Soniah Kamal

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'Islam is not Pakistan's religion; Marriage is'

Monday, November 19, 2012

Career Day at Autry Mill Middle School

Every year Autry Mill Middle School hosts a career day where parents talk about their careers. This year I went too. To talk about being a writer, specifically a fiction writer to four classes of sixth graders for half an hour each. I haven't had so much fun in ages. Kids ask the darndest things, but they also ask the smartest things such as so how much do you make per hour?  :)
I talked shop, but I also talked craft. Since the sixth grade novel assigned at the moment is Mildred Taylor's 'Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry', I gave them examples of how a reader would read a certain passage, how a student such as themselves would read it, and how a writer would read it. I took them through a short exercise of how a journalist might write about career day, and how a fiction writer would write about the same event using the very same material. Justin Bieber came up. So did The Hunger Games, Psy/ Oppa Gangnum Style, and Green Eggs and Ham. Like I said: FUN. I hope all the kids took home the fact that we are each storytellers at every age except that some of us write our stories down and get paid for them. I would have loved to hear all the other parents' talks: film producer, actress/ballerina, product developer, engineer, IT, FBI agent, CPA, CDC researcher, flight instructor for children and so many more! Thank you so much Autry Mill for giving us this lovely opportunity. It is a wonderful way for both the kids as well as the parents to see each other as more than merely Mom and Dad!!! And thanks for my signed card, a corner of which is the picture accompanying this post.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Another Honor Killing, Anusha, and Fahkra Younas.

Once the disgust and anger quells somewhat, all that's left is a sick sadness. Honor Killings, the phrase could be an oxymoron except that for so many people it makes too much sense. For too many people the effects of puberty-- something as natural as a girl looking at a boy-- is a crime. Anusha was fifteen years old, and that's all she did, she looked at a boy.  Let us suppose she did a lot more than just look: would any act justify your parents pouring acid on you and then leaving you to die in agony. The father now says it was the mother idea. 
I lost my rose colored glasses about women, and heaven being beneath mothers' feet and all that jazz, after my stint at, of all places, the National Organization for Women.
There are decent women/mothers; there are as many decent men/fathers. Unfortunately for Anusha neither parent came through. No doubt her parents think they did this out of love in order to safeguard her 'reputation'. Are these parents aware of how screwed up their morals and ethics are? For fifteen years this daughter was with you: what sort of sick parents are you?
And, please, don't tell me looking at a boy is a 'western' concept and allegiance to some code of 'keeping the hymen intact' is more important that anything else in the world. The father is a laborer, the mother is also illiterate: illiteracy and poverty are no defense for honor killing. How I detest this phrase. Killing a woman is no big deal for some-- I get it. One day it will change. It has got to change. But by that day it will be too late for so many. In the link to the BBC report above the last sentence is 'In March the government of Pakistani-administered Kashmir made acid attacks a criminal offence punishable with life imprisonment.' Let's see what the law does with this one. Hopefully it will deter future acid attacks but that does not mean that honor killings cannot continue by other means.
Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy made an Oscar winning documentary on acid burning in Pakistan 'Saving Face.'  I wish 'Saving Face' had mentioned Fakhra Younas' story in some way. For so many women of my generation, and no doubt many more generations, Fakhra Younas' tale is one of nightmares.  Fakhra was a dancing girl who attracted the eye of wealthy and influential Billal Khar. Billal married her: unfortunately he also severely disfigured her in an acid attack.  Fakhra was helped by many, especially the Italian government, but her story ends unhappily.

Fakhra was only 33 when she killed herself. When I first heard about Fakhra, I was a very young, very vulnerable girl; I do not want to belittle Fakhra's life by saying saying something as droll as her plight 'informed ' my life, but it did, it informed my life and played a huge role in making me who I am. I could have been Fakhra. Which was a very contentious statement back then because Fakhra was a 'dancing girl' and apparently somehow that justified her attack, whereas I came from a resepctable family. (I wish people sitting on their hight horses about their respectable families would realize that that they could have just as easily been born 'dancing girls'. FAKHRA YOUNAS HAD MORE FACE THAN MANY PEOPLE WITH THEIR MORAL BULLSHIT WILL EVER HAVE.  Will someone please acquire English rights to her memoir and translate it. Thank you.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Tillie Olsen, Silences, and Are Writers Really a Selfish Bunch?

The article I've linked to below annoyed me on several levels. It's supposed to be about how writers become selfish  while they are working and how that may lead to spousal neglect. In the article Mrs. Ian Rankin, wife of extremely successful writer Ian Rankin, takes care of the household and makes sure the children are quiet when 'Daddy is working/writing.'  The other writers mentioned are Trollope, Joyce, Dickens, Austen. I got to wondering about all my wonderful female friends in the U.S. who snatch moments to write between folding laundry and making sandwiches while their spouses (please fill in the blank). 

"The novelist Ian Rankin’s wife, talking in a television documentary, has revealed some of the working habits of the busy professional novelist, and some of us will have recognized the phenomena she describes. Some of our spouses, too, because these disasters and pieces of bad and neglectful behavior affect our families indirectly.
Mrs Rankin said, very perceptively, that there is a danger of writer’s block hitting Rankin once he has used up all his initial ideas and vision, prepared before the book was started. She says this happens, almost always, on page 65. That’s absolutely true: the map and ideas and scribbled notions, prepared before anything starts, initially look like enough to get you through to the end, or to the halfway stage. And then you’ve run through your stock of imaginative capital like a Lottery winner on a drunken spree, and the blank page stares at you. read rest here"

Most writers, female or male, struggle with time management but, and I'll probably be very unpopular for saying this, female writers with children struggle even more because when it comes to home and children the onus continues to predominantly fall on women. The fact is the more domestic help a writer, male or female, can afford the more their writing/productivity will go up. And for married couples, domestic squabbles will also go down which is nice because that will free up time and energy for time for writing. My first and last piece of advice to wannabe writers married or unmarried: Do not have children. This is harsh unless you have an incredibly supportive spouse like Mrs. Rankin in which case it might help if you are a  'busy professional writer', or if you have full time, round the clock, 24-7, HELP in which case have as many kids as you want. 
Virginia Woolf acknowledged the need for a room of one's own, but she also had servants who cleaned and cooked and took care of the other menial tasks while she wrote about rooms of her own. And Virginia Woolf had no children. Closer to home, in contemporary Pakistan, most writers can usually rely on the following help: a cook, a cleaner, a laundry person, a driver, a gardener, and maids for the kids. The male writers often also have a wife, and, in the event that they have no servants, let me repeat, they have a wife. As for in the U.S., a male writer who takes time away from his writing to step into the kitchen or play with his children is a 'good, great guy' but a female writer who leaves the dishes in the sink, or tells her kid that no she cannot go to the park right now because she's writing is a 'bad mother'.  With topics of this nature I'm always reminded of Tillie Olsen's book Silences.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Humera Afridi and Maniza Naqvi: on Malala and Owning our Own Stories

 I urge you to read these poignant and heartfelt pieces by my friends and fellow Pakistani writers, Humera Afridi and Maniza Naqvi. Humera's piece in Guernica on Malala Yousafzai beautifully weds the personal with the political and thrusts us into a culture where misogyny is rampant and the likes of Malala all the more formidable.

 On the night of October 8th, I sat on the floor of Dergah Al-Farah, the Sufi mosque in Tribeca, contemplating the Divine name, Ya Jabbar, that translates from the Arabic as “Bonesetter,” or “Healer of Fractured Existence.” Ya Jabbar… Ya Jabbar… I muttered, riveted by the alchemical potency of the incantation. It felt apt. Seven years ago, on this day, a massive earthquake devastated great swathes of Northern Pakistan and Kashmir. Eighty thousand people died; whole villages toppled off mountain facades; dead buffaloes floated in the Jhelum River and the landscape, cracked and split into so many fissures, was transformed into a series of twisted, gaping smiles. read rest here

Humera's piece is so strong and yet the first comment: 'malala case is all drama..i have friends from the same area where malala school is located…they say that security is tightned there and whole area is under army control..no1 s allowed to see malala is CMH peshawar even her real uncle..even two days before pakistan high connisioner in UK couldnt meet her…why?? simply bcz she z not injured at all..its all drama ..she s having minor injury caused by purpose…'
I draw attention to this comment because, in so many respects, it highlights what is wrong with Pakistan today, as well as other places/people unwilling to take responsibility for the malfunctions in their own backyards. I have said on many occasions and will continue to say that of course while 'others' have had a heavy hand to play in the mess Pakistan is in, we cannot afford to look away from our own contribution. How long are we are a nation going to resort to conspiracy theories and blame games to make sense (or nonsense) of our world?
In that  vein please read Maniza Naqvi's powerful and compelling piece in 3quarksdaily 'Owning Our Own Stories.'.   

All Our Stories: Stories, I think do not reveal the truth, they do however expose untruths. A multitude of narratives, all versions of perceived reality prevent the rise and tyranny of a singular narrative. And in this way, through a multitude of stories, a balance is maintained and truth whether it exists or not is safeguarded by not being singled out. In receiving these narratives we are able to reason that all versions matter; all must be given consideration; that all opinions must be questioned and that all perceptions have validity.  All truths are untruths all untruths are true. In the absence of a multitude of narratives, reason remains ruined.         
I see reason ruined every day in newspapers,  in images on TV channels and in the stacks of books, the so called literature of experts on all things Muslim, Pakistani and Middle eastern.   One of the greatest dangers facing the world today is the dangerous revival of a singular and value laden narrative of good and evil with its time released poison of rest here