Published in Dawn, October 13th, 2017
‘He’s stabbing women because he wants us to stay at home. He’s instilling fear in us. But we will continue to come out and work’. — Gulzar, 27, domestic worker
SO says my domestic help (maasi) after visiting Humaira, a 16-year-old girl from her community, in a hospital after she was stabbed near Liaquatabad while returning home to Moach Goth, a low-income settlement in Baldia Town, Karachi. Gulzar, divorced and a single parent, tells of another stabbing, this one of a 45-year-old maasi in the area where I live near PECHS. “She was stabbed in street number 10. She makes chapattis in bungalows and lives in Korangi,” I am told.
How would city officials have reacted if the lunatic was stabbing powerful, rich, influential men? Would they have shrugged it off saying it is impossible to find the lone knife-wielding man in a city of almost 20 million?
During my early youth I believed that adolescence was the most wonderful period in a person’s life. And I thought every teenager in the world was in a blissful state. It made me feel miserable. Because I wasn’t having ‘the most wonderful time’ in the least!
I think it was Urdu poetry that played mischief and filled my head with romanticised notions of youth. I am sure fiction didn’t do any harm because for one thing, it was ‘taraqqi pasand afsanay’ I was reading since class five; for another, they must be going above my head at that time anyway.
Whatever poets said about ‘sweet sixteen’, to me it was nothing but sour. All my complexes (inferiority complexes) intense ambivalence (particularly toward my mother), fights and frictions (with siblings), dreams, aspirations, frustrations, etc, made my mind a confused jumble of thoughts and feelings, and my ‘stream of consciousness’ a torrential, frothing mass. But mercifully all that was behind a placid facade: I was quite a quiet person.
“In women,” Bertrand Russell said, “zest has been greatly diminished by a mistaken concept of respectability”.
Zest is an in-born human capacity to enjoy life, to be interested in the world and the varied and the beautiful things it has to offer. In our society, I think, this basic human instinct is, to a large extent, killed in women not only by a mistaken concept of respectability but also by a distrust of men inculcated in women by men themselves.
Take for instance travelling. Not till very late, a woman’s going out of her house for pleasure was considered a horrible, ignoble act. Times have definitely changed. The women who have the opportunity and desire to travel in-land or abroad, do travel. Still, by and large, conventional thinking persists — that it’s dangerous for girls to travel unless they are duly chaperoned. Girls who do travel may have to face raised eyebrows and sarcastic remarks.
While walking down the busy street or waiting for a rickshaw and trying hard to ignore men’s crude stares, I am often overwhelmed with a sad reflection: things haven’t changed.
I then correct myself: men haven’t changed. These are the same odd glances I braved as a teenager. Commuting to college and back home in public transport had been an ordeal and going to Bohri Bazaar dreadful.