Thursday, May 30, 2013
"Mai Ik Baar Jo Commitment Karloon Tou Uske Baad Khud Ki Bhi Nahi Sunta" (Translated as: Once I Commit, I Don't Even Listen To Myself)
I remember why I grew to love Rickshas in the first place. It was undoubtedly because stepping outside my house, walking to the bus stop in my flip flops, trying to hail a Ricksha in the scorching sun and then arguing with the driver to lower his overpriced rates (which, even when not overpriced, merited bargaining due to a customary necessity), was always followed by a much precious sense of independence. The ride from one end of the city to the other, inhaling bouts of smoke from public buses, zooming past the street vendors, office buildings, only to come to pause at traffic signals next to motor bikers, who would sometimes conduct your x-ray through their eyes, and at other times, be just focusing on balancing a wife and two kids, half sitting on the bike and half sitting in air, was weirdly liberating. For those 40 to 45 minutes of my life, I was not only free to go where ever I wanted to, but also, it felt like I had transformed into someone who had the freedom that was most frequently denied to women in my society, the freedom to make their choices, the freedom to be independent.
From an early age, I knew that even a small taste of independence was bliss. And so did many others. I saw girls who absolutely did not want to defy the norms. Yet, they couldn't help feel a certain sense of elation in taking a smoke or two, in driving away without permission, or taking small steps to keep reminding themselves that all was not out of their control, that there were still some steps, small steps, that they could take without anyone being able to stop them. And as long as there were these channels of ventilation, it was enough, things were going to be fine, they could breathe.
Females from this class of the society, my class of the society, have often asked me how it feels to be so far, to be so independent, to be so free. Naturally, my first instinct is to say no, I am not very free. I have a lot of constraints, like financial obligations, family obligations, financial limitations, family limitations, college work load, job pressures etc. But then I end up saying yes, it really is great in many ways. Those who ask this question are often not interested in hearing about these many ways. For them, knowing that I can often travel alone is enough of an indication of how great it could possibly be.
Mobility, is only one of such aspects of independence that is often under appreciated in America. One only has to go back home once and spend hours figuring out what an assortment of males, cars and Rickshas could make a trip from North Nazimabad to Clifton possible, to know that the suffocating feeling of dependence on others that most of our Pakistani females feel today, is often a direct consequence of the lack of socially acceptable and safe options that allow them the freedom to move around as they like.
Despite the ever present and some greatly increased restrictions, the reason I have felt independent in America is because I could, in some cases of defiance and others of acceptance, often travel as I chose. Be it going to another state for a vacation with a couple of friends or be it going to another state alone for an Islamic conference and crashing with a family of little known affiliation, or dragging two suitcases for an entire day, or missing flights and being stranded in another country altogether, I have had a taste of it all. And let me tell you, not all of it is pleasant. But if you are like me, you already anticipate the unpleasantness. Hence, let me assure you that some of this independence is not only pleasant but very much worth fighting for. Allow me to elaborate why.
1 - To begin with, the inherent goodness in people never fails you. Whenever I have been plagued with a sinking feeling of loneliness, hopelessness, exhaustion - all of which come part in parcel with the long aspired for independence - I have always found ways, through God sent people or otherwise, to rejuvenate myself. In times of crisis, I have not only questioned my own aspirations but have also doubted my strength, at times as an individual and at times, as a female. For you can never fully rid yourself of that voice from your family which keeps playing in your brain like an infinite reel "Told you, you are a girl and you were not made capable enough to handle this." And just when something or someone comes up and helps you in such a time of need, you realize that as a creature whose pain tolerance threshold is set to be very high, just so that the human life cycle in this universe could continue, you are very much capable of handling it.
2 - This might not be your piece of cake. And your hesitation was justified from the start. But what you have learnt about yourself over the course of this experiment, will never go to waste. Maybe you weren't born to be a traveller, unlike what the restricted mobility in your hometown makes you think, but you were definitely born as someone, and spending all this time of struggling alone or with people who have had similar struggles, the probability of you connecting to that someone who felt very ignored all these years sitting inside you, unquestionably increases. When no one is there to tell you to do a certain thing a certain way and to not do somethings at all, and you are just sitting looking at a lake (and maybe the geese in it, if you are at Mount Holyoke), you can feel a silence in your brain, a quietness that is the closest it can get to you meeting the real you. And only if to get to know that person inside you, I think that independence is worth fighting for.
3 - On this journey of self-actualization, you will meet many liberated individuals who will fascinate you. One or two of these might even be able to leave an ever lasting impression on your life. Or they might not. Regardless, the strength that one can draw from such interactions can definitely last a lifetime. Of course, I haven't lived my entire life to be sure of that, but the reason why I imagine so, is simply that every past phase in my life has influenced me and shaped who I am today, with all my goods and bads. And there is no reason why I shouldn't expect such a trend to continue. On the contrary, if I hadn't persisted at my struggles, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to meet people who, through their personalities and life achievements, have often reminded me why such a struggle was important in the first place. Why, for example, independence and freedom should not be a luxury for only those who can afford it, monetarily or otherwise, but it should be a basic right possessed by every individual in our society, just to ensure that everyone has access to the decent life we aspire for.
4 - This reminds me of an episode of Winnie the Pooh, where Pooh is riding on Skippy the dog, and he invites Piglet, who, from a high hole in a tree bark, says:
"If I have to see this thing, let me make sure that I see if from a place where it can't see me"
Going off of Piglet, I would say that it never hurts to prepare yourself well for whatever life will, inevitably, offer you. If you have done even most of what you always wanted to do, like going on a hiking trip with your friends or having an apartment of your own, chances are, that you are more satisfied with your life and better prepared to meet whatever it is that awaits you. For we only learn from our experiences and the more the experiences, the better it is.
Posted by Zuha Maryam Shaikh