‘‏My Mother’s daughter – Meri Maan Jayee’ a poem by Fauzia Rafique with English translation

A tribute to my beautiful and wise sister Salma Farooq.

مری ماں جائ

(اپنی سوہنی تے عقلاں والی بہن سلمہ فاروق دے ناں)

فوزیہ رفیق

 

مری ماں جائ

ترے پیار دے رکھ دی چھاویں

میں نت بیٹھی، اترائ

 

(انج ویکھو تے دوری اے (ڈاہڈی

جیویں مجبوری اے

(‘میں سڑکاں پھراں تشنگی ہاں’)

مڑ، آپی میرے دل وچ وسدی

دکھ سکھ سانجھ کرے

ماں میری نے افسر لا‏ئ، غلطی آن پھڑے

(‘مشورہ اپنے اپ نوں وی دیا کر، ببّی’)

من مجلس وچ ہاسے ٹھٹھّے

(لطیفے، کثیفے)

ماپیاں جھوک آباد کرے

 

مری ماں جائ

وڈیری پکھ دے ساک

توں الفت نال نبھا‏ئ

 

ہرنی نیناں مکھ تے

مکھڑا پھل گلاب

ہر اسمان دے تاریاں اندر

توں چاندر جیہا شباب

نگھیاں لاٹاں بالدی توں

پالے لال گلال

اونچ نیچ دے سبھے موسم، دنیا کرے حساب

وڈی توں

وڈیری توں

تیرا ایہی جواب

 

مری ماں جائ

مینوں ماسی خالہ آکھن والی

توں ٹبری آن ملاي

 

کچ دیاں ونگاں کھنکھن

ترے گیتاں دی آواز

 ہوا تے بدلاں سار آۓ

فن گن سارے قدرت

تیری ذات چ پاۓ

ماں ساڈی دی ال

سگوں اچے کم وکھاۓ

جو کردی، توں

سوہنا کردی

ہر پاسوں تری مثال آۓ

 

مری ماں جائ

کرودھی دنیا دے سینے تے

توں پیار دی جوت جگاي

 

(تھینک یو، آپی جان)‎

‎۔۔

English Version

My Mother’s Daughter
A tribute to my beautiful and wise sister Salma Farooq

My mother’s daughter
in the shade of the tree of your love
I always sit, with pride

It seems there’s distance (too much)
as if there’s an insurmountable limitation
(‘I walk the streets thirsting’*)
Yet, Api lives in my heart
Shares my pain and joy
Appointed by my mother to officiate
She spots my fault
(‘Give advice to yourself as well, Babbi’)
Laughter and laughs in the congregation of the self
(jokes, naughty jokes)
She settles again our parental space

My mother’s daughter
relationships of higher responsibility
you fulfilled with affection

Deer eyes on the face
face a blooming rose
In the stars of every sky
you glow like the moon
Igniting tender sparks you
nurtured your family
in all seasons of ups and downs, others point fingers
You are respected
you are Elder
This is your response

My mother’s daughter
those who can call me aunty aunt
you brought me that lovely clan

glass bangles khankhing
the sound of your songs
reaches me with breeze and clouds
All arts and talents nature
placed in your person
our mother’s heritage
heightened them more
Whatever you do
you do so well
your examples are cited in every field

My mother’s daughter
on the chest of a hostile world
you lit the candle of love

(Thank you, Api Jan)

*A line by Shah Madhulal Hussain

‘It’s a Pity Trees in This City have Roots…’

This is a short-
a very short
story that keeps happening
on the (still) lush
stage
of the City of Parks

repeating itself / a compulsive .gif / damaging / the canopy-green screen of my city

Indeed it was beautiful
and blue
when the first
development proposal
was presented
for review

7 minutes
On this site, 25 of 26 trees will get killed
(Climate change impacts lives)
Thank you for your comments, madam.
11 minutes
76 of 76 trees of which 59 are alder…
(Canopy and related ecosystems)
Thank you for your comments, madam.
13 minutes
33 of 33 trees, every single one…
(GMO trees- no shade, no hold- will take their place)
Thank you for your comments, madam.
15 minutes
34 of 34 trees, 23 are Douglas Fir…
Actually, 67 trees. A clarification.
(a tree for a tree)
Thank you very much, sir.’
20 minutes
Save-shrubs-from-another-land-development proposal.
(a tree for every tree)
Thank you for your comments, madam.
22 minutes
21 of 39 trees are going to get killed
(a tree for every profit-damned earth-loving brown-ass tree)
Thank you for your comments, madam.

All in favour? ALL
– all in favor
Against? NONE
– none against
Carried! ALL
– all carried

222 trees killed / in less than 30 minutes / during a meeting / that happens every other week.

It’s a pity
trees in this city
have roots.
They could run for their lives
with legs
and boots.

A poem by Fauzia Rafique

This poem takes from, and rearranges, the text of an opinion piece written by Columnist Tom Zytaruk for the July 9, 2019 edition of Surrey Now-Leader. (tom.zytaruk@surreynowleader.com)
surreynowleader.com/opinion/zytaruk-and-just-like-that-surreys-trees-disappear

The poem also repeats lines from ‘Good News…’

Photo from Surrey Nature Centre.
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Sustaining the Onslaught of ‘Footware’

Last week i shared an article on Twitter titled ‘Freedom of expression, a shape-shifting tool’ that listed some of the comments i had received in response to ‘This ‘free speech’? no thanks’ published earlier. This is the paragraph containing those comments:

‘After my response appeared on Straight.com, I was put in my place several times regarding my race, gender, skills and social status: ‘you, a person without any noteworthy accomplishments to her name… I wonder if your point has any validity to it whatsoever.’ ‘This writer has less than zero understanding of Western History, and how capitalist power and systemic racism work.’ ‘This is awful writing, I can’t believe this is considered a serious contribution to our public discourse around these issues’, ‘typical nauseating beyond far left viewpoints’. I also bagged various titles including dictator, ignorant, fascist, a Soviet-era speechwriter, but most agreed that I was someone who for sure was ungrateful for the rights I enjoy here in the ‘West’. And then: ‘What’s the daft woman’s alleged point?’ ‘the garbled word salad you wrote’, ‘What a load of tripe’.

As i was posting it, amid fresh comments and LIKES, i received the following message from Poet Jónína Kirton:

‘The things that people said to you @RafiqueFauzia made me want to cry, especially since I know you, love you & feel you are one of the most brilliant woman I know. They are WRONG… so wrong. I am not one to push guilt on others but they should really feel ashamed of themselves.’

First, my mind prompted me to chuckle, and i did, because it was as if i was caught red handed. I wasn’t feeling hurt, I was just dutifully responding to each comment the best i could while appreciating its literary merit or an interesting thought or to notice if the comment was based in elitism, racism, sexism, or whatism. Then the chuckle ended, and in one flash i was reminded of two instances that had happened a few months apart in Toronto in the 1990s. The first had occurred with my friend poet/publisher/activist Fahmida Riyaz (1946-2018) who was visiting from Karachi. I asked her how it was going over there, and she gave me a contemplative gaze, and in all seriousness said, Har qism ki jootiyan parri hain mujhe. Boot, fauji boot, pumpi, running shoes, hawai chappal, sandals, chotti airri, oonchi airri…: ‘I had all kinds of footware thrown at me. Boot, army boot, pumpi, running shoes, flip flops, sandals, short heel, high heel…’. The rest of the evening was spent on improving the list of footware that we had received on different occasions, and we experienced laughing fits going into tears and then back.

The second flashback was a visit from my friend author/educator/activist Rubya Mehdi, who was either on her way to Copenhagen from Lahore or had recently visited there. So, i asked her how did it go in Lahore, and without a moment’s hesitation, she said Uff, buhut jootay parray: ‘Uff, i took a lot of footware’, and that led to another evening of crazy laughter and tears.

After, i responded to Jónína:
‘You always touch something deeper with your words, @JoninaKirton. First, i had to inquire about my own feelings around them, and I was amazed to find that ‘hurt’ is not there, that in fact i enjoyed the ways of expression of most of them. Why? There’s another post in there.’

And, without giving it any more thought, i set out on the route that Jónína had pointed to. Why? Because i know her to be an instinctive healer of the self and others; check her tweet, it’s a tender message of strength encouraging me to proceed, if i needed to or wanted to. My tweet: ‘It has begun, i’m already telling you all about it. Thank you for creating this space for me to go over this- what can i say, sadness.’

As women in any part of the world, we take an incredible amount of verbal, emotional, psychological, sexual and physical abuse simply for being women. This abuse is doubled and tripled when some women disagree with certain familial, religious or social values and when they refuse to follow the dictates. Additional layers of abuse are added when women are anti-government or anti-state activists working for equality and fairness. The three women above, Fahmida, Rubya and myself were and are guilty on all three counts, and then some. Tangle it with class, caste, race, color, gender, ableism, ageism, and you may end up with a lot of abusive experiences. So much and so many and so fast that it would not be possible to process them all in real time. In fact, the way life happens and because it is painful and debilitating to process and confront abuse, a lot of it would remain unacknowledged, unmarked and unprocessed.

i’m not sure how Fahmida, Rubya, Jónína and other women i know, may have dealt with verbal abuse in the long term, but we all may have had to ‘thicken’ our skins enough to be able to throw the larger portion of it to the side. Throw it to the side instead of responding to it or to get drawn by it unless it was a tactic to do so. For my part, as a youth i had created a space just outside of myself to deposit all the indignities or the ‘footware’ thrown at me. I call it the Dome of Sadness, and it contains all the abuse i have suffered as a girl, a young woman, a woman; for being my kind of a writer, and, for being a certain kind of a person.

Urdu term ‘jootay parrna’ means ‘footware lashing’ and it is used for verbal abuse, ‘mild’ assaults, and ‘light’ physical battery- the three things most South Asian children become aware of early on as these are the three most used methods of disciplining them. The English terms, ‘shoeing’ or ‘shoe throwing’ do not quite express the ‘cultural’ significance of ‘footware lashing’ where it means one or all of the following:
Mild swear words: declaring humans in question as belonging to and/or originating from nonhuman species, especially dogs/bitches, donkeys, and owls.
Medium swear words: a vast canon pointing to and highlighting individual physical attributes such as ‘four eyes’, ‘one-legged’, ‘one-armed’, ‘stick’, ‘fatso’, ‘trans’, ‘no-eyes’, ‘boy-nor-girl’.
Hot swear words: declare women, young women, even girl children, to be whores, sluts and prostitutes while men, young men, even boy children, are accused of fucking their mothers, sisters, daughters, etc.
Name calling and Character assassination: constitutes Hate Speech that levels serious allegations of religious, sexual, social or political wrongdoing leading to violence.
Non-life-threatening battery, physical abuse and assaults with or without  make-shift weapon; slaps, kicks, punches, hair-pulling, baton charges, lashes, burns, acid throwing…

Please note, the abuses listed above are not the products of any of the South Asian cultures but of patriarchy. Similar themes run through all languages and cultures of the world. And this reminds me of a space where for some time, it was possible to view South Asian Muslim culture-specific verbal abuse in one place- Author Salman Rushdie’s page on Facebook where everyone could express themselves freely about the alleged blasphemous content of one of his novels. ‘The unreason, intolerance, violence, bigotry, threats, and the filthiest verbal abuse- it was all there.’ But we can’t view it anymore, it was discontinued in the 2010s.

Most of the Footware lashing i have received is hidden, and that’s what Jónína Kirton encourages me to address, to take the time to see the part where years of abuse is stored- the part that i think is situated outside of myself. In her tweet, she tosses a warm, soft and colorful shawl at me to get me on my way. There can’t be a better time for it.

The Dome of Sadness had no door, i had to dig one to get in. So much clutter! There was about 34 years of Canadian racism, over two years of British racism in Britain, decades of British racism in Pakistan. Racism mixed with Islamophobia and misogyny, the extent of which came out to me when i was filling out a form last year for a research project on Islamophobia. Extreme prejudice experienced from some white editors and publishers over the years. Barriers to employment. Unpleasant family situations, abusive men, in-laws, gossip-lovers. Character assassination in Pakistan, abuse received on the streets of Lahore. The dome was full of all kinds of insulting words and cruel thoughts, spoken, written, published. Violent actions, gestures, body language. Photos, videos, audios, detailed flashbacks. Images, paintings, drawings. Poems, prose. High piles of mixed media. Some marked, some unmarked. But looking at each, i knew what it was about. It was about something that i had already endured and i had already survived. It can teach me somethings and it can increase my understanding but it can not harm me anymore.

Well, this is a belief i have though it may not be entirely true. What i find here cannot harm me in the ways that were intended perhaps by the abuser, but it can still harm me in other ways. In case of unmarked abusive incidents, for example, it can harm me to suddenly find or accept that it was abuse(!), and in certain cases, it can exact a cost from me in the present.

As well, in many ways human mind is its own free bird, it can reach branches and tress that one may not want to get to, for example, to instances of my own abusive attitudes, behaviors and actions toward others. A tough reckoning, tougher than taking abuse itself, it is to acknowledge that i am guilty of abusing others too.

So, the somewhat perilous adventure has begun and i have been wandering around here for the past few days. On my way out right now, i am going to rename it as ‘Abuse Registration Office – Shipping’, and in the coming days, i’ll work at it.

I know, its a boring title and the place looks like a huge warehouse but inside… don’t bet on it.

Fauzia Rafique
July 27, 2020
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This ‘Free Speech’? No Thanks!

Photo via @SinEmbargoMX

An open letter signed by 150 intellectuals and activists that was published July 7, served as a jolt to this morning’s peaceful tea ritual. It is a short container of many huge triggers that left me wondering as to where do these people live- the people who drafted, signed and published this letter- because by the end of it, it sounded even more ridiculous than ‘make america great again’ (maga) as it laments the loss of things/situations that did not even exist.

Without naming the #BLM movement, and i believe, the #MeToo, it says that this ‘needed reckoning’ has also ‘intensified’ conditions that tend to weaken our norms of open debate and toleration of differences and constrict the free exchange of information and ideas. Then, the value of robust and even caustic counter-speech from all quarters is self-righteously upheld. Forgive me if i repeat some of it- our norms of open debate and tolerance of difference? Where have they existed in this society? The sacred cow of free speech, justice and open debate that is supposed to be threatened by the current mass movements for equality rights never existed in this society, never for the majority of its people. While, it for sure has existed for the ruling elites, the people who hold power and sway in different areas of this social system. Or is it that the signatories believe that the phrase ‘I Can’t Breathe’ and the incident associated with it, was an example of ‘open debate’ and ‘tolerance of difference’ or if it was ‘justice’, because that’s what previously existed and that’s what still exists here.

This letter seems to be written, published and signed in a vacuum where no colonization of this land took place, there is no history or impact of slavery on this society, no usurpation or genocide of Indigenous people occurred; where the system is not based on racial profiling or gender and other prejudices; Komagatamaru did not happen, Chinese head tax wasn’t extracted, Japanese internment did not take place. People of color don’t face prejudice, and White Privilege does not exist. It was all good till #MeToo and #BLM movements began. Denial that a highly exploitative system governs the world that does not allow any democratic rights to a large majority of people. The refusal to acknowledge that they themselves may be fully invested in perpetuating this repressive system.

There’s so much ‘holier than thou’, it may beat even the writings of regular Mullahs in citing empty slogans and self-aggrandizing statements. ‘As we applaud the first development, we also raise our voices against the second.’ ‘We refuse any false choice between justice and freedom’. ‘The democratic inclusion we want can be achieved only if we speak out against the intolerant climate that has set in on all sides.’ ‘The restriction of debate, whether by a repressive government or an intolerant society, invariably hurts those who lack power and makes everyone less capable of democratic participation.’

And, you know who they are defending?
Editors are fired for running controversial pieces; books are withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity; journalists are barred from writing on certain topics; professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class; a researcher is fired for circulating a peer-reviewed academic study; and the heads of organizations are ousted for what are sometimes just clumsy mistakes.’ Most of them are traditional power holders in their fields who are now being threatened with reprisal for what they have been doing for years against vulnerable people in their respective areas of influence (‘just clumsy mistakes’) in order to protect this system. Now they are faced with this inconvenience to be responsible for their views and actions with the so-called ‘vogue for public shaming and ostracism’ and where it has now become ‘all too common to hear calls for swift and severe retribution in response to perceived transgressions of speech and thought.’

Amazing, that most of these people who are opinion leaders, celebs, and groundbreakers to the left of at least Donald Trump, choose to support the status quo. They are literally supporting White Privilege, male domination and impunity based on class/position. But what a spoilt-child syndrome. They want to continue to enjoy the privilege of exploiting others without being accountable for their ideas and actions that were historically used against those ‘others’ in this racist/sexist/intolerant system. ‘As writers we need a culture that leaves us room for experimentation, risk taking, and even mistakes.’ and, ‘We need to preserve the possibility of good-faith disagreement without dire professional consequences.’

But listen to this: ‘If we won’t defend the very thing on which our work depends, we shouldn’t expect the public or the state to defend it for us.’

Yes. The ‘very thing’ on which their ‘work depends’ is this system of privileges guaranteed for a few at the expense of the rest, and this is what they must defend to keep their own personal positions.

I certainly cannot support any part of this open letter.

Fauzia Rafique
July 8, 2020

Published July 9th at Georgia Straight
Also view my article on the content of the Open Letter ‘Freedom of expression—a shape-shifting tool‘, published July 17th at Georgia Straight.
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A Daunting Treasure of Hundreds of Handwritten Letters

Deliberately unfocused photo by Mariam Zohra D.

It appears as if i am from the last generation of people who find ourselves in possession of hundreds of hand-written letters, and the realization comes right about now since there has been more time to look through paper filled boxes- perhaps from the Seventies- because of the ‘stay at home’ routine.

This is the continuing story of that small but highly benefic box from the 1976-78 that got left behind in the UK, and that was safe-kept by my dear friend Tim Hume and his partner Carolyn Hume for 36 years till they found me on the internet and sent it to me in Vancouver in 2014. I call it a ‘benefic’ box because it is full of uniquely valuable things- manuscripts, letters, photos. Already, i have retrieved, written and published Keerru, a novella based on a manuscript of a novel that i had begun writing in Lahore in the mid 1970s. I feel lucky because to me, that handwritten manuscript with no copies, had been lost.

When i got the benefic box in 2014, i was delighted to go through manuscripts and photos but not the letters. Now, not only that there is more time but the time is of being nearer to death, i thought, i’ll sift through my stuff to reduce the work of my beautiful children (Love You Forever) in clearing it after i move on. Wow! Some of those letters are so beautiful, and i don’t mean just the handwriting, some of the words and expressions are prolific and profound.

At the base of this is a sense of immense gratitude i feel as i see in front of my eyes the written proof of the love and support i received just in a couple of years in the UK. Also, because these letters are only a part of what was since some have been lost and some were returned to the sender; and, because this does not include the notes and greeting cards i got from people in the UK, later in Toronto, and now in Vancouver. No wonder, i did not perish at any of those times and places.

This pile of hand written and snail mailed letters was a lifeline for me and my baby daughter, and it was led by two people who had nothing in common but me, my mother and a guy who i wish not to identify (though if you like, you can see him as a fictional character in a humorous story titled ‘The Unnecessary- SahebaN vs. the Heternal Domination Loop’ in my novel ‘The Adventures of Saheban: Biography of a Relentless Warrior’). The lifeline contained letters from my sister, sister-in-law, my young and little nieces and nephews, even from my brother and brother-in-law. Letters from my dear friends, Rubya Mehdi, Ismatra Ahsan, Shahida Tabbassum, Riffat Naheed Farooqi, Bee Lee Sabuctageen, Shahnaz Alvi, Asia Arshad and Kausar Jamal sustained me throughout this time.

Please accept my gratitude, love and warmth.

The point is, what do i do with them now. Send back to sender? Recycle? Leave them for my children to deal with? What a waste. May be i can use them in fiction or something like that. Any ideas and thoughts will be appreciated.

Fauzia Rafique
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Not from the Elite but from the Street

Today, i received the very best award this World can offer me. A profound recognition that comes not from the Elite but from the Street- my name on a placard in a rally for this year’s Mother Language Day in Lahore.

But that is not all. It adds my name to a list of women who have had a deep impact on me through their art- Nasreen Anjum Bhatti, Amrita Pritam, Sara Shagufta, Amrita Sher-Gil. Wow.

International mother Language Day
Nasreen Anjum Bhatti’s language Punjabi
Amrita Pritam  Punjabi
Sara Shagufta Punjabi
Amrita Sher-Gil Punjabi
Fauzia Rafique Punjabi
Punjab Lok Sangat Lahore / WDF Lahore

Ramsha Ashraf with Naveed Alam and Waqas Ahmad Shahbaz; Ayesha Ahmad in the first photo.

And the cherry on top? The placard is propped up by activists i love and respect. How sweet can it get? Happiness and contentment on the International Mother Language Day 2020.
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