March 8, 2011

Somewhere down the line, I forgot I was living in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. I blame it on Islamabad, and the overtly liberal people I associate with on a regular basis. I forgot that I was a woman from a small shia community, living in a country where women’s rights are subsidiary to women’s reputation. Where hypocrisy is right and being honest about your life, your values, your beliefs is looked down upon as somehow wrong. I forgot that I live in a country where it’s okay to be a drunk, to be a drug-addict, to abuse your spouse, to have sex with underage children, to lie, to cheat, to steal as long as you do it privately, in secret, safe inside the sanctimonious corners of your proverbial cupboard.

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.

14 comments:

Awais Aftab said...

I am dismissive of this society's moral judgments and treat them with derision, but its not always possible to do so openly and get away with it. Unfortunately, not everyone is in a position to distance oneself from such judgmental bullshit.

Malang said...

Hi,
so I know that I don't really know you and this might sound strange coming from a stranger but you should be proud of the fact that you set your own rules and live your own life.
Does that bother people in this society, absolutely and usually because they weren't able to do so themselves. But it in no way means revising your life choices to suit a system which proves time and again to be petty, shallow and quite, quite pathetic.

shahrukh said...

"And the funniest part of this quandary is that the truth doesn’t really matter. I’m going to hung-drawn-and-quartered anyway"...

Very true. I think it just drives home the fact that no matter which route you chose, be it the shy, demure, quiet persona, v/s an outgoing, successful, friendly person with opinions and values, you would be judged negatively by either one set of people in our society or another. Just proceed with who you are and be happy with yourself. But, as you wrote, don't forget your environment. Our society, even the so called "liberal, club setting" social group, are so bloody hypocritical.

I knew you were Shia, however, which small sect do you belong to, if I may ask? Sorry if I'm being intrusive.

I-S said...

One thing I found highly offensive was how she aligns "being gay" with all the other supposedly bad, or at least not so positive things under the sun. I'm not sure about this woman's stance on sexuality (which has nothing to do with HAVING sex)but being a feminist I support 100% percent with the diatribe against the facade-world that our society seems so adept at living in.

Anonymous said...

xeb you no slut!!

Komal said...

Did you seriously put being gay in the same category as molesting children and beating your wife?

Xeb said...

I-S, Komal: Not intentionally. What I 'meant' was that it's yet another thing that's okay as long as its in the closet. But I apologize, it does come across sounding like I'm a homophobe. I'm going to edit that out now.

Xeb said...

A, M: I appreciate the support. Frankly, I think I'm just bummed out because it seems with the increased freedom come even stranger (and more unexpected) societal strings. I can't help but feel somewhat betrayed by society in general. And by their collective presumptions.

S: I'm from the bohra community.

I-S: 'This woman' believes that her stance on sexuality (which I agree, has nothing to do with HAVING sex) is not anyone else's business. That said, I appreciate the comment. IF I had read what you read I'd be offended too.

Anon: Thanks for the support :P I like to think I'm not also.

Ali said...

@Komal

It was in the same category because the category was defining social taboos/evils, not personal values/attitudes.

Xeb said...

A: Thank you. I'm getting tired of defending myself aaj kal.

Sam said...

You know, I belong to India and when I came across your space for the first time, I thought to myself that this was a side of Pakistan I had never known. I never thought that girls were this educated there or so self assured and independent. Your blog showed me a new nide to a country which I always thought had no respect for women, a society that always treated women in the worst possible manner.
I live a very similar life like yours, live on my own, drive myself to work and have no curfew hours and while my parents search for a man for me, I know that my job gets easier, the one who respects women,their freedom and are not intimidated by our kinds will decide on me so it automatically filters down. Does it make sense??
I wrote a whole lot, anyways, take care.

ordered-chaos said...

Sigh, I was blessedly ignorant of the limitations of friendship with the opposite gender till I was thrown into my hellish career where piety is a girl who has no limits in private but is wearing an abaya/doppatta on the head and pointedly doesnt even resort to answering males. I agree totally its not who you are or what you do, its how publicly you do or more importantly not do stuff that matter. hell is so definitely other people!

Anonymous said...

Shutup people, Xeb knows everything, and if you know what's good for you don't question it.

Boston said...

i visit your blog sometimes and, not that you ask for it, but here's my 2 cents: I was in a very similar situation and my family was as disturbed at people's comments as your grandparents are. But here is my view of it all, if it helps: The idiots who have the time to judge you based on your lifestyle and not try to understand and appreciate your personality are automatically weeding themselves out of your life. What i mean by that is, do you REALLY want to even consider a guy from a mindset such as this? Where he, and others like him, will sit on his high horse and judge others for having the audacity to make their own decisions? I consider it natural selection..