Somehow, in the year-and-some that I’ve been back, I let the illusory little bubble of Islamabadi life fool me into thinking I was living somewhere other than where I am. Except today, a little conversation with my grandfather jarred me into reality. Last week, while in Islamabad, my grandparents decided to venture into Pindi to pay their respects to persons from my community (whom I generally ignore). When there, they decided to talk to the locals about their desire to see me married and if there was a suitable boy would they please direct them my way. Their response was that there ‘was’ a suitable boy, and they ‘had’ mentioned me to him as a possible option, and he replied saying he didn’t think I was suitable because I had too many male ‘friends’.
And there you have it. Some unknown person in the backwaters of Rawalpindi is suddenly qualified to make moral judgments about the lifestyle of a person he has never met, and I am left behind looking into the eyes of my very-disappointed-grandfather wondering how I’m going to respond to being labeled a slut in absentia. For one, I’m not sure I deserve the accolade. For another, I’m not sure how one combats venomous hearsay to begin with. I’m sitting here right now, taking a good look at my lifestyle and I realize that compared to the average girl on the street I have many freedoms which are generally jealously guarded by the nearest and dearest. I live on my own, drive my own car, and have the freedom to associate with whom I want, when I want to. I set my own deadlines, and aside from the need to reach work on time I have no curfew to speak of. And because after my father’s death no one has stepped in to tell me what to do, I’ve stopped asking for permission when I make my life choices.
Except all these freedoms come with a downside. Without parents to hide behind, I’m being forced to walk down the plank with society’s moral sword firmly pressed down my back. Justify, ask they, why you have so many male friends. How many of them, ask the suspicious, are actually just ‘friends’? How promiscuous are you ‘really’? And the funniest part of this quandary is that the truth doesn’t really matter. I’m going to hung-drawn-and-quartered anyway.
As I look on, somewhat speechless, at my disgruntled grandfather, I realize that I there’s really nothing I can say. No defense I can possibly make that can salvage my ‘reputation’ which is far more important in this country than academic credentials, professional worth or even personal values. The only thing I can do is offer the world around me an apology that for a little while, while I was trying to make a life here again, I forgot where I was, who I was, and more importantly, what I was supposed to be. I forgot that if I did not make a practice of hiding my vices behind my veil I’m judged and considered automatically unworthy. I’m sorry. And I will not forget again.