My character sketches of the ghosts I see floating around. This is us. A little bit of nonsense to beat the boredom of my current existential crisis and writer's block. I hope you will forgive the broad strokes and the generalities. Life imitates fiction, and none of these characters have any resemblance to any person living. Really, they are all dead. Here's my life in a metro.
The subtle wadera. This wadera has small, soft, fleshy hands. He spends a lot of time at home doing daycare He occasionally fries nuggets for his children and will even give them a basil flair if he's feeling sexy and dedicated. He loves his women in high heels, Botox, and red lipstick; he enjoys red wine, models, labels, and visiting Koel and Flo. But when he goes to his land that stretches all the way to Thar, this gold shirted, loyalty obsessed metro-sexual wannabe Romeo turns into a psychopath. He could be warm and benevolent, weeping and hugging a hari and handing him notes or peasant women maxi pads, or he could display the most vindictive wrath and shave someone's head for insubordination for accepting a check from an NGO doing flood relief. When he comes back, he expects a pedicure. He is unpredictable; on his next trip back he could bring okras and gourds from the farm or a brand new adolescent wife in settlement of a debt owed to Grandpa.
I'm too sexy for my lands..
The 28 year old mother. This creature got plucked right after A-levels. Her parents felt threatened by her raging hormones, and her ability to secretly date men ten years her senior. So they got her married to someone ten years her senior. She serially reproduced until she was 26. Her body sprang back, and bouncily, she is now feeling young and ready for action. One small detail- three rug rats who need to be picked from and dropped to school, and hugged occasionally. Finding accomplices in maids, drivers, and tuition teachers, this creature will partake in various levels of cowardice and bravery. The timid will do highlights, the full body waxes, Sana Safinaz, and breakfast at Butlers. The fearless will do yoga studios personal trainers, tank tops, and drunken walks after Fez night, or check-ins to Marriott on nights when the husband is out of town. She will have no qualms about inflicting a khala with fictional cancer. She has a glittery iphone plastered to her ear, and on whim her fashion style will change radically. This type of person is the bane of the hijabi mama whose biggest problem in life is that these women give pashtun security guards a full view of lacy bras under transparent kurtas, and their behinds in their tight jeans.
girls just wanna have fun
The Hijabi mama. The hijabi mama judges everyone, even judges and magistrates. She judges you for having an opinion that is different from hers. She judges you for not knowing that Hadith require you to do something some way. Very early on, this hijabi mama should take a good look at herself in the mirror and ask, for the love of God, can I pull this look off? And if she doesn't have the cute nose and the sharp jawline, then she should refrain from the look because then everyone will have to suffer the resentment that emanates from the sacrifice. God is merciful you know, and He blesses even the crazy sufis, the dancing derveshis, and atheists. Surely and one thousand percent, he will bless her. The Hijabi Mama demands unconditional respect from everyone because implicit in her choice is the fact that she has read and understood the scriptures. A Hijabi mama will never be stopped by a cop. And if she is, she will not be given a citation. And if she is, the magistrate will apologize and drop her to her car. She has obedient children, and she enjoys eating samosas from Ideal Bakery and pastries from HobNob.
Are you hot in hijab?
The forty something wife of a banker who has it all. She is probably the happiest person in the country: Children educated and headed for the States, vacations in Milan and Budapest, mahogany, antique furniture, husband acquiring new properties, souls of maasis and ayahs bought in perpetual servitude through magnificent acts of philanthropy, a born again sexual love for the husband so no angst for lovers despite drivers swooning in her rich perfume. Only problem is that this type must be a little flaky to enjoy her condition. If she is not, and seeks to start a business, then she will be ruthlessly organized and difficult to work with. And the rest of us should pray that she chooses crystal handbags over supplying weapons and logistics to U.S. military contractors and CIA operatives running amok in Pakistan.
Shaukat Aziz, saala.
The middle class housewife: She is targeted by all the ads. Knorr soup, Surf, and K&N nuggets, and she wonders why she can not afford any of these products. Husband was a mid level employee at a bank and was recently laid off, and she's now trying to start an event management business from Gulshan-i-Iqbal except you can not serve the elite from Gulshan and especially without the cajoling English . Her children study at Foundation. Two of them excel at studies, while the third has severe discipline issue. She has bad teeth.
Is ko khana hai ya peena?
Is ko khana hai ya peena?
The single woman over 30: She is beautiful and has a keen eye for fashion, except she can't find a man. The 35 years olds find 22 year old brides. She reads Kafka, and it just maybe a lunatic she's looking for. Turn out the lights. Don't try to change me.
The twenty something male teacher approaching 32: He's here, he's definitely not queer, so deal with him. All the class ten girls have a crush on him, and they plot to get a hold of his cellphone to check if there are texts from girlfriends. Girlfriends, however, are not in this man's schedule. His plan is to make money, lots of money, so much money -- even more then the most famous math teacher in the city, and with that money, he will first buy a car, then a bungalow, then he will start his very own school that he will call, Lucerna Meis Pedibus. When he was 21, this ambitious young man with dollar signs in his eyes, figured and foresaw that the stock market will crash, banks will pull out, terrorism will strain every business, load shedding will destroy industry, and that he will never ever be granted a visa by the famous embassy on Mai Kolachi. But did he crumble, did he lay down and die? No. As long as there is some subject out there for which there is a tuition market, he will survive. Warning: if you are a thirty something teacher and not the wife of a loaded industrialist whose kids he teaches, then you are chopped liver to this man, and should be deleted from the teach-ery market. He believes the day his his to seize, and only he can have that youthful rapport with young students because he speaks the same bakvaas. At 32, he will marry a woman who was once his student, and who was always the Renee Zellweger to his Jerry McGuire.
Show me the money!
Addendum: A corollary to the 20 something ambition infested young man is the non teacher with similarities. He graduated from Iqra, Szabist, or CBM. He is also on a quest to make a whole lot of money, but he knows he will not be able to get that highly desired Engro/Faysal Bank job cause there are too many IBA grads competing for it.. Unlike the school teacher for whom love maybe irrelevant, this type thrives on love. He is faithful, and marries his high school sweet heart and together they make precocious and bold babies. They run successful businesses, providing services to the elites, be it photography, designer shoe wear, cool cafes, quiches and pad thai, treadmills, pilates, judo and guitar lessons, life coaches, guns, security and kennels. They are adventurous and they will be seen in Cape Town, Mombasa, and Bali. They like rasta culture, they are politically correct, have read Coelho and at least one article by Chomsky. They do hip hop and bhangra with equal ease. They know about the Burning man, the Blue Man group, and Feng Shui, and will often wear nose rings and hair-bands, but running lights, bribing officials, underreporting income, and finagling is not something they fret over.
money times MC square..
Addendum 2 -the Grammarian 20 something. Competing with the above category is the Grammarian man who never made it to America, or if he did, he had to come back after graduation because no company would give him a H1b visa as his skills were not technical enough. He is competing in the same shrinking job market as the above character except with three major differences. He has a larger sense of entitlement; he does actually land that Engro job because he has too many connected uncles; his stint is short lived though because his ego does not permit taking orders from someone who does not share his cultural references (soccer, music, Goodfellas); and three, his family owns a house in Phase five, and they saved a Phase Eight plot for him. So he's a little bit stabler, and a little angrier that the backdrop to his story is bombs, terror, and bad ass traffic. He yells a lot at domestic staff, really likes the military and calls it the only surviving institution, but is socially progressive. He often eats at Roasters and Arizona Grill. He will marry a clone whom he will have a drunken one night stand with first. They will live happily ever after, and he will experiment with Viagra - she with cocaine.
The Burger with french fries, and a side of onions.
The ex union organizer: This could be a man or a woman. This person suffered a lot as a young person, traveled without fares in trains evading the conductor, was a busboy, slaved in a garment factory, tried the to beat the middle man in piece rate work, nurtures the most terrible secrets of a poverty stricken life, lost a family member to TB, gave tuitions in the evening, begged richer relatives for money; then became an entrepreneur, got some cash flow, then started to fight the good fight and joined a union. Things started to look better, but after a brief idealistic period in their lives, they find an NGO and are introduced to the wonderful world of donor funding. With a vengeance, they reclaim those lost years. They truly feel for the poor whom they identify with the most, but somehow their insecurity looms large and they are driven further and further away from movement based work and closer to something that will guarantee their own financial security. In the process they will create secrecy, intrigue, and chaos. They will acquire the language of gender politics, but will never practice it. They have a hatred for older people while professing a deep respect. They will oscillate between random generosity and extreme miserliness; they can't trust people from their own background to organize effectively and be in the inner circle - they are impressed by elites who want to work with the poor but do not really believe in real solidarity, but will eventually try to exploit their privilege, which is impossible because elites are too pukka. They will survive and perhaps even get a Phd, and good for them, except their struggle may not.
Because life did me wrong.
Because life did me wrong.
The 23 year old graduate from Jam Shoro University. Your eyes will well up. This man does not quite have the Excel and Word skills. He certainly does not have what it takes to make it in the big city. But he knows his people. He understands problems of the rural poor, landlessness, lack of market access, dearth of agri knowledge, bad healthcare, food shortage, exploitation by the Syed keepers of conscience. He gets motivated after some small job with some small company fails him, and he joins a social enterprise or an NGO. He seeks older men who are still young who can be mentors to him. He works day and night. He finds little joys and little accomplishments. He was there after the earthquake; he was there in the aftermath of the floods loading wagons, removing roadblocks, filling ledgers, learning new philosophies. He wants to understand economics. He wonders if he should read the Quran, the 'Seven Habits of Highly Effective People'. His body is streamlined, he's very tan, but carries an air of earnestness he needs to fit the bill. Politically, he trusts Imran Khan. He likes qualities in George Soros and Bill Gates. After becoming disillusioned with his mentor, he will eventually be hired by the Aga Khan Foundation to do some grassroots project in Gilgit installing boilers, or growing organic gardens, or if he is lucky, the Acumen Fund.
Man proposes, God disposes
Man proposes, God disposes
The Beautician: Father is Punjabi. He works as a driver in a big household. Mother washes dishes. Dalit status has gotten brother a job with the government. She distances herself from him when she sees him sweeping roads in his orange uniform. Nursing is an option, but in desperate desire to elevate from her family's circumstance, the two room home in Korangi with poor sanitation, she commutes to the big parlor in Khadda Market where she works 12 hour shifts for Rs. 2,000 a month stipend. Her fate lies in the hands of her madam who could be a pimp in disguise, until she finds older sisters who teach her tricks of the trade, how to get independent clients, where to purchase dye and wax. Slowly she builds her own portfolio. She's got the look, or at least tries. Loving is the ocean, kissing is the wet sand. She has a quick youth. At 28, she's old. At 40, she's disappeared and replaced.
The NGO aunty: She is 50 plus. She has singlehandedly faced batons from the State, resisted the evidence laws, and made sure feminism is alive and kicking. She is beyond criticism, and sure as hell, its not her fault there is no working class feminist movement - she wasn't the one sitting complacently ever. In fact she rallied behind all victims of karo kari. She is truly a hero even though my students often make fun of her Gucci handbags - which I think is unfair.
yeh jo dehshat gardi hai, is ke peechay wardi hai.
The gay boy: He is your student. He likes you so much because you're his fag hag. He notices that you got a facial or when you seem happier. His PMS cycle starts to coincide with yours. He likes it when you've lost weight and your arms look toned.. You feel terrible because he is ten years away from embracing his sexuality. But he may surprise you because...whats that! He just befriended all your gay facebook friends who are older, more secure, and out. You have a really hard time not looking straight at him when you teach a case about discrimination against homosexuals.
phir bhi dil hai pakistani...
The Expat with Leftist Aspirations: He or she returns to Pakistan after living in the U.S. or U.K. for ten or more years. Tirelessly, they subject everyone, authors and activists to their idealism and to the methods of thinking and organizing they have picked up in the west. They are never really invested truly in any grassroots movement if it requires them to live in jungle with the rebels for three weeks or sleeping on hard floors with trade unionists for more than one night. They need a quick touch interface with the others and this enables them to write copiously about them. Ultimately, its not bare floors and hot halls where you will find them, but in the comfortably amorphous world of the blogosphere and email. They will write in English and have clever opinions that will challenge the powerful paradigm of the western press; they will put Tariq Ali to shame. They are well intentioned and contemporary, but will ultimately recoil completely from the world of organizing because they will see how people in it are too human and can never be perfect or romanticizable, and will seek personal achievement. They hate the elites - Jugnu Moshin types And Good Times - but find themselves hopelessly spinning in an elite spiral.
How do you like them exploding mangoes?
How do you like them exploding mangoes?