Last days of my childhood

Age 10, Sialkot: I am riding a bicycle in our village common ground. Happy and delirious, paddling and speeding away. Out of nowhere a middle aged man come running towards me and tries to stop me by pulling the bicycle sideways and tries his best to hurl me off balance. When that doesn’t work, I hear his angry voice, telling me to stop cycling at once. I get scared by his tone so I decide that its best to move away. No exactly sure what caused that anger, I look around as I leave, one of my extended family relative standing nearby sense my confusion and explains that the guy was angry because he doesn’t want his daughters to get bad influence from me. Still confused, scared and unable to fully grasp the meaning of what has just happened, I quietly take the bicycle inside.

Age 12, Sialkot: I am in my village for spring holidays. It’s a beautiful day and the wind is blowing. I notice that my cousin has left one of his many kites on the roof. I pick it up and try to take it off, after a few hits and trials it takes off quickly and the string roll gets thinner as the kite soars away. I am quite happy with myself and enjoying swaying it left and right. Suddenly my cousin comes up…he looks furious. I expect him to tell me to get my own kite, but he tells me to stop this ‘bey-pardagi’ and get down because boys around will see a girl flying a kite and this will bring bad name to the family. He tells me that whenever he goes to the mosque, his friends make fun of him:  “Enna di kuri patang uraandi eh“. I felt really embarrassed and this incident left me being very conscious about the people around me and what they might think of my actions….for years to come I tried and succeeded in being a ‘proper’ invisible girl. And that was the last day I flew a kite.

Age 12, Kashmir: its Baqar Id and I am really curious to see the animals being sacrificed. As I am walking around, not very conscious of the soldiers around me, one of the Subidaar chacha comes to me and tells me to move inside the house as it’s not appropriate for a girl to roam about like this. His face is sour with seriousness and grave embarrassment on my account. I quietly move away. We called him Subidaar Chacha, he was from Sialkot, and hence my father’s favorite. He took the liberty to give us any lessons on propriety whenever he thought that we were not toeing the line. I don’t know if this lesson on propriety was the first of its kind, but it certainly was the kind of decisive mannerism hammered into my brain because for times to come, if there were men around me I would get very quiet and feel extremely shy to say anything at all.

Age 12 Kashmir: I remember our Qari shaahb as a kind gentleman, we had set one condition for him before we would quietly accede and sit down for our daily Quran lessons; he was to play 3 Overs of cricket match with us before the daily lesson commenced…..and he gladly agreed on the condition :D. But he got posted to some other station in Punjab….and a new Qari arrives. After few days of quite boring Quran lessons I began to notice that this Qari is trying very hard NOT to make an-eye contact. I find it very odd, but soon I would learn that making an-eye contact with ‘na-mehram aurat’ is a sin. Making a proper required eye-contact during a conversation with any man became difficult for me after that profound lesson on ‘Hayaa’.

Age 13: My father told me to wear a scarf with my school uniform. I had to comply without asking any questions, for I had learned earlier on my way to achieve sainthood in teenage years, that it was a good thing for a girl to cover herself up properly. Few days into wearing it, I realize that its gets really hot and humid with one piece of cloth covering my head- tightly noosed around my neck with safety pins. It made my classes very uncomfortable and heat became unbearable. So one day I mildly try to argue my way out of wearing it, but out comes a dialogue so powerful and sounding so logical that I can’t argue anymore. I am told that “the fire of hell is going to be a thousand times more uncomfortable, and IF I am not ready to sacrifice my comfort here, how am I going to tolerate the fire of hell?!!”

Part of that ‘education’ (including many incidents that I don’t feel comfortable writing about) still is inside me and sometimes I find it difficult to brush it off. I find it difficult to treat myself as a ‘person’ first and as a woman later on. I still sometimes find myself feeling awkward and nervous in mixed gathering.

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Mardoon Ki sarak per eik Aurat

Driving in Pakistan is close to taking that insane ride in an amusement park: you know you are going to be fine but once the ride is over and you unlock the safety belts, your legs are wobbly and your head is not in its right place.

If you are a woman driver, there is one rule that you should never forget: The Men Own The Road! There is no way around it. You have to deal with it and let your-self acquaint with several characters present on the road who exclusively owns the highway.

Starting with the most likely encounter, i.e. the taxi driver: His taxi looks so old and spent that you can always expect its doors to fall off at any moment, but that doesn’t stop the driver to zoom past you at 80 km per hour. If you find any taxi driving close-by, expect it to change the lane at any moment. The taxi’s indicators never works, but the driver always has his right arm dangling out of the car, and considers that arm his indicator. He can switch from 4th left lane to the 1st right lane in a matter of seconds.  Meanwhile your frantic break and horns might help him slip into a sweet lull, and he always seems to enjoy that near-death incredulous expression on your face.

The second most likely encounter is the “nou-doltiye ki white corolla” that has a big sticker with a saying that goes like: ’My Dad is my ATM’. You can expect it to appear at any moment, sneak-up on you and over-take you from the left side at a lightning speed. You will see it zig-zag through other cars in-front of you but you should be glad that this mili-centimeter brush with your car didn’t leave you dead. The “nou-doltiye ki white corolla” has a shrill 120 decibel horn installed in it and makes you jump in your seat whenever you hear it. The normal horn doesn’t seem to go that well with the rich-badass-boy personality. He also excessively enjoys blinking the front lights of his car during daytime just to faze you out.

Your third mad road companion is a Punjab college boy on a motorcycle. He is wearing a navy-blue sleeveless sweater, has turned-up collars and unbuttoned sleeves. He can flash a middle finger at you if you honk at him for zig-zagging his bike on the road. Let him zig-zag his way through, he is only trying to unburden himself from the daunting task of attending lectures and learning a thing or two about accounting.

Be aware of the fact that you are only this adhi-aqal wali aurat, who can’t switch to 4th gear as soon as the yellow light turns into green. You will hear horns. You might become insensitive, assume an expressionless face and honk back, but that doesn’t make you a better driver. Still, if you want to be taken seriously, speed-up your car to 100 km per hour and maneuver your way around other cars. Make sure to honk as much as possible and give everyone else the impression that you are rushing to the hospital, and if you don’t make it there in time your close friend will die without seeing you for the last time. Yes! You have be that dramatic!…..Keep the expression dramatic or else be prepared to be taken as a lazy dumb sloth sitting behind the wheels.

But as soon as you enter the posh areas of Islamabad, you can slow down because you will see many cars with a sticker saying: “Caution! Baby Inside!!”… (Ripped off form the Intel-inside sticker logo). Take a deep breath and relax….you have come to all-things-imported area in Pak-land. The baby-burger-zone rules apply here.