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Archive for the ‘Women’ Category

Amrita Pritam- the Legend Lives On…


Amrita Pritam turns 100 yrs old on August 31, 2019.
She lives in her poetry and in her two love stories- Sahir Ludhianvi & Imroz.

These was the last words in the form of a couplet (shair) Sahir said to her as they parted:

Tum chali jaaogi, parchhaiyaan rah jaayengi,
Kuchh na kuchh Ishq ki raanaaiyaan rah jaayengi.
When you leave, your lovely silhouettes shall remain,
Memories and traces of love will refresh me time and again.

Amrita wrote an ode to her love for Imroz as her last parting poetry:

“Mayn tennu pher milangi….” Link to my blog on this poetry is here

Imroz, who’s love for Amrita Pritam remains unmatched, is alive at 91 years and still refers to her in present tense. After her passing away he started to write poetry and called his book: “Jashn Jaari Hai (The Celebration is on).

One of the verses he wrote for Amrita are:

Main jab khamosh hota hun
Aur khayal bhi khamosh hote hain
To ek halki halki sargoshi hoti hai
Uske ehsaas ki
Uske shayron ki…Whenever I am quiet,
And so are my thoughts silent,
Then happens very faint whisper(babble)
Of her being
Of her poetry

However my favourite of Amrita Pritam remains her power poetry “Aaj Akhan Waris Shah Nu” which deserves its own blog and will share one in days to come.

 

This was Google’s tribute to Amrita Pritam:Amrita

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Story #5: Talaq (Divorce)


My daughter often remarks, Men of my generation are better and more supportive than men of your generation. They value their wive’s careers and are less fussy to help them out at home.” 

My response to her almost always is, “There definitely is a section of educated young men who think and behave much different from their father’s generation. Many of them are sons of educated and career women (like me), who raised their sons to respect women.”

The above conversation holds true for only a very limited section of our desi society. Vast majority of men and women are still the flag bearers of patriachy and believe in subservience of womenfolk.
In the pretext of faith or culture, patriachy would not have been so deeprooted, if there were no women allies to it.
Not just allies, women are often the most vocal advocates of ’empowerment of men folk’.

Hear here a recent example of Ms Khan, a renowned matchmaker, who went ballistic on a TV show blaming women for everything wrong in this society:

 

For those who dont understand Urdu, I will translate verbatim the blatantly outrageous statements she makes  in her loud and reprimanding voice scolding young girls:

  1. “DONT use your tongue. Dont wag your tongue. Keep your tongue under control. If a woman controls her tongue, these things( marital discords) will not happen. Things escalate when the woman becomes “moonh zor” (bold) and tries to dominate over husband and mother in law. In our times we were told that when husband comes home, you must take care of his shoes and clothes,  the griddle should be hot to cook fresh chapattis, and the curry should be ready. What is this? “I am not going to cook chappattis?” Why? Then why did you get married?”
  2. She continues in English: “If you are not capable of cooking chapattis, then you better dont get married. If you are not capable of taking care of your children dont get maried. You will have to bear EVERYTHING. Unless and until you are not a PROPER WOMAN…”
  3. “Women should keep their mouths shut in front of their husbands( she puts a finger on her lips). Women are wagging their tongues a lot in front of their husbands, whether they are from rich family or poor or middle class. YOU SHOULD NOT OPEN YOUR MOUTH UNNECESSARILY.” 
  4. The anchor asks, “But Mrs Khan,  it is not always women’s fault if the matter reaches upto separation?” to which Mrs Khan interjects her, “These days it is women’s fault. They watch TV serials and learn from there. I have seen how my maid talks to her husband. Poor husband quietly listens to her. Look how this woman of even LOW CLASS speaks to her husband.”

Not surprising at all, but men were not even part of this conversation on marital discord.

YOURSTORYTELLER

is a social enterprise that creates digital talking comics based on true stories and raises awareness on the triumphs and struggles of common individuals.
We will be bringing digital stories based on or adapted from true stories, highlighting an important social issue in each story.

Coming to #YourStoryTeller, I am sharing here a true story of my own cousin, who followed exactly what Mrs Khan had recommended, “Dont wag you tongue, in front of your husband.” 
She even quietly tolerated a lot of taunts and verbal abuse from her mother in law.  Whenever I asked her, “Tum jawab kyun nahin deti?” (“Why don’t you reply back?” )

Her answer would be, “Baaji, yeh manhoos tarbiyet jo hai ke susraal mein jawab nahin dou.”  (“This damned upbringing that I am not supposed to answer back to my in laws.”).
Thus she laughed off many such bitter narrations of what she went through day in and day out.

The psychological abuse went on for about 4 years….

What happened next?  Please watch the true story TALAQ (DIVORCE):

I am proud of this cousin, who is now an independent career woman.

My advice to young girls would be to:  Marry men who respect and understand gender equity and both spouses need to understand that marriage is a partnership, not a boss-subordinate relationship.  Otherwise follow as Mrs Khan said, “stay single” and focus on your life & career.

Story #4: Girl Refugees


YOURSTORYTELLER

is a social enterprise that creates digital talking comics based on true stories and raises awareness on the triumphs and struggles of common individuals.
We will be bringing digital stories based on or adapted from true stories, highlighting an important social issue in each story.

Story #4: Girl Refugee

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Girl Refugees  is a fictional story  on female feticide i.e. the termination of pregnancy when it is a girl child.

There are 50 million girls missing in the world due to female feticide.
Girls who are lost in the womb have no voice of their own.

This story is an attempt to give them the voice, and to make people realize, what if they were allowed to live a life everyone deserves.
Imagine as if you are hearing their pain from the skies !

BAAJI- the bold and beautiful film


I went to watch a documentary on woman abuse at MISAAF 2019, but stayed on to watch with absolutely no expectations, the Pakistani commercial film BAAJI.
And to my utter surprise, I came back extremely impressed by three components of the film:

  1. Saqib Malik, the Producer Director
  2. Meera ji,  the actor
  3. BAAJI the film in toto.
    And exactly in that increasing order.

The film is a bold and beautiful portrayal of the ugly truth that exists in deeply conservative and patriarchal socieites.

This film does not have a single hero. This feminist film has both its leads charaters as fiercely independent women, Shameera & Neha. Both are extremely hardworking breadwinners for their families, and with dreams to make it big in their lives.
They are hounded by parasitic men, either through relationships ( Rammy, Ajji), as family ( Neha’s pious brother) or proffessionally (Chaand Kamal or Rohail Khan) who have no credentials except being manipulative and being men. None of them earn or contribute financially ( as is expected to be caregivers in patriarchy), yet consider it their preprogative to exercise control over these women.

Shameera represents a female superstar from the desi showbiz industry who is surrounded by patriarchs like her Aapi( yes she is a female patriarch), Chaand Kamal and Goshi Butt, who control her life, her finances and her decision-making.
“Yeh time hai theatre ka, theatre wich apne jalwe dikhane kaa.” 
“Market wich rolla paa deyo, ke Shameera ne theatre da tee lakh(30 lakhs) leya ayy.” 

Rammy, loves Shameera, but also wants her to be fiercely loyal to him, or else this good-for-nothing beau will put her in her place:
“Woh time chala gaya tumhara bibi.” 

Neha is a reality from the working middle class, who toils hard in a beauty parlour, to support her family financially.  Yet the person clearly in control in the house is her conservative nincompoop brother, who cannot even pay the installments of his own loaned rickshaw, but has the authority to be the moral police at home.  She also represents a middle class struggling girl who dreams bigger than her capacity, is intelligent enough to take risks and grab opportunities, yet staying sincere to help the people who trust her- both Shameera and Rohail Khan.
Pardon me, but her third class boyfriend Ajji was an eyesore to me personally, because of being the abusive husband in real life, Mohsin Abbas Naqvi. However, his character  isnt any better on screen as he backstabs the two ladies (How?- You need to see the movie) in connivance with the other two predators in the film- Rammy and Chaand Kamal.

A lot has been said about it being a comeback of the 70s & 80s Lollywood cinema. Pardon my ignorance on Lollywood, and hence will refrain to comment. However, I could relate the story to personal lives of powerful Indian actresses of 50s like Meena Kumari, Madhubala who had to endure a lot of control, betrayal and abuse from their male relationships and families.

Meera’s body language and expressions were incredibly skillful.
For example: He expression of shock & insecurity while noticing her wrinkles in the mirror in contrast to a young Neha’s flawless skin.
So did her dialogues speak in volumes of her powerful acting skills.
For example: Her desperation in her assertion: “Love me or hate me, but you can never replace me.”

This is the first ever Meera ji film that I have seen, and I came out of the film with a changed perception of hers. There is a lot more to her than the petty image of her english jokes by elitist Pakistanis. Just because of her humble background, poor english and B films offered to her, we have judged her long enough. She has delivered a masterful performance in #BAAJI now, thanks to its director who remarked in the comments after the film,  “Either it was Meera Ji or there was no film Baaji.” 

I found Rohail Khan’s character a bit suspicious from the beginning, wondering how could someone be so nice and caring, all of a sudden?

I donot want to give out any spoilers, and hence will restrain myself to talk further about the charaters or the plot.

I loved one specific song from the film, which metaphorically relates a kite to a powerful woman, with strings in the hands of her men. They want her to soar high for their matierial benefits, but remain with their control.

Badlaan:

The other good song, which perhaps relates the film to the 70s is this

Shaam Nasheeli:

All in all, I loved the plot, the way it unfloded, including the romance, the tragedy and the suspense that followed.
Probably those who find this story of the film ghatiya, are reflecting their internalized misogyny.

I give the following credits to the producer, director Saqib Malik:

  1. Taking upon him a powerfully feminist story and telling it the way it is in a patriarchal society- full of barriers and blackmails for successful women.
  2. Throwing in a queer character in a very subtle, unoffending way( I am not giving out the details).
  3. His bravado to have chosen Meera Ji for a serious and complex role like Shameera.  Meera is popularly mocked more for her english than acknowledged for her acting skills or personal struggles. Few know she began her acting career at the age of 10.
  4. Showing things that may be taboo in Pakistan, but taking away vulgarity from them. The bedroom conversation rather than ‘the sex scene’, showbiz party with local Murree beer.
  5. Remaining very cuturally appropriate to Pakistan, and with no attempts to copy the neighboring Bollywood.
  6. Not just directing his debut film, but producing it with his own 6 crores.

It is so heartening to know that the film is doing extremely well and has crossed 12 crores of earning so far.

Congratulations Team Baaji ! 

Special Thanks to MISAFF 2019 and Arshad Khan for enabling us to watch this and other beautiful films in Mississauga, Canada.

PS: I am not technical film critic, so my blog is purely based on my view of the stories and films with social justice lens.

Indo-Pak Cross Border Weddings- an Advice to the Bride


 

Many girls from all over India and Pakistan write to me about their love stories across the border and their wish to marry & live happily ever after. Just two days ago we celebrated our 29th Wedding Anniversary. So I think it makes me quite qualified to give some pearls of wisdom to the new daredevils. 🙂

Since in a vast majority of cases it is the girls who move to the other side, here is an open advice to these girls :

My first pearl of wisdom to you:
“If you think there is a genuine love between you two, go ahead and take the plunge and embrace the pain that comes as a baggage. But  before you decide, first meet him in person and ensure he is the same person who you have known on social media.”

Secondly, I want you to know there are realities beyond honeymoon:
“If you will live in India or Pakistan, you live in an alien land where you will always be under moral pressure, simply by default of being a woman, because our societies, on both sides, are swamped with misogyny, just as our cultures and faiths are deeply immersed in patriarchy. In our cultures, we marry in a family, one husband cannot be the only one you will deal with, even if you are his Laila and he is your all too supportive Majnu.”

Thirdly but most importantly be well informed of what you are stepping into: 
“Read and inquire as much as you can about the other side- both pros and cons. Know that the practical challenges that you will have with the bureaucratic red-tape are inevitable even if everything else in your personal life is going like the Bollywood style Veer-Zara. Sania Mirza-Shoaib Malik star couple are a wonderful example, but they are not to take inspiration from. Ask ordinary couples in such marriages of how things are like. But none of their story will be exactly like yours, post marriage. Like any ordinary couple, it will be a constant struggle. Be open to unexpected pleasant and not so pleasant situations.”

However, once you have decided to go ahead, here are a  few tips for your safety: 

1. Try to see his country as your home too. Love and befriend its inhabitants too. Do not live like an alien. Belong there.
2. At the same time do not lose any love and respect for your country of birth. Many will say, “You are still so “Indian/Pakistani”. Tell them “So what? I belong to both the places.”
3. Try not to be cynical about his country. Learn to be objective and honest about flaws and positives of both sides. Trust me, both places are no better or worse than the other. Blind patriotism will not bring peace within your four walls or lay breakfast on your table.
4. Best bet is to make it a taboo in your household to discuss Indian Pakistani political rhetoric in a partisan manner. Don’t expect a man who so loves you today, will not taunt your nationality sometime years down the road and will still not understand why are you so ‘touchy’ about it. So better shut these doors before they even open.
5. Keep yourself financially independent. Do not submit every penny in the name of love and family. Because that will disempower you. Try to keep some money/assets aside( openly or quietly) in your own name.
6. Do not stop visiting your family back home. Visas will be difficult, but you have to be very very persistent and persevering to not give in. Try your best. Ask for help from anyone who can help.
7. When you have kids preach them to be objective and not be partisan with either parents or their families.
8. Keeping a passport of your country is very challenging in India-Pakistan relationships, but in current times, its easier than 30 years ago.
9. Create your own circle of like minded friends in your adopted homeland. Don’t just depend on your husbands friends wives as friends. At some point of time you may feel that your personality, intellect and values are not similar to  your spouse’s, and hence making your own group of like-minded friends will give you a space of your own.
10. Pursue your profession or work and hobbies in your adopted country as you would in your own country. There is no reason to give up work. It will help you build confidence and be financially independent.
11. Keep in touch with groups like Aman ki Asha  on social media and fellow Indian-Pakistanis locally, who will understand your situation far more than the local locals. These friends work as a peer-support group and as a deterrent for abuse and exploitation at home.
12. If possible, and if going gets tough, try to move as a family to a third country, or at least have an additional passport of the third country. It is not the easiest thing to do, I realize, but will give your kids a choice.

Wish you all the best,

Dr. Ilmana Fasih,
A proud Indian-Pakistani.

indopakcake

Educate a woman and you educate an entire generation…


Recently a photo of a 25 year old Afghan girl Jahan Taab from  a remote poor village Oshto in Daikundi,  went viral when she was taking the college entrance exam called Kankor Exam while breast feeding her child. Later it was confirmed that she has passed the exams and wants to go to college to study Sociology. Photo credits are given to an invigilating lecturer Yahya Erfan. He was so moved by her determination that he posted the pictures on his facebook. Link here

“She got up from her desk when her baby started to get fussy. She sat down on the floor, breastfeeding the infant, and kept filling out the answers to the test.” (Buzzfeed).

She reportedly told the lecturer Mr. Erfan that she is worried about the cost of education and that the University is 8 hours from her residence. It is the power of social media that a Go-Fund was created to support the cost of here higher education.

More about JahanTaab

 

 

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Needless to say, girls’ determination to study is never an issue. The key barrier is the systemic patriarchy in the garb of cultural mores or religious edicts.

Patriarchy is such an omnipresent barrier that hinders women in all communities and all economic strata one way or the other. And here is where the role of men becomes extremely important in bringing about women empowerment by dismantling the walls of patriarchy.

Here I must share my own story too.

(Bear in mind I am an urban educated woman with a strong will power. But even then, had it also not been the supportive men in my life, I may not have sailed through various systemic hurdles that patriarchal infrastructures create at every nook and corner of a woman’s life). 

In the early 1990s, as an Indian medical graduate I had to go through a written and a clinical exam by Pakistan Medical and Dental Council to be certified to practice in Pakistan. I opted Karachi centre. When I received notification for the exam it said the exam will not be held in Karachi as there are no other candidates. The exam will be in Peshawer.

Since I lived in the Middle East, I was supposed to travel with my kids to Karachi where my in laws lived. But before I could even know and panic about how I will travel with kids to Peshawer, my husband first took an emergency leave from his hospital, and then informed me that we are all travelling to Peshawer. 

My husband Fasih and I, with our two kids- a toddler and a 6 month old breast feeding infant landed in Peshawar. It was a 3 day long exam- with a written paper and clinical exam.  From day 1, my husband sat in the lawn of the examination centre, with two babies, as he dropped me for the exam. I would come out to feed the baby every few hours in the breaks.

Funniest incident in the whole saga was when my daughter cried, “Papa potty.”
He ran with the baby in one hand and the toddler in another to the washroom.
As he entered the male washroom the guard said, “Take the girl to female washroom with her mother.”
“BUT mother is busy in exam.”
“Then wait.”
“But this baby cannot wait. She has to go urgently.”
So the guard let him take her to the washroom. And while holding the infant in arms he helped the toddler finish the job and clean her. 
Finally they came back to play and sit in the lawn again. 
And then he smelt the baby has soiled his diaper. He ran again to the same wash room.
The chowkidar got annoyed, “Ap pher se as gaye?” (You have come again?).
Fasih: “Smell this diaper.”
The guard laughed and commented, “Aur parhao biwi ko.”(Let your wife study more).

After day1 the entire examination team knew about my family and when I went from each viva and clinical exam, from Internal Medicine to General Surgery to ENT to ObGyn to Ophthalmology, first thing the professors asked was how are the husband and babies doing? 
Second question they asked was, “Where have you graduated from?”. 
On reply “Lady Hardinge Medical College in New Delhi” every single one of them began the viva with the comment, “So do we really need to test your knowledge?”
No bragging but I passed with the top position. 

The head examiner was Prof Zakaullah Beg who was my husband’s professor in his postgraduate life. He himself called Fasih on phone 2 weeks later in Karachi to break the news.

Moral of the story: Empower a woman and she will make her husband, family and entire community proud.

“A woman cannot use contraception without the husband’s permission.”


“A woman cannot use contraception without the husband’s permission.”

I wish men ever got pregnant and had to raise children the way mothers do to realize what a travesty of injustice this clause by Council of Islamic Ideology, Pakistan is. It should be the other way round….men must have the permission from women for not using contraception.

There is little consolation that contraception is not an ‘as big an issue here like in Catholicism'(as often compared by the apologists), but if Allah (SWT) allows it, I am sure the Almighty has granted this right to  women knowing they are the ones who bear the children in their wombs and raise them.  Making husbands be the police over contraception is injustice and no where in any holy texts can this be found. Why is it a rocket science that this is simply a patriarchal attempt by  opportunistic men to control women?

Having worked in a conservative community in Makkah, Saudi Arabia in the field of ObGyn/Family Medicine for 14 years, I know exactly what this means.

Here is a true story, which I remember even the details of.

A 40/41 year old woman with 5 children, eldest in his late teens came to me asking for contraception. After discussion on pros & cons, she decided to choose a pill that was appropriate for her age.
Half an hour later, her husband, in early 60s banged the clinic door open and showed me the medication in his hand asking: “What is this?”
I told him “This is a medication for women.”
Him: “Is this contraceptive?”
Me: “Yes.”
He threw it in my dustbin and warned me that if I prescribed a contraceptive again, he will complain against me.
He closed my door back and I was later told that he dragged his wife to the car pulling her by her head scarf.

An year and a half later, the woman had a new baby.

Three years after the child was born this man suddenly died of brain hemorrhage at 67.
The lady was left with 6 children, 2 of them not even in their teens. And she was the second of the three wives he had left behind.
I saw her all the years, until I left the job, and I know in how much misery this woman in her mid to late forties was going through raising children as a widow on 1500 Saudi Riyals stipend as a widow.
(BTW this is one of several stories I personally encountered).

It is easy for men to dictate not to use contraception but it is extremely hard for women to raise children when men take decisions but do not follow through with responsibilities arising out of it.

Decision to bear children and their number must ideally be a joint responsibility. The woman must have a voice in that decision making instead of being forced upon her.