saudaagaroun ne iss gehray kooyein mein aise baat nikal kar iss ko aamdani ka zarya banaa liya jiss baat ka charcha pehle hi hamari roz marra zindagi mein aam tha ke goraa rung hi bartar hai.
fair and lovely, pakistan se pehle 1985 mein india mein launch hui, jahaan bohot kamyaab rahi. gora karne walli creamoun mein sab se zyaada biki--aur yeh saabit kar diya ke waaqai iss cream ki market wasee hai. aise creamoun ke bohot baray baray daaway hote hain--achhay rishtay, achhi taleem aur achhi naukriyaan. sirf khawateen ko hi nahin. abb yeh creamein mardoun ko bhi bechi jaati hain. fair & lovely ke ishtehaar 4 se 6 haftay mein rangat nikharne ka waada karte hain. inn ki creams pe ingredients ke naam likhe hue hote hain lekin deegar creamoun par tau ingredients bhi listed nahin hote. kuch cases mein inn creams se jild par rashes ya doosre aur jildi amraaz ho jate hain.
jaise jaise mein bari hoti gayi, mujhe ehsaas hua ke rung gora rung kkhoosoorti se baraa maslaa hai. gora rung yahaan aik status symbol hai. yeh oonchi class ki alaamat hai--baat jildi sataah se zyaada gehri hai.
meri rangat mere abbu jaise hai. lekin aik aadmi ko shaayad pakistan mein uss tarhaan ki discrimination ka saamna nahin hota jo aik aurat ko hota hai. unn ki rangat ke bawajood ya shaayad uss ki wajaah se unhein charming aur attractive samjhaa jaata. hamare ghar jo bhi aata woh mere abbu se kehta ke mein biklul apne abbu par gayi houn. mujhe iss baat par bohot fakhar thha ke mein apne abbu par gayi houn. mein unn ki aank ka tara thhi.
lekin jaise jaise waqt guzarta gaya baatein jamaa hoti gayeein aur ehsaas barhta chalaa gaya ke meray rang mein koi aib hai. kabhi kabhi tareefein bhi kharosh choor jaatein. meri naani hamesha kahaa kartein ke jab mein paida hui tau unn ke waalid, jo meray hosh sambhaalne se pehle hi murhoom hogaye, kahaa karte ke kaala teekah hai ke pakistan ko kisi ki buri nazar naa lagay. meray ghar mein India ki filmein bohot shauq se dekhi jaatein. mujhe aksar gehri rangt waali heroinon se milaya jaata. Aik baar bohot tareef ke andaaz mein meri aik khala ne mujhe anu agarwaal se milaya. lekin anu agarwaal kabhi mainstream ki heroine na ban saki. usse exotic ya attractive zuroor kahaa jaata, lekin khoobsurat nahin.
kindergarten mein aik martaba meri ammi mujhe lene aayein tau meri classmates ne kahaa, "ye tumhari ammi hain? lekin yeh tau bilkul tum se naheen miltein." "tumahara rung..." mein uss dinn ghar aa kar bohot royi. mere abbu ne mujhe rota dekha tau kaha ke array dunya mein dekho laug dhoop mein ghantoun bethte hain taakay tumahre jaisa rung ho unn ka. lekin mein dunya mein nahin, yahaan rehti thhi, Pakistan mein.
hum Islamabad, aik saal rehne ke baad waapas karachi shift hogaye. abb woh daur thha jab pakistan mein media kaafi barrh rahha thha. Karachi mein naye naye tv channels, magazine aur radio stations khul rahe thhe. bazaaroun mein nayi nayi cheezein farokht ho rahi thein. akhbaroun mein aur tv channels par musical bands ke naujawaan singers ya khawateen models soft drinks aur ice cream ke saath pose kar rahi thein. baray billboards ne aasman ko dhaanp diya thha. aas paas ka maahaul badal raha thaa. meri zindagi bhi badalne waali thhi.
mera bhai aur uss ke kcuh dost modeling mein interested thhe. jab woh modeling agency gaye tau mujhe bhi saath le gaye. wahaan hum aik safaid paint hue office mein bethe jo ke karachi ke chamkeelay naye mall ka top floor tha. wahaan aik talent agent saahab ne hum sab ko aik form thamaa diya. mein ne waapas karna chaaha tau unhoune ne muskuraa kar kahaa ke fill kar deine mein kya harj hai. mein ne apni height, wazan aur hobbies aur interests jaisa ke poochay gaye thhe jamaa kar diye. hamari tasweer li gayi aur hum ghar aagaye.
aik maheenay baad agency se phone aaya. tau maalooum paraa ke mujhe aik ad ke liye select kiya gaya hai. phone par talent agent ne poocha ke kya mein aglay haftay screen test ke liye aa aa sakti houn?
mujhe se pehle meri dono khalaoun ne thori bohot modeling ki thi. unhoun ne himmat afzai ki aur kahaa ke parhai ke saath saath agar manage kar sakti ho tua kya bura hai. mein ne iss se pehle, siwaye shaadi aur taqreebat ke kabhi tasweerein nahin khichwayein thein. wahaan sab professionals ka tez tez kaam karna aur sanjeeda chehre sab bohot daunting thaa lekin kisi tarhaan mein select hogayi.
saabun ka ad kiya phir ice cream ka, phir aik telecome ke liye ishtehaar chhapaa. mein Pakistan ke sab se baray channel ke liye infotainment program host aur produce karne lagi. aik saal baad, mujhe meri pehli music video ke liye best female model ka award mila.
kam arsay mein itna sab kuch honay se meri insecurities ko khatam hojana chahiye thhe-lekin aisa nahin hua. na iss baat se himmat mili ke zyaada tar larkiyoun ki rangat gehri thhi. khaas taur pe kyounke mujhe aik manjhe hye commerical aur fashion phographer ne bataya ke zyaada tar clients ki demand hoti ke model ka rang gora hona chahiye.
jaise jaise mera career aagay barhta gaya, mein ne dekha ke meray rang to televesion aur print dono mein "adjust" kiya jaata. jab aik bohot baraa billboard aik mushoor soft drink ke liye sheher ke beech o beech apartment ki deewar par lagaya gaya tau mein khud tasweer mein muskuratu goray rung ki uss model ko dekh kar pehchaan na saki.
phir Fair & Lovely ke aik campaign shuru hua. company aik nayi cold cream launch kar rahi thhi. us gulabi tube ki yaad phir zehen se guzri. lekin yeh gora karne ki cream nahin. ho sakta hai iss cream ka ad karne ke baad mein aakhir saabit kar paayoun ke rangat sab kuch nahin. mein ne cream ke ad ke liye haan kar di.
pehle din shoot achha gaya. potraits khenchi gayein aik saada background ke saamnay. meray baal pony tail mein baandhay gaye aur gaaloun par olive oil lagaya gaya shine ke liye. mein sochti rahi ke makeup aur lightein kum kyoun hain. phir aglay din hslksy shade ka foundation lagaya gaya. mera apna complexion, abhh mujhe ehsaas hua, ke cream ke istemaal se pehle waali tasweeroun ke liye istemaal hona thha. abb bohot dair hochuki thhi. meray professionalism ka sawaal thha aur ghalti meri khud ki thhi. meri khamosh rahi.
chund mahinay baad, fair and lovely bohot baraa billboard sheher ke beech o beech aik baree si imaarat par lagaya gaya jahaan poora sheher dekh sake. meray dau chehre guzarte traffic ko dekh rahe thhe. aik gehri rangat walla aur doosra chamakta gora chehra muskarata hua. mujhe aisa lagaa meri zindagi ka sab se baraa raaz sab ke saamnay mazaaq ban gaya ho. mein ne khud apne saath aisa kiya. kya mujhe apne aap mein confidence nahin thha? mujhe ehsaas hua qe waqai mujhe apni rangat se khud sharam aati thhi.
aik saal baad mein new york chali gayi. meri shaadi aise aadmi se hui jo alag maashray mein palaa baraa aur rangat ke iss syaasi pehluu se na ashnaa thaa. America ki apni rangat se mutalliq jo syaasat he woh baad mein mujh pe aashkaar hui. mere abbu ki tarhaan mere shauhar ne bhi yahi baat kahi ke dekho yahaan garmi ka mausam hote hi hazaroun ki tadaad mein laug tapti dhoop mein ghantoun lait jaate hain. uss saal sardi lambi chalee aur garmiyoun mein kaam ki wajaa se mera zyaada baahar nikalna nahin ho raha thha. jab garmiyaan sar pe aa pohonchi tau mere shauhar ne kaha. "tumhein baahar nikalna chahiye dekho kitni pale ho gayi ho," tau mujhe hansi aagayi.
"The endpoint of when you're willing and able to say shatter me. You end up as what Emily Dickenson calls nobody. I'm nobody. Who are you? How wonderful to be nobody. And it's an achievement actually. Not everybody can be nobody. Because it takes a great kind of maturity to get to that point," said Stephen Mitchell, in a podcast where he read a poem by Richard Wilbur. This line really resonated with me, as a prerequisite in reporting for literary writing.
Something else he said, also really stuck with me, is this: "what I would make of it is that the poet of the original poem, whether or not anonymous, is listening to something and the listening eventually becomes the words so it's not something, if a poem is really good, it's not something, in a sense he is creating. It is creating through him or her and that's what becomes a poem...."
Here is a link to the full podcast: click here for podcast.
cycling through saddar
The handlebar of the bicycle was dusty to the touch. A patina of fine powder coated my fingers. It had been a while since I had taken the bicycle out. I had bought it about a year ago, on an urge and a whim. I wanted to have some way to get some movement outside of a gym, where mindlessly running in one spot only exacerbated feelings of being trapped. The urge came from a desire to be mobile without investing in a car, which was prohibitively expensive for me, and also not quite the kind of freedom I sought. I wanted to out in the open. I had heard from my fixer who lived in Lyari, about bicycles being sold on the cheap in Jackson Market. A rickshaw ride through settlements and a railway crossing landed me in Jackson Market. They had an assortment of fancy multigear bicycles—the sight of which surprised me a little bit at first, and then I quickly recalled there was a recent trend in the city to go cycling. One of the groups that did it in an organized manner was called critical mass. Some of my celebrity friends were part of the group. The idea behind the initiative was that if enough people were out there on bikes there would less of a chance of getting by a vehicle, and less of a chance to get heckled. the latter reason was a major concern for women. karachi is not a city where a woman can openly move about. growing up, there were many a times when my grandmother, who drove a car would be harrassed by other drivers and often our car, which usually had me and my youngest aunt and my naani driving, followed back to our home. my nani had become somewhat of an expert at taking dodging detours to shake off the followers. I still remember two women in my nani’s neighborhood who began to drive the family car. they would wear a full burqa and gloves and never drive out alone and even then they would only drive out in broad daylight and not beyond the limits of the area of bahadurabad where they lived. nowadays I see a lot more women driving cars. young women in their honda civics or the economical suzuki mehran. my mother too began to drive after we were older and she grew bored of staying home. my father was mostly away on flights and she decided a chauffeur was too expensive and his gaze made her uncomfortable—an intrusion into her private space. pretty soon, she and her friends began to take drives out to as far away as boat basin from her home in gulshan for a dinner out by the mangroves. my nani still drives, but her eyesight now makes her opt for cabs and rickshaws or the help of relatives to give her a pick and a drop. But still, a bicycle gave me a lot of apprehension. The bicycle is not fast enough to allow for an escape and drew attention in all sorts of ways. Soon after purchasing my bicycle and riding it around the street a few times I had left for new york for a research trip. It had been six months since the bike had been sitting and storage and it was pretty rusty and rattled as I rode it in the parking lot of my apartments. I now live in saddar and the ride to the gym was going to take me through the busiest intersection of the city. the thought made me laugh and gave me anxieties that made my stomach rumble. The chowkidaar was pretty encouraging. he brought out the bike, dusted it. all the time smiling. Still, I pushed the bicycle along as I stepped out on the sidewalk. the elderly man who sat by the front gate. I called him uncle. he was always talking about the time the original Bhutto ruled over Karachi and his memories of the motorcade and a different kind of Karachi. This city now was under siege. Armored vehicles run the city. I could easily be mowed down by one of them. Uncle was chatting with someone as I passed by. I waved to him weakly. But he said. Go on get on the bike. take the park route and came out and pushed the bike so as to get me to get going. I smiled and crossed the road and then climbed onto the bike. I stalled. The traffic intersection was full of motocycles and cars revving engines and looking like they would fly any moment. everyone willing the red light to change. I let the light change a couple of times. not finding the courage to cross. I saw the traffic policeman coming towards me and felt a little relived that he would talk me out of going any further. what are you waiting for? he said with a smile and stood in the middle of the road stopping the traffic and letting me cross. go go lady it’s alright he said. I thanked him and reached the park. As I turned the corner a group of policemen standing next to an armored vehicle smiled at me and told me to take the broken bridge and ride through the park. I hesitated before the small decorative bridge that marked the entrance to the park. go on, the bike will go on easily, one of them said. I entered the park and rode to the other side, past couples—women in black burqas and men in shalwar touching shoulders tenderly, they barely noticed me go by—and entered another parking lot. A group of women of various ages, mostly in chaadars noticed me and began to chatter loudly. I braced myself to be heckled and tried to avoid them walking fasted, pulling my bike along. but they caught up. you are so confident to take a bicycle out, one of them said. another, a woman with glasses and in a chaadar, said, I am sick taking buses where it’s a hassled to get on and off. I wish I too could take a bike. “My daughter wants a scooter for herself,” said another woman. Really? she is going to ride a bike in the city? “Yes, of course. Haven’t you seen women riding motorcycles on sharah-e-faisal?” where have you been living? she seemed to say. “I wish I was as confident as you” the woman said again. I said, no, I was very apprehensive but their words had given me courage. I waved goodbye and rode to towards the gym. Past the park, I took a left and rode through the old cantonment area near the railway station. crumbling remnants of british buildings all aorund. a reminder of empire that brought stereotypes of muslim and asian women and an age of darkness that left people in anger and confusion. I rode past cart pushers—fruit sellers. this was the season of apricots and grapes, plums and peaches. the other day I had bought mouth watering green guavas. little pleasures that made it easier to live. in my thoughts, I had taken a wrong turn and now I found myself on flyover, I was riding on the side of a road that had no marked areas for bicycles. heavy pickup trucks and four wheel drives zipped past. A man in a dusty shalwar kamiz pedaled furoiosyl some ways ahead of me. The climb of the fly over soon tired me out and I got off pulling the bike along. At the summit I climbed on again and looked down. A moment of apprehension. If I went too fast or veered I would die. What if someone hit me from behind? I had a moment of panic, thinking someone would disapprove of a woman riding around in a bicycle in the city and hit me just to teach me a lesson and that was all it would take to create an air of doom again. another age of fear. I braced myself and began to pedal then stayed the pedal as the downward slope carried the bike along. I reached the main road and then rode all the way to another traffic intersection. The red light made me stop. As I waited I noticed all the motorcycle riders, the bus with its passengers and driver and all the cars and rickshaws and even the donkey cart rider, were all watching me. This was the traffic signal where the P.C. hotel was across from the sheraton hotel—the place that was the target of a bomb attack on foreigners in ?— the media offices were up ahead and the governor house and other important places of city and country adnimistrartion were right here. down the road was gymkhana where parsis had organized may queen balls where my aunt and I had walked in the gardens cheered by smartly dressed patrons. but times had changed. we had been born under a cruel military dicatorship. we had seen more bloodshed than we cared to remember under political clashes—turf wars—to own a city that remained stubbornly its own narrative, refusing to yield to a singular story. I looked around at the faces again and saw that everyone looked at me with a life in their eyes, a moment of wakefulness that verged on anticipation and something like hope. As the light changed, I moved forward, I was cycling in saddar and in my own small way I had reclaimed a little of the city, that day. #
It was the night of the chaand girhan, a sleepless time. a restless air. the sound of the koel was lonesome. the pigeons wandering amongst themselves what was the matter. the peacock called for calm. but the parrots kept shrieking. the roses were drenched in the night’s tears. the mogra was silent. it was an empty garden. the night crawlers are never inhabitants of the grass they navigate through. the leaves rustled in despair and a snake slithered past the neem tree in silence. she could have been there. it was a garden someone had watered. that is the nature of gardens. they are built and designed. each curve and undulation in the rockery and the cascading pool is shaped by busy hands. not a leaf can grow out of place. save for the ones that grow in the inner dusty heart of the foliage that will never know what it is like to be broken away. the grass grows only so much before it is trimmed. the flowers are picked sometimes before they bloom.
a garden is empty. there is no one there.
children can run through it. but as long as they do not get their clothes soiled. women may sit together and pick on grains of pearly rice for pebbles. a man may be seated outside on a bamboo chair with his newspaper and thoughts of the world on his mind. perhaps he remembers his home back from when his father had decided to move to a place that he thought he knew more than what he saw around him. his father, a freedom fighter had fought for this place that he knew like his chest on which he thumped his fist and raised a cry of azaadi. the father whose blood had carried him and his mother and brothers across lines etched on infantile earth by a white man on a devilish steed. in those moments, his breath fading away, his father could have been lying face down in the pool of the blood of those trapped inside the red brick walls of a baagh or he could have died suffocated in the watery bosom of the well. he could have been enraged or at peace. the grass underneath his cheek sticky from the crimson henna that stained his eyes, must have smelled just the same as it does now. but the garden is empty. he is not there and neither is this man who dreamt. together both dreams disappeared into the mud. but the birds brought it all back. the garden will forever be maintained. whether women with hennaed hands walk through here. whether or not discarded saris flutter on flag poles. the women whose heads are now draped in dupattas cry just the same. their tears caused the mogra to grow beautiful and brooding. the garden is trimmed in flawless detail. the flowers and the hedges and the birds and the bugs all whisper and sing. the garden must be maintained. from a faraway mango tree a drop of sugary syrup kisses the parched earth.
spring may be near....another promise. #